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Book Review: The Heart Principle

I am so in love. Helen Hoang!!! Scream!

Okay. The Heart Principle is book 3 in The Kiss Quotient trilogy, and since they work fine as stand alones I started with Anna Sun and Quan Diep (QUAN DIEP STAND) because Anna Sun is a classical violinist so hello! I am sure we can related. And gosh did we relate.

The Tropes

What could be better than a contemporary romance (The Heart Principle isn’t a rom COM, not at all) with these tropes: badass bike boy whose got tattoos all over his body and goody Chinese-American violinist girl trope? How about if the badass boy is a cancer survivor and goody violinist girl is autistic? Yeah. I told you it ain’t a rom COM because I don’t think it’s got comedic elements at all, despite the fun and light cover. It’s actually really sad, honest, and so, so romantic.

Anna Sun

As a classical violinist I am just in AWE of Helen Hoang’s portrayal of Anna’s struggles with her music. It’s spot on. I mean, granted, it’s on the extreme side of the representation, but Anna is kind of an extreme girl. When she’s good, she’s so good and pleasing to everyone. When she snaps…let’s say certain precious things get shattered. Permanently.

Anna’s family situation is so relatable on so many levels, that I seriously had to skip some pages because it was so triggering to read it portrayed just like that on the page. Take heed readers, I’m not kidding, it hits home and stabs our hearts especially if you’re a Chinese diaspora.

Quan Diep

Quan. This guy is FIXED my favorite fictional guy this year! Adam Carlsen from The Love Hypothesis can move aside because Quan Diep is the most sensitive, kind, caring, COOL, patient, cutest boyfriend ever. Seriously girls, you are going to fall hard for this Vietnamese biker man. His character is so three dimensional it feels like I might run into him anytime!

Autism Representation

Let’s also not forget how amazing it is to have an autistic author write characters with various representations of being on the spectrum. I seriously learned so much. What a lot of valor it takes to be unapologetically yourself, whatever state it is.

I immediately tried to get my hands on physical copies of The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, and am so excited to start reading them.

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Book Review: Transcendent Kingdom

I bought Transcendent Kingdom at CGK (Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta) last year, before going on a holiday at Labuan Bajo with Rafida Adventure. I’m very interested in Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian-American author. One of the main issues in the book is a brother who struggles with substance-abuse, so that caught my eye also.

I’m glad I ended up NOT reading it that holiday because LOOK IT AIN’T NO HOLIDAY BOOK. I ended up reading through The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer that holiday. PHEW that was a better choice for the occasion.

This Holiday

But this year, for Lebaran (Idul Fitri holidays) we decided to stay inside. Plus, I’ve picked up the wonderful hobby of annotating (thanks to the wonderful influences of bookstagrammer @yourstrullyjulietta). I don’t have that many physical books since I mostly read on my Kindle, but Transcendent Kingdom has been sitting there for a year so I said: alright. It is time. Let us do this.

Transcendent Kingdom, page 126

Painfully Relatable

Transcendent Kingdom is about Gifty, a Ghanaian-American scientist narrating through her childhood and growing up experiences as a black, conservative evangelical Christian in Alabama, whose father walks out on the family, brother struggles with substance abuse issues, and mother gets severe depression: anhedonia. Just by that alone you know it’s not going to be an easy book. The emotional damage was so intense I had to eat painkillers afterwards.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone. The writing is great (brutal, really), but just like The Weight of Our Sky by Malaysian author Hanna Alkaf, please make sure you’re completely ready to begin the journey. Make sure you’re in an okay state of mind, absolutely knowing it’s gonna hurt even still.

Christianity Themes

The way the author goes about Christianity makes me wonder what people of other beliefs would experience if they read Transcendent Kingdom. There are a lot of references to Bible verses. Many scenes are from Southern Church culture, and I think it can really be up in your face at times.

I’m glad Yaa Gyasi wrote Transcendent Kingdom, because it helped me process some of the painful things in my life. If you personally deal with any of the issues above then I think this book will speak to your soul as well.

