Wednesday 13 September 2023

#bookreview: The Epic of Bidasari and Other Tales

The Epic of Bidasari and Other TalesThe Epic of Bidasari and Other Tales by Aristide Marre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are four tales included in this book, which was first published in 1901. This edition doesn't seek to retranslate or even clean up much of the text, so the writing isn't exactly...stellar lol.

The Epic of Bidasari itself is amusing, a Snow White type of fairy tale written in epic verse that's divided into six songs. There are several key differences: Bidasari is a lost princess; the evil queen (Lila Sari) isn't related to Bidasari in any way; there's no magic mirror (heh) but the queen sends out her maidens to scour the land for "a face more beautiful than mine". It's not just pure vanity, though. The reason she does this is because her husband tells her TO HER FACE that if he finds anyone more beautiful than her, he'll take her as his second wife. Which, I mean, I can sympathise a little?

But of course, as this is a fairy tale, this very act of Lila Sari looking for the beautiful maiden then makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's nice to note that the actual stepparents in the story (well, not really "step" but the merchants who find and adopt Bidasari) are the good guys.

There's hints of Sleeping Beauty, insofar as after escaping the palace, Bidasari is cursed to sleep throughout the day until the spell is broken. But seeing that her prince charming is a married man who's all like "I love you because you're more beautiful than my wife" and who goes back to visit his first wife and says "but it's all your fault that I married her because you beat her and hid her from me!!"... ugh.

Yeah, so not very romantic at all. Anyway, it's all very dramatic and twisty, with a lot of false accusations, quests and side quests, and "I cannot bear to part with you!" declarations so maybe it's worth it for that kind of OTT drama. Which kind of feels on par of what little I know of the stories of that era. (Most of these would have been told orally, and probably incorporated music and dance and singing.)

The main problems with the readability of this text (besides it being really old-school) is the inconsistency in titles (lack of modern editing!), where Lila Sari is Queen on one page, but Princess on another, and Djouhan Mengindra is sometimes Sultan, sometimes King, sometimes Prince. It's fairly easy to follow at first, but when the other Kings/Princes from other lands come into play, that's where the reader needs to track who's who very carefully. It's rather amusing, though, to look at transliterations from an earlier century and snigger a little at how odd they look - eg: dyang, mantri, tjempakka - or to try to puzzle out what on earth that word was really supposed to be.

I skimmed through the second one, Sedjaret Malayou, because I've read the full text of (Sejarah Melayu: The Malay Annals) which is a much, much better (and complete) translation. I feel like I should get around to reading the newest translation, though (The Genealogy of Kings), which would probably be more accurate and less clunky, seeing that it's a 2020 translation by Muhammad Haji Salleh.

The Princess Djouher-Manikam is another fascinating tale, this time set in Baghdad. It's about a princess who really has no agency and is just shunted from place to place and through harrowing events "because of God's will" (but mostly because of horny men who think they should own every pretty woman they see). It gets a little annoying the longer goes on, but towards the end, the princess does take matters into her own hands in a meaningful way to direct her own life, albeit by dressing up as a man. It's hard to criticise this meaningfully because those were the constraints of the time, for a woman in her culture.

The final piece in this book is Makota Radja-Radja (The Crown of Kings), which isn't so much a single narrative, but a collection of stories/extracts about various kings that's intended to showcase how a king should act. It was a little jarring to read at first because most of the stories are centred around Middle Eastern countries, but the foreword sheds light that it was originally written in the 1600s by a Bokhari who lived in Djohore (Johor). The text jumps around a lot and doesn't have any meaningful arrangement or sequence, though I don't know if that's a translation problem or the fact that it feels like just a fragment of the original text.

ANYWAY. Read this for the TBR challenge. I don't know if I'd recommend it as a "you should read this" but if you're on a fairy tale/folklore kick and want to know more about stuff from Asia, this would fit. I'd say just focus on The Epic of Bidasari and The Princess Djouher-Manikam though.

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This was supposed to be August's stretch goal but it took longer than expected, because I had other books to review and post. Plus, I did change my book at the last minute. 

Saturday 9 September 2023

#releaseday #bookreview: Second Chance Superhero | HL Burke

Second Chance SuperheroSecond Chance Superhero by H.L. Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brayden Waters aka Megawatt has fixed his life and is now a superhero working with the Department of Super-Abled (DOSA). He's back in his hometown of Ashridge to take care of his estranged mother for a few weeks but a chance meeting with his ex, Rachel Blum, may make him want to actually stay.

