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Book Review: How Long ’til Black Future Month?

How Long ’til Black Future Month is a collection of short stories by NK Jemisin. Ever since I came across her Broken Earth Series, I’ve been a huge fan. It was a real treat to read her explorations in this book.

The Imagination

I gotta give major applause to Jemisin because the range of her imagination is wild! Some stories are sharp and witty in their commentary on society, while others have an undertone of religion, albeit with fresh (may one argue, necessary?) twists. Others have the apocalyptic futuristic sci-fi vibe that we all love. A few were downright hair-rising creepy (in a good way, of course). Not all stories have an equal punch to them, but for me, the great ones definitely outnumbered the ordinary few. Some of my favorites were: Red Dirt Witch, L’Alchimista, The Effluent Engine, The Trojan Girl, and The Narcomancer.

Experiments

Every bit as enjoyable and eye-opening to read is Jemisin’s self-written introduction to How Long ’til Black Future Month. On the writing aspect, it was fascinating because she credits her ability to write longer-form novels to short stories. She says, “writing short stories taught me about the quick hook and the deep character.”

The worlds of her longer series were originally tested out via short story form, and indeed it was cool to see that play out. The short story Stone Hunger became The Broken Earth series, and it was rather nostalgic to see an earlier version of that world.

Black Characters

One of the reasons I love NK Jemisin is that she doesn’t shy away from anger. Of course, POC books can be escapism too, and don’t have to be about social issues all the time. But in the hands of Jemisin, they become both. They are both great escapist avenues while still bringing to light centuries of racism.

“I still wrote black characters into my work because I couldn’t stand excluding myself from my own damn fiction.”

NK Jemisin

NK Jemisin often states that she has no interest in maintaining the status quo, and indeed her writings are about challenging existing paradigms, overthrowing order, and reimagining the future. The vibe of her stories reminds me of the poet Maya Angelou. Jemisin’s own words sum it best:

“Now I am bolder, and angrier, and more joyful; none of these things contradict each other.”

NK Jemisin

Rest assured I am on a mission to read all her works.

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Book Review: Of Myths and Men

Everyone who is a gamer or involved in any way with video games will love this book! If you’re not a gamer, there might be a few “insides jokes” which you might miss out on. Not to worry, they are but very minor. I was intrigued because I’m writing for a fantasy game at the moment, plus I love reading and supporting the works of contemporary Southeast Asian female authors. So, INITIATE CHECKOUT AND PURCHASE!

Gaming Vibes

Of Myths and Men by Catherine Dellosa is fast paced and action packed, perfect for people like me who are terribly impatient. The plot follows rather like a fantasy RPG game where you would go from quest to quest, solving missions until the bigger storyline slowly reveals itself. In that way I thought it was cool because the experience was like playing a game.

Cover

I had to mention this because I was thrown off by the artwork of the cover. The impression I got was that of a middle grade adventure vibe, when it’s probably more to YA or even NA with some spicy scenes.

General Thoughts

At a risk of a MINOR SPOILER, I’ll say I’m generally a fan of love triangles and Of Myths and Men had a hot one, wink wink. Hopefully in the sequel too :D! The main character, Ava, is a sassy, smart mouthed, and sarcastic narrator, which reminds me a bit of Percy Jackson.

One thing that slightly confused me was where this whole story took place. Was it somewhere in the Philippines, in the States, or in a different country altogether in an alternate universe? Several legendary characters / mythical monsters showed up that are very international (from Japan, the Arctic, etc) so that confused the geographical compass for me even more.

All in all though, Of Myths and Men was a fresh and exciting read!

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A Quick Thought on Antiheroines

Recently, the books I’ve read have had major antiheroines as the main character, as opposed to heroines. Alin from Alasan Alin by Krisandryka, Delilah Bard from Shades of Magic trilogy by VE Schwab, Evelyn Hugo from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Nova Artino from Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Eleanor from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and several others.

It is the same in movies. Take villain retellings like Cruella or just straight up “bad girls” like Number Seven of Umbrella Academy, or Amy in Gone Girl. To me, these are wonderful signs that popular culture is starting to shift from “girls have to be good”. It used to be that “when a girl is unlikeable, a girl is a problem” writes Roxane Gay in Bad Feminist.

It used to be that “when a girl is unlikeable, a girl is a problem” writes Roxane Gay in Bad Feminist.

Can a Girl be Seen as a Neutral Character?

Diana Wynne Jones, legendary author of Howl’s Moving Castle (and also my favorite author) admits in Reflections on the Magic of Writing that if she wanted to use a neutral character, she would have to use a boy. A girl character could not be seen as neutral. Especially not at the time when she was still alive and writing. Honestly, I wonder of this even now.

Rebellious Girls

My own Nisha from Nishaverse, although not quite an antiheroine (I think she is still considered a heroine), also has a rebellious streak in her. It’s not as obvious as the current main character for the science fiction romance draft I am working on, but it is there for observant readers to pick up. As I am working on the translation of Nisha to Indonesian (hopefully set to release before the end of the year!), one of the beta readers, a bright Indonesian preteen girl, actually commented that she was surprised with how Nisha behaved as a girl.

