Wednesday, 5 December 2018

#bookreview: Global Fiction

Back on the reading list, we read two stories deemed "Global Fiction", one of which was written by one of my tutors, Christy Lefteri. So obviously I had to get her to sign my book :p
(She said, "This is so weird." But why should it be? haha)

By the SeaBy the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the Sea is beautiful, a meandering story of remembrance that takes you from Zanzibar to London, through Malaya and Persia, a story of business, love, and revenge.

Wandering through Saleh Omar's memories and Latif Mahmud's accusations, Abdulrazak Gurnah reminds you again and again that what you perceive as a child may not always be true. Related tenuously by marriage, the two men's lives have been intertwined by a series of slights and betrayal, each branch of the family grasping for the property and wealth of the deceased as their own family's prosperity rises and falls over time. Behind the scene, pulling the strings, is Hussein, who both entrances and tricks, then disappears home to Persia to let things fall out as they may.

Yet it's not Hussein himself who brings about their downfall. It's their pride and greed, hidden behind a veneer of religion and holiness, supported by a belief in their own perception of right.

At times, the story seems to drift too far into the past, and you end up on distant shores wondering why Abdulrazak has left you there, but down each branching river, you end up by the same shore, realising that each diverging stream had an effect that ultimately led to Saleh's persecution and need for asylum. And it's by the sea in London, where Saleh tries to build a new life--or at least to let what's left of his life end peacefully--that he has to face the painful past and finally lay it to rest.


A Watermelon, a Fish and a BibleA Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm fighting the urge to write only complimentary things because Lefteri is my tutor lol.

Again, I feel that the reading of this book was slightly impacted by the fact that I was reading it in spurts, mainly while on various trains, and whilst really sleepy. Still, this goes to show that it wasn't particularly exciting to me, because I've powered through books in the middle of the night whilst dead-tired because I really wanted to know what happens next. At any rate, I liked it enough despite the fact that it's historical fiction and not fantasy, so *shrug*. Thinking it over, I'm not too sure if the 4-star is impacted by bias. Now that I'm writing the review, I'm wavering down to about a 3-star, so I'd say it's a tentative 3.5-star book, just because I'm not sure.

The best bits of this book are the beginning and the end. It starts off with this really fairy-tale like sequence, full of symbolism. It's beautiful, and sad, setting you up to journey through war-torn Cyprus in 1974. Lefteri moves you through the capture of Kyrenia through several viewpoints: Maroulla's childish innocence, Adem Berker's loss and guilt, Richard's longing, Commander Serkan Demir's anger and hatred, Koki's fear. Sometimes it's too much--the core of this story feels like Koki's, the way she's caught between Greeks and Turks, an outcast to both groups as much as she is deeply tied to both. I loved the way Adem's, Richard's and Koki's stories weaved in and out of each other, I didn't care so much about Serkan (Lefteri admitted that he was a rather two-dimensional character without an arc) or what his whole confusing interaction with the baby was about, and whilst I loved the thread of the rose and the petals and the innocent fairy tale of Maroulla that both starts and ends the novel, she wasn't ultimately very important to the story. Whilst she acted as a sort-of impetus for Koki to keep moving, keep trying to survive, I kind of feel that she could have been replaced by anything (or anyone) else.

The middle dragged a little as events played out over the five days. There's an immersion in memories of the past, both a sense of longing for what was as well as a lingering regret over how things played out over the years. Ostracism of the Other seems to be a key theme which recurs over and over again, both on a personal and a national level, with the microaggressions of the Greek-Cypriots against Adem and Koki seemingly representative the aggressions of the Greek-Cypriots towards the Turkish-Cypriots and the British in their midst on a national level. In retaliation, the Turkish soldiers rape the women and murder the men on a macro scale of revenge, even though these specific women have done nothing to them personally.

The ending (which I can't say too much of because of spoilers? maybe?) is a beautiful execution of the classic race against time, leaving you braced in your seat with bated breath, hoping that yes, they will meet, yes, things will work out in the end, no, no, please don't miss each other.

