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Book Review: Daughter of the Pirate King

What a FUN read. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favorite movies and piracy, in general, is a fantasy genre I’m quite besotted with, so when I came across Daughter of the Pirate King duology on booktok (tiktok accounts which focuses on books), it went to the top of my To-Be-Read. Spoiler Alerts – a whole ship of them!

Synopsis

Princess Alossa is the daughter of the fearful pirate king. She was trained personally in the art of fighting, swordsmanship, and general pirate behavior directly by her father. Her body bears the physical scars. Yet, the result is she is one of the best pirates alive. She captains her own ship named the Ava-Lee, whose crew are mainly women pirates with various abilities. Captain Alossa is beloved by her crew and in turn she does everything she can to protect them.

In the first book, she is sent on a mission to retrieve a part of a hidden map which leads to a legendary treasure trove guarded heavily by sirens. Sirens are underwater she-creatures that sing to men, sleep with them underwater, then drown them and steal their treasure). Along the journey, we find out that Alossa is so strong because her mother was the Queen of the Sirens.

The second book goes into her relationship with her mother and finding out terrible truths about her father. Together with her crewmates and the sirens, Alossa leads a battle to begin the new era- the era of the Pirate Queen.

Romance

Oh yes, there is romance alright. Riden, the ridiculously attractive first mate just keeps distracting Alossa…until she realizes that their feelings and relationship is precisely what she needs to balance her human nature and her dangerous siren nature.

What I like best about how Tricia Levenseller presents the romance is how empowered the women’s roles are. These women pirates kick ass – or rather, slit throats – and are deadly, powerful fighters. They don’t let guys mess with them, and the only guys accepted onboard the ones that respect the women and are not insecure about their own abilities.

Men who are insecure of their abilities usually end up emotionally abusing their partners. I mean, the Alossa’s father is the perfect example! Let’s just say I’m glad the Siren Queen (Alossa’s mother) got her revenge in the end.

Do I fantasize about being a pirate on board the Ava-lee? You bet. Five stars for the duology.

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Creating Nisha Characters’ Looks

One of the intriguing behind-the-scenes process of the Sacred Rituals (Nisha sequel) cover is the back and forth discussion I had via WhatsApp with Inez. We were trying to create Nisha characters’ looks. From the first cover, we were quite clear on what Nisha would look like. But what about the others? And what kind of clothes did they wear? What would the look on their faces be?

Creating Nisha’s Look

Going back to the first cover, I knew I wanted Nisha to be South Asian or Northern Indian looking. Think Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai with her gorgeous features, but more warrior like instead of ladylike. The tricky thing was working out how her robe would look like. I found myself seeking inspiration from Kashmiri style clothes and scarves. That’s how her scarf came about. The scarf design and pattern became a theme going into the cover of Sacred Rituals.

Creating Saad’s Look

Saad’s character growth really gets quite developed in Sacred Rituals. He wasn’t just a sidekick anymore, it’s clear he now has a vital role in the plot. I was inspired by a friend of mine from Sri Lanka. This friend is dark-skinned, quiet, but very perceptive and smart. He’s the type that is soft spoken but tough. In real life, he leads many private sector investments in Sri Lanka and leads forward thinking high impact business initiatives. People like this are somehow always wearing glasses! LOL.

Creating Faris’ Look

As for Faris’ look, I had in mind a friend of mine from Spain. He’s extremely bright, and very handsome. It’s interesting that I took the name from my Sri Lankan friend Faris Fausz though. Another fascinating point is that you will notice Faris’ character is a bit ambiguous throughout. Whose side is he really on? You’ll have to find out by reading it yourself, but that mysterious feel was also inspired by this friend.

To get some more backstory behind other Nisha characters’ looks (especially the Aklumites!), subscribe to my newsletter. Support our work by purchasing at the shop, along with the first book: Nisha.

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Nisha Sequel Is Here!

And finally, after getting carpal tunnel syndrome, after going to Labuan Bajo, after producing a musical…the sequel to my fantasy trilogy Nisha is released.

I would like to thank Cung for putting up with me everyday, Chriswan my editor who completely believes in Nisha’s Universe and is always doing what he can to make it more believable, and all the book reviewers, bookstagrammers, book podcasters out there who read and reviewed my books. A special shout out to Krisandryka and Sherry, my Mad Tea Book Club co-founders. Last but not least, the gorgeous illustrations came from the hand and head of Inez Wandita.