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Trilogy Review: Shades of Magic

This is the first time I’ve read VE Schwab, thanks to @yourstrulyjulietta! Throughout reading Shades of Magic trilogy I had a blast gossiping with Khloe from @bookies_cloudeleven, Feb at @feb_books and Heni at @heniaakbar. I think I finished the whole trilogy in about a week…

A Darker Shade of Magic

The first thing that stuck out to me was VE Schwab’s writing, which shone brightest in A Darker Shade of Magic, in my opinion. Brilliant play of words and sentences to evoke the mood of the whole thing. Next up are the characters. Kell, Rhy, Holland, the Dane twins, all fascinating. Lila Bard…well 😀 I think she’s a character you either hate or love, you can’t really be on middle ground with this one. The worldbuilding with four Londons / worlds (although we don’t see much of them besides Red) is a cool concept, although I kind of wish there was a bit more variety between the worlds, not just with the level of magic.

Shades of Magic series is branded as adult fantasy, but this first installment had kind of a young adult feel to it (not necessarily a bad thing, I love YA books), perhaps because of Kell, Lila, and Rhy’s struggles with their identities and figures of authority, which is usually a YA theme.

A Gathering of Shadows

Hmm, sadly A Gathering of Shadows gets a Middle Book Syndrome verdict from me. Not much happens for a looong time until the games (the magician’s tournament). When the tournament finally started it was great, but by then I was skimming Kell and Rhy’s POVs, especially because they got rather whiny. Lila’s POV learning how to be a pirate from Alucard on the Night Spire, although lacking in plot, is something I love because I highly romanticize pirates (and secretly want to be a pirate myself so there you have it).

I’ve seen some reviews on Goodreads really hashing it out on Lila’s character (she’s special, one of a kind, not like other girls) while some other reviews gush and love how bad-ass she is – therein in my conclusion you can’t really be ambivalent with Lila, you either hate or or love her. For me, the thing about Lila is that her character is consistent. From the beginning to the end she was selfish, up-in-your-face, too much, and very very gray. So I think if she actually started to behave (gasp) better it would be weird and almost disappointing. Like, I’m just counting on her to be a wild card and bring trouble. HOWEVER, I have noticed a disturbing pattern which carries on to the third book…

A Conjuring of Light (SPOILER)

Okay so the disturbing thing about Lila Bard is that all the women around her dies. Calla, her dressmaker, Kisimyr the magician, Ojka the assasin, the Queen, Princess Cora, and even Jasta the other lady pirate (whom I thought was a really cool female character). By now I’m rather traumatized and really hope the author lets more female characters survive (in the expansion of the series) because pretty please?

Aside from the above concern, I gulped A Conjuring of Light in A DAY (and it’s the longest of three books). It was thrilling and quite emotional! The best thing I like is the fall of the city, the chaos afterwards, and how they slowly come upon the solution. The romance between Kell + Lila and Rhy + Alucard was delightful. Me likes.

Holland’s character is…tragic. It kind of felt like the first book was about Kell, the second about Lila, and the third about Holland. His fate is tied, has been tied to his world from the beginning – gosh what a burden to carry bro.

So here is what I think is really cool about the 3 Antaris + 1 (Voldemort-ish) piece of black magic. Lila from Gray London has always wanted freedom, which she gets by moving to another world. Kell from Red London just always wanted to belong, which he also gets by staying in Red, and Holland gets the hard knock of brutal fate, but at least granted his dying wish to breathe last in White London. Osaron, the black magic from Black London just wants more more MORE, and he too gets it (if my prediction is correct about the open ending). Look, everyone gets what they want!

If you like Shades of Magic, I would highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (my favorite author) or Broken Earth series by NK Jemisin.

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Book Review: Six Crimson Cranes

Yeay for more representation of Asian fantasy in western bookstores! Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim has a gorgeous cover which winks at me every time I walk into Periplus. Irresistible.

Expectations Check

I think the cover got me too excited though, because I started Six Crimson Cranes with too high expectations. The writing is poetic, fairy tale like, and quite enjoyable. However I couldn’t connect with the main character Princess Shiori, nor any of the other characters except maybe Raikama. She is the stepmother who fondly takes me back to memories of Pai Su Chen the White Snake! Princess Shiori, on the other hand, falls flat, although to her credit she got more interesting towards the end.

Plot (MILD SPOILERS!)

The middle section is draggy for me, and rather repetitive. The plot twist at the end is very much appreciated because if not Six Crimson Cranes would have been nothing new. Another story we’ve all heard before. Granted the tale might be new to a western reader, but as someone who grew up watching Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Indonesian dramas, well…let’s just say there’s not enough of a hook.

Arranged Marriage Trope

Maybe I just can’t find it in me to appreciate arranged marriage tropes, which is the crux of the whole book. Princess Shiori is to marry a lower lord, and she despises him (whom she’s never met). Then when she actually gets to know the said Lord Takkan, and Shiori (of course) falls in love.

