Wednesday, 8 September 2021

#bookreview: Spellsmith and Carver series | HL Burke

I figured since I binge-read the whole series, I might as well just put up all the reviews in this post! :) I'll hide the second and third behind the read more so you don't get spoilers, if you don't want them.


Magicians' Rivalry (Spellsmith & Carver #1)Magicians' Rivalry by H.L. Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Auric Spellsmith comes home from the city to find his expected place at his father's business filled by a terrible upstart of a carpenter, Jericho Carver. Jericho just knows that whatever future he thought he had as a magician apprentice is over now that Master Hedward Spellsmith's son is back. But when Hedward Spellsmith disappears and Fey Magic threatens the human world, Auric and Jericho must learn to work together - or lose everyone and everything they hold dear.

Magicians' Rivalry is a fun, engaging, and quick read! The rivalry between the two men is hilarious and poor Rill Spellsmith, Auric's younger sister, is caught trying to placate all the easily riled, arrogant, posturing men in her life - while trying to learn magic without her father's knowledge.

About that - Hedward Spellsmith comes across at first as a misogynic old man but as the story unfolds and his past comes to light, you learn that he is anything but - it's just that he is a terrible communicator and refuses to explain why he's doing the things he's doing...until it's too late.

The one thing that felt a little off was how quickly Auric claims Jericho as his best friend. I mean, well Jericho did save him a few times in the Fey lands...but does that naturally make them best friends? idk.

Anyway, I'm just here for the proud, self-sacrificing idiots who keep landing themselves into trouble because they won't actually talk to each other or admit that they need help. Oh, and of course for Jaspyr, the magical clockwork fox.


Before we get to the rest, Magician's Gift (Spellsmith & Carver 3.5) is free for a couple of days. 



It's a short story that'll give you a preview of the main characters if you're still ambivalent! However, it's set at the end of the series, so might include some relationship-type spoilers if you're fussy about that.


Wednesday, 1 September 2021

#bookreview: Toyols 'R' Us | Terence Toh

TOYOLS 'R' USTOYOLS 'R' US by Terence Toh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Toyols 'R' Us starts off like quite a normal police procedural then veers quickly into magic. Inspector Khairul is at his wit's end trying to solve a series of deaths (murders, he thinks) that only have one apparent connection: a hacked off big toe and a body drained of blood. Elsewhere in Klang Valley, Harun introduces his cousin Ismail to a secret that can solve all his monetary woes: toyols. On the surface, Toyols 'R' Us aims to help people secure their financial future, albeit in not-quite-legal ways - but what is their super enigmatic owner hiding behind his cheery demeanour?

If you've ever read one of Terence Toh's short stories, you know exactly what to look forward to in his debut novel: an utterly Malaysian story guided by and wrapped in punnery and wordplay. And since puns tend to be somewhat divisive, you may end up laughing your head off... or rolling your eyes so hard it hurts. I think I did a little of both.

In between the wit and the fun, Toh doesn't gloss over the darker side of Klang Valley. There's that one-upmanship, the constant competition to be better, richer. The rampant corruption and cronyism. Religious extremism and cyber trolling. Unwanted pregnancies and abortion. Loan sharks and gangs. In some ways, it feels a little like an extension of the KL Noir series. Both obliquely and blatantly, Toh seems to include an underlying commentary on the social issues that plague Malaysian society today.

The ending lends itself to a possible sequel - and I would definitely pick up the next Inspector Khairul & Detective Fara novel if that materialises!

It's not perfect. There's a little more POV changing than I prefer, and also a bit of an almost romance (as in, it's set up to be romantic I think but isn't quite sure what it is) that felt rather awkwardly staged. But these are really rather minor preferences that don't detract from the enjoyment of the novel as a whole.

I absolutely loved this gem, the winner of Fixi Novo's inaugural Malaysian Novel Contest. A deserving win indeed!

View all my reviews

From Malaysia? Get Toyols 'R' Us from the Fixi store or on Shopee.
Not from Malaysia? Toyols 'R' Us is available on Amazon

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

#booklaunch: Queen's Crown | Anne Wheeler

A foreign crown bent on conquest.
An escaped traitor out for vengeance.
A realm caught in the middle.
Sometimes it takes a queen to save a kingdom.
Queens Crown cover
Laurent has left to meet the Vassian Army at the border, leaving Riette in charge of Lochfeld Castle and indeed Meirdre itself. Waiting on war to come to the kingdom she loves is unthinkable, so she escapes to her home village for a visit, searching for one last bit of normalcy in a life that is no longer her own.

But that normalcy is shattered when Thomas arrives. Bitter over his imprisonment and bent on the revenge he’s always wanted, he’s intent on destroying Laurent and has no qualms about using Riette to do so. Worse, her power as a crownkeeper is no longer a secret, and King Damir of Vassian wants it for himself. From Lochfeld itself to a coastal town, defeat looms. For their adversary is well-prepared and powerful—a formidable enemy to her small kingdom.

But the map on the floor of Lochfeld’s ballroom holds power of its own—and Riette will discover what it truly means to be a crownkeeper.

QUEEN'S CROWN LAUNCHES TODAY!


About the author:
Anne Wheeler grew up with her nose in a book but earned two degrees in aviation before it occurred to her she was allowed to write the stories that had been brewing in her head for years. When not writing her next novel, she can be found planning her next escape to the desert—camera gear included. An occasional commercial pilot and flight instructor, she currently lives in Georgia with her husband, son, and herd of cats. Visit her at www.anne-wheeler.com.


Wednesday, 25 August 2021

#bookreview: Generation Manifestation | Steven Bereznai

Generation ManifestationGeneration Manifestation by Steven Bereznai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Generation Manifestation starts with a very Divergent vibe. Caitlin Feral is preparing for her Final Testing - if she doesn't Manifest now, she'll be assigned a boring (or maybe dangerous) adult job, based on her aptitude scores. There's no room for standing out, for pursuing your own interests, if you're not a Supergenic.

So Caitlin wants to Manifest. She wants it so desperately that she's already tried to fake her way through earlier tests, earning herself some renown amongst the testers. Normand Bamford is the rich, weird guy in class - super rich, super smart, but also super weird. And on this final Testing Day, Normand makes Caitlin promise that she'll survive the Testing - and then later sneaks her a contraband comic book that ends up changing the course of her life.

Like all dystopian and post-apocalyptic books, nothing is as they seem. The X-men type Genetic Wars did not just result in superheroes, or Supergenics, as they're called. They also resulted in weird mutations and beasts who now roam the wastelands outside - which the Supergenics in Jupitar City protect the squalid human boroughs as part of the treaty. But the treaty - and rules - are unfair, and it's only the humans who are truly sacrificing themselves. The status quo may seem to work for now, but the system is broken - and since this is a YA coming-of-age book, it's up to the teens to rebel and break the world, before reshaping it into something better. Not the popular, Supergenic teens though. But the misfits like Caitlin, the weirdos like Normand, and of course, the good-looking popular jock boyfriend ones like Bradie Lopez Nettle who stays by Caitlin even at her worst.

Generation Manifestation is a wish-fulfilment kind of story where the young save the day, where you can make change possible even if you're just a dreg (DNA-regular), where the weirdos rebels are accepted for who they are. It pulses with a deeper kind of persistent love, not just the sex-hormones-emotions kind, but the kind that sticks by someone through thick and thin, that protects each other, that sacrifices themselves for friendship and the greater community. The kind that believes in you and supports you all the way, despite and through your failings.

Help comes from unexpected places, in unexpected ways, and whilst the solution isn't the cleanest (or even the most moral), it's one that offers hope in the midst of compromise. Where allies can work together, even though they'll never actually be friends. Where true stories of the rights violated and the laws broken give people the reason to rebel and fight for a better future, but it's the comic books and dreams of true heroes that will help show them how.

With the breakdown of governments around the world, Generation Manifestation is a wish-fulfilment kind of story, the kind we desperately need right now.

"We can't change the world in a day," I rationalize. "But I will make sure this rebellion has a tomorrow."


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

View all my reviews

Monday, 23 August 2021

#musicmonday: Jireh (You are enough) / How He Loves | Justin Bieber & Chandler Moore



So there's nothing I can do to let You down
It doesn't take a trophy to make You proud
I'll never be more loved than I am right now

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

#bookreview: Christians in a Cancel Culture: Speaking with Truth and Grace in a Hostile World | Joe Dallas

Christians in a Cancel Culture: Speaking with Truth and Grace in a Hostile WorldChristians in a Cancel Culture: Speaking with Truth and Grace in a Hostile World by Joe Dallas


I have been sitting on this because this book is a difficult one to review. I picked this up as an eARC from Harvest House Publishers via NetGalley and should have probably just passed on it and saved myself some headache.

Maybe let's start with what it does get right. When Dallas actually gets into the meat of the issues he wants to talk about (Abortion, Homosexuality, Race***, Gender, Progressive Christianity*) he sets out quite fairly the current views of the issue** and what God says about them in the Bible. There is no ambiguity, no obvious twisting of verses, no over-the-top bias. He presents a clear Christian worldview of how things were intended to be by God. And that's not a bad thing for someone who professes to follow Christ.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christians do still have the right to take a stance on their beliefs, and in this, I agree with Dallas. Practising or following a religion requires that you follow the standards set by that religion/faith, and stating that you personally believe a certain thing according to that faith is not a crime. Persecuting others for those personal beliefs are a crime, and this is true in both directions.

But this is also where Dallas muddies the waters. As I stated in my Rant Chapter 1, the whole angle of this book presumes several strange premises:
1. That passing laws to allow others to do what you disagree with is a law attacking you and your beliefs as a Christian;
2. That free speech equates to the right to be listened to no matter what and people not wanting to listen to you is an attack on your personal freedom and rights (???); and
3. USA is a Christian nation and all laws need to be Christian and therefore current society is attacking Christians.
(OMG the persecution complex there)

I mean, these three premises alone puts the book in a very weird, off-kilter position, where some of the things Dallas says are true, but the rest of it is very, very wrong. (Also, a note to global readers, most of the issues spoken to here arise out of specifically American problems related to US laws, so may not apply across the board.) One of the reasons this book really irks me, actually, is this uber American Evangelical stance of "what Christians believe should be made law for everyone else", even non-Christians, which in my part of the world, when done other faiths try to do it, is "[religion] is oppressing Christians! How dare they!" Think about that hypocrisy for a moment.

So on one hand, part of the book has its merits. But what Dallas gets terribly, terribly wrong is how he ends each of those chapters. And unfortunately, this is also the most crucial part. Because now that you know what God says about an issue, you also need to know what's the Christ-like way to react to that issue. And instead of anything useful, loving, or kind, Dallas just tells you how to continue digging your heels in and getting people to hate you for your beliefs. The assumption here is that "because I am a Christian, my opinions are right, and whatever you say or think or feel doesn't matter in light of that."

That bit is subtitled "Keep It Going", which I assume refers to keeping the conversation going, and it is just a horrible mess of gaslighting in the name of "discourse". An example would be where the response to "I need you to call me by my preferred name and pronoun" is answered by "Don't ask me to call you by names and pronouns that represent something I don't believe is real". Later on, in response to "If you can't accept me for who I am, then I have to keep my distance from you. I won't tolerate someone who's transphobic" is refuted by "unless I treat you with disrespect and hostility, I really think the transphobic label is way off base". (IDK, I kinda think not calling someone by the name they want to be called, transgender or not, is actually really disrespectful and hostile.)

Circling back to hypocrisy and doublespeak, the one thing that Dallas keeps bringing up over and over again is how hurt Christians feel when current society cancels them for their beliefs and how breaking family relationships and friendships over a difference in opinion is bad and wrong, and why can't everyone just STILL be friends despite them being a horrible, gaslighting person? Let me just end this review with this thought:

How is this any different from when churches and Christian families excommunicated and kicked out members, children, and friends over many of these issues? Did they not also feel hurt? Were they not left stranded and without support, especially when these were minors? Or is it okay to hurt others because you believe you are morally superior/in the right?

Or, as I wrote in a note:
"So, it's okay for the church to excommunicate the backsliders but not okay for the non-believers to return the favour?"


* I would have to note that this refers to a very specific Progressive Christianity that, according to Dallas, believes all paths lead to God and not "progressive" in the general terms of not-conservative.
** I did not fact check any specific examples quoted. If he presented any facts in bad faith, I am not aware of them.
*** Dallas does not believe in systemic racism and Needs You To Specify Each Individual Charge.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 29 July 2021

#bookreview: Monkey Around | Jadie Jang

Monkey AroundMonkey Around by Jadie Jang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, the great part about Monkey Around is that you don't need to be a Journey to the West kind of person to know what's going on! Though I suppose if you come with that kind of literary background you'd probably pick up things (clues? inside jokes?) that I might have missed. But not knowing is also cool and doesn't detract from the story as a whole, because you're taken on a journey of discovery with Maya herself!

Maya MacQueen is on a journey of discovering what she truly is - is she just a were-monkey, or is she something more? What lies behind the supercool powers she has that Ayo, magic-human-boss, doesn't seem to recognise? But in the midst of protesting at Occupy, barista-ing at Cafe Sanc-ahh, and taking on odd jobs for Ayo (like tracking down a missing aswang), supernatural creatures are turning up dead. Like Wayland Soh, the harimau jadian, and Bu-Bu, the bajang. And the only clue she has is that this soul-eating shadow is just like her.

What I love about Monkey Around is the wide range of cultures and supernatural creatures from all around the world that just appear, but is somehow still so rooted in place. Jang explores the many different were-creatures and magic users around the world that have migrated to (or pass through) the Bay, though two cultures are featured with some prominence - the Asian-American and Mexican (Mesoamerican?) communities.

With so many things going on, it feels like the disparate cultures and creatures should pull the story apart - or at least confuse it too much. Yet it doesn't. There's one thing that pulls them together, that provides a defining feature - the San Francisco Bay Area. The place feels like a character of its own. It speaks to Maya, it searches for its guardian. It's actively trying to save itself, and I love it. I also admit to having a soft spot for it in my heart due to the many times I once travelled there for work.

The most annoying thing about Monkey Around, though, is in my opinion, Maya. And that's actually a very personal thing. Okay, I should explain that a bit. Many readers gush about how much they *love* a character. I don't...fall in love with characters. There are very few characters that I super like, and that's also mostly because there are very few real people that I like. But there are very, very many characters that I hate, and that kind of correlates to the amount of real life people I just find annoying and tiresome and don't want to deal with. So back to the story, you know how you meet someone and they just...irritate you for no definable reason? Just one of those personalities that grates on you but everyone else is ok with (and maybe even like)? That's Maya for me. She's amusing to a point, until she protests "but the Monkey in me...." one too many times and [Anna stabs the Main Character].

At any rate, Monkey Around is a fun urban fantasy read that explores the diversity of the Bay, identity, and place.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews