Wednesday, 5 August 2020

#bookreview: Flirting With Darkness | Ben Courson

Flirting With DarknessFlirting With Darkness by Ben Courson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ben Courson starts by telling us why he wrote this book: because there are twice as many suicides than murders in the United States, because we are not called to live with depression but to defeat it, because he has walked this road before and wants to share the hope he has found.

The meat of this book is in the second part, where Courson shares the various tools and practices that have helped him in defeating depression. I went into this a little skeptically because it started off rather Christian-counsellor (pray and read your Bible and everything will be okay). I’m not saying that God can’t heal, but I’m also wary because God doesn’t always heal. In fact, Courson does address this:
“Well-meaning people might tell you that the solution to your problem is right there in the Bible, but I’m here to say that it’s more complicated than that. So-called biblical counselors may be able to provide some relief to people with mild cases of depression, but when you are in psychological pain, you’ll need more than a spiritual Band-Aid.
And that’s perfectly okay.”
There’s a level-headed mix of faith and science in his eleven “weapons”. There is both very Christian-y stuff (dive deep into Scripture, hold on to heaven, letting God love on you) as well as medical stuff (exercise, stop wallowing in social media, go for therapy, take medication). He also goes for the slightly bizarre—having crazy adventures with your friends!

Part 3 is where things get a little disjointed. It felt like Courson had a bunch of thoughts and slapped them into a chapter each, jumping all over the place. I understand what he’s getting at though: If the Creator of this amazing universe knows the stars by name yet still loves and calls you by name, you should accept that He wants the best for you!

Courson circles back to a few central thoughts throughout the book—that God loves and cares for you, and a proper understanding of God’s love, who He really is (in spite of religion, despite Christianity), and what He wants for you will help you defeat depression. I’m slightly wary of the reshaping-consciousness-by-telling-yourself-truths thing (which feels a little positive-confession to me), but overall, the message is clear: we need to learn how to rest in God and accept his grace, whether that means you pray for healing or you head to the doctor’s, or both.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

#bookreview: The Space Between Worlds | Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between WorldsThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cara has a job not many can hold--traversing through different Earths in the multiverse--because most of her other selves are already dead. But technological advancements may mean Cara's job is invalidated--and her latest pull reveals unexpected events. What starts off as a simple multiverse-travelling story turns dark and complex when Cara uncovers dangerous truths.

The Space Between Worlds is perfect for casual sci-fi readers, those who prefer their sci-fi on the space opera/soft end of the spectrum and don't want to worry about the actual tech or How It All Works. Johnson doesn't actually explain how it works, just that it does, also providing a mythological response to this science: the traversers assigning the name "Nyame" to the pressure felt and dangers of traversing. It does segue more into myth at the end, so I'd say this is more science-fantasy than anything else.

Overall, the novel deals with the theme of rich vs poor, haves vs have-nots, and the way they impact each other individually and collectively. Cara is a Have-Not, only given this chance because of this unique quality of hers (still being alive on Earth 0); her Watcher, Dell, is a Have, born into money and Wiley City citizenship. There's a brutality that exists in the spaces outside the city, one that Cara cannot help that carry as part of her, affecting the way she reacts to people--especially Dell.

Dell, whom she is hopelessly in love with, but is sure does not love her back. A very strange kind of romance/non-romance exists between them, where it's increasingly obvious to the reader what Cara just cannot see (accept might be a better word).

Overall, The Space Between Worlds is fascinating with a slow-building intensity.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Space Between Worlds releases on Aug 4. Preorder now (affiliate link)

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

#bookreview: Lead Like a Woman | Deborah Smith Pegues

Lead Like a Woman: Gain Confidence, Navigate Obstacles, Empower OthersLead Like a Woman: Gain Confidence, Navigate Obstacles, Empower Others by Deborah Smith Pegues
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lead Like A Woman is divided into two parts: 'Inherent Traits to Embrace and Manage' and 'Counterproductive Tendencies to Let Go'.

The entire book works on a generalising of "female traits and tendencies", whether it is a natural or taught one--this is helpful in some areas, not so helpful in others. Still, any book that addresses gender stereotypes will have to make generalisations. It's up to the reader to filter through which ones are applicable to their individual personality/makeup.

Deborah Smith Pegues brings a wealth of knowledge to the conversation, explaining how to utilise your natural strengths and tendencies in the workplace, whilst being aware of and working around your weaknesses. I especially liked the way she highlighted and challenged the way certain traits (nurturing, intuition, vulnerability) are seen as a liability--and demonstrated with examples how they can be utilised to bring positive impact to the workplace.

As a Christian book, each chapter quotes various scriptures and Pegues is also open about how her faith has impacted the way she does things and how she relies on God in many situations that arise.

The only disgruntlement I have is the fact that in some of the "tendencies to let go" the advice is still working around or catering to men's expectations in the workplace. That said, until the world really changes, it's the best you can do if you want to get ahead.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers via NetGalley. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 16 July 2020

#bookreview: Creatures of Near Kingdoms | Zedeck Siew, Sharon Chin

Creatures of Near KingdomsCreatures of Near Kingdoms by Zedeck Siew
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Creatures of Near Kingdoms is a beautifully illustrated bestiary of Malaysian flora and fauna. Each one-page description is accompanied by a full-page illustration or lino print.