Second Chance Superhero reads like a Hallmark Christmas movie. Big city guy meets (well, meets again?) small town girl and falls in love - Check. Their pasts and goals in life are stumbling blocks to the relationship - Check. Both of them have secrets that blow up in their faces the minute they are Almost. Going. To. Kiss - Sooorrrta check. (There may have been a couple of stolen kisses before that.)

And I mean, Brayden's secret isn't a big deal, but Rachel's reaction is wayyy out of proportion until you find out what she's hiding.

If you like all those romance tropes and want it clean, AND want a little bit of superhero action in the mix, then Second Chance Superhero is the book for you. Even though it's part of a series, Second Chance Superhero can be read as a standalone, and I say this because I've only read one other book in a related series (Blind Date with a Supervillain). I don't doubt that knowing who the other characters are, or what Brayden has done as a superhero, would probably make it more exciting, though!

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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"Can superheroes be cozy? Second Chance Superhero is the novel equivalent of a Marvel movie, a shopping cart of wine, and a scented candle." 

— C.O. Bonham, author of Runaway Lyrics

"Great story! It’s like a Hallmark movie with a sci-fi budget."

— Max B. Sternberg, author of The Rhise of Light

“H.L. Burke’s superhero books just keep getting better and better! (And they were amazing to begin with.) I have devoured every book in the series and eagerly await each new release. In Second Chance Superhero, I was sucked in to Brayden’s and Rachel’s plight, rooting for them to overcome their pasts, and couldn’t stop reading. No matter which book you pick up in this series, I highly recommend!”

— Michele Israel Harper, award-winning editor and author of Kill the Beast


H. L. Burke has written more books than she can count—because she's written a lot of books, not just because she can't count very high. 

Easily distracted by shinies, she has published in many subgenres including fantasy romance, Steampunk, and superhero, and always creates story worlds with snark, feels, and wonder. 

Married to her high school crush, she spends her time writing, spoiling her cat, and supervising her two supervillains in training (aka her precocious daughters). 

An Oregon native, she wilts without trees and doesn't mind the rain. She is a fan of delicious flavor, a follower of the Light, and a believer in happily ever after.

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Wednesday 6 September 2023

#bookreview: Lime Pickled and Other Stories | Marc de Faoite

Lime Pickled and Other StoriesLime Pickled and Other Stories by Marc de Faoite
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not making the same mistake I did with reviewing de Faoite's TROPICAL MADNESS - that "coming soon" long review will probably never come now. (That said, I probably should reread that one, if only to see why I remember liking it more than this collection.)

Comparisons aside, Lime Pickled and Other Stories is a fascinating collection of 27 short stories by Marc de Faoite, some of which have been published in various platforms or anthologies over the past decade. The collection is a little on the darker, grimmer side of stories than I usually prefer to read, so you'll have to adjust my feedback accordingly, I guess.

We burst on the scene with "Red Monkey Sam", which sets the tone for the collection. This is Malaysia, laid bare in words. Many of these stories are about cultural clashes: between Malaysians and expatriates, Malaysians and migrant workers (what makes one a migrant worker vs an expatriate anyway?), between different groups of foreigners, between the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. There is a feeling of transience and otherhood, and yet also one of a strange sort of belonging, even though it's hard-won, clinging to the crevices, through sheer familiarity.

I felt like the longer stories were often the stronger ones, but also more chilling, laying bare the darkness of human nature. "Floodbaby" is one of them, as is "Dr. Fintan" and "Kurang Manis". Many details in "Kurang Manis" might as well have come directly from a newspaper article; "Big Balls" might have well been referring to uh, you know, someone real.

Even in the darkest stories, de Faoite offers no moral judgement, no long backstory or explanation. It's just a story written, a thing that happened, it is what it is. Which, in a way, makes them even more frightening because there is no justification for why and how such things could have come to be. (Troubling that these are also the stories that ring most true to current events.) That, I think is a strength, because modern storytelling is often too prone to excusing evil by blaming circumstances and trying to shoehorn in redemptive arcs.

The shorter works often ended very ambiguously, almost as if they were somehow truncated or never quite resolved. This open-endedness is an oft-used literary device, but it's one that often leaves me underwhelmed especially when there's no sense of closure.

The pandemic-related stories - "MCO: Manicure Control Order" and "Ah Girl Wants A Vaccine" - really shone, and there's a little of the supernatural in "Return Guest" and "The Green Fuse", which I appreciated.

At the end of the book, de Faoite offers some insight into how he came to be in Malaysia and why he left - and the context of many of the stories included in this collection.

Overall, Lime Pickled and Other Stories is one I'd recommend if a) you like dark stories and b) you'd like to read more about Malaysia.

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