I suppose it sounds romantic for someone (perhaps from a non Asian culture) who hasn’t actually ever been forced into a setup. But for someone who’s gone through that whole process: sorry, I gotta say I hate the trope. Not to mention I am of the belief that marriage itself is an institution that is outdated (it has its roots in women as property) and well I’m just gonna rail off so let’s stop here.

All in all, if you ask me what I didn’t like about this book, it has nothing to do with the writing, and more to do with the fact that I just don’t like the story because of personal taste and experiences. If I do read the sequel, it will be because I’m interested in Eastern Dragons and would really like to see how the author fleshes out the dragon court. (Yes, I wished this book was more about Seryu than Shiori.)

If you like a good female power (feminist!) Asian vibe fantasy, do try She Who Became the Sun, or Land of Sand and Song by Singaporean author Joyce Chua.

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Book Review: First Drop of Red

I’ll be honest the first thought in my head when I saw First Drop of Red and the dramatic cover was: WOW A POETRY BOOK ABOUT MENSTRUATION! Written by a young Indonesian female poet and published by POP (Gramedia imprint), it’s a sign that our world is changing, truly! I would never have been able to find such a book when I was a teenager going through my own “first drops of red”.

Surprise

Aha. So the poems are not about menstruation – talk about super imposing your perspective into a text (oh, me). The poems in First Drop of Red are about colonialism, growing into womanhood, the deconstruction of virginity (GODS DO I LOVE THIS), and self-acceptance. In the wonderful way that poetry is, there are also many other cryptic layers and hidden meanings amongst the words, lending itself to various possible interpretations depending on who you are as a reader and how (and when) you are reading it.

My Favorite Parts

I always enjoy a good honest ranting. Angry poems ala Sylvia Plath are only the beginning of centuries of women being oppressed and pushed down and considered second-rate to men. Dinda Mulia delivers good on the angry vibes. Preach it girl!

The collection doesn’t just have justified anger, though. First Drop of Red also has burning sensual moments building up to a beautiful climax. For me, it’s in The Yearning section, beginning with the poem Man with the Ocean Hue told from the woman’s perspective, shifting on to the man’s perspective with Dark Eyes (of the Night, Beneath the Moonlight).

“Made a dog out of this loyal darling…”

dinda mulia

That line for me feels like the pinnacle of the book. Perhaps because of the “dog” allegory which for many of Indonesia’s societies is considered haram (forbidden, dirty). Without cultural context this might not read as powerful; steamy romance genres are, after all, full of werewolf dogmen submitting to their female mates. But within Indonesian perspective, for a man to admit that a woman has made him into a dog is earth-shattering. Couple that with the gorgeous illustration by Pinahayu Parvati and I’m seriously getting goosebumps. Such a combination rarely happens by accident, so let’s give a nod to the editor: Anida Nurrahmi.

After this set of two poems comes My Atheist Boy which feels like a solidifying statement: the ground has settled, but it’s not the same ground as before.

Revolutionary

It takes a lot of courage for women in our society to step up and write about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Every time a woman does that, it’s a small act of revolution. I suspect the work is far from over, and there is much to do still. But a revolution consists of millions of small acts, continuously pushing authoritative doctrine made to suffocate women. With our voices, we claim back our dignity. With our pens, we write our way into a new world.

Go on, show your support and purchase the book. If you like Asian vibe poetry by women poets, consider also flinch and air by Laura Jane Lee, or check out my first poetry collection at the shop.

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Book Review: Circe (with Spoilers)

Last month I read the classic science fiction book Dune by Frank Herbert. Every amazing world and religion building aside, I still can’t reconcile myself with what the author did to the characters of Chani and Princess Irulan in the end. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. I needed to balance myself with a strong dose of feminist voice. Thank goodness Madeline Miller’s Circe came to the rescue.

Circe’s plot pretty much follows the Greek myths of a minor nymph goddess named Circe. You can check out the myth here. In this post, I want to talk about how Madeline Miller hit so many aspects of womanhood through Circe’s story. Okay, it does span centuries so that’s a hint that Circe goes through a lot. ALERT : SPOILERS!

Womanhood Through Circe

You name it, Circe has it. Daddy issues? Circe was a daddy’s girl through and through. She starts out worshipping Helios (her Titan father the Sun). She ends up asking (demanding, threatening…) Helios to disown her as a daughter to go off and do her own thing. That’s the full circle alright.

