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Movie Review: Wolfwalkers

Oh oh oh. I’m sure you have all had this experience, where you see something interesting and decide to try it with no expectations at all. That was my case with Wolfwalkers (2020). It is an animation based on Irish folklore, directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart. The story revolves around two girls. The first is a young girl hunter named Robyn Goodfellow, whose mother has died and is now living only with her father. The second is a wolfwalker named Mebh, who is a girl during the day and a little she-wolf cub at night.

Wolfwalkers pleasantly surprised me and won me over with the gorgeous artwork, anti colonization theme, women empowerment message, and friendship amongst different creatures. It reminded me of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, although with completely different artwork concept.

“I don’t want them to put you in a cage,” the hunter Bill said to his daughter.

“Can’t you see? I’m already in a cage!” shouted Robyn.

Synopsis

The Lord Protector whom Bill works for insists that the hunters kill the wolf pack that lives in the forest. Their death will show that the Lord Protector can control the forest, and as such is a brutal show of his power. Of course, his voice represents the voice of God, so everyone must listen. Everyone, but the rebellious Robyn and her mysterious friend Mebh.

Robyn met Mebh in the forest, where the cub accidentally bit Robyn to help save her from a trap. This bite turns Robyn into a wolfwalker like Mebh, and so Mebh shows Robyn the secret place which is the sanctuary of the pack. In this magical cave lies the sleeping body of Mebh’s mother, who has been in that state ever since her wolf body went missing months ago. Mebh is determined to find her mother, and Robyn promises to help her.

However, Robyn’s rebellious behavior attracts attention from the Lord Protector. Thus he instructs Bill to keep a reign on his daughter, or “reigns will be put on her.” As a result, Bill forces Robyn to work in the scullery (kitchen) under the watching eyes of other maids.

Will Robyn be able to fight back against her fearful father? Is her and Mebh’s friendship strong enough to overcome the many differences that lie in between? Will Mebh be reunited with her mother and protect their pack, or will they all be annihilated by the Lord Protector?

Please find out for yourself and watch Wolfwalkers. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy AwardsGolden Globe Awards and BAFTA Awards. You won’t be disappointed at all!

A special perk of this beautiful movie is the song Running with the Wolves by Aurora.

Go row the boat to safer grounds
But don’t you know we’re stronger now
My heart still beats and my skin still feels
My lungs still breathe, my mind still fears

But we’re running out of time
Oh, all the echoes in my mind cry
There’s blood on your lies
The sky’s open wide
There is nowhere for you to hide
The hunter’s moon is shining

I’m running with the wolves tonight.

Have you come across this movie? What did you think?

PS: If you like wolf and magic put together, the book A Wolf for A Spell by Karah Sutton is a great fun read.

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Book Review: Heartless

My fellow co-founders of the Mad Tea Book Club Sherry from The Cozy Library and Krisandryka Wijaya recommended Heartless. In fact, Marissa Meyer is Sherry’s favorite author! With such high recommendations, I thought I had to check it out. Spoiler Alerts!

Synopsis

Heartless is a delicious, flirtatious, and absolutely MAD retelling of how the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) became so angry, vengeful, and well…heartless all the time. Given the title and the subject of choice, we all know where the ending is going right?

Obviously, the relationship between the protagonist Lady Cath and the mysterious court Joker Jest was not going to go well, even before those two characters were ever conceived. Alas, a sad destiny. But oh, the build-up! Marissa Meyer is great at building up the chemistry between the two of them, and slow cooking them into each other’s lives.

All our favorite characters from Wonderland are here. The Hatter (who is not yet mad!), Cheshire the invisible-invincible-infuriating cat, and even the monster we all love to slay: the Jabberwock. Thinking about it, I wonder why no one has made a retelling of the Jabberwock’s story…a little ugly beast dejected by the other creatures, his environment destroyed as a result of the ever-pressing humans into his natural environment…okay there’s an idea for you writers!

Too Long?

As much as I enjoy Wonderland and all its loony characters, I felt like this book was rambling on a bit too long. Lady Cath is extremely indecisive in choosing her dreams over the expectations of her parents. She is equally as flimsy in choosing between the mysterious Jest or the silly but kind King. Several of the back and forth scenes also did not add anything to the plot, nor to the characters’ developments.

The ending still packed a punch despite being obvious (the creepy Three Sisters even prophesied it). However, I was so impatient that by the time I got to the ending, I was not as heart-broken as Cath.

All in all, 3 stars. Would I venture to read more Marissa Meyer’s stuff? YES, because I do love fairy tale retellings. I just hope the other protagonists are more decisive than this one!

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Book Review: Iron Hearted Violet

15/60 books in my Goodreads challenge! 25% of the way, yay to myself. Kelly Barnhill‘s Iron Hearted Violet is exactly my type of reading: young adult fantasy with a strong female heroine. I lapped it up in a couple of hours. The Who Girl Who Drank the Moon also by this author blew me away, so I decided to try this earlier book. Before proceeding: Spoiler Alerts!!!

It’s interesting that you can really note how an author advances in his / her writing, as the prose in Iron Hearted Violet is not as smooth as The Girl Who Drank The Moon. Some changes happened rather quickly without solid reasoning or explanation, and sometimes characters were introduced and re-introduced (the Captain Marda) without a certain reason as to why the special treatment if they were only minor characters.

A Fantasy to Challenge Beauty Ideals

Princess Violet was born ugly, unlike her beautiful Queen mother. But what she lacked in looks she overflowed in wits, energy, and vitality. The country loved her until an old creature called the Nybbas saw an opportunity to use Violet’s looks against herself and everyone else. The schemes of the Nybbas sowed insecurities inside the Princess, and soon our heroine starts to self-destruct. Something worth mentioning is that in the illustrations, Violet looked just fine-she didn’t look ugly at all.

I liked that the ideal of beauty was challenged, but I did not agree with the choice of the challenge. In Iron Hearted Violet, real princesses had to have long beautiful hair. Of course Violet then asked this from the Nybbas, and later found out how annoying it was to have long beautiful hair. I personally don’t have anything against it. In fact, in some Native American and shamanistic cultures, hair was recognized as part of the person’s very soul and energy. That’s why shamans grow out their hair.

A Plethora of Supporting Creatures

The stable boy Demetrius proves a great supporting character, while the Nybbas is truly a villain. There was no gray in-betweens in Iron Hearted Violet. The antagonist was a dirty lying creature to its core. Any sympathy you show the creature will be used against a you-just look at what happened to the Mad King of the Lowlands. His body basically was eaten from within by golden fire breathing lizards that were armies of the Nybbas.

There is an old wise, fairy/leprechaun lady called Auntie who continuously calls another younger fairy/leprechaun “idiot.” This kind of language doesn’t sit right with me, even if I know the context is love. Maybe the word “silly” will do?

The star of the book was, of course, the dragon. The last dragon left in Violet’s mirrored world was ancient, old, broken, and frankly in a deep depression. Violet manages to befriend the dragon and operate a procedure that returns its youth and power. Together, they defeat the Nybbas.

Having just watched Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, I realized how very different are portrayals of dragons in western fantasy literature in comparison to eastern fantasy literature. This fascinating topic deserves a blog post to itself, but suffice it to say for now that anything with girls, dragons, calm reliable supporters, and magic is a recipe I like.

The execution though could have been more polished. My rating is 3/5.

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Finished Writing Nisha Sequel!

I am SO EXCITED!

The Nisha sequel is another novella format with 24 thousand words (the first one had 21 thousand words). There are two backstories: Faris’ and Saad’s backstories which I had actually written last year right after I finished Nisha. Then I put it away and started writing narratives for Sketches and Regrets.

The plan was to pick back up on the sequel in December. Away at a small island diving and writing -sounds pretty dreamy, doesn’t it? Well, too many things happened that month (read about my dad getting Covid). I’m just glad we all made it through the year.

Thus here we are at the beginning of 2021 and I had no other excuse. I thought if I was going to write I might as well hack away and punch at the keyboard. I think something about the years of concert pianist training paid off because I am VERY disciplined. And I can punch at keyboards pretty fast 😀

Battle Scenes in the Nisha Sequel

What was challenging for me was the first battle scene between some of our heroes and their enemies: the Aklums. I never wrote a battle scene before and didn’t know where to start. Research saved the day. This writing blog had great tips on creating fast-paced battle scenes.

I also read up on some epic battle scenes from Tolkien and Nancy Springer (The Book of Isle). After that, there was not much else but to just go and try it. One Sunday afternoon I woke up super early (about 5 AM) to condition myself. I drank some water, opened the laptop, and just dove in.

I’m so glad I kept at it because the next battle scene became easier. There are 2 battle scenes in this sequel, and they are crucial to the plot. The feeling after finishing the last chapter of the sequel is exhilarating!

A writing mentor Devika Brendon posted this on her Instagram several months ago.

From Devika’s Instagram post: July 24 2020

Well the draft is now in the trustworthy hands of my editor: Chriswan Sungkono. Wish me luck everyone!

Nisha is available in eBook and audiobook format at the shop.

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Series Review: The Book of Isle

After I finished all of the Enola Holmes series (check out that review), I decided author Nancy Springer must be on my favorite writers’ list. Imagine my delight when I saw that she also wrote my favorite genre: fantasy! In fact, she is more known as a fantasy writer than for mystery series. One of her favorite sets was the Book of Isle (in 5 novels).

I bought the Kindle boxset for 21.99USD – making it just over 4USD per book. GREAT DEAL readers! Alert!

