Thursday, 25 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Victorious

It wasn’t vanity. At least, it wasn’t to Vanessa, not anymore. It was the need to stay in charge of something, even if that something was just the way people saw her. She needed to look poised and in charge, ready for anything the world threw at her, whilst her life burned down to ashes. If she went down, she would go down looking beautiful, like the queen she was. Should have been.

Vanessa hadn’t understood this when she was younger. She’d looked at the women, both young and old, who populated the spaces she inhabited and scoffed at the thick make-up and perfectly coiffed hair, making snide remarks about how vacuous they were, how air-headed. She had things to do, great things to achieve, and she would do it by sheer willpower without resorting to sexual wiles. She didn’t need to look pretty doing it, she just had to do it.

It’s funny how a decade or two changes things.

~

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am.” Foundation first, smearing it on thick, smoothening out her skin. Concealer for concealing, hiding all her imperfections.

“You can’t—getting pulled into their vortex will kill you.”

“I can’t paddle hard enough to stay outside them.” Contours. Highlights. Illusions to make you thinner, sharper, more desirable. But also, pointier.

“But—”

“It’s the way of the world. It’s sink or swim, dear.” Was she pointy enough? With edges sharp enough to cut? Her brows were on point. She hoped.

Or? There’s still an or?”

“Look if I don’t play the game, I’m out. And then where would I be? What would I do? If I play the game, at least I’ll still be…somewhere.” Eye shadow, sparkly but subdued. Look at me, look at me, it screamed. You want me, it whispered.

“You’ll be dead. Career-wise, I mean.”

“No. Not if I’m smart enough.” Eye-liner. Such stabby things. She hated them.

“No one is smart enough. You can’t challenge the establishment.”

“I’m not challenging it. I’m working with it to subvert it.” The perpetual blush. Pink, rosy, healthy—not quite demure. She wasn’t going for demure, she was going for Queen.

“It’s not going to work.”

“We don’t know that yet.” But they would, soon enough. A final touch of red on her lips. She closed her eyes. This was it. This was the reinvention of Vanessa Ling, the explosion of chaos, into She Who Has It All.

~

The thing with success is… it comes to those who look successful. The world had an idea of what victors and losers looked like, and if your skin wasn’t the right colour, at least your clothes and demeanour could make up for it. As could your make-up.

Vanessa had thought it vanity, a long time ago in her youth, but now she knew better. She knew to hide her vulnerability behind a mask of victory, skirting the vortex of those who would bring her down by drawing closer to those who could pull her up with them. It wasn’t quite the truth, not yet, but it was an armour. And the more you wore a mask, the more you became it.

Vanessa would look victorious, even if she crashed and burned. And no one would be able to tell the difference. 

---

Today's suggestions were:

  • vortices, from Barbara Harrison
  • Vortex, anonymous
  • vanity/vulnerable/vacuous/victorious, from Cherie Osier
  • veal, velocity, vast, from Donna Smith 

I seem to have forgotten how to write. Not entirely sure if this makes sense at all. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Unexpected (a #bookreview of A Brightness Long Ago)

I titled this post "unexpected" because I didn't actually expect to get to review this book when I requested to review it on NetGalley. I'd previously been getting rejected quite a lot, especially for "big" books from famous-er authors. Apparently, though, I've crossed some sort of threshold where I'm starting to get approvals. Maybe the number of reviews?

A Brightness Long AgoA Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Brightness Long Ago is a novel about unexpected events that change the course of one's life. Guidanio Cerra's meeting with Adria Ripoli in Mylasia (and I can never read this name without transposing it into Malaysia) alters the course of his life dramatically, with effects that ripple throughout the book. At each juncture, his choices--not always wise, not always safe--lead to even more unexpected events and meetings. What else can catapult a tailor's son from his small life in Seressa onto the political stage that involves the two most influential mercenary commanders in Batiara?

And there it is: A Brightness Long Ago also the story of a war of wills between those two commanders: Folco Cino d'Acorsi and Teobaldo Monticola. It's not so much the story of war itself, though war is the backdrop to everything in this book, but their battle of wills, their manoeuvring, the little decisions and plays that change the course of history. It's also a story of honour and faith--misplaced honour in some cases, and neglected faith--and very much a tale of personal choice and responsibility and how that ripples from the personal to the political and vice versa.

The narrative shifts between POVs and time: Danio's POV is in the first person, but third person narratives include POVs from Adria, Folco and Teobaldo. It involves memory, that fickle thing that always changes and fades with time; a breathtaking scope that is both focused on the short span of time from the Guidanio's first meeting with Adria to the fall of Sarantium and played out over the years from the first battle between Folco and Teobaldo.