First love problems? Say hi to Glaucos whom Circe loved so much she made him a god. And voila, he became not a god but an ass (figuratively speaking). Friends with benefits? She’s tasted it too. Hey there, Hermes, what’s up. A momentary warmth of love, and as always with the Greeks, tragedy? Enter Daedalus, the father of Icarus.

Sibling rivalries are abundant with Pasiphae (the Minotaur’s mummy), Perses, and Aetes. When Circe “grows up” into a more matured goddess, she finds herself playing as Auntie to monsters and menaces. In her exile she learns to finally accept herself and her vulnerabilities. Her powers as a witch grows and thrives on the island of Aeaea.

Climax

The climax of the story is in the last third , when Odysseus (yes, from The Song of Achilles!) comes and Circe has an amorous relationship with the married man, leading to her son Telegonus. Circe’s motherhood experience is handled with such a realistic tone that I applaud the author. When time comes for Circe to let her son go out into the world, she is heartbroken like every mom, but she does not prevent him.

By the time we get to Telemachus (son of Odysseus and Penelope), I can’t say how happy I am for Circe. Telemachus is THAT guy “society” says she should avoid in her later years – I mean, she slept with his daddy yo. But love conquers social norms, as the Greeks have said it from ages past. I’ll attest to that.

And here is the author’s most driving point: that Circe chose a different life than the life she was born with. She made a different world for herself, and in that she made her own happiness.

Friends, please read Circe. You won’t regret it.

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Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I recently did a reread of one of my favorite books ever: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I read it in English – it’s originally written in French. The message came across well enough through the translated text, at least for me. It must be absolutely glorious in its original language though.

Plot

Madam Michel, the concierge of a wealthy apartment building, is an “old soul” hiding behind the pretense of a dull janitor. One of the tenants in the building is the Josse family, with their two daughters: Colombe and Palome. The younger, Palome, is planning her suicide. The story follows Madam Michel and Palome as they observe their separate daily lives. One day a new tenant moves in: the Japanese man Kakuro Ozu. Through Kakuro, Madam Michel and Palome befriend each other. They realize they are invariably made of the same inner material.

Philosophical

The story is purposefully slow, like a film on slow motion. It’s full of lengthy expositions on Madam Michel’s thoughts of the bourgeoisie and Palome’s thoughts of the shallow life of adults. I’ll honestly say it’s one of the slowest books I’ve come across. Yet through their perspective of the small things around them, I have learned so much. In that way, it’s really as much a philosophy book as it is fiction. Think Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The author makes plenty of references to literature, art, music, and philosophy. This connects with my liberal arts training back in the States so naturally I feel right at home.

Upon my rereading, I realized I had forgotten how much this book impacted me, to the point that every heroine I now write has a little bit of Palome’s brilliance (and anger!) looking out through their eyes.

Not for Everyone

This book probably isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging, and the ending is as tragic as tragic goes. However, if every once in a while you decide to read something that’s a great introduction to philosophy, art, and the classics, The Elegance of the Hedgehog might be a good place to start. I’ll warn you, I cried as much in the reread as I did the first time around.

By the way, imagine my delight when I found out that between my first and second read, Palome and Madam Michel has hit the big screen!

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Movie Review: Turning Red

My hubby thinks I’m so weird for bawling my eyes out over this “cute panda” movie. Turning Red hits home for Asian girls though, and YOU ALL KNOW IT! Krisandryka from The Mad Tea Book Club first recommended this to me so here I am sniffing my snot.

Themes in Turning Red

The “tiger mom” culture. The pressure to continue a line of tradition which you don’t really understand fully. The constant demand of having to behave well. Those themes are all explored in this animation. But when our protagonist, 13 year-old Meilin activates the family curse and turns into a “monstrous” red panda, how is she supposed to behave? Herein is the main message of the animation: that you CAN be ugly. You CAN get angry, let your emotions out. In fact, if you try to always bottle it in, there can be disastrous effects. Like what we see with Meilin’s mother. Y’all, I’m just so glad themes like these are being brought up into popular culture. Finally.

Cringe Factor

There is definitely a lot of cringe factor (like their craze over boybands) but I think it’s special in that way! So few movies raise up this unabashed feminine side. How does a teenage girl go through puberty? In that way Turning Red is courageously controversial! I honestly think that teenage girls are the smartest representatives of humankind. Because of that, society cracks down during that crucial period and tries to conform girls into “the way women should be”.