Yes, so I was hooked by the beginning, got slightly bored by the middle and then loved the ending, so overall, I'm not very sure how much I actually liked it.

View all my reviews

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On a final note about global fiction, it feels as if books tagged with the label always seem to be sad stories about refugees and war and displacement, and I'm wondering why.

Friday, 30 November 2018

#fridayflash: Memories



“Rahsia, this is all really yours, you know,” she said, eyes staring up at the gathering rain clouds.

Rahsia frowned. What a strange thing to remember. She had never stared up at … no one had ever said that to—she froze, snatching at the memory in her head.

“I felt terrible being the Secretkeeper, as if I’d stolen your life. Nek knew it would pass from me fairly quickly, although she didn’t know until right at the very end of her life that it would go to me at all. She didn’t know it would go back to you. I didn’t either, not until now. I’m glad, though. I’m glad you’ll have the life you’ve always wanted, that you’ve always planned for. You don’t have to avenge me. Just ... just watch over my children if you can. I don’t know if you can. Everything is changing. You might end up in Suci, for all I know.” She laughed.

Iman laughed.

This was Iman’s Memory, but wasn’t she at the Temple? What was she doing lying on the street dying? How could Rahsia even access them unless—

Rahsia scrambled to her feet and raced out the door, startling everyone in the tailor’s shop, racking her memory—no, Memories—for where Iman had last been. She stumbled into a dark alleyway and was greeted by crowds. Priests, doctors, passers-by—it was like the day Nek had died all over again, except that this was out in public, where everybody could intrude into her grief.

Father Farouk stood over Iman’s broken body.

“I know who killed her,” Rahsia said, breathlessly.

The priest from Suci tilted his head inquisitively. “You have the Memories.”

Rahsia almost chuckled. He’d said it exactly the same way to Iman before, as if he were not checking, not asking, but telling her that she does. But it was still a question—even if it was written on his face, not in his tone. “Don’t tell me: You need me. We have things to do.”

His lips quirked upwards slightly before smoothening out quickly into seriousness. “Take your time. But not too much. We must uncover the true rites behind the Sacrifice and the Penance before it is invoked.”

Before the end of the world. Memories bubbled to the surface, but Rahsia suppressed them for the moment. “I must bury Iman first, and settle her children.”

Farouk nodded. “Do they have family?”

“No. None left. But there are friends, I suppose. Neighbours who will do what is necessary.”

“When you are ready, then.”

“I will see you within the week.” Despite her words, Rahsia didn’t leave immediately. Instead, she grabbed hold of Farouk’s arm. “Take what you need. She needs justice.”

Farouk nodded and laid a hand on the crown of her head, pulling the Memory of Iman’s murder.

“Justice will be served,” he murmured before disappearing into the crowd.

---

So I've finished compiling The Painted Hall Collection into a single book, and decided to add a bonus story, Shattered Memories. This is a short story that happens sometime in Secretkeeper, which is the second book of what's going to be the Absolution Trilogy. If things go as projected. I'm still working out what happens where. 

But, bonus short story!

Details to come soon!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

#bookreview: Letters to the Church | Francis Chan

Letters to the ChurchLetters to the Church by Francis Chan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Letters to the Church is thought-provoking, especially since it addresses some of the issues I am currently having around church.

Chan draws examples from his personal experiences, both in the old megachurch and in the new house-church style, but qualifies them with the statement that what he has done and what he is doing isn't representational of what Church is meant to be worldwide. He seems to ask instead, who are you following? Jesus or the church leadership team? What does faith, love, and community look like in your context? How would Jesus work in your situation, in your community?

The one thing he does come strongly against is the consumer mindset that besets many a churchgoer, myself included. The emphasis here is not how the church can cater to you, but how you can serve your church in its goal to reach the surrounding community.

I guess it all centres around the question What IS church? Is church as we know it the way it's supposed to be? Or is it supposed to be something more? Chan draws stark differences between the Westernised church (Westernised, not Western, because there are many churches in the East which follow the Western ways) and the persecuted church.

And that's the answer I'm still trying to find.