Aha, I say silently. This preteen girl is precisely the age target of the Nishaverse series. It is precisely my aim to show that girls do not always have to be good, obedient, nice, etc etc etc. Girl characters do not even have to be likeable. They can be bad. Rebellious antiheroines. Despicable. Wicked! Tear up the centuries of unrealistic male fantasy.

We are finally claiming back our messy, complicated images instead of plastic Barbie doll figures.

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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: 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: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche

This is the newest installment of my current favorite detective : Enola Holmes! Created by Nancy Springer and produced into a hit Netflix back in 2020, Enola is Sherlock’s (and Mycroft’s) little sister and is herself a detective extraordinaire. This 7th volume starts a new set of adventures after the finale of the previous 6th book.

Sibling Chemistry

One thing that distinguishes this volume from the previous ones is how Enola and Sherlock are actually working together. Sometimes they are jabbing and teasing each other along, but nevertheless they are a team. This is so sweet. In the previous books, Enola was always trying to run away from Sherlock. At times her brothers could even be quite the adversary. But in Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche, they are side by side pulling each other out of sticky situations, all the while still being competitive with each other.

The Case

The case itself had a strong female empowerment theme as is a trademark of the author’s. There are some quite harrowing scenes (won’t say more lest it be a spoiler). This is one of the reasons I like the whole series, because it takes a patriarchal story and setting which we know so well (the Sherlock Holmes series) and puts a hefty dose of feminist twist and views on it.

A Dash of Romance?

Quite a big difference between the first book and the Netflix rendition was the lack of romantic side stories in the books. In the film version, there were definitely sparks between Enola and the young Viscount of Tewksbury, which did not exist in the original pages. In this 7th volume, however, “Tewky” returns and unless my hunches are completely wrong, then I think there could be something growing between those two.

Overall, Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche did not disappoint and was in fact a very enjoyable read. Another series by Nancy Springer I would recommend is the Book of the Isle.

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Book Review: The Stone Sky

The epic conclusion of the Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin snatched 3 awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus Award. The Stone Sky was, indeed, grande.

Core Magic

In The Stone Sky, Mother (Essun) and Daughter (Nassun) separately goes into the core of the Earth. There they both experience Earth’s utter power and magic. Only after surviving that can they reach the other side: Corepoint. It’s quite a feat of fantasy and science fiction. What Jemisin pulls off so well is the grand scale of time.

The three books of this series have encompassed between them thousands of years and generations. In this way it reminds me of the Dune series. However, unlike Dune, Jemisin is able to do it while following the lives of mainly two characters: Essun and Nassun.

At the core of the story is how the privileged and powerful of the society treat the marginalized. Jemisin is able to make you feel like you are the one being marginalized, manipulated to benefit the system. Sounds familiar? I am so glad she is writing. As a black woman, her perspective of the human experience is so needed by the world right now.

In her own words: “…a character who is angry at the system, but has learned how to cover that anger in ways that allow him to survive in a system that doesn’t welcome that anger – Lord knows I’ve learned how to do this too.”

Narration

I’ll admit even I got confused several times with the second-person narrative style in The Stone Sky. It’s quite tricky to follow, yet I couldn’t have imagined it told another way, as the impact would not be the same.

Apparently TriStar Pictures has secured rights to adapt the trilogy into a series, with Jemisin herself doing the adaptation! I cannot wait. I think done right, the story has potential to be better than Dune as a film!

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Movie Review: Spencer (2021)

Do yourself a favor and pick up Spencer (2021). Lathered with trigger warnings as it is (eating disorder, self-harm, suicidal thoughts) Kristin Stewart brings to screen a Diana that is still constantly trying to regain control over her life. A Diana who resists the suffocation of totalitarian power. Indeed oppression can have many faces, and one of them is glamour.

Indeed oppression can have many faces, and one of them is glamour.

Eating Disorder Portrayal

As someone that struggled with bulimia for a third of my life up to now (almost 10 years), I thought the portrayal of Diana’s disorder was spot-on. Her dread while her weight was being tallied. Her stress over being forced to eat and appear to enjoy food. The purging followed by binging in the middle of the night. How it all ties in with the breakdown of her psychology. It makes Spencer (2021) is a good resource to understand roughly what people with eating disorders go through. Even that part when Charles mocks her (conveniently and cruelly) about appreciating the hard work of the kitchen staff.

Rebellion and Fighting Spirit

Given Diana’s circumstances in which she had very little choice over anything (all of her clothes are picked for her and labeled for each occasion), Spencer (2021) shows what a powerful spirit she has in fighting back however she can. She’s an independent woman who chooses to drive off on her own. She is a mother who gives her children gifts on Christmas Day so they can experience being “normal people”. She leaves the curtains open while she is dressing – it may seem like behavior that invites concern, but that’s how she fights back.

And till the end, she fights in her own way. Till the end, Diana is constantly trying to claim back a piece of herself, for herself.