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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.

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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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Series Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches is essentially a forbidden romance between a vampire and a witch, based on All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. My first reaction: groan, cliché. I am not one for cliché and tropes. I gave A Discovery of Witches a shot though, because our protagonist witch Diana Bishop is a brilliant history professor. Well, that’s an uncliché heroine profession, and she does all these cool things like rowing, yoga, running…

I like heroines that exercise.

Okay, fine. I like heroines that exercise. I’m a deep believer of exercise. Turns out the further I watch and get into the story, the more I like it.

The Story Gets Better and Better

And the main reason is that it gets less and less cliché . I am not sure how the author did this because all the plot devices used are all “old” – in season two the vampire Matthew and the witch Diana travels back in time to Elizabethan England. I mean, isn’t time travel annoying by now? Apparently not in this series.

The time travelling in Season Two is used to build and strengthen some very important relationships, and I think that’s why it works. There was also a beautiful part in which some characters from the past sent messages to characters in the future and WOW. I’m speechless.

Despite the premise of witches and vampires, I find Diana and Matthew (the protagonist blood sucker)’s romantic relationship to be very realistic, and actually rather an ideal relationship to strive for. They’re not toxic like Edward and Bella in Twilight (I think that’s where my ban of the species started). Matthew’s got some trippy things going on due to his genetics, but everyday he tries to handle and manage it. Diana is right there next to him and she never leaves him. Bad days, good days, she’s there. They can count on each other.

I also love how Diana is such a powerful character – she never lets Matthew be too overbearing or overprotective, she reminds him of his place – and of hers.

Strong Side Characters

Aside from Diana and Matthew, this series has a whole lot of very interesting side characters and strong female characters. Other witches and vampires, the demon species (demon congresswoman Agatha Wilson is a rock star!), and some of the humans (Phoebe, damn girl) were kick-ass and really pulled me in.

All in all, I am very glad I gave this series a shot. By the way, if you’re looking for another show with kick-ass heroines, do check on the hit series Shadow and Bone.

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Book Review: Cerita Carissa

Character deaths don’t make me cry. It’s character growths that do. And this sweet Indonesian chick-lit definitely made me cry with how much the protagonist has grown from the first page to the last. Written by Krysan Wijaya, a fellow co-founder of the Mad Tea Book Club, Cerita Carissa (Carissa’s Story) centers around Carissa, an aspiring surgeon who is seeking out her dreams and happiness.

Carissa has to deal with a lot of disappointments however, when things don’t go the way she wanted. AHA, you say. Isn’t that life? Life deals you a hand and doesn’t behave the way you want it to behave. Life throws your expectations back at you, shocks you, breaks your heart and your spirit, sometimes even your body. And you have to deal with what’s left, just like Carissa. She was a great gal-she didn’t do anything wrong. Carissa worked hard and tried to reach to the stars for her dreams, but life mocks her and shoves her with rejections and betrayals.

And page after page, heartbreak after heartbreak, Carissa gets back up and tries again. She sees the loopholes in the society around her, finds her way around it, accepts herself, and moves forward. This kind of plot is quite straightforward and simple, but written with so much heart that I assure readers will be able to feel and relate to Carissa’s journey.

Meet the Author!

Q: How old are you, and what do you do now?

I thought it would be fun to get to know the author a bit…so here are some questions I asked Krisan!

Krisan Wijaya, author of Cerita Carissa

A:  I just turned 30, and am currently working as a general practitioner in Solo, Indonesia.

Q: When did you start writing?

A: I wrote my first short story in 6th grade to join a writing competition held by PLN (Indonesia’s national electricity company) back in 2003. I also wrote a YA romance novel in 2005-2006, but it went unpublished.

Q: What was your inspiration for Cerita Carissa?

A: Of course, all fiction are inspired by the truth 🤭 Cerita Carissa was inspired by a toxic relationship I had years ago, though of course the details were different. I was also observing people who stuck with abusive partners, and who treated the idea of meeting the one and getting married as if it was the only reason to live.