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

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

#guestpost: Why the busiest times are the best times to write by @akooman

If you’re like me, you have to pretty much hire private security to keep yourself from watching reality television, because if you start you can’t stop. Not the self-absorbed-celebrity-does nothing-significant-and-films-themselves-arguing type of reality TV. I mean the shows where creative people have a deadline to make something, with an interesting challenge thrown in for kicks.

Like: Use this ball of string, four rags from a mechanic's shop, and a push-up bra to design a glamorous outfit that an A-list star will wear to the Met Gala. You have three hours.

Or: Here’s a box of locally grown produce (turnips), a can of Spam circa the Vietnam War, and four jelly-filled doughnuts. Make an appetizer that will persuade a Michelin-star chef to hire you as the sous-chef at her new Vegas restaurant. You have twenty-five minutes.

Put a bunch of success-hungry creative people in a room together and give them a timed challenge with limited resources and I’m a fan, no matter if it’s fashion, furniture or fine dining.

It’s amazing to see what people can come up with on a forced timeline. It’s cathartic to see how they handle the pressure cooker of agreed-too but extreme limitations, especially when there’s some prize money and career breakthrough on the line.

If you’re indie anything—musician, writer, artist—you probably know just how mesmerizing it can be to watch such creative feats unfold.

As ridiculous as it may first sound, I think there’s something to be gleaned—besides entertainment and the occasional inspiration—from these creative Guinea pigs: a sobering kind of motivation.

In fact, my busiest times are the best times to write. Now, you might scoff at this premise coming from me, since I’m about to release Book Two in my YA series nine years after releasing Book One. But hear me out, because I stand by my claim.

One of the most productive exercises I have incorporated into my own writing practice and that I use when I lead other writers in workshops is to “force” writing for short moments, with a single rule: write for an entire minute, no matter what.

For some, especially writers with writers’ block, this can feel like cruel and unusual punishment akin to water boarding, but it’s actually a kindness. Once the parameters are clearly established and the stopwatch starts, one minute typically turns into two, then three, even five or more and the resistant writer can’t stop writing.

Boundaries, deadlines, limitations are a kind of grace for any writer.

That’s not to say one can command the best content at any time, simply by summoning a stopwatch and a pad of paper with a pen. Because certain stories must be ready to tell.

That’s the flip-side of the coin that is my own writing practice. I thrive within clear deadlines, but the story I need to tell must also be ready to be told. And there’s mystery to that process for me.

So, I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty why I waited almost a decade to write Book Two. Life got busy (with multiple stage plays, tours, a film, world travel, family, grad school, and a hundred other things) so the project got pushed back. But it also wasn’t ready.

I wrote other things in the meantime and when it was, I set a timeframe. And, on available days I had to write, I sat down to craft the story. Sometimes the writing flowed outside of the set time; sometimes it stopped short.

Then I’d schedule another deadline until the book was complete. Despite “everything else” in my life both professionally and personally, I’ll do the same for Book Three.

For some reason, the busiest times are the best times to write because I’m forced to ensure I carve out time for the thing I love, that refuels me, that I need to do, in the midst of all that’s going on (even when the busy thing is a writing project itself. Because—as an aside—even in the midst of a project, there’s always another story I want to tell and pick away at and find time to simply outline because it’s another opportunity and a kind of reprieve or breath of fresh air from the hard work that the current project requires).

So, my fellow creative, let “busy” fuel your practice. What mesmerizing feats will it force out of you?

##

Andrew Kooman is an award-winning writer and producer with a Master of Arts degree in English from Western University. His critically acclaimed work has been produced around the world and translated into more than 10 languages. A co-owner of the production company Unveil Studios, Andrew writers for the page stage and screen. His new novel Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora is available November 29, 2018 and is the second book in his YA series.

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Get a copy of Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Achhora

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Monday, 26 November 2018

#musicmonday: So Faithful | Josh Yeoh, feat. John Dip Silas


You’ve been so good
You have been faithful
Oh how I love you, God

---

Because sometimes you need to sing it into being.


Friday, 23 November 2018

#fridayflash: Physicality



The first thing Daisy noticed about the house was the draft.

“It’s a little cold in here, isn’t it?” she remarked to the real estate agent as they went up the stairs to look at the bedrooms.

The agent gave her an odd look. “The heating’s on,” he said, going to check the thermostat.

It was, indeed, on.

Daisy stood next to the radiator, feeling the warmth of it, wondering where that odd draft had come from. But it seemed to have disappeared; the house was warm and cosy, everything she had been looking for.

There were two large bedrooms on the upper floor, each with their own attached bathrooms, perfect for when family came to visit or if she decided to take in a lodger. On the ground floor was a cosy living room filled with antique furniture and knick-knacks from the prior owner (a little old lady who’d died the previous year) and an old-fashioned fireplace, a mid-sized kitchen, and a tiny study, should she want to do any ‘serious work’, as the agent put it.

It was perfect, despite the yard being too large (a gardener could be hired, if need be?) and that draft (where was it coming from?). Daisy got the number of the hired man who used to work the yard for the previous owner, but didn’t mention the draft; after all, the real estate agent hadn’t noticed anything. Maybe she was a little too sensitive to the weather.

Daisy paid the down payment on the house and moved in right away.

###

Elizabeth woke up in the living room. Really, she’d taken to falling asleep all over the house lately. She yawned and stretched, then got up to put the kettle on, only to walk into the coffee table. She stood, blinking confusedly at the table for a while, then looked around the room. Someone had moved the furniture while she’d been a sleep. How rude!

The couch she’d been on had been placed at an angle on the left of the fireplace so that she could rest with toasty toes while looking up occasionally to see that her roast wasn’t burning, which was why she’d gotten up and walked straight ahead towards the kitchen. Only, someone had moved the coffee table that was supposed to be by the head of her couch—to put her tea cup on, of course—into the middle of the room, right in front of the fireplace. Really, where was the sense in that?

Elizabeth shook her head, tutted, moved the coffee table back to its original position, and then went to make a cup of tea.

###

The kettle was whistling in the kitchen again, but Daisy was quite sure she hadn’t put it on. It had taken to whistling at odd hours of the day, usually at eleven in the morning, well past when Daisy had her breakfast, and then again at three in the afternoon, when she was busy working in the study.

Sure enough, the kettle was warm, but it was empty. She put it away, locking it in the cupboard for good measure (There! See if those hooligans could get at it now). She was almost at the study door when she realised something looked different. She stood in the doorway, surveying the living room. Someone had moved the coffee table. Well, she was too tired to move it again, so she decided to let it be.

Daisy shivered. That draft was too much. She’d have to find someone to fix it.

###

It wasn’t funny. Why anyone would think that pranking a little old lady was a good idea, Elizabeth couldn’t fathom. How could she have elevenses if the kettle was locked away? She’d gone searching up and down the kitchen for it, but it had been nowhere to be found. Someone had locked this cupboard though—really, this was too much—so it had to be in there.

Elizabeth fretted, wondering who she could call. Maybe that nice young man down the road who did her yard could help. He’d know how to pick the lock, or maybe he’d be able to help her find the key. She had to admit—her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. She’d lost many a thing in the last year, especially with all her furniture being moved around by pranksters. Resolutely, she marched out of the house, letting the door slam behind her.

###

The slam of the door jolted Daisy from her mid-morning nap. Those hooligans again! The furniture, then the kettle, and now, the door. And that perfectly nice real estate agent hadn’t even warned her that there were hoodlums in this area who enjoyed breaking into people’s houses! Admittedly, they hadn’t stolen anything (she’d checked all her belongings to be sure), but they were very annoying.

Daisy went down and had another look around. Nothing had gone missing, though someone had obviously been rifling through the kitchen cupboards. What did they expect to find in there? Hidden money? She wasn’t one of those little old ladies who kept spare cash in a jar in the kitchen. She’d had enough. It was a Saturday, so the real estate agent was probably not going to pick up her call, but she’d seen a man (the hired man the agent mentioned, she thought) in one of the houses down the road when she was coming back from the store the other day. Maybe he’d know what was going on in this neighbourhood.