It's apparently a prequel, but I read it without having read the other book, so it works fine as a standalone. If anything, it spurs you on to want to read that other one, Children of Earth and Sky, which I will eventually get to (when this TBR shrinks)!

I can't really define why it's not a 5-star book for me, like all the other books of Kay's have been. It broke my heart, it did, but it took a long time getting there and maybe it's too sprawling, maybe I need the background of the book that came before this but is set after it, maybe I've been too distracted over Eastercon. It feels like one of those books that you need to re-read to really get it. So I'll leave it at 4 stars, and if I ever have the time to read it again, we'll see if that changes.

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

View all my reviews

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I... skipped yesterday's A to Z Challenge post because... I got home from Eastercon and then I spent all day in bed. Sorry. I will catch up tomorrow, and will have to up the wordcount again. =.=

Monday, 22 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Silence

If there is one thing I enjoy the most, it’s sound of silence. Nothing moving, no one speaking. It is then, in the quietness of your mind, that you find peace.

The stillness sustains you, it is the sustenance your soul needs. Not many people find it. Sam and I have.

My mother-in-law calls it superstition, but her mind is so noisy that she cannot move beyond petty things. Noise is the sepsis of your soul. It eats at you, poisoning you. She calls me a witch.

That’s okay. Her words cannot hurt me from the madhouse she’s sequestered in, many miles away from here. Maybe she will find her own stillness, find her own peace. She can’t do anything more to harm me and mine.

A persistent scratching pulls me out of my thoughts. I scowl at Sam. He looks guilty, stills his finger, his eyes begging and filled with tears.

I sigh.

“What?” I ask as I pull the gag from his mouth.

“Please, let me go,” he rasps.

In reply, I gag him again and wrap cloth around his hands, bound tightly as they are behind his back, so that he cannot move an inch.

I will have silence. 

---

I... am sorry. That's not how it was meant to go.

Today's suggestions were:

  • sepsis, from Barbara Harrison
  • silence, anonymous
  • sustenance/sustain/simplicity/superstition, from Cherie Osier
  • sugar glider, from Sharna Steinert
  • sequestered, sandwiched, from Donna Smith

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This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Ravenous Rebekah

Rebekah was ravenous. She rummaged in the fridge but came up with nothing. Where had all the good food gone? For some weird reason, the fridge was ridiculously empty.

“Maaaaaaaaa didn’t you buy food?” she yelled up the stairs.

“In the fridge!” her mother shouted back.

Rebekah opened the fridge door again. There was still nothing edible there. Not even rudimentary stuff like bread and butter. And eggs. What she saw instead was a bunch of ranunculus, though what the flowers were doing in there was rather puzzling. Maybe the rambunctious twins had something to do with that.

“Robbie! Randy! Where are you?”

Robbie’s head popped up from behind the kitchen table, whilst Randy peeked in from the open door.

“What?” Robbie asked.

“What have you done with the food?” Rebekah asked, putting her hands on her waist, her arms akimbo.

“Ate them,” Randy replied.

“All of them?”

They nodded in unison.

“That’s ridiculous!” she said with righteous anger. “How could you eat all the food in the fridge in one day?”

“We were ravenous. Rock wallabies eat a lot, you know,” Robbie answered with a sharp nod of his head.

“And red-bellied black snakes need to stock up on food before they hibernate,” Randy said, rubbing his belly.

Rebekah scowled at them. “You—do you even know what you’re talking about?”

The twins shrugged.

“Dunno, but rock wallabies are probably bigger than me and do a lot of rock climbing so they must eat more than me too.”

“Yeah, and snakes hibernate in winter. Don’t they?”

Rebekah sighed. “Okay, then what are the flowers doing in there?”

“Flowers?” they echoed, running up to the fridge.

They stared at the pink and yellow blossoms and then at each other.

“Oops,” Robbie said.

“Whoops,” Randy replied.

They grabbed the flowers and backed out of the kitchen.

“Bye Bekah!” they screamed as they ran away.

Rebekah stared at the now-empty fridge. She’d just have to go out and eat if she didn’t want to die of hunger. She went upstairs to change, coming down minutes later in jeans and a clean t-shirt.

The doorbell rang.

Rebekah went to the door and opened it to find her boyfriend standing there with a bunch of very familiar flowers in his hands. She stared suspiciously at him.

“Oh, uh, hey. Wanna take a walk down the block with me?”

“What’s going on, Jake?” Rebekah folded her arms across her chest.

“Just to the park.”

“Twins! Why is Jake holding the flowers!” Rebekah yelled.

There was no reply from either Robbie or Randy, though, so she sighed, rolled her eyes, and nodded.

“Fine. But only if we end up somewhere with food. I’m dying of hunger and there’s nothing in the house.”

“Okay,” Jake said.