The 5 books were my 4th to 8th reads of this year for the read 60 in 2021 Goodreads challenge. I finished the whole thing in 2 weeks. That should tell you how irresistible her stories were. The Goodreads description of the series called it a “classic epic fantasy in the grand tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien.”

Synopsis

On the island of Isle, gods, goddesses, and magical beasts lived together with humans. Some were good, some corrupt, some downright evil. Ellid, a lady as fair as the sun fell in love with Bevan, son of the High King and the goddess of the moon. Their relationship triggers events that resulted in the rebuilding of a peaceful kingdom. Generations and legends go by until the changeling Dair befriends the cursed wanderer Frain, and through their bond peace in the mainland is able to be restored. Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

The magic is ancient good against evil, not unlike CS Lewis’ Narnia. It’s not children’s fantasy though. It’s for adults, although thank goodness she writes so much better than GRRM (Game of Thrones slowly became only about sex, war, and food). Nancy Springer delves deep into human nature, exposing love, lust, greed, ego, and a longing for death that is a constant theme from Book 1 to Book 5. Her battles were fast and action-oriented, but never more violent than is necessary.

A feminine epic fantasy.

One of my favorite things about the Book of Isle was how un-patriarchal it was. Goddesses were as powerful as gods, sometimes even more so. The One (the creator of the world) was genderless, never mentioned as “he”, nor “she”. In Book 5, a goddess gets the revenge that she sought because a human king had shamed her. This act was not seen as an act of revenge that spiraled out of control. Rather it was portrayed as a fair act because the king completely deserved it.

Like Lord of the Rings, the Book of Isle often used poetry form to communicate older myths that existed within the island. It worked very well, adding an air of grace to the tales. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Book of Isle.

Do you like fantasy? Have you read this series? What did you think?

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Super Heroines of Classic Young Adult Fantasy

Growing up with my nose in books, fictional characters were as real to me as everyday people. Their wits, courage, and attitude facing adversity inspired me during my moments of challenges. Here are five of my favorite super heroines of classic young adult fantasy.

5. Matilda from ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl

Matilda Wormwood is considered a misfit and a failure by her irresponsible parents.

Often neglected, she learns to take care of herself with the resources available to her which included intelligence and telekinetic powers. She also shows some leadership skills when she rallies her classmates to defend their beloved Miss Honey from the evil principal: The Trunchbull.

4. Princess Eilonwy from ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ by Lloyd Alexander

“I’m Princess Eilonwy. And you’re in bad trouble, aren’t you?”

The headstrong, talkative, kind and brave Princess Eilonwy of Llyr is definitely someone I would want on my team, whatever the adventure is. She is an enchantress by heritage. Her relationship with Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper is interesting because it develops from friendship first and evolves into a romantic relationship as they grow up in the course of the five books.

3. Hermione Granger from ‘Harry Potter’ by JK Rowling

JK Rowling is currently under a lot of heavy criticism about being a transphobe (someone who irrationally fears a transgender).

Her devoted fans have turned against her, including many actors from the movie series. This gives me many mixed feelings, as I literally grew up with the Harry Potter books. In the end, I decided to keep Hermione on this list because she is surely one of the most brilliant witches in the history of magic! On top of that, she is also loyal to her values even when it gets really tough.

2. Miri from ‘Princess Academy’ by Shannon Hale

Miri and her sister Marda come from a small village on Mount Eskel where the community mines for a living.

When the Capital decides the next Queen is to come from the mountains, a temporary school is set up so the mountain girls can be educated. Here Miri learns to read for the first time. Hungry for more, she digs into history and learns some truths that eventually save her village. The heart of the ‘Princess Academy’ trilogy is the importance of education. Freedom is freedom to learn, and a woman can be powerful when she has the necessary knowledge.

1. Sophie Hatter from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Dianne Wynne Jones

I am a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Guess what, so are authors such as Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Robin McKinley, and JK Rowling.

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is one of her most popular fantasy books, especially after being made into a box office animation by Studio Ghibli. Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters. In the land of Ingary, this means she is cursed to live a dull life at home. She is doubly cursed when the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. Sophie then goes on a journey to find the Wizard Howl to help her lift the curses. In the end, it is Sophie that lifts her own curse while saving Howl in the process.

Who are your favorite fictional heroines? Let me know in the comments!

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I am Giving Away a Free Sample of Nisha

I grew up reading fantasy books with strong heroines. These stories planted seeds in my mind that girls did not have to grow up just to be what society wanted her to be. She could grow up to be whoever she herself wanted to be. This is a radical notion if you are from conservative origins.

The coming of age novella titled Nisha is my own addition to the collection. It is set in a fantasy world with witches and wizards, but also incapable leaders, annoying brats, and a girl who is trying to figure out what is happening around her.

A good friend then suggested I record a narration. Hmm!

So, just about a month ago I brought the manuscript to a studio, took a deep breath, and recorded myself reading it out loud. As promised, click here to download the free sample of Nisha (audio).