It's whimsical. And fantastic. And witty.

And occasionally confusing if you're trying too hard to figure out The Point.

It's best read in short bursts. Take it as a collection of microfiction, if you will.

View all my reviews

---

I'm lagging behind in my reviews because... idk. I'm playing catchup with work stuff that I can't delay because I'm clearing up my schedule. So the book reviews are the first to go.

Anyways, thought I might as well post this to make up for yesterday's missed post, even if it's not in the current review schedule (which is messed up).

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

#bookreview: The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia

The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast AsiaThe Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia by Jaymee Goh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suppose if I like half of an anthology, the anthology is a good one. I've been trying to find a way to review this more critically, but it just seems that I can't.

I suppose the dissonance comes from several things, the first of which primarily stems from the lack of steam in this version of steampunk. There's a quite a bit folklore/magic, sometimes used in combination with the technology; where it seems to grate (or at least confuse) are the bits where it seems to be substituted for the gears and clockwork. Either that or I'm not quite getting what they're trying to say.

The second is really a follow-on thought that a lot of SEAsian folklore tends towards horror and the macabre, which isn't what I enjoy reading. So whilst I enjoyed some of them, they turned out a little darker than I expected.

The stories almost all focus on a colonial past, on that space where history could have probably gone either way. This, I suppose, is already defined in the Introduction:
It was, and still is, imperative that we have volumes dedicated to our own voices, projects not of postcolonial melancholia, but decolonial determination. Our psyches cry for justice for lost names, lost stories, lost histories, all lost to globalized, systemic racism, lost to imperial dreams imposed upon us for too long. In the absence of time machines to recover them, we turn to re-creating, and creating anew. Thus, we use steampunk to have that conversation with our histories, our hearts and dreams.
I suppose i should end this updated review with some of the stories I enjoyed.

- The Last Aswang, Alessa Hinlo
-The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso, Kate Osias
-Working Woman, Olivia Ho
-On the Consequence of Sound, Timothy Dimacali
-Spider Here, Robert Liow

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

#bookreview: Daclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent | D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Book 1: NascentDaclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent by D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Nascent follows the three Manstead siblings and their dealings with angels and demons across the world (and out of it). First, there's Max, the genius, estranged, eldest child, an avowed atheist who is found wanting. Then there's Mark, the middle child who becomes one of the first Nascent-capable, Augmented Intelligence humans but is ambivalent in his faith. Finally, Meghan, the baby of the family, is the bleeding heart Christian who puts off university for missions work.

Part of the description is spot on--'Frank Peretti (This Present Darkness) meets C.S. Lewis (The Space Trilogy), "sci-fi-turns-spiritual" drama' fits this first novel well. On this count of premise and concept, it delivers. Like Peretti's work, angels and demons are physically present and active in the world--they inhabit other dimensions of the universe, but interact with humans via a fifth dimension that intersects with our world at various points. Cliffson then layers this with a Singularity-type concept of merging tech and DNA which turned out to be very intriguing, as well as disturbing. Cliffson presents it with all the related moral ambiguity, starting out with enhanced humans and ending with spiritual and ethical dilemmas of using (or misusing) such tech. (What, then, is a soul?)

Unfortunately, "heart-pounding" and "breathless" is the farthest away from this book that you can get. The entire novel is made up of infodumps interspersed with flashbacks, and a little bit of current action. This makes it super hard to get through and, honestly, a little difficult to understand. If you're not already a science geek (I'm not), you'll probably get very turned around halfway as to what on earth the dimensional and genetic stuff is actually supposed to do or mean. I can't actually decide whether this book was a little too hard-science for my taste (I've been known to skip technical descriptions in hard sci-fi books but still enjoy the story) or whether it really wasn't that technical, but just the way it was written made it confusing (it's not exactly handwaviumish enough to count as space opera-type soft sci-fi).

There's little in the way of organic character development. You're presented with a character doing something or facing an epiphany of sorts, and then there's a backstory infodump to tell you why the character is struggling with that (or not) and then it all moves along. The dialogue is often stilted and relies on a lot of repetition, which goes something like this:
A says, "such-and-such revelation."
Random confusion/flashback/infodump, including maybe a side-track from the conversation.
B replies, "Wait, so you mean such-and-such?"
A (or someone else in the scene) confirms it, often by repeating it.
It's very exhausting to read.

Being... Christian fiction, it does cover quite explicitly Christian faith issues plus conversion stories. This may be a plus or minus point depending on your own personal views. There's the usual appearance of Christian "relics", though not quite the holy grail.

Reading this would really be more for Cliffson's take on the Singularity, genetics, and multiple dimensions--plus the coming apocalypse--in an alternate world where faith really is by seeing. Though I guess if you really like very exposition-y books you may like this one.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author as part of a review programme. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Monday, 15 June 2020