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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.

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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.