Monday, 24 July 2017

#musicmonday: Closer



I've been trying to introduce this song since May, but it hasn't happened yet.
Maybe in August.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

#bookreview: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories | Ken Liu

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've already been following Liu's career as a short story writer from 2004 - 2014, you don't actually need to buy this book. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a collection of Liu's science fiction and fantasy shorts, as follows:
- The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species (Lightspeed, 2012)
- State Change (Polyphony 4, 2004)
- The Perfect Match (Lightspeed, 2012)
- Good Hunting (Strange Horizons, 2012)
- The Literomancer (Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2010)
- Simulacrum (Lightspeed, 2011)
- The Regular (Upgraded, 2014)
- The Paper Menagerie (Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2011)
- An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition
- The Waves (Asimov's Science Fiction, 2012)
- Mono No Aware (The Future is Japanese, 2012)
- All The Flavors (GigaNotoSaurus, 2012)
- A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel (Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2012)
- The Litigation Master and the Monkey King (Lightspeed, 2013)
- The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary (Panverse 3, 2011)
(There only seems to be one new/unpublished story.)

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I find that I don't enjoy Liu's straight science fiction as much probably because his sci-fi veers towards a dryer, hard-science style and I don't really have much a feel for his aliens. The more spec-fic mash ups are pretty good, but it's his Asian fantasy that really comes alive.

At the top of the list is, obviously, The Paper Menagerie -- it's hauntingly beautiful; the poignancy of a boy torn between his Chinese roots and his American reality and a man finally coming to terms with being both. Similarly, in All the Flavors, Liu seems to be creating a new mythology for the Chinese-American, combining Chinese-type myths with the story of Chinese migration to America in the 1800s. The Literomancer, in turn, brings you to Taiwan where Mr Kan extends a magical world and an odd sense of belonging to Lilly Dyer, a Texan transplant.

I suppose it's this sense of transience that Liu manages so well -- his characters are in-betweens, never quite fitting in, never quite finding who they are, always searching and yearning. Even in Good Hunting and The Waves there's an unsettling sense of change -- whether it's because the magic is leaving the land, or that science is changing humanity.

There's also a sense of guilt and the need for redemption -- Liu bases some of his stories (The Litigation Master and the Monkey King, The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary) on injustices long hidden in history, as if he is apologising for them.

The stories in this collection are mostly hard-hitting. They're not light, bubbly type reads; but shorts with depth, often reaching into the dark sides of humanity. It's about balance and how humans can't, won't. It's past and future, hope and fear. And that muddly thing between that makes humanity what it is.

View all my reviews

Monday, 17 July 2017

#musicmonday: The Coffee or Tea playlist | PLUS a Summer Fantasy Giveaway!

Submissions for NutMag 2: Coffee or Tea? has closed and the MYWriters Penang team has voted and I'm getting round to making the final decisions, so here's the playlist of coffee and tea songs I rounded up as inspiration.



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Whilst you wait for results, Andrew Q Gordon's Summer Fantasy Giveaway starts today!
If you're looking to grab a copy of Coexist (plus a lot of other fun fantasy books) head over HERE.

Friday, 14 July 2017

#fridayflash: Soggy


The mail was soggy from the unrelenting rain. Which was perfectly fine because it was mainly junk. The mushy birthday card that emerged from a drenched white envelope garnered a soft gasp. It was hers, of course, except she was no longer here. An hour later, the card was still on the counter, waiting to be read. Reluctantly, he flipped it open, wondering which cruel person—he refused to call them a friend—would inflict him so.

Dear Ned, it read. He looked at it for a long while, then checked the torn envelope. This month’s postmark, no salutation. Just his address. Which was why he’d opened it in the first place. If it had been addressed to her, he would have ignored it, like he’d ignored all the others. If it had been addressed to him… why was it addressed to him? His birthday wasn’t for months yet. He gathered his courage and started again.

Dear Ned, if you’re reading this, I’m gone. He stumbled to a chair, almost knocking it over as he sat down. He checked the clock, his watch, stared at the ceiling, trying to look anywhere but at the card in his hands. His hands were trembling. Why were they trembling? He leant back and closed his dry, hot eyes. He should have known. Should have recognised her long, loopy scrawls.