Without further ado…. Sacred Rituals by Airin Efferin.

Support me by purchasing Sacred Rituals at the shop! Please send me your thoughts, feedbacks, and honest reviews. For a sneak peek and a view of the Nisha Universe Map fresh off the cartographer’s desks, visit here.

Happy reading!

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Scenes from Faris’ Childhood, part 2

Song of the Gatum Forest

Faris had known for a while that Mama was sick. The sicker she got, the more obsessed she was about recording all her knowledge about the Outer Magics. When she became too weak to write, she dictated it to Faris, who sat next to her, writing day and night. Scrolls lay everywhere inside their home.

One afternoon she finally seemed satisfied with what they had recorded. She asked Baba and Faris to take her outside. She sat on her rocking chair by the Gatum trees and listened to them.

“They are singing. Their songs give me courage,” she said. By now Faris was able to understand bits and pieces of their speech, especially when they were rustling together. Sometimes they would each veer off in different directions and sound patterns. But he’d never heard them sing until now.

“Do they give you courage to fight the sickness, Mama?” Faris asked her with much hope.

“No, my dear one. They are giving me the courage to … move beyond.” Mama answered softly. She kissed Faris on the forehead, and then took Baba’s hand. He was openly crying, tears streaming silently down his face. Faris looked up to see how the branches seemed to be moving together, dancing against the backdrop of the clear blue sky. He listened harder, and thought he could make out the shape of their song. The dancing of the branches were connected to the song, he realized.

Mama hummed along, her voice smaller and smaller, until her notes merged in complete harmony with the trees’.

Forgotten

That very night they buried her body in the forest. Baba asked Faris to stay up all night, to watch and listen closely. He was going to perform the Ritual. Faris had never seen the Ritual before. He watched with slight fear, for he knew it was difficult magic. Baba hummed a series of low notes while executing gestures with his hands and body. He did this repeatedly, until the Forest seemed to echo his song, and the branches joined in his slow dance. Faris watched until his eyelids became too heavy, for this lasted all night. At dawn, his father woke him up.

“It is complete, son. Let’s go back inside and get some food for both of us,” Baba said as he took Faris’ hand. Rubbing his eyes, Faris looked at Mama’s grave. He gasped, for there he saw a small seedling of a Gatum tree. The Ritual had worked. Now the tree would grow.

The next couple of years unfolded in peaceful routine for the young wizard and his Father. In the day Baba taught him the speech, music, and dances of the Forest. In the evening Faris pored over his mother’s scrolls, reading and practicing while Baba wrote down his own scrolls. The Forest fed them what they needed.

When Faris finally began to understand the Forest and its speech, Baba taught him the Ritual. In the days that followed, they did nothing but focus on the rhythm and steps of the Ritual. It was taxing, and often took much of Faris’ energy so that he would be feverish the next day.

One afternoon, a messenger came to visit. He was riding a well-kept horse while ponying another horse. They both looked like they belonged to the Crown. The royal messenger handed a sealed letter to Baba. It was a message from King Chet, informing the wizard that Queen Anvi’s Barrier had fallen, and she was entrapped in a life-threatening situation.

“The time has come, son,” Baba said gravely. “King Chet begs me to help at our borders. The situation is dire. I expect to be gone for a couple of months, but I am not sure.”

“I will come with you, Baba,” Faris quickly responded. “I am ready.”

“No, you are not.” Baba put his strong hand on Faris shoulder. “Not until you master the Ritual. You must learn by yourself, the Forest will guide you.”

Faris started to object, but Baba looked straight into his eyes.

“The risk is too high if our Ritual is lost and forgotten. When you have mastered it, send a letter by the birds, and I will send a horse for you. I promise.”

Faris mastered the steps and the songs by heart, working day and night fervently. He sent a bird with his message, and waited. He waited several days, for a horse which never came. Weeks later it was the bird that returned, with a letter from the King. Baba had fought heroically with the other soldiers. But there were too many bodies. The King gave them all a proper heroes’ burning, and scattered the ashes on the hills of the borders.

Without Baba’s body, Faris could not perform the Ritual, no matter how many nights he tried. There would be no tree for Baba. The Gatum Forest would forget that this Wizard ever existed.


These scenes are part of the prologue to Sacred Rituals: the sequel to Nisha. Nisha is a coming of age fantasy novella which I wrote. You can purchase Nisha at the my shop. To see Nisha reviews and ratings, visit Goodreads.

Sacred Rituals is now available for purchase at the shop!

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Scenes from Faris’ Childhood, part 1

One of Baba’s Lessons

“Baba, I can’t hear anything,” young Faris said to his father. “I mean, I can hear sounds but I don’t understand what it means.”

“Well, that’s a start,” Baba replied in his deep voice. “It takes time, and practice, of course. Be patient with yourself, but not too patient. It is good to acknowledge you can hear them, but that you do not understand. These trees are perhaps twenty or thirty years old. They are mere buds, and also still learning. Even I can barely understand them.”

“Young like me?” The boy’s eyes lit up. “Can we be friends? I wish I had siblings.”

“You can be friends, which is why I introduced them to you, and you to them. Understand their speech, and their colony will be your friends for life. They are truer than any siblings humans can have.”

“But if I move about, if I go work for the King, then we would be far away. I won’t be able to hear them, and I’d just be lonely again,” Faris said sadly.

Baba picked him up easily. The young boy’s hands reached up for a branch closest to him. Baba let go of Faris, and the boy swung from the branches, struggling not to fall to the ground. He shifted his weight this way and that, so that his feet were resting on the trunk of the Gatum tree. Faris again heard sounds he could not understand. It was coming from the tree he was holding on to. The sound rippled and echoed to the other Gatum trees surrounding them. Faris looked at Baba in wonderment.

“Once you learn their speech, son, you will never be alone. Not as long as there is still a Gatum tree in this land. Come, your mother is waiting for us.”

One of Mama’s Lessons

“Which elephants today, Mama?” Faris asked his mother.

“We’ll work with two different ones today. Take that big stone one, and the smaller white one,” Mama answered as she cleared their table. Her lessons these past few weeks were always held inside their home, on the dinner table. When she was not teaching Faris, she would be sitting there, writing their pedagogical methods on scroll after scroll.

Faris opened a large cupboard which had rows and rows of carved elephants, from some as small as his thumbnail to the stone one as big as a coconut. It stood by itself on the bottom rack, too heavy to be placed on the higher racks. He glanced at his mother. She was still rolling up the last of the scrolls, hunched over to make small notes.

“Mama, I can lift the stone one only a little. It’s too heavy. I can’t bring it to the table.” Faris reminded his mother.

“Of course! How silly of me!” She exclaimed. From where she was standing, she made a small gesture with her hand, and the stone elephant lifted itself out of the cupboard. It glided across the room and landed on the table with a soft thud. Faris tried to imitate his mother’s hand gesture, but the stone elephant did not move again. He gave a small sigh. Turning back to the cupboard, he spotted the other elephant he was to work on today. The white elephant was much smaller, but it was behind rows of colorful wooden elephants.

He tried the gesture again, with his right hand. This time the white one lifted itself above the painted elephants and landed perfectly on his right palm. He smiled. He could lift the smaller ones.

“I saw that,” Mama laughed. “Bring it here, and we’ll practice lifting both elephants.”

Faris walked towards her with the white elephant in his hand. He felt a soft heat pulsing from the little carving.

“Mama, what is this made of?” He asked as he carefully put it on the table next to its bigger sibling. “It feels different than the wooden ones we’ve been working with. It’s more … warm, I think?”

Mama smiled, her eyes twinkling with pleasure. “I’m so proud you noticed the difference straight away! This one is carved from bone. Elephant bone. It’s extremely precious and hard to come by. Since it’s made from an actual elephant, it responds more readily o your attempts.”

Faris practiced with the bone elephant until it could move its trunk up and down, but that day he still made no progress with the stone one.

“You’ll get it soon. Stone materials are tricky,” Mama said, even as she made the stone elephant wrap and unwrap its trunk gently around a scroll.


These scenes are part of the prologue to Sacred Rituals: the sequel to Nisha. Nisha is a coming of age fantasy novella which I wrote. You can support my writing and purchase Nisha and Sacred Rituals at the my shop. To see Nisha reviews and ratings, visit Goodreads.

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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 Sacred Rituals (Nisha Sequel). Support my writing by purchasing Sacred Rituals at the 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 Sacred Rituals

“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. 


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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.