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Book Review: Poemsia by Lang Leav

Funny thing I thought this was one of Lang Leav‘s poetry collections at first. Turns out Peomsia is a contemporary fiction about a young girl who wants to be a poet. When her Instagram account suddenly becomes viral, Verity Wolf is thrown into the glittery world of celebrity poets. She gets everything she could have wanted, so what next?

Plot

The plot is quite straightforward. Poemsia is fairytale-esque with first love, a supportive best friend, evil sidekick, and quick fast glamorous success. To be honest it’s a bit simplistic because all the problems get resolved immediately. Nice, but not always the best reflection of reality – hence perfect for fairy tale happy ever after fans.

Style

Before Poemsia I read Love Looks Pretty On You which is one of Lang Leav’s poetry collection, and I must say I like that one better. She seems to be able to dig into so much artistic depth in her poems, but is unable to bring that out in the structure of a fiction. That said, there were some poetic sentences in which I though THIS IS LANG LEAV. The scene about Verity’s mother impersonating a butterfly and Verity’s answer to someone who asked her on advice for how to be a poet – those transcended above a majority of the narrative.

Lesson (Spoilers!)

I do like the lesson in Poemsia though. Verity tastes a bit of microwave success, makes some money as her poetry book becomes a best-seller, and then decides what she wanted was right in front of her all along – the bonsai garden, the small bookstore, her boyfriend Sash, her grandfather Pop, and her best friend Jess. I love these kind of lessons. As a wise mentor once told me: if you think you have problems because you don’t have money, think again. You will have twice as much problems when you do have money.

Indeed success if it’s defined ONLY by material wealth, pretty looks, and thousands of Instagram followers probably needs redefining. I’m not saying it’s bad to be rich, pretty, and be an influencer on social media. I want all of those things too! But that’s not my end goal. I want a lot of money so I can be financially secure and then support awesome charities my friends set up (from anti stunting to music education to saving the rainforest).

Another goal is to be healthy which often results in looking pretty (yeay!). I want to be an “influencer” because I want to use my voice for issues I care about (like women empowerment and sexual harassment). I also want to reduce my trash output (long term zero-waste life goal) and see more marine animals before they go extinct thanks to our collective trash load – worthy lifestyle goals to consider other than financial, health, and career goals.

Thus, any story that invites the reader to look deeper into perceived success and fame through a more critical mindset is a book I welcome.

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Book Review: Sex at Dawn

Well well well, here we are. I started this book a couple of years ago but did not manage to finish it, and now I was determined to tick it off my list. In the book’s defense, I like all its main arguments, I really do. However…

Arguments

Since this is a book that you probably will never read (it’s kind of hard to find in Indonesia), let me give you a summary. Sex at Dawn is a study of human sexual behavior from prehistoric time until modern time. The authors draw from various researches and also make several comparisons with the sexual behavior of primates (chimps, baboons, bonobos, gorillas, etc).

Sex at Dawn, page 224

The main arguments are:

  • female sexuality in humans is highly repressed
  • monogamy is the cause of unhappiness, and polyamory is something which is more natural to human beings
  • human sexuality in general is repressed
  • love and sex are two different things

Honestly, I pretty much agree with all the arguments and the positions of the authors, polyamory, and polygamy included. As long as everyone consents, why not? What bugged me, and I remember now this was why I stopped reading the book in the first place, is that it’s quite clear the authors build a weak case.

The research they draw upon as evidence to support their arguments is cherry-picking and taken out of context. Their writing style is derogatory to the readers (are they trying to be funny?) and in my opinion: not cool. They try to be slick and naughty, while I would have just preferred more data and respect for the reader.

Hang On…

Another huge thing that I am surprised and disappointed that they did not address is sexually transmitted diseases. In a book about sexual behavior which promotes more unrestricted sex, it would be logical and responsible to talk about the results of such behavior aka sexually transmitted diseases! I would have liked to see at least a chapter on the rates of STDs in some of the communities around the world which they brought up as an example of societies with more sexual freedom.

Again, this is not because I don’t agree with their arguments, but because I truly want to know how a community can responsibly manage looser sexual culture while not having skyrocketing STDs.

Cuz come on, is having wild crazy sex worth contracting an STD? Not for me. Heck no. Give me boring sex and a clean hand any day!

So yes, I hear you, but no, I don’t like the way you’re saying it.

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Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Alright, here goes me reviewing a very hype book. By now, I’m quite aware my taste in books are somewhat different than the trendy ones – although I do get curious every now and then.

Quick Description

Our main character is a journalist named Monique Grant, who was chosen by retired Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo to write her biography. Throughout her glamorous and scandalous life, Evelyn Hugo has collected and outlived 7 husbands, including outliving a daughter. Evelyn has engineered her public image in such a way to hide unflinching truths, which she now gives to Monique. A question runs throughout the whole narrative: why Monique?

My Thoughts

I rated it 3 stars on Goodreads because I think it was so-so for me. I can understand the hype – who isn’t interested in the glitzy behind-the-scenes of Hollywood? The empowerment themes for people of color and LGBTQ are also a plus point going for this book.

However, some things didn’t sit right with me because the author does a lot of “forcing a point” through Evelyn’s story. There was not much room for the reader to arrive at their own opinions nor to disagree. The whole book feels like it’s teaching how to live life, and it had some alright lessons, but also some I disagreed with.

An example is this quote:

“When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things.”

The Seven husbands of evelyn hugo

My Kindle has automatic highlight function, and it’s showing me that 8 thousand other readers highlighted this quote. So I guess a lot of readers like it. For me though, I disagree. The statement actually contradicts itself, having stated “opportunities are given” then in the next breath “nothing is given, you have to take it.” But didn’t the text just say that opportunities are given?

The world gives so many things to us – life itself is a gift from the world. If we’re reading and breathing, we’ve already taken free clean oxygen, burned some fossil fuels, or used up some tree bark.

The world gives free air for us to breathe, soil for us to grow crops, a whole planet for us to enjoy. And from the moment we popped out of our mothers’ wombs to the moment we decompose, all we do is take from the world and emit harmful poisons to our planet. Unless we are very careful with our lifestyles and have a strong commitment to leave this earth a better place, then I assure you that both you and I are criminals in nature’s eyes. I am guilty of it myself.

Personal Bias

Obviously this book is not about relationships with nature and with our environment, it’s more about human relationships and it’s got some great lessons on that. Yet my personal bias is kicking in whenever I read narratives that are only about humans. Because the world isn’t just about humans.

We know that after the pandemic. A tiny virus slammed down our activities and plans, and we had no choice but to work around how to survive with a constantly mutating virus in the air.

Ending (Spoiler Alert!)

The ending is controversial, as the whole book tries to be. And here is one point where I do agree with the author. Yes, I honestly believe that individuals in their right mind should be able to exercise their right-to-die. Done properly, it can be a meaningful and relieving experience for everyone. Take the case of Betsy, who was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease.

“Dying is easy, try living in this body.”

Betsy (VOX.Com)

So all in all, I thought The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was so-so. If you like scandalous, empowering, well-rounded tragedy narratives, try the classic Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

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Movie Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Out of the darkness…into the spotlight…

That song is now forever cemented in my head. I must also join the hype for this one and also talk about Jamie! In short, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a musical movie about a high school boy Jamie who decides he wants to wear a dress to prom.

The events of the few weeks leading up to the prom become touching and emotional as Jamie gets mixed receptions to his intentions. His best friend Preeti and his mother supports him, while his teacher, some macho bullies, and his father opposes him. Another key figure is a mentor who teaches him the ways of a professional drag queen.

The stage musical came before the movie, and it was inspired by a documentary titled Jamie: Drag Queen at 16.

Songs

It’s a musical so let’s talk about the songs. In short, they are fabulous. Put them on your Spotify play loop now and you’ll see what I mean.

The lyrics by Tom McRae are realistic and not forced, with a lot of witty humor. The melodies are simple and memorable – it reminds me of Les Misérables’ songs. Indeed the composer Dan Gillespie Sells said he connected with Jamie’s story and therefore could write the songs in a way that was hopeful and confident instead of tropic and cliché.

Some of my favorite are Spotlight (I covered it on my IG channel), Over the Top, and Everybody’s Talkin About Jamie. My Man, Your Boy is touching but whenever I listen to it I cry and bawl and sometimes I don’t want to cry and bawl, but this song makes me so emotional every single time). So it’s on my “emotional” lists not my “play all the time” list.

Story

Just like the composer, I love stories like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. It’s got a timeframe which is well defined ( a couple weeks into the prom and prom night), a clear focused struggle (he just wants to wear a dress to the prom – he isn’t trying to change the world or be a billionaire, or answer the world’s problems), realistic relationships (probably cuz its based on a true story), and a satisfying ending: everyone dances at the dance party. Simple, focused, sweet. And by being true to himself in this one thing, Jamie has touched and impacted many hearts.

We often forget that sometimes, it just takes one simple small stone to dislodge, and then the avalanche will roll.

If you like movie musicals, another one I recommend is In the Heights by Lin Manuel Miranda.

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Book Review: Rule of Wolves (Grishaverse)

Well, well. Many a twist happens in this last installment of the Grishaverse. Rule of Wolves is quite epic in comparison to all the other previous books. The plot unfolds in poor decrepit Ravka with our dears Nikolai and Zoya. At the same time it incorporates matriarchal Shu with Tamar and Princess Ehri, and of course Nina and Hanne in cold cruel Fjerda.

First of all, I am glad we don’t spend too much time in Ravka. As I said before in King of Scars, I think Ravka’s getting old. It seems Leigh knows it because that last bit at the ending was certainly breathing in new winds of change to the conservative country.

Second of all, it’s fascinating that the title “Rule of Wolves” is not about Nikolai and Zoya, but about Nina and Hanne! Wolves refer to the wolves in Fjerda, and I love this! Talk about winds of change coming for Fjerda. This part was brilliantly done, in my opinion.

Lastly, going into Shu Han territory was…interesting. So far, Leigh has never taken her readers into Shu Han territory. Thus I enjoyed getting to know this country with its vastly different cultures and customs. I’d love to read more about Shu Han because I think Leigh is just beginning to set up this area – introducing the culture and customs to her readers.

Predictions for what’s after Rule of Wolves

The ending opens a lot of possibilities for a new adventure. It hints at the return of our favorite protagonist Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows, so I don’t think this is goodbye.

In fact, my prediction for the next installment is that Kaz will have to go into Shu Han to steal what Zoya needs, while Jesper will face up to the full measure of his true self in Ravka and die a valiant death. Inej’s ship probably will be settling scores with the slavers in Kerch, while perhaps being backed up by the ministers of Novyi Zem.

Nina? Oh Gosh. Who knows with Nina. I feel her story arc has been the most unpredictable throughout this whole series, it’s as if Leigh treats her like a wild card. Beware the Heartrender turned Joker.

In the meanwhile, I await which actor will be cast as Nikolai in Season 2 of Netflix Shadow and Bone. Ruairi O’Connor, pretty please. Also, while waiting, why not check out my Grishaverse fanfics.

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Book Review: Strings Attached

Through the Mad Tea Book Club, I’ve been so pleased to meet more Indonesian readers and writers (especially women writers). One author I have really enjoyed reading is Firnita. She has two books published by Pop and Ice Cube: Strings Attached (2020), and Shorter Stories (2021).

Twitter Lift

I first met her through the #writerslift which is something fun that happens on Twitter where writers boost each other. I think this is a wonderfully supportive gesture, so we tried it on our book club’s twitter account. That’s where Firnita dropped her most recent book and how Sherry, Krisan, and I got to meet her. Then, funny as things can be sometimes, in the book club meeting that month (it was August), Krisan and I both (coincidentally) brought up Shorter Stories! That’s a sign. A good sign.

So, we decided to start a new segment on our bookclub’s Instagram which is discussion with authors, and Krisan started it off by doing an interview with Firnita. You can check out the whole interview here.

Strings Attached

Strings Attached is written in a genre of which I had never heard before called flash fiction. It’s a collection of many short fiction stories surrounding the theme of romance. The book also has some really modern illustrations which I LOVED. They totally added to the atmosphere of reading the stories.

The first and second section is the fluttering and bliss of being in love, so it will suit you if you are a helpless romantic. To be honest, I’m not a romantic person anymore, so I liked the third section better which was about the despair of break-ups and rejections. Yes, me likes this. Much more realistic.

Despite my personal tastes though, the stories (written in English) were well written and had a lilt to it, something like a slow dance. Firnita did say in the interview with Krisan that she loves music, so this is where it shows.

Q and A with Firnita

To make this article more fun, I decided to ask Firnita several questions about Strings Attached. Here they are.

Airin: How did you get the ideas for the flash fiction stories in strings attached? were some from real-life observation, or from experience, or?

Firnita: The stories in strings attached are mostly my train of thoughts in class for 6 years (haha). The idea is whatever I can finish in that one sitting, that’s it. It’s a collection of pieces from my notebooks: science, English, Bahasa Indonesia, everything. Some of them are real-life observations, movie-watching observations, and experience. It’s a mix of all~

Airin: Why do you find writing in English easier than Bahasa Indonesia?

Firnita: I always feel bad for writing in English because I know I do love Bahasa Indonesia too, but I guess it’s the matter of upbringing. I attended a semi-international school where most of the materials were taught in English, so I got to familiarize myself with English since kindergarden. I do write in bahasa too btw!! Haha.

Airin: I have noticed in my own writing, where I write something from my imagination, and then couple months after then it happens. It’s CRAZY! I am wondering if this has ever happened to you, like suddenly one or two of the stories you wrote happened in real life.

Firnita: OH I’ve heard this too! I can say that some pieces in Strings Attached are my manifestations, but I don’t know whether it will happen in the near/far future. But it happened to me too, just not the pieces in Strings Attached! Nothing specific, but when it happened I felt like I think I wrote this a while ago in my journal. And BAM when I trace back to my old journals, I see that piece manifest in the event that just happened, lol.

Way cool!

To support Firnita, purchase a copy of her books by contacting her.

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Series Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches is essentially a forbidden romance between a vampire and a witch, based on All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. My first reaction: groan, cliché. I am not one for cliché and tropes. I gave A Discovery of Witches a shot though, because our protagonist witch Diana Bishop is a brilliant history professor. Well, that’s an uncliché heroine profession, and she does all these cool things like rowing, yoga, running…

I like heroines that exercise.

Okay, fine. I like heroines that exercise. I’m a deep believer of exercise. Turns out the further I watch and get into the story, the more I like it.

The Story Gets Better and Better

And the main reason is that it gets less and less cliché . I am not sure how the author did this because all the plot devices used are all “old” – in season two the vampire Matthew and the witch Diana travels back in time to Elizabethan England. I mean, isn’t time travel annoying by now? Apparently not in this series.

The time travelling in Season Two is used to build and strengthen some very important relationships, and I think that’s why it works. There was also a beautiful part in which some characters from the past sent messages to characters in the future and WOW. I’m speechless.

Despite the premise of witches and vampires, I find Diana and Matthew (the protagonist blood sucker)’s romantic relationship to be very realistic, and actually rather an ideal relationship to strive for. They’re not toxic like Edward and Bella in Twilight (I think that’s where my ban of the species started). Matthew’s got some trippy things going on due to his genetics, but everyday he tries to handle and manage it. Diana is right there next to him and she never leaves him. Bad days, good days, she’s there. They can count on each other.

I also love how Diana is such a powerful character – she never lets Matthew be too overbearing or overprotective, she reminds him of his place – and of hers.

Strong Side Characters

Aside from Diana and Matthew, this series has a whole lot of very interesting side characters and strong female characters. Other witches and vampires, the demon species (demon congresswoman Agatha Wilson is a rock star!), and some of the humans (Phoebe, damn girl) were kick-ass and really pulled me in.

All in all, I am very glad I gave this series a shot. By the way, if you’re looking for another show with kick-ass heroines, do check on the hit series Shadow and Bone.

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Book Review: King of Scars (Grishaverse)

Did someone say handsome, witty, funny, kind? Yes, he said it himself. Nikolai Lantsov, the current ruler of Ravka, and as the title suggests: the King of Scars.

King of Scars is the 6th book in the Grishaverse series, and if you follow this saga from Netflix Shadow and Bone then you will know that the second season is coming out soon. Which means we are all awaiting who is going to be cast as Nikolai. My absolute plea is Ruairi O’Connor from The Spanish Princess. Please, Sankta Alina, please.

Update : Sankta Alina has answered my prayers in the form of bookstagrammer @yourstrulyjulietta. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this reel she made for Mad Tea Book Club.

Back in Ravka

Sorry, got sidetracked by the King (and Ruairi). To get back to the book, King of Scars brings our adventure to Ravka with Nikolai and the Squaller Zoya Nazyalensky who is now Commander Nazyalensky, General of the Ravkan army. So, I have this little theory which is that whenever Leigh Bardugo goes back to Ravka, it feels like we enter into a very religious, conservative place governed by “shoulds”.

Zoya thinks she should behave a certain way. Nikolai thinks he should be showing a certain aura, which is problematic due to the darkness growing inside of him as a souvenir from the Darkling. Should, should, should. I love the two characters and their budding relationship, but “shoulds” always annoy me. That’s why I loved Six of Crows duology, which I think are the best two books of this series – because the characters were free of “shoulds”. The Crows just did what they had to do to survive, and that was it. Simple.

Ravka is always so unnecessarily complicated, sigh.

The highlight of this book was Nina Zenik’s adventure over in Fjerda. Nina’s character in this book is fabulous. She goes through so much and faces it, then takes it further by moving with it. Leigh Bardugo’s brilliant plan to host the two separate adventure lines worked well, because a whole book centered again in Ravka would be too similar to Shadow and Bone and would thus frankly be boring.

I got Game of Thrones vibes from this book, especially how it starts with the perspective of a minor character. The political intrigues, deceptions, and trickeries really remind me of GRRM’s writing. Not a bad thing. Just an observation.

All in all, I did enjoy Nikolai and Zoya, and even made a mild smut fanfic on these two!

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Movie Review: Cinderella 2021

Cinderella must be one of the most often retold fairy tales out there. If you like the dusty girl, bullied to misery by her stepmother and two stepsisters, then be prepared to add this rendition to your list.

Cinderella, a jukebox movie musical by Amazon prime is a fun, fresh take on the old tale. The songs chosen were hits from the 80s pops to some newly written original songs. I won’t lie, I watched it for my heroine, Idina Menzel, who played Stepmother. Yes, Elsa from Frozen and Elphaba from Wicked and now Cinderella’s Stepmother.

A Fresh Retelling

Several reasons why this version is fresh and thus worthy of your time:

  1. Ella as (Camila Cabello) is as modern as modern goes! She likes love, but doesn’t want to put a “label” on it. Presented the choice of marriage with Prince Charming or growing her business, she chooses to grow her business. She’s sassy but still the smart and kind Cinderella figure we all know.
  2. Fairy god mother is genderless? This is brilliant! Although Billy Porter only shows up for several minutes to magic up Ella’s dress, they stole the show! I absolutely loved it!
  3. Idina Menzel as Stepmother is something else. I really like how the writer reshaped this character into not just your classic villain, but someone who is actually trying to do what she really believes is best for the family. And she is material as material goes, but we all know it’s good to be material. If girls don’t have their own money, they just end up in powerless situations and are likely to be abused.
  4. Princess Gwen! What a fabulous twist and additional character! The younger sister of Prince Charming has always thought of plans and strategies for the betterment of the land, but has constantly been rebuffed by their father due to his patriarchal views. Despite this, their brother and sister vibe was rock on, and I enjoyed how they tried to support each other instead of take the other down.
  5. That leads us to the last telltale role of Cinderella: the prince. Prince Charming (Nicholas Galitzine) is a spoiled brat here, but learns some really good lessons and becomes someone who is a happy supporter to Ella’s budding career. What a nice stab at gender reversals.

All in all, I truly enjoyed this remake of Cinderella, much more than I thought I would. Want another fun Cinderella retelling? Try Marissa Meyer’s futuristic Cinder (book version), in which Cinderella is a (get ready for it) cyborg.

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Book Review: Crooked Kingdom

Leigh Bardugo definitely notches up her writing game with the Six of Crows duology. Crooked Kingdom is the sequel to Six of Crows and the fifth book in the Grishaverse. In this installment, Kaz Brekker and his band of thieves and thugs conclude their grand heist, which began in Six of Crows.

Character Development

The story arcs of Kaz and Inej, the Suli assassin indebted to him were just beautiful here. Fans of Kaz-Inej relationship will be very happy. Nina Zenik played a smaller part in this book in comparison to Six of Crows, but that’s alright because in the next duology (book 6 and 7 of Grishaverse), she is HUGE. Like larger than life. In this book however, well. Let’s just say I know all too well the horrors she has to go through in Crooked Kingdom. Enough said or it will spoil the ending.

I think that Jesper’s character was developed very well and brought to a nice ripe growth, especially with the appearance of someone special to him. Jesper started off as someone unwilling to face his true identity. He masked sorrows with a huge addiction to gambling and adrenaline. Through his adventures in Crooked Kingdom, however, he is able to somewhat come to terms with himself. I can almost smell future development for Jesper! What will a bright energetic person like Jesper be able to pull off once he has fully acknowledged his strengths and weaknesses? I can’t wait to see.

Full of Deceit and Trickery

With a grand heist, layers of deception from the antagonists and the protagonists (read: Kaz Brekker’s schemes), Crooked Kingdom can honestly be a bit tricky. Leigh Bardugo also employs a lot of flashbacks to flesh out the backstory of her characters, which I loved. I really enjoyed getting to know them better. However, I wonder if there is another way to pull this off so that it’s not so confusing to the main plot. I can see it working extremely well in movie format though. And I’ve heard rumors of a Six of Crows spinoff by Netflix…

I also must mention that as much as I enjoy Leigh Bardugo’s poetic writing, I feel sometimes it got bit carried away. As a result, some descriptions were a bit unclear for me because it went into the realm of poetry instead of being crisp and clear about what was going on.

All in all, I loved Six of Crows duology – so much that I even wrote a fanfic of it! Check out my Six of Crows fanfic ,told from Jesper’s point of view.