She took his hand and they walked down the block to the park, where all her family and friends had gathered with a great feast and a banner saying “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BEKAH!”

She’d totally forgotten it was her birthday.

---

Today's words were:

Are the words getting harder or is it just me?

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This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Today's Camp Nano wordcount is... 6,907/10,000!

Friday, 19 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Dr Quaker's Quandary

Dr Quaker was in a little of a quandary. He and his esteemed colleagues worked with animals and DNA, and he’d heard worrying reports that one of them wanted to use the DNA of the quagga to bring it back from the dead. Oh, he was aware of the current Quagga Project—but that involved breeding zebras selectively to look like quaggas, not trying to recreate a creature from its DNA. Hadn’t any of them watched Jurassic Park? Or Frankenstein? Well, obviously he knew revived quaggas weren’t going to suddenly morph from placid herbivores into Velociraptor-like carnivores, but what if they turned out to be brain-eating zombies instead?

At any rate, he didn’t want to be associated with quacks like that, so now he had to find a way to… find a new job, probably. Dr Quaker mulled over it for a long while before taking out his prized quill, dipping it into ink and writing a letter.

~

The new job in Australia was another whole new quagmire. He thought he’d be getting away from quacks, but it seemed that everyone in the community had wild dreams of saving almost extinct animals. At least the quokka was merely vulnerable, not yet extinct. Yet it remained that many of his new colleagues wanted to save and study their DNA just in case they could clone them or something sometime in the future.

He had to admit, though, standing in the middle of Rottnest Island with a quokka in his arms, that the happiest creatures on earth were rather… cute. When they were not shredding him to pieces with their claws. Or stealing food from his camp. Or stalking him in the middle of the night. If mad scientists wanted to clone anything, he’d go with the quaggas over the quokkas, if only because quaggas would probably make less scary zombie creatures.

~

After long consideration, Dr Quaker decided to take refuge in a quiet Quaker commune to ponder about life, the universe, and extinct animals.

---

Today's suggestions were:
  • Quakers, from Barbara Harrison
  • quagmire/quandary/quagga, from Cherie Osier
  • quokka, from Sharna Steinert
  • quill, quack, quintessential, from Donna Smith

This one's short again because I didn't know where it should go. A quagmiry quandary, indeed. :p

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This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Percy the Porcupine

Percy the Porcupine was a prickly little thing. He’d been prickly, even as a little child.

“Don’t mind Percy,” his mother would say every time he was in a bad mood. “He was born with hardened quills.”

Which wasn’t even remotely true. Baby porcupines were born with soft spines which hardened within a few hours, but Percy’s had taken almost a day to harden. His mother had despaired for him, though she only told him this in private. It was the first indication that he wasn’t exactly normal.

You see, Percy was an Old World porcupine, which meant that he was large, terrestrial and nocturnal. Or supposed to be. Instead, he was the smallest in his burrow system. Even his younger brothers and sisters had outgrown him. To make it worse, he was the only one in his litter, so it wasn’t as if he had to share any resources with a twin. He was just… small. Which made him even pricklier. And when he was feeling prickly, he’d stay up all day and sleep all night to avoid his siblings, which added to his prickliness because then he’d also be tired all the time.

“Look, Percy, you can’t always be in a bad mood,” his older sister Pam said one night. “You’ve got to just chill out, relax your spines, don’t bristle so much.”

“Well, you guys can stop teasing me then,” he retorted.

“We’re not teasing you! When have we teased you?” She looked around at her siblings for help.

“Well, yesterday, you called me tasty human food.”

Pam shrugged her shoulders. “It’s a fact—humans in Southeast Asia and Kenya eat us! And you’re so slow you’ll be the first one they catch.”

“And the day before, you bopped me on my snout.” He glared at Patsy, Pam’s twin.

Patsy giggled as she said, “It’s a very cute snout, you know. All wiggly and tiny, like you.”

“And you called me fat!” Percy was quivering now, teeth clattering and his quills erect. It made him look larger, but also as Pam had pointed out, a little fat. Right now, he was so stressed that he was also starting to emit a rather putrid odour.

“Phew, what’s that?” his brother Patrick said as he entered the room. “Have you been stinking again, Percy?”

“I hate all of you!” Percy cried as he stormed out of the burrow.

Percy ran and ran for a long time. He finally stopped when he reached the river. Fat drops of tears rolled down his snout as he looked at his reflection in the water. What was wrong with him? Why was he tiny and slow and stupid?

It wasn’t long before his mother caught up with him.

“You really shouldn’t let them get to you,” Mama Porcupine said as she gingerly put her arms around him. His black and white quills slowly started to deflate as he calmed down, and she brushed them down soothingly from head to tail.

“They’re mean. I want to poison all of them,” Percy replied. His breath slowed and his teeth stopped clattering.

“They don’t mean any harm. Besides, they’re just as prickly as you. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be teasing you so much.”

“But they’re all better porcupines than me. I’m useless.”

“Look, Percy, I think you’re a very fine Porcupine, no matter what anyone else says. And one day, you’ll prove yourself to them. Don’t let them get you down!”

Percy sighed. “Thanks Mama. I’ll try my best.” 

Percy the Porcupine was a prickly little thing, but so were all his siblings.

---

Today's suggestions were:

  • polyandry, from Barbara Harrison
  • porcupine, from Marie Hanna
  • possibility/purpose/posture, from Cherie Osier
  • platypus, from Sharna Steinert
  • Poison, from Red
  • putrid, pusillanimous, pilfer, from Donna Smith

I don't actually know where I was going with this but eh. 

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This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Oriental -- #bookreview of Tales of Japan

Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and MagicTales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic by Chronicle Books
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stories in Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic were sourced from two 20th-century texts: Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn and Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki (both in public domain), with each story accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Kotaro Chiba. Just the cover itself is fantastic!

It's no secret that I love fairytales and folktales, especially those of Asian/East Asian origin. These fit right in with the stuff I'm looking for--my only gripe is that the translator(s) sometimes sound a little too apologetic about their use of Japanese terms which aren't directly translatable. Honestly, I don't mind. That's the charm of reading stories from other cultures, isn't it? There's also the occasional stiltedness of language, but overall, these traditional Japanese stories are highly enjoyable, written in that timeless fairy tale style.

Journeys
The Dream of Akinosuke: I'm not sure if there's an English fairy tale equivalent for this. When Akinosuke takes a break under a tree he is caught up in an elaborate dream where he is swept off at the behest of the Tokoyo no Kokuo (the ruler of an unknown country; or the King of Fairyland). Is it all a dream or is it a true fairy encounter?
The Jelly Fish and the Monkey: An origin story of the jellyfish, in the vein of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. Also a fascinating first look at the mythology surrounding Ryn Jin, the Dragon King of the Sea.
Momotaro, or the Story of the Son of a Peach: In this Thumbelina/Tom Thumb-esque story, a childless couple cut open a giant peach to find a little child. Years later, Momotaro leaves his adopted parents to save a northeastern Japanese island from a band of devils. This gains some Bremen Town Musicians undertones with various animals joining him to help him in his quest.
The Happy Hunter and the Skillful Fisher: A lost fishing hook sends Hohodemi, the Happy Hunter, to Ryn Jin's realm. Ultimately a good brother vs bad brother story, where the older brother uses the excuse of the lost fishing hook to send Hohodemi away so he can usurp the throne. It's never explained why the younger brother is the Mikoto though and not the older? Also likely an origin story of why Hohodemi is said to control the tides.
The Bamboo-Cutter and the Moon-Child: This reminds me of Chinese tales of women (and bunnies) on the moon. No bunnies here, though. Also an amusing look at males who are so enamoured of a woman's beauty they say they would do anything to marry her... but then lie and cheat their way with the minimum of effort.

Ghosts and Monsters
The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi: This takes a dark turn, where a blind lute-priest is seen entertaining spirits.
Yuki-Onna: This story feels vaguely familiar--I probably came across it while writing When Winds Blow Cold--but it also follows the vein of traditional Chinese myths with mysterious (usually not so benign) female spirits/creatures who choose to stay with/marry a human man. The enchantment breaks and the spirit leaves when the man breaks their vow of secrecy.
Diplomacy: How do you make sure a vengeful ghost doesn't haunt you? Apparently by distracting them.
Mujina: Creepy faceless people story. I... dunno.
A Dead Secret: Still on the theme of ghosts, this dead woman won't leave until her secret is destroyed.
Rokuro-Kubi: Samurai-priests and headless goblins! It should be slightly macabre, but it's also quite hilarious.

Justice
The Tongue-Cut Sparrow: This follows the classic good hapless man, evil shrew wife. A good man gets rewarded by fairies, the evil wife tries to get more but meets her just rewards. I suppose there are similar themes no matter where you come from.
The Farmer and the Badger: An Aesop-like story, where the wicked badger tricks the farmer but then his neighbour the kind rabbit helps the farmer take revenge.
The Story of the Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Flower: Childless couple takes care of beloved dog Shiro, who is magical and brings them good fortune! The evil neighbour who hates dogs tries to get Shiro to also bless him, but whatever he does turns to bad instead.
The Mirror of Matsuyama: Evil stepmother story. I said last week that evil stepmothers don't seem as prevalent outside Eurocentric stories, but here's one from Japan. Actually, the beginning as quite Beauty and the Beast; I was expecting the girl to be exchanged for something, but no. LOL.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chronicle Books via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews