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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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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: Jamu Lifestyle

I’ve had the great honor of knowing Metta Murdaya, the author of Jamu Lifestyle, for about 5 years now. I can tell you: she definitely lives the title of the book!

Published by afterhours, I remember the first time Metta mentioned she was writing Jamu Lifestyle (it was before the pandemic). It’s wonderful to finally see, SMELL and feel it in my hands. However, knowing Metta, I had no doubt she would make it happen, pandemic or no pandemic.

Wellness Genre

If you like books on holistic wellness philosophies with deep cultural roots such as Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Healthy Life, and Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Livingle, then Jamu Lifestyle is perfect for you. Jamu Lifestyle contains historical background, the iconic tradition of women carrying jamu on their backs, all the way to modern jamu cafes and the magical potion that is Tolak Angin (perfect to dispel any unwell syndromes). The reader will get a good grasp of how jamu permeates Indonesian culture.

Historical background of Jamu

Hats off to the photographer for lovely pictures that complete the experience of reading this book. It’s really a feast for the eyes. In addition to how jamu has evolved, there are also recipes involving jamu herbs and tips on incorporating jamu into one’s daily beauty routine.

A personal favorite of mine: Beras Kencur!

Jamu Lifestyle also features articles by other professionals from various fields giving their thoughts on self-love and self-care. The carefully curated variety of the contributors gave a multidimensional approach to jamu in the lives of modern Indonesians.

Singer and Actress Dira Sugandi models for the section Jamu on the Outside

Indonesia Represent!

All in all, Jamu Lifestyle accomplishes the author’s goal: to place jamu on the international playing field of traditional wellness trends. But, as Metta herself often advocates: if jamu is a “trend”, then it is a trend that has settled into the very fabrics of Indonesian homes: from the village to the city, from hundreds of years ago until now, from the abundance of the soil to the abundance of our bodies.

Get your copy of Jamu Lifestyle here.

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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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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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Book Review: Renegades Trilogy

If it isn’t another Marissa Meyer review from me! I finally hopped on the Renegades fan club about a month ago while on a road trip to Central Java. Many hours in the car = me getting lost in Nova Artino and Adrian Everheart’s story. Happy sigh. I’ll lay out what I think of the whole trilogy with just mild Supernova spoilers, so here goes.

Renegades (#1)

The first book in the Renegades trilogy had me wondering if it’s a Romeo and Juliet retelling. Marissa Meyer does amazing retellings (The Lunar Chronicles, Heartless, Gilded, etc) so it wouldn’t have surprised me. The setup was all there: two kids of two leaders whose family/gang/organization hate each other. They meet, fall in love, and the world falls apart and goodbye happy endings. I nearly stopped because as a principle I avoid tragedy in books (isn’t my life tragic enough?) but Sherry @thecozylibrary and Jules @yourstrulyjulietta assure me it’s not tragic. Phew! Indeed the first book ends with a plot twist that’s wild and I really should have seen it coming but I didn’t and it wasn’t tragic. I have to say, I’m super impressed. Having read (and loved!) The Lunar Chronicles, I didn’t think Marissa Meyer could pull off such a twist. I mean, Lunar Chronicles was great but nothing twisty, so I enjoyed the surprise.

The superhero and superpower world feels familiar with all the Marvel and Xmen movies we’ve grown up with, but the characters are fresh, especially Ruby, Oscar, and of course, Adrian. I mean, sketching things to sleep? Original. Nova’s power of putting people to sleep is cool but I think it’s ingenious to have her not need sleep. At all. It certainly provides a lot of room for the author to explore into her lifestyle (and lifestyle decisions).

Archenemies (#2)

The highlight of this second installment is the budding relationship between Nova and Adrian. Again and again the author excels at sweet, wholesome, completely believable teenage romance, peppered with just the right amounts of humor and fluff. I feel like all of the author’s relationships are organic; nothing is forced and everything is just so natural. Even her slow burns feel just right. Moving on to other aspects, there were set-ups here that have huge impacts in the final book, making for a solid middle book. The overarching structure of the trilogy plays out well, and I love that.

Supernova (#3)

Now the last book of the trilogy…is packed with plot twists and reveals. And a couple deaths but luckily not our Romeos and Juliets. If I remember correctly there were three huge twists. One of them (Hint: Adrian) was ingenious. I’d seen them coming, and it played out kind of flat at first, but had a very moving resolution. Me liked. The other (Hint: Nova) I’d also seen coming, but honestly I didn’t like it. The twist makes the good and evil all too clear, while I think the attractiveness of the whole series is the play on anti-heroism. The last twist is the epilogue. OMG. This had my jaw mopping the floor. This one I didn’t see coming, and frankly I loved it. I had thought the ending was too fluffy, but then I realized it’s working towards the WILD epilogue to make it WILDER. And that, was awesome.

The Mild Spoiler

Having said so, some of Nova and Adrian’s chemistry here felt bland, probably due to a certain scene where Queen Bee does something to Adrian and Nova just sits and watches. Girl. That’s a no no. Please don’t ever just sit still and watch next time. I think it’s difficult to pull off because it’s enemies to lovers trope and it’s in the middle of intense battles where they are supposed to be destroying each other. Here I must say is where Sarah J Maas excels. Even in similar situations (I’m thinking A Court of Thorns and Roses, that scene in Amarantha’s court where Feyre is being tortured and Rhys was there), we know that Rhys still had Feyre’s back, even though he didn’t show it at first. In Supernova though, it was just really painful to read.

So if you ask me, I really enjoyed Renegades but I think the Lunar Chronicles is still my favorite series from Marissa Meyer!

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Book Review: Land of Sand and Song

I came across this book on Jacq’s bookstagram account and have since been really curious about it. I wasn’t let down! I’m always looking for good fantasy, especially good Eastern fantasy written by Asians. Land of Sand and Song by Singaporean author Joyce Chua satisfied that thirst beautifully.

Joyce Chua’s writing style reminds me of fairytale storytellers such as Marissa Meyer and Shannon Hale – that poetic undercurrent explicit during descriptions. It’s a style I enjoy because I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings. Plot-wise Land of Sand and Song is a bit on the predictable end but I don’t mind because most fairy tale story vibes are like that. Having said so, I didn’t expect there to be a love triangle between the protagonist Desert Rose and the two princes so hey that was a little yummy bonus!

Another thing I liked about this book was the strong women characters. Desert Rose is pretty kick-ass and can hold herself up in any situation. The organization she is a part of is an organization of women assassins: of course, I’m gonna love it.

I think anyone who is into Eastern fantasy, Asian myths, and strong women characters would enjoy this read. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel! Another Asian (historical) fantasy I would recommend is She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan.

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Book Review: The Weight of Our Sky

I started 2022 with this read, which was so thoughtfully gifted to me by one of my book club friends. Written by Hanna Alkaf (Malaysia), The Wight of Our Sky is about Melati, a girl caught in the Sino-Malay riots of May 1969. Melati has OCD, which for her is like a Djinn that is destroying her mind. Alright, so right off the bat you know this book has many, many trigger warnings. The author herself says it’s a hard book. If you don’t think you can go through it in one piece, it’s better to just not to.

I agree with her, though luckily I feel at this point in my life I’m ready. Having said that, The Weight of Our Sky does hit close to home with so many similarities to the May 1998 riots of Indonesia. I salute the author for writing such difficult realities head-on. It reminds me of Marjane Satrap’s Persepolis (graphic novel) in many ways. It is indeed also a reflection of hope if such a story is being published and marketed to the public.

In addition to the painful historical lessons of The Weight of Our Sky, Melati’s journey is at the end a journey of strength. The strength to face her internal demons head-on while standing up to rampaging societal demons of racism, hate, and violence. I find it fascinating that Melati’s fears, the visions plaguing her sanity, actually became real in the wake of the 1969 tragedy. Yet by living through that horrific incident she found that she was bigger than her fears.

The only way forward is through, be it slicing through, or crawling through.

There were hints of an almost-romance budding between Melati and Vince, and I was rooting for them the whole way. In case you’re interested, this book has also been adapted into a webtoon!