###

Alex looked up in alarm at the sight of two ladies beelining towards him, one alive and one very much dead. It was at times like this that he hated his ability to see and speak with the dead. Well, he should have expected it. He’d known Elizabeth’s spirit hadn’t left the house yet, but hadn’t done anything about it or mentioned it the last time he’d worked on her yard.

Now he was going to have to explain to the new occupant that she was sharing the house with a ghost and to Elizabeth that she’d left the physical plane. How fun.

---

Partially because we were supposed to do suspense, with elements of foreshadowing, shifting points of view, withheld information and lines of convergence, if I got that all right.

But also partially because I promised someone on twitter a ghost story.

Heh.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

#bookreview: Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora | Andrew Kooman

Ten Silver Coins: The Battle For AcchoraTen Silver Coins: The Battle For Acchora by Andrew Kooman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora drops you in the middle of a story you last left... almost ten years ago now. It took me a while to reorient myself to the happenings in this book (seeing that I don't have a copy of the first one with me at the moment), but then I got caught up in the excitement and it didn't really matter.

The Drylings of Acchora are now visible, and the volcano they've been hiding in for years has erupted, causing them to have to flee for their lives, both from the spreading fire and the Rashtakar's armies. Ama and Juria take risky, unconventional paths to try to save the land and people they love--not just from the evil one, but from traitors in their midst.

It's an ambitious project, in both scope and breadth. The story gets slightly confusing at times as Kooman tries to pull several key storylines into one cohesive text, jumping from Juria and her brother Jordyn, to Ama and Jill, sometimes together, sometimes individually, extending the various points of view as you go further in the novel to encompass a huge cast of Drylings. Kooman can get very descriptive, giving you details of what these creatures look like in exquisite detail, describing action scenes sometimes almost blow for blow--it's imaginative and vivid, but sometimes a little too much to take in at a go.

Carrying on the theme of acceptance and second chances from the first book, the Drylings' rejection and suspicion of the Invalids--Drylings born without wings--echoes Jill's status as an outcast in Vendor. This is countered firstly by Ecklar's drive to save Juup and Trill when no one else would and Ama's willingness to take them in, as well as Jill's persistence in seeking them out.

The Battle for Acchora is also a journey of rediscovery for the Drylings--things they have long forgotten come to light as they emerge from their shelter. If there is a new theme to this story, it's probably this: that the sins of the fathers should not be visited on their children.

If there were anything I'd really like more of, it would probably be a little more clarity on the mystery of the ten silver coins. But I guess Kooman is just teasing it out as we follow the coins (and Jill) into the next book!

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





EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT FROM BOOK 2 Jill loosened the red tassel and opened the mouth of the pouch, pouring the contents into her hand. She gasped. A handful of coins filled her palm, the same dirt covered coins in need of a polish that she had found in the emptied fountain in the Great Hall. “What’s on the coin?” the cat asked. Jill rubbed one of the coins to remove some of the dirt. The dirt smudged away to reveal an elegant equine face. She held it up for the cat to see. “A horse.” “Turn it over,” the beast commanded. The other side was also covered in dirt. She placed it back in her hand. When the cleaned coin surface touched her skin, the ridge of the scar etched into her palm by the firestone started to pulse slightly with red light. “What marking is on the other side?” the cat asked. Jill started to rub the dirt off the coin. She didn’t expect to see anything, since the opposite side of the coins had been devoid of engraving when she first acquired the treasure from Seraph. “Oh my!” Jill said, when she saw the mark. “How can that be?” “She held up the coin for the cat to see. “Impossible!” the cat said. “It looks like you,” Jill said, “but this beast has wings.” Excerpt From: Andrew Kooman. “Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora.” iBooks #itunes #BookSeries #YA #novel #adventure #identity #story #writer #preorder #fiction #giftideas #christmasgifts
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Ten Silver Coins: The Battle for Acchora launches on 29 November 2018.

Preorder your copy from Andrew's website (with special freebies!) or from the following retailers: