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Nisha Universe Map

MY OH MY!!! Dear readers finally, after several revisions and going back and forth with the Inez the illustrator, Chriswan the editor, and my dear husband Cung who loves looking at maps, THE NISHA UNIVERSE MAP IS HERE!

This was prepared as a complimentary document for the upcoming Nisha Sequel. The sequel will be released on July 1st (which is also my 34th birthday!) and will be available for purchase at my shop. As always, if you are a reviewer and would like to make an honest review, I am happy to send the book for free. Just send me a message.

The map becomes an important source of information because the sequel sees our characters expanding in the locations of their adventures. The geography of the kingdom starts to play a more vital part in understanding the plot, so I decided it was time to bring out the cartographers.

Without further ado, THE MAP.

I am so pleased with how it turned out! I hope you are too. Now, for some bonus material…a snippet of the sequel. Yes. It’s happening. Wait for the whole thing, July1st!!!


Snippet of the Sequel

“Let’s rest our horses here for the night,” Mares pointed out to Saad an opening in the forest, off the side of the dirt road. There was a small stream nearby, perfect for the horses to drink from. 

“We have travelled far in the two days since we left the Border. We will arrive before tomorrow evening. It is a farther distance from the highlands where the King will be coming from. Our party is likely to arrive before them.”

Saad nodded, and they dismounted from their tired horses. 

Thank you, he spoke as he patted the steed’s head gratefully. Though the horse could not reply, Saad knew that she appreciated his gesture. 

Saad thought he would have much-preferred flying, for it was faster and more exciting. But there was no way for him to change back into his human form when they arrived. He could not transform by himself, he needed the help both an Outer Movement and an Inner Movement magician. This was something else he found out during his time at the Border. It appeared his magic could not stand on its own, but rather it served to link up, amplify, or temper the movements. For when he managed to connect the movements, the outcome was astonishing.

Perhaps he should not have left them, Saad thought, regretting his decision to go. What was he hoping to accomplish without Faris and Nisha? Saad quickly shook his head. This would not do. He left on his own choice to seek his people. Yet deep down he was missing Faris and Nisha too much. 

Mares was an adept guide, but not the best company, nor much of a chatter. During their resting times, the soldier largely watched Saad silently without offering any conversation. On occasion, he would take out his knives and sharpen them. This evening, after eating the bread and dried fruit General Char insisted them to take, Mares took out some pistols and examined the weapon with much care. 

Saad did not feel the soldier would like to be interrupted, so he simply laid down, staring up at the stars that peeked out from the top of the leaves. He tried to count how many there were but always drifted off before he could finish. The past two nights he dreamed of the fortress at the border, Nisha, and always the green eyes of Faris. But this night he dreamed of the ocean, of stars falling into them, and of a young dark-skinned woman carrying a baby. 


If you want to get special contents about how I created the Nisha Universe, and where some of the inspirations came from, subscribe to my newsletter. You can also support my writing by purchasing the first book at my shop.

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

A dear friend all the way back from my college years recommended this one to me. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is book number 21 on my Goodreads challenge to read 60 books this year. Not bad eh? I’m quite on schedule! This reading challenge is expanding my knowledge and my network, and it’s even resulted in the wonderfully nerdy Mad Tea Book Club.

Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review. I haven’t mastered the art of reviewing books without spoiling the plot or ending (it’s like reviewing food without actually saying the ingredients…tips anyone??). But I won’t give it away for this book because the plot twist is so important. It would be horrible to give it away. Wait till the end, and let the twist wash over your whole realization…

Synopsis

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the debut novel of Scottish author Gail Honeyman, who wrote it when she was working as an administrator at Glasgow University. This situation mirrors her character Eleanor who works as a back office finance clerk to a graphic design company. She issues invoices. Exciting isn’t it?

Okay, anyone who does admin work will testify it’s not exciting. It’s tedious and boring and absolutely incredibly necessary. A great admin knows he or she makes or breaks the project, especially if it’s a FINANCE admin. Money is the life and blood of the company, and when Eleanor takes a break from her office to sort out her clinical depression then everyone realizes this.

Yes, Eleanor Oliphant has clinical depression. And she is very lonely. Her antisocial behaviors do not help her loneliness. Add on to this a past incident due to a very toxic mother and you have a woman who is completely fine on the outside, but crumbling inside.

Loneliness

To keep her loneliness at bay, Eleanor stocks herself up on vodka every weekend. As Eleanor finds out throughout this book though, just one sincere person can make a big difference in life. That person is Raymond, the unhygienic, new IT guy at the office.

If you have just one friend that you can count on, that’s enough. You’re rich beyond measure if you have two or three.

Indeed we don’t need to have too many friends. If you have just one friend that you can count on, that’s enough. You’re rich beyond measure if you have two or three. But to build lifelong friendships, you must first open yourself up and be completely vulnerable. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine is a story of a brilliant, independent girl, who finds the courage to be real, to be vulnerable, and ultimately, to be herself.

It is a powerful debut novel indeed.

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Book Review: Heartless

My fellow co-founders of the Mad Tea Book Club Sherry from The Cozy Library and Krisandryka Wijaya recommended Heartless. In fact, Marissa Meyer is Sherry’s favorite author! With such high recommendations, I thought I had to check it out. Spoiler Alerts!

Synopsis

Heartless is a delicious, flirtatious, and absolutely MAD retelling of how the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) became so angry, vengeful, and well…heartless all the time. Given the title and the subject of choice, we all know where the ending is going right?

Obviously, the relationship between the protagonist Lady Cath and the mysterious court Joker Jest was not going to go well, even before those two characters were ever conceived. Alas, a sad destiny. But oh, the build-up! Marissa Meyer is great at building up the chemistry between the two of them, and slow cooking them into each other’s lives.

All our favorite characters from Wonderland are here. The Hatter (who is not yet mad!), Cheshire the invisible-invincible-infuriating cat, and even the monster we all love to slay: the Jabberwock. Thinking about it, I wonder why no one has made a retelling of the Jabberwock’s story…a little ugly beast dejected by the other creatures, his environment destroyed as a result of the ever-pressing humans into his natural environment…okay there’s an idea for you writers!

Too Long?

As much as I enjoy Wonderland and all its loony characters, I felt like this book was rambling on a bit too long. Lady Cath is extremely indecisive in choosing her dreams over the expectations of her parents. She is equally as flimsy in choosing between the mysterious Jest or the silly but kind King. Several of the back and forth scenes also did not add anything to the plot, nor to the characters’ developments.

The ending still packed a punch despite being obvious (the creepy Three Sisters even prophesied it). However, I was so impatient that by the time I got to the ending, I was not as heart-broken as Cath.

All in all, 3 stars. Would I venture to read more Marissa Meyer’s stuff? YES, because I do love fairy tale retellings. I just hope the other protagonists are more decisive than this one!

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Book Review: Where’d you go, Bernadette?

The first time I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette was several months before I met my first husband: Oky Kusprianto. Why, do you ask, is this important? BECAUSE BERNADETTE IS AN ARCHITECT! Many things happened in my life (like Oky suddenly dying), and I forgot about how much I loved this book until the Mad Tea Book Club was born. Several weeks ago I was doing some content planning with fellow co-founders Sherry from The Cozy Library and Krisandryka Wijaya. Our theme for March is women-themed books, so I remembered Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

I re-read the book and it was every bit as hilarious and touching as the first time around. This time, the significance of Bernadette being an architect was highlighted because I also watched the film with Cung, my second husband. Cung is also an architect, by the way. The film version stars Cate Blanchett who was amazing as the genius and reclusive Bernadette Fox.

Synopsis

Two days before Christmas Break, Bernadette Fox disappears. She leaves behind Elgin Branch, a top officer at Microsoft, Balakrishna “Bee” Branch, their bright teenage daughter, and Ice Cream, the beloved family dog. The whole family was supposed to go on a holiday to Antarctica as a treat to Bee for her stellar grades in school.

The story is told mainly from Bee’s perspective, with heavy use of emails, texting, recorded phone communication, and also written letters. Bee shifts through all this material to try to find out exactly what happened to her mother.

I love this book because…

Me copying Bernadette Fox.

Maria Semple’s satiric style is absolutely a kick. Even the plot is satirical, although in an all too possible way in this digital age and time. Bee is a lovely girl, and it is her relationship with her mother that this whole book lies upon. At the heart of it is not a detective story, but a story of the incredible bond between a daughter and her mother, and how that relationship can look like in this modern era.

There is nothing I don’t like about this book. That should tell you something because I’m very, very picky with the books I read. I love Bernadette so much, I even started copying her fashion style!

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Finished Writing Nisha Sequel!

I am SO EXCITED!

The Nisha sequel is another novella format with 24 thousand words (the first one had 21 thousand words). There are two backstories: Faris’ and Saad’s backstories which I had actually written last year right after I finished Nisha. Then I put it away and started writing narratives for Sketches and Regrets.

The plan was to pick back up on the sequel in December. Away at a small island diving and writing -sounds pretty dreamy, doesn’t it? Well, too many things happened that month (read about my dad getting Covid). I’m just glad we all made it through the year.

Thus here we are at the beginning of 2021 and I had no other excuse. I thought if I was going to write I might as well hack away and punch at the keyboard. I think something about the years of concert pianist training paid off because I am VERY disciplined. And I can punch at keyboards pretty fast 😀

Battle Scenes in the Nisha Sequel

What was challenging for me was the first battle scene between some of our heroes and their enemies: the Aklums. I never wrote a battle scene before and didn’t know where to start. Research saved the day. This writing blog had great tips on creating fast-paced battle scenes.

I also read up on some epic battle scenes from Tolkien and Nancy Springer (The Book of Isle). After that, there was not much else but to just go and try it. One Sunday afternoon I woke up super early (about 5 AM) to condition myself. I drank some water, opened the laptop, and just dove in.

I’m so glad I kept at it because the next battle scene became easier. There are 2 battle scenes in this sequel, and they are crucial to the plot. The feeling after finishing the last chapter of the sequel is exhilarating!

A writing mentor Devika Brendon posted this on her Instagram several months ago.

From Devika’s Instagram post: July 24 2020

Well the draft is now in the trustworthy hands of my editor: Chriswan Sungkono. Wish me luck everyone!

Nisha is available in eBook and audiobook format at the shop.

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Sketches and Regrets Concept

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.

Idea

The Sketches and Regrets concept 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.