Q: What is your next writing project?

A: I am currently revising 2 novel drafts, but it’s hard to make time for writing in the midst of a full-time job and a toddler 😂 I’m also writing a short stories & poems collection (Lang Leav kind of book) about love and heartbreaks.


Support Krisan’s writing and purchase a copy of the book (in Bahasa Indonesia) by contacting the author. Krisan is also a booktuber, and you can check out her awesome book review videos at her youtube channel.

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Movie Review: Cruella

What a doll of a movie! This retelling of one of Disney’s creepiest villains Cruella Devil, is a party vibe fun watch. I mean, as if two Emmas (Emma Stone and Emma Thompson) is not enough star blinking power, we get a Devil Wears Prada high fashion mixed with Six of Crows thievery mood. This review has mild spoilers, so continue at your discretion.

The Hair

Yes, Cruella’s signature is her half black half white hair which you can tell from miles away. This hair got a lot of symbolic attention which was frankly quite brilliant. When Cruella was younger (under her birth name of Estella), she was already wild. The little girl got into trouble in school for defending her friend Anita, and beating up the guys who bullied them.

However, after her mother’s tragic death, Estella had to go into hiding (or risk living in orphanages). She ran into two thug boys Jasper and Horace, and they become a team. Estella hides her identity by dying her hair red. When the three grow up, Jasper helps Estella land a job in the fashion industry, something Estella had always dreamed of.

Her dreams become nightmarish however when Estella discovers horrible truths behind her boss, the Baroness. Bent on revenge, Estella goes back to her true self and this is symbolized with the return of the black and white hair. She renames herself Cruella and upstages the London fashion world with her daring antics and wild sense of style.

The Family Card

At one point in the movie, Cruella gets carried away and becomes a bit manic. I really liked this part because I agree that any extreme is dangerous. Moderate is the new cool. It’s great to discover (or rediscover) your true self, and to show that to the world, but it’s not cool if it happens at the cost of the relationships which matter most to you.

When Cruella comes to her senses (shout out to Emma Stone’s fabulous acting) she finds a moderate middle between Cruella and Estella and rallies her thug family back together.

Cruella makes it the second Disney movie this year which gets 5 stars from me- the first was Raya and the Last Dragon.

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Book Review: Winter (Lunar Chronicles)

Winter is the thick and satisfying conclusion of Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Beginning with Cinder (a retelling of Cinderella), and ending with Winter (a retelling of Snow White), I have to say I am officially a fan of this series.

Fresh Retellings

One of the reasons I dig Marissa Meyer’s fairy tale retellings so much is because she does a great job balancing the familiar framework of old fairy tales with new twists and turns. This freshness gives the old stories new life. In The Lunar Chronicles, she weaves hit manga Sailor Moon into the narrative, and voila, you have a recipe for amazingness. It doesn’t stop there, however. Many authors have great recipes but fail in the execution. Here is where I truly appreciate Marissa Meyer because her execution was brilliant. Not too slow, not too fast, just the right amount of interpersonal drama against the backdrop of an intergalactic war.

Winter and Jacin’s Relationship

I’ve said that of all the relationships in this series, my favorite is Cinder and Kai. However, there is something lovely about Winter and Jacin’s relationship which essentially began when they were kids. They grew up together, and they both knew that for the other, there would be one else. They never questioned each other’s loyalty and love no matter how suspicious it certainly looked at times. Their trust for each other was absolute, and that is just beautiful. I don’t know how often this happens in real life, or if it ever actually happens. But surely this is the ideal relationship goal for everyone.

Worthy Ending

This whole adventure began with Cinder, and after falling in love, heartbreaks, kidnaps, fingers being cut, revolutions, the author had Cinder tying up all the loose ends quite nicely. I enjoyed the delicious length of the ending being prepared, and all in all, was very pleased. Five Stars for Winter.

If you want to read a fanfic I wrote based on this series, read Winter and the Komodo Dragon.

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Book Review: Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm is the second installment of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, which is now an epic Netflix series. Having read the books and watched the series (twice!) I have to say I like the Netflix version better. Rarely does this happen in a book vs screen battle but it did happen here. With that said, in my opinion, Siege and Storm was generally a more exciting book than the first.

Plot

Siege and Storm starts pretty bleak with Alina Starkov the Sun Summoner not being able to use her powers because she is in hiding with her childhood friend and love interest Mal Oretsev. Everyone will be able to track her down if she gives a hint that she can summon light, so she is pretty dependent on Mal. Which as we all know is a recipe for disaster. Sure enough, they get caught by the Darkling and he imprisons them (again) on a ship that is searching for Rusalye, the fabled sea serpent. The Darkling believes Rusalye is the second amplifier. With both amplifiers then Alina’s powers will be further maximized, which of course he intends to manipulate.

The reason I think this book is much more exciting is that a new character comes in who saves the day not once but several times. You guessed it. It’s Nikolai. I actually can’t wait to see who Netflix casts for him in season two.

Women empowerment theme

With regards to the women empowerment theme that is such a big part of this series, I think author Leigh Bardugo did a nice job positioning Alina to be the General of the Second Army. Sure, Alina is not ready and inexperienced and was just introduced to the Second Army about a year ago, but a large part of this book is Alina adjusting to her new role of leadership and command instead of being the trophy prize that she was in the previous installment.

Be on the lookout also for how Leigh Bardugo weaves the concept of organized religion in and out of this series, quite fascinating if one remembers her origins. Born in Jerusalem, Leigh is a nonpracticing Jew.

Have you read this series / watched the show? What did you think?

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Book Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)

My oh my, I hear the screws of my head getting hooked on Marissa Meyer from now on! I completely blame my Mad Tea Book Club Co-Founders Krisandryka and Sherry H. Gosh where do I even begin. Let’s start by saying that I am biased towards fairy tale retellings. I love retellings with a fresh perspective and stronger female characters. The first Marissa Meyer book I read was Heartless, which was a retelling of Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I gave that 3 stars because the heroine was just plain annoying at times. Cinder gets 5 stars though!

Synopsis

Cinder is the first book in The Lunar Chronicles. Taking place in New Beijing under the Eastern Commonwealth of Earth, Linh Cinder is a cyborg with a talent for fixing broken things. She has a reputation as the best mechanic in town. This brought Prince Kai (soon to be Emperor Kai) knocking on her booth asking if she could fix his android Nainsi. This first momentous meeting unfolds into a swooping inter-species romance! It’s complete with evil witch Queens, spaceships, and a metal foot in place of the traditional glass shoe.

If you can’t already guess, this is based on the classic Cinderella story crossed with the popular manga Sailor Moon. With that in mind, yes, everything is rather predictable. But the author spins a heck of a fun story anyway, especially if you are a fan of Usagi and her sailor armies. To be honest, this was one of the biggest pulls for me: the fact that it had oriental elements mixed into the narrative. So many fantasies are based on a western point of view, but Cinder had a good mix of eastern and western cultures.

Cinder and Kai

I think this is one of my favorite relationships in young adult fantasy! The two are on par with each other and they treat each other as best as they know how to. Their relationship develops naturally even though there was obvious attraction from the first moment. Cinder kept her level head around the hot young prince, while Kai did not show off his power or status. The young Prince is actually showing himself to be a promising leader with a very responsible mindset.

Supporting characters like Iko the android, Evil Queen Levana of Lunar (who is set out to marry Kai to get control of Earth), and the infamous stepmother Linh Adri were all well proportioned throughout. One of Marissa Meyer’s strongest traits is in creating protagonists that you actually want to hang out and be friends with. Keep your eyes open for the rest of reviews, plus a fanfiction that I decided to write!

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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.