Friday, 18 October 2019

#fridayflash: A preview of Takpe from A Kind of Death

There is a nail in the back of Nur’s neck. She doesn’t know why.

She doesn’t think about it often, though sometimes when she bathes, her fingers touch it and she shudders. She doesn’t pull it out; she can’t, she’s not allowed to. Her husband Bakri doesn’t talk about it, changing the topic whenever she brings it up. She doesn’t anymore.

She wants to please him.

No one else she knows has a nail there. She’d seen a girl before, on that one trip to Kuala Lumpur for her daughter, Alia’s, medical check-up, a mat salleh with short purple hair and two little metal balls at the nape of her neck. The mat salleh had a lot of other metal pieces all over her body, so Nur doesn’t think it’s the same. Nur has looked carefully at all the other women in her kampung, her village. Most of them keep their hair in buns, under scarves, out of their faces. She leaves hers down, black and silky, reaching to the curve of her back. Bakri doesn’t like her to cut it, so she doesn’t.

Bakri comes in the front door, kicking off his shoes, and stooping to scoop Alia up. “And how has my little Alia been all day?”

Alia wiggles and squeals as he tosses her up in the air. For a brief moment, her fine, wavy hair circles her round face like a halo, then flops down, tussled bangs across her forehead, fluffed up around the back of her head like a little button mushroom.

Bakri winces as Alia tugs at his goatee, catches the small hand to still its grasping. His smile is wide and generous, filling out the sharp contours of his sun-darkened face.

Nur smiles, getting up from the couch. “Her birthday is coming up next week, abang. What do you want to do?”

“Ooo, my little Alia is going to be one, huh?” Bakri perches the little girl on his hip as he steps closer to Nur into the living room. Three steps to the right, and he would bump into their dining table. She’s not sure why she keeps this distinction in her mind when it’s all one cosy room. She lifts his leathery hand to her forehead, brings it to her lips.

He is all that fills her soul.

When he pulls away, she notices the sadness in his dark brown eyes he always gets when looking at her. Why, she wants to ask, but doesn’t. He never tells her, only shakes his head, saying takpe. It’s nothing.

“Should we have a party, abang? Invite the everyone from the kampung?” she asks. Birthdays are meant to be village-wide celebrations, a matter of pride—she knows this much. He keeps apart for her sake, but for this, for Alia, maybe he would want to do it right.

“Let’s keep it small, eh, Nur? No need to call everyone.”

She nods, making a mental list of their close friends. The neighbors on their left, Pak Ali and his wife Timah, but not the ones on the right; they don’t like Nur. The Penghulu, definitely—the village chief would feel slighted if he and his family weren’t invited. The two little girls Alia plays with and their families…

“Nur, is dinner ready?” Bakri asks, pulling her out of her thoughts.

“Ya, abang. Sorry!” She puts her thoughts aside and heads into the kitchen. Everything is prepared. She left them in the pots to keep warm and all she needs to do now is serve them.

Tonight, there is kari ikan, with more ladyfingers than fish, and nasi putih, the rice steamed and fluffy. Nur wishes there were more dishes, but it’s all they can afford. If they slaughter a chicken, tomorrow they might have meat, but then what would they do for eggs in the future? The banana trees in the back make up for it. She finds them comforting. Alia loves them as a snack, whether fresh or fried in batter. Bakri—he turns away from the fruit, looking sick. Although she remembers, somehow, that he used to love pisang goreng, loved it fresh and dripping with oil, the batter they’d been dipped in a recipe handed down from her grandmother. She remembers that, although she cannot remember anything else, not since the incident.

“What’s wrong, sayang?” Bakri stops eating, fingers smeared with curry.

She shakes her head. “Takpe.”

The phrase passes between them so often it too means nothing: Takpe. Takde ape-pe. Doesn’t matter. It’s nothing. Never mind. It’s fine.
They talk about birthday parties instead.


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Friday, 27 September 2019

Request an ARC for A Kind of Death

Earlier this month, I mentioned that I have a new story releasing that you can preorder. Well, if you can't wait, you can sign up for an ARC from Uncommon Universes Press right now. Just fill in this form!

Note: paperback and hardback preorders will receive exclusive A Kind of Death swag!

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

#BookReview: You Beneath Your Skin | Damyanti Biswas

You Beneath Your SkinYou Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You Beneath Your Skin is a chilling debut by Damyanti Biswas--a psychological thriller that delves deep into dysfunctional families, broken relationships, drug abuse, and violence, all wrapped up in an unpresuming police procedural set in Delhi. There's also the relentless Delhi politics that keeps Jatin Bhatt in a loveless marriage, receiving dirty money and participating in cover-ups for minister's, whilst staying friendly with the Union Home Secretary and his powerful family, so that he can keep Commissioner Mehra, his father-in-law and boss, happy in hopes that he will be able to succeed him as Delhi's Chief of Police. If that's not enough, Damyanti throws into the mix complications from Anjali's son's autism, ramping up the tension, especially with the hide and seek that she plays with the truth.

The heart of this story, though, isn't the politics or the crime or the misadventures in love, though all these provide an entertaining though heart wrenching background. It's the poor women trapped in poverty who are subjected to one of the most cruel and debilitating attacks of all--acid attacks. Damyanti brings sympathy to the women caught in this plight through no fault of their own. The fault lies squarely with the men who hold women's lives to no value. In that aspect, this novel is a little sordid--there's no escaping the dirt and squalor, or the horrible crimes of rape and mutilation in this novel.

I love Damyanti's code switching, the way she brings out the different accents of her characters in their Indian English alongside their use of Hindi phrases. I tend to skim over the longer phrases (some of which may or may not be Urdu poetry?), but I'm sure those who speak Hindi and Urdu would appreciate it. She deftly includes translations, and the repetition of certain key phrases is also very helpful.

All in all, You Beneath Your Skin is a thrilling read, full of surprising twists and turns.

You Beneath Your Skin released last week. Get your copy from Amazon today!

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

#bookreview: Heroes of the Realm

Heroes of the RealmHeroes of the Realm by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I backed this one on kickstarter!

Heroes of the Realm is a collection of short stories based on the theme of... heroes! As usual, with anthologies, there's a mixed bag of stuff in here.

Ashling and the Little People (Kathy Tyers) -- This is an interesting twist on Irish legends and how Christianity pushed out the local beliefs and superstitions of the area. 4/5 stars

The Tea Dragon (L. Jagi Lamplighter) -- Obviously my favourite! It has tea. And dragons. The scoundrel (more like dandy) has a change of heart which seems somewhat a little too sudden, but tea and dragons make up for everything. Almost. 5/5 stars!

The Fire Proof Man is Dead (James Chambers) -- Magic or science? There's some detective work going on here when super heroes end up stealing stuff before turning up dead. It's okay. 3/5 stars

The Garrison Holds (Steve Rzasa) -- Somewhat superman like, Tobias is tempted to use his powers the same way the enemy does, even if that goes against the principles he's supposed to be upholding. 3/5 stars

Where Monsters Wait (Gabrielle Pollack) -- The monsters aren't real, are they? Lyric has to decide if she believe the mad man or if she's willing to let her village be destroyed. 4/5 stars

Will o The Wisps (Wayne Thomas Batson) -- Another one of my favourites! Stoker Graves is crazy about ghosts--he's excited to go to a camp where Will o the Wisps have been said to kill people, but when it starts to come true, will he have the bravery to face them? 5/5 stars

The Devil in the Details (Danielle Ackley-McPhail) -- I can't quite decide about this one. I liked it but it didn't quite stick in my memory. I also didn't quite get what the mom was supposed to be. 3.5 stars maybe

Glint Starcrost and the Ice Prison (Paul Regnier) -- Dashing rogue in mortal peril? Attempting to save the woman in the midst of the jailbreak? I probably shouldn't like this as much as I did. 4/5 stars

Hard s Watcher (Kerry Nietz) -- I liked the twist in this one. I was expecting it to be something super creepy at first. 4/5 stars

The Librarian Who Would be King (Teisha Priest) - Nothing super new with this one, but I liked it all the same. My soft heart always goes out to the wronged/framed person being saved at the last minute. And then selflessly saving other people on the way. 5/5 stars

The Brick (Jeffrey Lyman) -- mmmm This was a bit too space sci-fi for me. 3/5 stars

All in all, a nice read.

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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Introducing... #YouBeneathYourSkin by @damyantig @SimonandSchusterIN

Today I have the honour and privilege of introducing Damyanti Biswas' new book, You Beneath Your Skin!

Damyanti has been a great writer friend ever since I started talking about this writing thing online, so I'm really excited that her book is hitting the shelves today!


You Beneath Your Skin is a crime novel about the investigation of an acid attack on a woman from Delhi’s upper class, set against the backdrop of crimes against underprivileged women. They are assaulted, disfigured with acid, and murdered.

While the framework is that of a thriller, the novel threads together different narrative strands. The author tackles various social issues: crimes against women and why they occur, the nexus between political corruption, police and big money; the abuse of the underprivileged, be it adults or children.

Of these the issue of crimes against women is the strongest—why do men attack women? Why do they gang together? What happens when a woman tries to break the glass ceiling? Can toxic masculinity masquerade as benevolent patriarchy?

Parents would also find this novel fascinating: how do you bring up a good human being in today’s troubled times? How much do you know of your teenager’s life? If you’re the parent of a special child, what challenges do you face and what sort of support can you expect?

It is a whodunnit, but also a whydunnit, because violent crime unravels those affected: the people, the relationships, the very fabric of society, and we get a glimpse of what lies beneath. That’s why the title, You Beneath Your Skin.

The narrative of the book was researched and shaped during the author’s work with Project WHY, and some of the experiences generously shared by acid attack survivors from the non-profit Stop Acid Attacks. To return this debt of gratitude, all author proceeds from the book will go to these two non-profits.


Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi's underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.

All the author proceeds will go to Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.

Get a copy now: India | Outside India

Here's a preview of Chapter One!

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Preorder A Kind of Death!

Okay, so this has been kind of under wraps for a while, but preorders are now up so...

A princess who makes dangerous bargains with the afterlife. A man desperate to save his wife, no matter the cost. An uber driver for the undead.

Death, whether real or metaphorical, comes for us all. Yet it is not always the end. And in the depths of grieving can be the promise of hope and redemption.

The tales and poems in this anthology explore the depths of love, loss, and transformation. Whether in a reimagined folktale or a modern urban fantasy, A Kind of Death features a fine balance of tragedy and comedy, but always with a hint of wonder and hope.

As this anthology concerns matters of loss (all handled tastefully and without graphic depiction), certain stories might prove challenging for sensitive readers. Recommend reading with a hot beverage and/or a packet of tissues.


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Note: paperback and hardback preorders will receive exclusive A Kind of Death swag!


Uncommon Universes Press is a traditional publishing company featuring fresh science fiction and fantasy stories with wonder, adventure, and sacrifice. Check out the links below to learn more!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

#bookreview: The Resurrectionist of Caligo | Wendy Trimboli & Alicia Zaloga

The Resurrectionist of CaligoThe Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roger Weathersby is a Man of Science in a land ruled by magic--it's magic that lends legitimacy to the throne, passed down through the royal blood. He's skeptical about it, the way the royals are worshipped and deified, but when Roger is framed for murder, magic might be the only thing that can save him.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo delves into the slightly macabre, with Roger digging up dead bodies for a living, throwing us back into that bygone era were doctors were still learning about the human body. And of course, there's the murders--not just one, but the serial murders that Roger is framed for.

I picked up an advanced proof copy of this from the Angry Robot Books booth during Worldcon, so had no clue what I was getting into. This book surprised me from the very start!

The story is straight forward, barring a few surprising twists, and told in the third person from Roger and Sibylla's POVs. I appreciated this very much because Roger comes very close to being Too Stupid To Live at times. The distance afforded by the third person POV, less angst and more humour, plus the (mostly) altruistic motives, saved me from getting too annoyed. (I did think will you just shut up now, you're being an idiot a few times.)

But as I mentioned, the humour! This is the type of writing that I enjoy: snark and dry wit. I found myself laughing to myself quite a lot. I also do like the star-crossed lover scenario, made even better by the fact that it's not a new love, but a failed entanglement that is still getting in the way of them moving on.

There are some niggling "but why..." questions, but nothing that really detracts from the enjoyment of the story. Overall, a fun read!

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