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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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Series Review: The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time was recommended to me by an Instagram buddy (probably because my IG story is so often about fantasy) and I was quite happy with it! Amazon Prime’s take on the books by Robert Jordan is epic, eye-licious, and matriarchal – yes! In addition to that, Rosamund Pike one of my favorite faces of all time plays a powerful sorcerer named Moraine.

Plot

I found the TV adaptation did pretty well in balancing the intricate plots (and subplots) while revealing the cool cultures of the societies and communities in the world of the Wheel of Time. Funeral rites are a big deal here, which I like. Politics especially in the second half of the series, once we are in the Ice Tower, also gets a lot of screen time. Indeed Amazon is aiming for Wheel of Time to be the “next Game of Thrones” in terms of epic fantasy series that just…take over the world. It does differentiate itself in the portrayal of female roles though.

The script is very classic high fantasy. Stakes are as large as the whole world, where the action of one ordinary (or not so ordinary, as it turns out) villager will save or destroy everything. It’s rather cliché at times, but in that way it probably sticks close to Robert Jordan’s vision.

Casting and Characters

The diversity of the cast is well worth a mention as actors and actresses of all colors fill the Wheel. However, I didn’t feel enough pull from the main characters of the story other than Moraine (and she isn’t really supposed to be a main character). In comparison to Shadow and Bone, another fantasy series released in 2021, I have to say Kaz and the gang wins the race by a far margin.

Feminism in the Wheel of Time

Amazon’s take on the world of the Wheel is a feminist, matriarchal world, where women hold the power and are the main driving force of the story. Not a sidelined supporter nor victim of misogyny; this is major for fantasy shows. Women in this world are born knowing that they are the only beings capable of channeling the One Power. They are raised being told they can be leaders. In fact the highest position of leadership, the Tamyrlin Seat, always goes to a woman. So many other fantasy characters in fantasy literature have to prove that they are “worthy” to be more than free domestic labor. In The Wheel of Time the women are born worthy – imagine that.

In Wheel of Time the women are born worthy – imagine that.

All in all despite the lack of magnetism to the characters, I think Amazon’s Wheel of Time is a great step for feminist fantasy. I probably won’t read the books, not only because there is 24 of them, but also because I’ve read from reviews that the books are quite traditional in its binary gender tropes. So cheers to staying away from that!

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Book Review: She Who Became the Sun

I loved everything about She Who Became the Sun, happy sigh. And General Ouyang? I get that he’s a eunuch and he doesn’t swing my direction, but I’m still swooning over him. Okay, so what’s this book about?

Historical Fantasy

She Who Became the Sun is a historical fantasy retelling of Zhu Yuanzhang, the Emperor who founded the Ming Dynasty, expelled the Mongols, and unified China. The topic is already something I’m incredibly interested in – China’s deliciously dramatic history. Add to that the twist of Zhu being a girl? Automatic read. It does have Mulan vibes but it’s much more – think Mulan slash Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones.

Shelley Parker-Chan‘s writing is gripping from the very first sentence to the very end. One thing I especially like are her analogies – Zhongli village lying in the heat of the sun like a dead dog? Amazing. The book has many such sentences like this, which brings the atmosphere of ancient China alive for me. They way she retells and brings alive the characters: the to-be Empress Ma, General Ouyang, and of course Zhu makes these historical figures into people I won’t forget.

Women Empowerment

Exactly as the title promises, the empowerment narrative is good. As someone with Chinese heritage, I feel Shelley gets the idea so well that it hits home. Girls in the Chinese culture were just so itemized, so unimportant, so…nothing compared to boys. Boys are everything. Girls are meaningless, expendable. I lived this growing up. So I loved that in this fantasy, at least, we can show that we are not meaningless.

Women too can have mandates of heaven, lead armies, and leave a legacy of our names.

If you’re into women empowerment fantasy, check out my Nishaverse series.

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Girls – Let’s Start Investing!

“You don’t save your way to wealth, you invest your way to wealth.” Janda Becanda (The Widow Jokes Podcast) episode on cryptocurrency.

Following up on my post about financial freedom for women is this post on investing for women. What’s the idea behind investing? The quote above sums it best. Once you have stable finances (paid off your debts, set up an emergency fund, you have an active insurance) then and only then would it be a good time to start considering investing. The philosophy behind it is that the money you save up decreases in value over time due to inflation rates. Thus the best way to grow your money is by spending it on sound investments.

Sadly, most women lack confidence in investing in comparison to men. However, despite less women investing, studies actually show that the women who invest are outperforming the men who are investing.

My Approach As a Newbie

For me, I approached it this way: investing, like everything else in life, is a habit. If it’s a habit, that means everyone can learn it and manage the ropes well to benefit themselves. I started my investing attempts late 2019 and I won’t say I’m an expert – not at all. I’m still a newbie. But what I want to share are some tips on how to start investing. Because, the best time to start investing is as soon as possible – the longer the time you have, the better your chances are.

First, talk to a trusted financial advisor. Find someone who is well along their investing journey and ask them to share their basic philosophies. How do they make their decisions? What books / journals / blogs did they read? Maybe they listen to some great podcasts. Educate yourself on the topic, and make yourself more financially literate.

Educate yourself on the topic, and make yourself more financially literate.

Second, try to understand your appetite for risk. Do you like risks? Or do you prefer something safer? Would you be ready if that bit that you invested suddenly loses value during a market recession?

Third, diversify. Don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Spread out your investments into several different sectors (research beforehand never hurts). That way when one sector sinks, the others can still help balance your portfolio. This happened for me in the pandemic. Most of my stocks were bleeding except an investment I made on forex trading in 2019. Phew.

Fourth, don’t wait to invest. Start with as small as 10 USD, but get yourself into the habit of it and let time work for your favor, instead of for your demise.

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First Blood, A Poem

I finally picked up Milk and Honey (Rupi Kaur) and also Lang Leav‘s poetry collections: Love Looks Good On You. Needless to say, it was the boost I needed to start working on my second poetry collection! There are so far 60 short proses and poems in the draft, and here is one of them.

First Blood

“Have you started bleeding?”

“No…have you?”

“Of course! Last year!”

“Wow. How does it feel?”

“Oh, you know, just a bit bloody. Not too bad.”

Why hasn’t mine come yet?

Is something wrong with me?

Where could I have gotten more information

Other than the other girls’ conversations

Why was there no education

No open communication

On something so important

As our menstruation?

For more of my poetry, you can check out my first poetry collection: A Season of Poetry at the shop. Thank you for your support!

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Arranged Marriage Theme in Nisha

A lot of great reviews have flowed in for my fantasy series Nisha and its sequel, Sacred Rituals. Thank you so much to all my readers out there who have taken the time to read and review my books. One review, in particular, caught my eye. It’s Febrian’s review on Goodreads, can you can read the full review here.

Febrian wrote “believe me, Nisha, I was also wondering what it would take to get your parents to understand your life is your choice.” She highlighted the arranged marriage theme, which I would like to highlight in this post. No major spoilers for the book ahead if you haven’t read it.

Nisha and Ged Luft’s Situation

Indeed one of the running themes in Nisha is her arranged marriage to young Lord Ged Luft. Her parents, the King and Queen arranged this because the crown was running out of money, and for them, the only way to refill the crown’s coffers was to marry off Princess Nisha to the Lufts, a wealthy noble family of their Kingdom, Seis.

There are many wonderful stories in literature or in real life which depict forced arranged marriage working out very well, but not mine. As Mary, an illustrator who has read the book also said in a Mad Tea Book Club discussion, she didn’t think Nisha was a good example of arranged marriages working out well.

This is precisely the case because I have experienced arranged marriage situations, and it simply didn’t work out for me. I was THIS CLOSE to getting married to someone whom my parents had introduced. I ended the relationship because I knew I would not be happy long-term in that arrangement.

Child Bride

There is one BIG difference though, and that is the point that Nisha is underage. I was set up when I was in my mid-20s, but Nisha was set up in her teens. And this is my main point: CHILD MARRIAGE IS NOT OKAY. If you think this practice is finished, I am sad to say that it is not so.

Globally, 1 in 5 women were married before their 18th birthday. As instability increases, girls living in conflict or crisis settings become particularly vulnerable to the practice.

unicef

This is precisely what happens to Nisha. Her kingdom falls into crisis, and the answer in her parents’ mind was to marry her off to solve the problem. NO, IT DOES NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. And if you read Nisha and Sacred Rituals, you will know why.

To read more on child bride problems, visit this article (International Women’s Health Coalition).

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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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The Girl Proposed, Twice!

This is a blog post for all of you girls, ladies, women out there who have heard over and over again that you have to wait for a guy to take the lead on your relationship. First of all, let me just say that I can’t remember how many thousands of times I’ve been told this.

Girls shouldn’t take the shot first. Girls should wait. Wait for the right guy, he will come.

I am sure that for some people, this is the truth. This is what happened in your lives, and it worked out perfectly well. That’s fine, I’m very happy for you. But then this post is probably not for you.

This post is for other girls who questioned those sayings and advice. Girls who thought why do I have to wait? In fact, what am I waiting for anyway?

I’ll share with you that I’m on my second marriage now (after the tragic death of my first husband), and in both relationships, it was me who took the shot first. As in, I was the one who proposed. BOTH TIMES. Oh, it wasn’t anything romantic like me getting down on one knee in front of the guys.

My Two Marriage Proposals

With Oky, my first husband, it went somewhat like this: “Hey, let’s get married.” If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. He just smiled shyly and nodded. That’s Oky for you, sweet kind soul that he was. I was 29, he was 39.

With Cung, who had heard tales of my craziness and was (should have been) more prepared…it went somewhat like this: “Let’s sign some papers.” Cung is more cunning though, so he managed to stall it off a little bit, which was arguably for the better. We eventually had a little avocado-themed wedding. I was 33, a recently widowed young woman; Cung was 45.

In both relationships, the girl proposed! Indeed I decided to just go with it and forget about “traditional roles” because I knew it was what I wanted, at that time. There have been a couple times before Oky in which I almost got married (twice, in fact), but I called both of them off because it didn’t feel right. As much as I cared about them, I knew I wouldn’t be able to last more than a couple years with the lifestyle that we would have.

So what am I saying? I guess I’m saying that in my experience, there is no “timeline”. Sometimes things can happen quickly, too quick. And sometimes things happen too slowly for your taste. What’s important is to make sure that it feels right, and to be looking out for yourself first and foremost. Look out for your needs, wants, dreams, goals. Once you know that, then you will be able to ascertain which ones you are willing to compromise, and which ones you will not be willing to compromise.

When that is in place, then I would go for it.

For extra reading, here is a fun article on gender roles in relationships.

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Movie Review : In the Heights

One of the most exciting composers/creators of the music industry at this time is surely Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is currently most known for the hit musical Hamilton which retells the story of the American revolutionary via rap and involves a diverse cast and crew.

Miranda’s first musical was In the Heights, which premiered off-Broadway in 2007. At that time, nobody knew who he was. The New York Times published, “his name was a household name only in his household.” Since then, he has received much recognition and awards through his song “See the Line Where the Sky Meets the Sea” in Disney’s Moana, his role in the revival of Mary Poppins, and eventually Hamilton.

One of the best movie-musical to date

In the Heights was very recently produced into a movie-musical, and I must say it is THE BEST movie-musical up to date. It brings the genre up to another level. It is both movie and musical, and the final product here is a sum far greater than each of its parts.

What struck me most and left me breathless was how the movie was able to get out of the box of cinematography to create unforgettable, magical moments. The two most mesmerizing scenes were Benny and Nina’s dreamy duet “When the Sun Goes Down” and Abuela Claudia’s showstopper subway solo “Paciencia y Fe”. I mean, I’m a huge believer in the power of old ladies. Anthropologist Frances Bowden Affandy once told me that she believed old ladies are the apex of human evolution. They carry so many memories and wisdom in their minds and bodies, that it is no wonder old ladies as often seen as powerful witches. Yet, I have to say, I never see musical solos of glorified old ladies. Here, In the Heights pulled it off with hair-chilling choreography.

Motifs that hit home

The immigrants’ theme is a leitmotif with Miranda, as he himself is also an immigrant. This show focused on Latino-Americans’ lives and values: work hard, save up, make a better future for yourself than where you came from. This is always touching for me. There is one line where Nina’s father says what made me cry:

“This is where you become greater than me. Not because of some fancy degree, but because you can see a future I cannot.”

In the heights

This hit me personally because you know what? My father never said that to me. Never ever. Many times I share my dreams, my work, my passions. But for him, it didn’t matter. All that mattered to him was that I was not living the life girls should live, according to him. He saw one future for me, and that was that. It didn’t matter that I saw a thousand possible futures for myself. It took a long time for me to learn to distrust his figure of authority, and instead go with my guts.

This is why I love In the Heights and Miranda, because all of his work has a strong angle of women empowerment. From Elisa Hamilton to Nina, he always writes women alongside men in the narrative.

The music? Was there any doubt from the beginning? Never.