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Sketches and Regrets

Oky Kusprianto and I got married on the 25th of February 2017. He died on the 16th of June 2019 at the age of 42. Not a long life, and definitely not a long marriage for me.

He was an architect, quite famous in Bandung. In his short life, the number of designs he created was simply overwhelming. He was constantly sketching. One time we were caught in very bad traffic, and I asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m drawing in my mind,” he answered. That’s Oky for you.

During his funeral (it was a whole week-long process, one day I’ll write about it), his architecture friends gave me the idea to collect his designs in a book, as a tribute to his talent. They mentioned I would need the help of a fellow architect, curator, and writer: Setiadi Sopandi (commonly known as Cung).

Life has a weird sense of humor, doesn’t it? Because Cung and I hit it off and we got married in August 2020 (yes, a Covid wedding). The book? It happened, with the support of Realrich from OMAH Library.

Concept

The idea for the book evolved from an exhibition of Oky’s sketches and my writings, installed at Villa Gupondoro. The collection was curated by Cung, since the total amount of his work is still being collected even until now. Some of them were never built, some of them became spectacular icons in Bandung, for example, Babakan Siliwangi Forest Walk and Dusun Bambu Family Park. The title of both the exhibition and the book is Sketches and Regrets because throughout our relationship, there was one thing I regretted: that I did not experience his works more when he was alive.

But I do not wish to live my current and future life in this same constant regret. Now, I try to visit Oky’s creations regularly. I also try to visit Cung’s buildings. It’s fun. I enjoy getting insider info on how this pillar was not supposed to be there, or how the small interior details cost the client a leg and an arm.

Before publishing the book, Realrich said “I’m excited! OMAH Library has never yet published an architectural book from the perspective of the Mrs.” Don’t you just love that? I think it’s a real measure of Rich’s vision and open-mindedness for community.

Well OMAH, I’m still a Mrs. Architect now, so I hope I’ll continue to contribute a woman’s voice to your publications.

You can purchase the book here. If you happen to have read Sketches and Regrets, kindly drop an honest review on Goodreads.

With special thanks to translator Juhendy Setiawan and photographer Christian Nathanael.

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Series Review: The Book of Isle

After I finished all of the Enola Holmes series (check out that review), I decided author Nancy Springer must be on my favorite writers’ list. Imagine my delight when I saw that she also wrote my favorite genre: fantasy! In fact, she is more known as a fantasy writer than for mystery series. One of her favorite sets was the Book of Isle (in 5 novels).

I bought the Kindle boxset for 21.99USD – making it just over 4USD per book. GREAT DEAL readers! Alert!

The 5 books were my 4th to 8th reads of this year for the read 60 in 2021 Goodreads challenge. I finished the whole thing in 2 weeks. That should tell you how irresistible her stories were. The Goodreads description of the series called it a “classic epic fantasy in the grand tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien.”

Synopsis

On the island of Isle, gods, goddesses, and magical beasts lived together with humans. Some were good, some corrupt, some downright evil. Ellid, a lady as fair as the sun fell in love with Bevan, son of the High King and the goddess of the moon. Their relationship triggers events that resulted in the rebuilding of a peaceful kingdom. Generations and legends go by until the changeling Dair befriends the cursed wanderer Frain, and through their bond peace in the mainland is able to be restored. Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

The magic is ancient good against evil, not unlike CS Lewis’ Narnia. It’s not children’s fantasy though. It’s for adults, although thank goodness she writes so much better than GRRM (Game of Thrones slowly became only about sex, war, and food). Nancy Springer delves deep into human nature, exposing love, lust, greed, ego, and a longing for death that is a constant theme from Book 1 to Book 5. Her battles were fast and action-oriented, but never more violent than is necessary.

A feminine epic fantasy.

One of my favorite things about the Book of Isle was how un-patriarchal it was. Goddesses were as powerful as gods, sometimes even more so. The One (the creator of the world) was genderless, never mentioned as “he”, nor “she”. In Book 5, a goddess gets the revenge that she sought because a human king had shamed her. This act was not seen as an act of revenge that spiraled out of control. Rather it was portrayed as a fair act because the king completely deserved it.

Like Lord of the Rings, the Book of Isle often used poetry form to communicate older myths that existed within the island. It worked very well, adding an air of grace to the tales. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Book of Isle.

Do you like fantasy? Have you read this series? What did you think?

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Book Review: A Wolf for a Spell

That was exactly what Baba Yaga needed. The gray wolf…a wolf who wouldn’t put up a fight.

a wolf for a spell, karah sutton

I discovered this book via Indian book blogger Debjani. I put it on my 2021 fantasy genre reading list because it seemed exactly like the kind of fantasy that I loved. I’m on a Goodreads challenge to read 60 books in 2021, and this is the 3rd book I read.

A Wolf for a Spell is a middle-grade fantasy adventure book by Karah Sutton about a young orphan girl, a female wolf, and an old witch. The story itself is inspired by the author’s Russian heritage.

I Was Delighted By…

  1. Baba Yaga!

Loved this character! The Russian tales of her are already exotic and intriguing-lives in the middle of the woods in a hut on chicken legs. Add to that the grumpy, witty, and slightly lonely personality that Karah Sutton gives to this old figure, creating a beloved and unforgettable Baba Yaga.

2. Wolves

Who doesn’t enjoy wolf literature? The dynamics between Zima (the female wolf) and the other wolves in her pack are very interesting, especially if you’re curious about animal psychology. Wolves are one of the most intelligent animals, and their pack structure is a highly complex social unit. I loved that the author was able to dig into this.

3. Power of the Forest

The forest in which Baba Yaga lives has its own magic. It’s powerful and it’s the real source of Baba Yaga’s powers. I must say, being someone who loves nature, I completely agree with this approach. Honestly, what are we without trees giving us oxygen to breathe?

4. Critique towards the institution of marriage

Did you see this one coming up? If not, it’s a spoiler alert. The charming prince is not so charming on the inside, and what he has to offer isn’t so great after all (read my article on emotionally abusive relationships). I won’t say more, but I’m happy that Karah Sutton weaved this perspective into the tale.

Was It Worth My Investment?

I bought it on Amazon Kindle for USD 10.99. Honestly, I have to say it’s a bit pricy for me. In my defense, I do live in Indonesia where I can get a great meal for 2 dollars. Plus, the currency exchange rate isn’t so hot at the moment. However, there are legal ways to read books for free, especially if you are an avid reader and regular reviewer. (I might even consider doing this myself!)

It was a great read though, so if the price is alright for your budget then A Wolf for a Spell is definitely worth it.

Have you read A Wolf for A Spell? What did you think? By the way, if you are a seasoned book blogger, please share with me any tips you have! I would appreciate it very much.

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Book Review: Motherhood 101 (A Memoir)

This is second book I read this year. The first one was The Things you Can See Only When You Slow Down by the Korean monk Haemin Sunim. I chose to continue my 2021 reading adventure with Motherhood 101: A memoir of my experience as a newlywed juggling pregnancy/motherhood, marriage, work and a social life because a dear friend from college wrote it: Awura Amma Agyeman Prempeh. We lived together for one semester during our years at Calvin College.

We couldn’t have been more different, me from Bandung, Indonesia, and Amma as I call her from Accra, Ghana. But I had a blast that semester, and will always cherish the memories. Oh and, the shito (Ghanaian spicy pepper sauce). I hope to visit Accra when international travel opens up again and eat up on it!

On to the book…

Cultural Nuances

I always enjoy learning about another culture, and Amma had plenty of cultural perspectives in her writing. For example, when she got pregnant some people would call her Abrewa, which means “Old Lady” in the Twi language. Even though she was a young pregnant woman, people called her old. Connecting pregnancy with old age is something completely new to me. Another example is when some people called her Obolo, which means “fat” in a negative way. In Chinese-Indonesian culture, older people use “fat” as a compliment, because they used to to be so poor in their generation. So “fat” is a sign of wealth and happiness. Of course, I have my own issues with this (read my article about my bulimia struggles).

I also enjoyed Amma’s sharp with and humor, something I remembered even from her younger years. She has funny terms like “pregnant vigilantes” for people who comment too much during her pregnancy, and “mummy police” for other people who commented (even more) while she was nursing her baby Nana Yaw.

The tight knit society of the Ghanaian culture showed in the many ways that the women around Amma came to support her, especially her mother and sister. At one point her sister called the local pre-school on her behalf and asked the headteacher to admit Nana Yaw earlier. She saw Amma needed the break, even if it was only for a few hours every morning.

Honestly Voicing Her Pain

There is endless literature about the joy of having children. But there is not enough literature or research about how painful and dangerous it really is, even to this day. Amma was raw and honest about her physical pains and emotional struggles. And did she have her share of physical pain! Oh my goodness. I was opened to the immense risks and consequences that young women all over the world put themselves through everyday by being pregnant and giving birth.

I mean, a recent 2017 study by WHO records that 810 women die everyday due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. After the baby is born, all attention is towards the baby, very few towards the mother who is doing fulltime childcare duties unpaid. In Amma’s case, she was doing this while also having to go back to her job, and handling other household duties. She eventually had a breakdown, realizing that as much as she tried, it was simply impossible.

“I realized…that I didn’t have to be super woman. I just had to stay alive.”

Motherhood 101, Awura Amma Agyeman Prempeh

I agree wholeheartedly with her. I lament the existing beliefs worldwide that pressure young women to be perfect in childbearing and childrearing.

It seems very few women in Ghana and Africa speak openly about the challenges and difficulties of motherhood, so I applaud Awura Amma’s courage to voice and write her story. In the introduction she writes that Motherhood 101 is the first of its kind in Ghana and Africa. I hope there will be many more, not just in Africa but also in my area of the world-Southeast Asia.

Motherhood 101 is available on Amazon Kindle. Awura Amma blogs at bookwormgh.com.

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Series Review: The Enola Holmes Mysteries

I first heard about Sherlock’s younger sister through the recently released Netflix film: Enola Holmes (September 2020). The film is a must watch. It is utterly delightful with great acting from Millie Bobby Brown who plays Enola. I then discovered the 6-book mystery series by Nancy Springer, of which the film was based upon.

Did I like the books?

YES! Fast paced, action filled, with surprisingly dark mystery themes as befits Victorian London (late 1800s to early 1900s). The author most definitely has an agenda which is to show the massive gap of gender inequality during those times, and how Enola and her mother managed to still make a life for themselves. I especially liked how the corset was used as a continuing imagery to suffocate women, but Enola brilliantly and very practically used it as a tool to hide her most precious belongings (money), including a dagger to protect herself.

How did the film and the books differ?

Films and books always have huge differences. In this case I liked both, although I will say the film tried to appeal to a more “traditional” mindset when they added possible romantic nuance between Enola and Lord Tewksbury. In the books there was no such shimmer. All Enola wanted to do was go to university and make friends with the like minded, strong-willed Lady Cecily. Oh and the ending? No spoilers but the the sixth book punches a much stronger ending.

Is it worth the investment?

The books are about $7 each. The whole set is available on Amazon Kindle for $36, so you can save some money if you buy all six books. They are very fast reading of about 10 -12 hours per book. If strong girl heroines shattering society perceptions are your thing, then this series is definitely worth the time and money.

Have you seen the movie or read any of the books? Let me know what you thought in the comments! If you are looking for more young adult fiction with strong girl heroines, check out my book Nisha.

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Super Heroines of Classic Young Adult Fantasy

Growing up with my nose in books, fictional characters were as real to me as everyday people. Their wits, courage, and attitude facing adversity inspired me during my moments of challenges. Here are five of my favorite super heroines of classic young adult fantasy.

5. Matilda from ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl

Matilda Wormwood is considered a misfit and a failure by her irresponsible parents.

Often neglected, she learns to take care of herself with the resources available to her which included intelligence and telekinetic powers. She also shows some leadership skills when she rallies her classmates to defend their beloved Miss Honey from the evil principal: The Trunchbull.

4. Princess Eilonwy from ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ by Lloyd Alexander

“I’m Princess Eilonwy. And you’re in bad trouble, aren’t you?”

The headstrong, talkative, kind and brave Princess Eilonwy of Llyr is definitely someone I would want on my team, whatever the adventure is. She is an enchantress by heritage. Her relationship with Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper is interesting because it develops from friendship first and evolves into a romantic relationship as they grow up in the course of the five books.

3. Hermione Granger from ‘Harry Potter’ by JK Rowling

JK Rowling is currently under a lot of heavy criticism about being a transphobe (someone who irrationally fears a transgender).

Her devoted fans have turned against her, including many actors from the movie series. This gives me many mixed feelings, as I literally grew up with the Harry Potter books. In the end, I decided to keep Hermione on this list because she is surely one of the most brilliant witches in the history of magic! On top of that, she is also loyal to her values even when it gets really tough.

2. Miri from ‘Princess Academy’ by Shannon Hale

Miri and her sister Marda come from a small village on Mount Eskel where the community mines for a living.

When the Capital decides the next Queen is to come from the mountains, a temporary school is set up so the mountain girls can be educated. Here Miri learns to read for the first time. Hungry for more, she digs into history and learns some truths that eventually save her village. The heart of the ‘Princess Academy’ trilogy is the importance of education. Freedom is freedom to learn, and a woman can be powerful when she has the necessary knowledge.

1. Sophie Hatter from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Dianne Wynne Jones

I am a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Guess what, so are authors such as Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Robin McKinley, and JK Rowling.

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is one of her most popular fantasy books, especially after being made into a box office animation by Studio Ghibli. Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters. In the land of Ingary, this means she is cursed to live a dull life at home. She is doubly cursed when the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. Sophie then goes on a journey to find the Wizard Howl to help her lift the curses. In the end, it is Sophie that lifts her own curse while saving Howl in the process.

Who are your favorite fictional heroines? Let me know in the comments!

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I am Giving Away a Free Sample of Nisha

I grew up reading fantasy books with strong heroines. These stories planted seeds in my mind that girls did not have to grow up just to be what society wanted her to be. She could grow up to be whoever she herself wanted to be. This is a radical notion if you are from conservative origins.

The coming of age novella titled Nisha is my own addition to the collection. It is set in a fantasy world with witches and wizards, but also incapable leaders, annoying brats, and a girl who is trying to figure out what is happening around her.

A good friend then suggested I record a narration. Hmm!

So, just about a month ago I brought the manuscript to a studio, took a deep breath, and recorded myself reading it out loud. As promised, click here to download the free sample of Nisha (audio).