Menstruation

This topic can be a whole NOVEL but let me try to condense a bit here. Raised up as a conservative Christian, it’s been pounded into me from the sacred book that a woman is dirty when she is in her period. Great, thanks. Add to this the social stigma of not being able to talk openly about my periods, how to deal with it, what to do when it really hurts, when I’m PMSing, and we have ourselves a continued rejection of the very way our body works. What a sad twist on how amazing our reproduction cycle is. And yet women are also baby machines. The irony is complete.

That’s why I think Turning Red is controversial but also so important for teenage girls to watch: so we know our cycles are to be celebrated, not to be hidden away in shame. Another similarly empowering movie for teenage girls is Netflix Enola Holmes.

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Book Review: Cinder’s Adventure

Cinder’s Adventure was released March 2022 in honor of 10 years of Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I’m a big fan of this series, so I gulped this right in. Afterwards, I saw a lot of mixed reviews from fans on Goodreads. Some fans are terribly disappointed because they have been waiting a decade for Cinder and Kai’s wedding, and well, Cinder’s Adventure didn’t have a lot of that. Some others enjoyed it for the fluff it is and are satisfied. I’m in the second camp. I’ll explain why below.

First Book

So I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I bought Cinder’s Adventure is because Marissa Meyer announced that she is donating all her royalties to First Book. It’s a non-profit that helps to promote literacy and a love of reading in underserved areas. Okay, support that cause and get a Cinder fluff in the meantime? I’m in. I do think reviews should keep this initiative in mind before slaying the author down.

Interactive Novella

I haven’t read one of these since I was a little girl. I’ll admit they’ve never been one of my favorite book formats. Such a format doesn’t really develop much plot or character or relationship due to the nature of readers choosing their own paths. I ended up jotting down what happened in each chapters and going through in chapter order to read what I missed. It’s like reading a not-so-connected collection of fanfics.

Marissa’s Multiverse

One thing that is fun if you’re a Marissa Meyer fan is the multiverse-ness of this book where characters intertwine and interact with each other. Pst…there is a happy Heartless ending in there somewhere! I haven’t read Instant Karma yet, but the snippet of it in this ebook makes me want to read that too.

Worth it or Not?

To go back to the question. If you keep your expectations in check: this book isn’t canon at all and is a collection of fluff, with a noble cause behind it, then yes I think it’s worth it. Note that it’s only available in ebook so no trees were wasted in the making. I do hope it stays that way!

Last but not least, check out this fancast Tiktok video I made in honor of the occasion: #Lunar10YearsLater

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Steamy Book Review: Electric Idol

Electric Idol is the highly anticipated sequel to Neon Gods from the Dark Olympus series by Katee Robert. I’m so glad to say I loved it. I picked this up after finishing The Folk of The Air series (review coming soon for that) and it’s the perfect little rebound book after the hollow emptiness of finishing a great series.

Plot

The plot of Electric Idol is a modern retelling of Eros (Cupid) and Psyche. Eros is the most dangerous killer who does his mother Aphrodite’s will, while Psyche is the “good girl” third daughter of Demetrius and Persephone’s sister. Aphrodite is jealous of Psyche, so she asks her son Eros to finish the girl off. As these stories go, they fall in love and pretty much kick Aphrodite out of the picture. Straightforward. But of course, we pick up Katee Robert for her brilliant balance of smut, steam, and worldbuilding.

Steam

Loved it. Off the charts, just like the first one. What I found surprising, though, is that Electric Idol is actually really “traditional” in terms of the sexual acts in comparison to her other books which usually have much wilder play. Here it’s just the two of them, no BDSM, no dungeons, no toys. And I think that’s where Katee Robert’s skills are really shown off: even with only traditional elements, the book is still super hot.

Plus!!!

Oh and. A real winning reason to pick this up is that Psyche is plus size!!! I’ll be honest this is the first steamy romance book I’ve read where the heroine is plus size with stretch marks and all. It’s really refreshing and totally liberating. I wish teenage me read more books about hot fat girls, that might have helped me to avoid 10 years of bulimia. Anyway, I’m going to be looking out for more such characters for sure. In the meanwhile, Katee Robert is now most definitely my favorite smut author.

Oh bonusies, I made this short video on my booktok account which viraled and got more than 10K views, yeay!