Dear Ned, if you’re reading this, I’m gone. It’s alright to cry. Death came quickly and gently, sneaking up on me like a shadow when the sun reaches its peak. There was nothing I could do and nothing you could do. No, there had been nothing he could do as she lay in Mt Miriam receiving treatment. Nothing but hold her hand and pray that she lived another day. And then the days had run out and he’d left that cold, white hospital alone.

Dear Ned, if you’re reading this, I’m gone. It’s alright to cry. Death came quickly and gently, sneaking up on me like a shadow when the sun reaches its peak. There was nothing I could do and nothing you could do. If you loved me, and I know you did, celebrate this day for me. Celebrate my birth, not my death. Celebrate the sun, not the shadow. Don’t let it eat at you like the cancer ate me whole. Happy birthday, Esther. Say it with me. 

“Happy Birthday, Esther.” The words sounded empty in his mouth, as hollow as the rain tapping on the roof overhead. There were marbles in his mouth and cotton in his ears; his eyes were raw, burning flame.

“Happy birthday,” he whispered as he dropped the card into the trash. It tumbled lazily, missing the edge of the bin, ending up face down beside the bin, presenting her last message to him.

Dear Ned, I love you. 

The mail was soggy, drowned in the salt of Ned’s grief.

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Wrote this for a prompt like a million years ago or something.
Pulled up for filler purposes. 
And also because I'm unlikely to use it anywhere else. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

#bookreview: B: | Hanno Frank

BB by Hanno Frank
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

B is a collection of conversations between B and random people, all of whom want her to provide some kind of service.
It's cute, quirky, and amusing. Most times you end up nodding in agreement- you've met people like that in real life before.
As Hanno says, "We have all been on both sides of the table at some point."

View all my reviews

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Super short review while I catch up on life and stuff.

Monday, 10 July 2017

#musicmonday: Welcome to the Black Parade | My Chemical Romance + A Bengal Tiger review



He said, "Son when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned?"
He said "Will you defeat them,
Your demons, and all the non-believers,
The plans that they have made?"
"Because one day I'll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join The Black Parade."

Brought to you by Chris Preslar's unwitting ability to trigger nostalgia (or in other words, the closing song for Bengal Tiger).

---

with the cast of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
L - R: Iz Sulaini (Tom), Phraveen Arikiah (Musa), Christopher Preslar (Tiger), Putrina Mohamed Rafie (Iraqi Woman/Leper), Kabilan Murali Dharan (Iraqi Man/Uday), me, Farah Jasani (Iraqi teenager/Hadia)
Missing: Christopher Culver (Kev)
If I had to describe this show in one word, it would be intense.

Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo sounds ridiculous at the start. Taking place during the 2003 Iraq Invasion, two soldiers guard a Bengal tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. When the tiger (Christopher Preslar) bites off Tom's (Iz Sulaini) hand, Kev (Christopher Culver) shoots it, pushing all three into a downward spiral. By the end of the show, Baghdad is filled with ghosts, all connected by a strange web of death to Musa (Phraveen Arikiah) and a golden gun.

The characters are brilliantly cast, filling their roles exceptionally well. Culver is believable as the dumb redneck Kev: the boy's itching for action - either a fight or sex, he doesn't care which. In later scenes, he manages the intense nature of his role with aplomb. As Tom, Iz comes across smarter, or at least more experienced, but is handicapped by his utter lack of empathy for and understanding of anyone not White American (doesn't this sound so familiar?) as well as his extreme anger (which may have been a tad overdone - he was angry all the time and it was grating). Kabilan does a brilliant mad/evil (evilly mad? madly evil?) Uday and Preslar is stellar, as usual, as the atheist Tiger (all tigers are atheist, apparently) stuck in an existential hell trying to figure out why he's a ghost on earth. But it was Phraveen who caught and held my attention: Musa, the poor, tormented gardener employed as a translator for the Americans, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. You see him happy, almost care-free. You see him afraid. You see his soul wounded and tortured. You see him stumbling through life, almost zombie-like, frozen because he doesn't not know who he is anymore.

Copious swearing aside, the play asks hard-hitting questions. The Tiger flits in and out of the scenes, asking questions no one wants to voice: who is God, where is He, and what is the point of this life? He taunts, he teases, he rages; but he is insubstantial. Meaningless. A ghost. Musa's quandary is more physical; practical - why should he continue working with the Americans now he's found out they're not the good people he once thought they were? Also, what's going to happen to him once they're gone?

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo leaves you with a heavily full heart. There is evil, and killing, sure. It's an extremely dark show. But there is also a man finding himself, finally coming to terms with who he has been and deciding for himself who he will be.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Friday, 7 July 2017

#fridayflash: Absolution - an excerpt (WIP)

The rooms are nothing more than small monk’s cells in the priests’ quarters. There’s a single mattress with white sheets and a folded blanket. Tomas shows us the shared bathroom and the dining hall and that’s it for the grand tour.

I end up sitting in the dining hall nursing a cup of herbal tea because I’m too wired up to sleep. Adam joins me after a while.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Messing up your plans. I know how much the sacrifice means to you… and I—”

I silence him with the wave of my hand. “It’s not important.”

“But it is to you.”

“Magda never believed I’d find it anyway.” Thinking about Magda makes me remember Tunku Nawal and the others waiting in the inn. “We need to tell the others—”

“The priests have sent someone.”

“That’s… efficient.”

“You get used to it.”

We sit silently, ignoring the unspoken words between us. I want to ask him how he’s feeling, but judging by the turmoil that I feel, I don’t think it’s something he’ll talk about. Finally, I can’t stand it anymore and excuse myself. I head back to my room and lie down, even if I can’t fall asleep.
It’s about two hours later when Adam and I are summoned into Holy Father Farouk’s office again. He leads us into the great hall, where we stop in front of the stained glass panels I had been inspecting yesterday.

My surprise must have shown on my face, because the high priest chuckles a little and says, “Yes, this is indeed a depiction of the six rituals.”

“Is there no depiction of the Berith Melach itself then?” I ask.

He gestures at the stained glass window that overshadows everything in this hall. “The Berith Melach is the Blood Sacrifice. It is one and the same.”

I imagine Adam on the altar in place of the bull and I shudder.

“One step at a time, child. One step.”

He names each step. The first three are the Purifications. Body, mind, soul. Cleansing, Chanting, Confessing. The next three are the Devotions. They’re meant to test the actions of the Sacrifice, to see if he’s pure, if he’s ready. Prepared. The Maze, the Puzzle, the Task. And then the Sacrifice.

“How do I fit?” I ask. “How am I allowed to help?”

“The Purifications will be performed separately for each of you. You may sit out the Purifications, if you wish, but it is recommended that you go through them as well to prepare yourself for the Devotions. I cannot tell you the details of the Devotions at this moment, but you may decide how you wish to tackle them. You may decide to work together on them, or you may decide that each will take a task simultaneously. If you will allow me a suggestion, I would merely say that a shared weight is easier to bear.”

Together then. We’ll do this together.

“Tomorrow we will commence at seven in the morning. I have spoken to your friends. You are allowed to join them for dinner at the Heaven’s Gates Inn tonight. However, do return early to prepare yourselves. It will be a long, hard day tomorrow and the week to follow.”

Dinner at the inn, although delicious, is somewhat subdued. Tunku Nawal whines half-heartedly about Suci and how boring it is. Hawa keeps asking if I’m sure I want to do this, as if the more she asks the higher chance there is that I’ll change my mind. Fikri wanders off early, mumbling some excuse about seeing to the camels. Abdullah is staunchly silent. It feels like a funeral meal. I don’t know why they bothered, but the gesture is kind all the same.

When I say goodbye that night, I feel as if I too may not survive this week alive.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

#bookreview: Ghosts by @scifrey

Ghosts (The Accidental Turn, #0.5)Ghosts by J.M. Frey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel like I'm shortchanging this story by giving it only 3-stars. Yet at the same time, I wasn't terribly excited about it as I read it.

This is mostly because I read it out of sequence. It probably shouldn't matter since this prequel novella (stated as #0.5) was obviously only releasedafter #1 The Untold Tale (duh) and #2 The Forgotten Tale. BUTTTT I read it after reading #2.5 Arrivals which really was the culmination of everything that happens in Ghosts.

At any rate, it feels a little waffly overall. Because poor Bevel is so tortured in this one and he can't do anything about it because Kin is that oblivious. (Whether it really is that waffly or whether it's because I know how the whole thing turns out is another matter altogether. I don't know and I'm not inclined to try and tease it out.)

Still, as an origins story, it's not bad. We find out a bit more about Mandikin, the ghost that features in one of the stories (#1, I think? I forget) though that's not really the plot at all. Actually, I don't know if there is a plot other than Bevel pining. And maybe that's part of my disgruntlement.

View all my reviews

Monday, 3 July 2017

Monday, 26 June 2017

#musicmonday: Camp set



It's hard to choose a set when you don't know the musicians and you don't know the camp participants and you're walking blind.

Why am I doing this again?

Anyways, this is for tomorrow.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

#bookreview: Storm in Shanghai | @M_to_the_Bush

Storm in Shanghai (Mage Father, #1)Storm in Shanghai by J.M. Bush
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2015 finds former speedcaster champion Jaret King leading a joint mage & wizard law enforcement team in Shanghai. Sent to investigate the disappearance of a local wizard, a fairly innocuous-sounding missing persons case soon devolves into a hunt for the most deadly magical terrorist in history.

Storm in Shanghai is a story about a white American in China, written by a white American in China. Bush offers you snippets of life in China's biggest city, quick offerings of cultural exchanges, and descriptions of the locale, in the midst of a witch hunt (wizard hunt?) led by a white man with a team of locals. It's an interesting balance he's managed to walk, which should satisfy even the most politically correct of the cultural critics out there (I think. There were several jibes, but nothing I wouldn't say to a fellow Asian. lol).

The novel jumps between several main timelines: the terrorist attacks in 1990, the rise of wizardry in the early 11th century and present day events in 2015. This makes the beginning of the story feel long and rather clunky, making it a little difficult to get into immediately but it's worth it. By the time everything weaves together into one horrific disaster somewhere in the middle of the book, you can't help but feel invested in all that has happened so far and hope for a solution that's not painful or nasty, and certainly please, no more deaths. (Case in point: I read the first maybe 30% sporadically over the span of 5 days, picked it up again today thinking I'd read for short while before doing something else, and then find myself finishing the whole darned thing because... darn it, NO. WHY DID YOU DO IT JARET.)

There's no real explicit or graphic violence though violence (mainly magical) is mentioned and there are epic magical battles. There's also quite a bit of death, including a main character death, though they're not described in detail. Slight allusion to sex, nothing described, a bit of swearing, so this one's probably pretty safe for teens and up. (I.e. nothing that would shock a supposedly innocent 13-YO. I know 13YOs are not innocent. Just saying.)

Bush's writing style is pretty straight-forward and action-driven, so don't expect anything poetically fancy or pointlessly beautiful. His strength is in the plot, action and characterisations, even of the villain. There's a nice complexity to his creation of mage-wizard relations and tensions, making it believable.

Yeah, so all in all, I pretty much liked Storm in Shanghai

Given Bush's nomadic lifestyle, I'm expecting Mage Father #2 to be based in Penang (hinted as much at the end of the book) and Mage Father #3 (if there is one) to be based in Thailand (Bangkok, was it?)

View all my reviews

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Probably not gonna be able to see Michael Bush before he heads off to Thailand, so I guess this is a farewell gift of sorts?

Hurry up and write book 2, man.

Monday, 19 June 2017

#musicmonday: Question Mark | Neal Morse



Oblation, vows, the promise of faith
Atonement, the wine, oil and cakes
The sheep, the goats, acceptable in his eyes
The maimed, the blemished, the scurvy scabbed
The creeping things, the firstborn lamb
Avail his presence in the house of sacrifice

And then after all, with our backs against the wall
We seek the temple of the living God
And outside the gate the cripples sit and wait
To see the temple of the living God
To see the temple of the living God

Because I felt like listening to it would help me write Absolution.

LYRICS.


Monday, 12 June 2017

#musicmonday: Faith My Eyes | Caedmon's Call



So keep 'em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible be it a light or heavy load
And keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

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Still somewhat in nostalgia, since I haven't swapped out the old CD bag from the car yet. The current bag holds CDs from the college years, so mostly stuff pre-2007. A DECADE, PEOPLE, A DECADE.

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Sorry for the long-ish hiatus. Was distracted with stuff and forgot that I hadn't pre-scheduled anything on the blog.

I'm back, hopefully. But maybe not until July. We'll see.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

#bookreview: Arrivals by @scifrey

ArrivalsArrivals by J.M. Frey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Forsyth is gone, leaving the Shadow Hand's Mask behind for Bevel. The Viceroy has been defeated, leaving a sudden dearth of battles to fight. The Untold Tale is over, leaving behind Kintyre and Bevel to wander around until something new happens, until the Writer Writes something else. It's endings and tying up loose ends and all the mundane little things that need to be done, like returning items from the quest, resting, sleeping, eating, not getting kicked by the horse. Telling everyone that Forsyth is gone and Kintyre is retiring. The hero and his sidekick are going to attempt being domestic at Lysse without killing themselves and everyone around them (killing metaphorically, though overuse of eye-rolling and face-palming, that is) or going insane with boredom.

But it's mostly Bevel Dom finding his place in a world that has changed drastically. Who is he when he's not just a sidekick, not just the bard? (And how can he be a bard when he can't fully express everything he's overwhelmed with to Kin?) Who is he when he feels betrayed by his own nature? (As he says, why is the world so cruel as to make him love and want children he can never naturally have because he is a man in love with another man?) Who is he as Kin's Paired? (What to do with all these grabby noble women?) Who is he as the Lord's Consort? With all these new dynamics of domesticity, pairing, marriage, and the looming Shadow Hand, who is he really to Kin and how will this fragile relationship survive?

Arrivals begins with departures and ends with arrivals. It's an in-between kind of story, the anti-hero kind that tells you about what heroes do when they're not heroing. (They're busy having crises of identity and renegotiating relationships.)

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this ebook from the author!

View all my reviews

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Slight disclaimery thing necessary?
I've reviewed Frey's other books here before (The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale). Arrivals take place right in between those two novels, focusing on what happens in Hain after Forsyth and Pip leave. What's not stated explicitly in those reviews is the homosexual relationship between Kintyre Turn and Bevel Dom which is pretty much background in those stories but is brought to the forefront here.

As stated in my review, it's mostly a first-person account of a man coming to terms with who he is in light of the people around him, and a very fragile new relationship he is afraid of breaking. The emotions are raw and the fears feel real--not just for a homosexual relationship (I wouldn't know first-hand how that feels) but for any relationship that is on shaky ground through lack of self-esteem & self-worth, unequal social standing, and societal disapproval.

I thought I'd just state that outright because it's a touchy issue for some readers and I *did* say that I wanted to keep this blog and my reviews as "family-friendly" (Christian-wise) as possible.

Monday, 29 May 2017

#musicmonday: Tea and Sympathy | Jars of Clay

Because it came up on the Jar of Gems CD.

And I've been thinking about tea.

So maybe you should submit something.

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So fare thee well
Words the bag of leaves that fill my head
I could taste the bitterness and call the waitress instead
She holds the answer, smiles and asks one teaspoon or two

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Saturday Setlist



The shout of the King is among us
God lives here in our praises

Our God is a lion
The Lion of Judah (praise)
He's roaring with power
And fighting our battles
Every knee will bow before Him

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith would be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Friday, 26 May 2017

#Fridayflash: Accelerando (Another #Dongeng excerpt)

The house is quiet. His son and daughter-in-law have gone out somewhere—he does not know where, does not ask. They are adults, after all, and he is merely a visitor—and the boy is most likely still asleep. He lingers at the dining table, still sipping at his cooling coffee when the front door opens and the boy walks in.

“Morning, ‘tuk,” the boy mumbles. He looks restless, antsy.

“Where did you go so early in the morning?”

The boy sighs and slides into a chair, leaning slumped over the table. “What if she doesn’t come back?”

Fear grips his heart. “Why wouldn’t she?” He’s not sure if she refers to the girl his grandson has been seeing or if it’s someone else—if it’s that someone trying to seduce him. The enemy of my enemy…

“I don’t trust him.”

“Him?” He cannot read the boy’s mind, but it’s clear that he’s jumping from thought to thought, sowing marbles in their houses, calculating with each click to see who will end up with the most seeds in his store. Who is he playing against and what’s at stake? “You should never trust Putera Aria.” He speaks from bitter experience. Not Putera now—Raja. He doesn’t correct his mistake.

“Who?” But the boy doesn’t wait for him to explain. “Garuda. Can I trust Garuda?” he asks, looking up with an expression that is all at once desperation and fear and worry and calculation.

He wonders what his grandson has become, even as he nods once. Garuda can be trusted. The kings of old—the kings of men of old—had trusted him. Garuda is honourable even in his pride and foolhardiness, is said to be honourable even to the point of death. If Garuda is on their side, at least he knows truth will be upheld. “Where is she?” he asks, although he already knows the answer.

“Alam Dongeng. This morning. I went to see her off.”

Pain and sorrow pierces his heart. He doesn’t speak of it, and the boy, caught up in his own misery, doesn’t ask.

---

Several important things:
1. Coexist is now retailing at $0.99 permanently.
2. Dongeng is now up for pre-order at a special launch price of $0.99. Price goes up to $2.99 on June 6. So grab it quick!

Check out the landing page here! :)

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Super lovely cover commissioned from Charis Loke features Sara, Helmi, and Garuda. Check out her site if you want to commission her art.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

#bookreview: Seeing Red | Lina Meruane

Seeing RedSeeing Red by Lina Meruane
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When the veins in Lina's eyes burst, filling her sight with blood, she struggles through months of blindness, wavering between attempting to be independent and being reliant on her partner, Ignacio, and her family.

In Seeing Red, she narrates her experience, filled with asides to Ignacio. It reads like part-diary, part-rambling, an autobiographical novel of a writer's relationship with sight. It's one of those books that need to be read in one sitting--not because it is particularly enthralling, but because the webs that she spins and the tangents she veers into in her narrative are easily lost once you take your eyes off them.

There's a taste of her Hispanic background that rolls off the page in the words used and the way she phrases her thoughts; the story starts in New York but soon steps into Santiago, Chile, where she explores her family dynamics and prods at the differences between her Chilean self and Ignacio's Galician background, ending back in New York where her eyes are operated on by Doctor Lekz, a Russian doctor born in Galicia who forgets Lina's name every time she comes in but remembers the state of her eyes and what's wrong with them.

It took some time for me to get into the story--I started it twice, pushing through past the 25% mark until I reached a point where the narrative emerged strong enough to pull me along its very scattered path.

Note: I received a review copy via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 21 May 2017

North Star

Sometime in the distant past, you've fixed your North Star; in your heart, your mind, your soul. Every fibre of your being knows who it is--but somehow you've lost sight. Your compass broke. You don't know where true North is anymore.

And you don't know if you should care.

But you do.

---



---

So you run.

You run because nothing is as it should be, nothing is as you thought it would be, nothing is. Everything is ashes. Ashes and smoke. The bitter tang of defeat.

Because one day you woke up, and everything broke.
You made choices. The choices you felt were right. And are right. Maybe.
But your choices rub it in over and over again.
So you push yourself. Get over it.

But you can't.
I can't.

---

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

---

And you fear you will always be alone.
As you watch everyone moving on.
Building a life you will never see. You know not to hope.

Yet it always comes back to that one question, doesn't it?

---

Why am I always alone?

---

On your lips; you mouth: further up and further in!
In your heart, you dig in your heels.

---

You've forgotten what he looks like, that North Star of yours, for all that you say you pursue him. You forget why you chose him, what resonated when you sealed the deal. So you wander, your restless heart leading you, searching but not finding. Looking but not seeing. Listening but not hearing.

So your compass spins.

Friday, 19 May 2017

#Fridayflash: Dongeng (an excerpt)

... when Sara woke up early one Sunday to find a bird perching at the foot of her bed, she was shocked. She stared mutely at the animal, wondering how it had gotten in. It wasn’t any bird she remembered seeing before; pigeons and crows were what she was used to, not great big birds in bright golden plumage with a flaming horn.

“Hai, Penglipur Lara,” the bird said.

“What the—” She bolted upright. Rubbed her eyes. Stared.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Who—what—”

The bird chuckled. Sara slapped her face lightly, wondering if she was awake.

“You’re awake, Sara,” the bird said. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Garuda. Ah, I see a spark of recognition there. You have heard of me, yes?”

Sara nodded mutely. Why is this happening? She tried to pinch herself.

“I am a legend. Everyone knows of me. Which is why I have been chosen to come and speak to you. Again.”

Sara pulled the blankets up around her body, as if building a wall between the mystical bird and herself. “Again?”

“Well, the Orang Bunian tried—and failed. Thus, again.”

Realisation dawned upon her. “Oh!”

“Right now, I deem that you are not sufficiently awake. If you could wash up and maybe make a cup of your preferred caffeine fix, that would be great.” He started to fly off, then settled down again, staring at her with piercing eyes. “I assure you I am not a dream.”

Garuda flew out of the room without a backward glance leaving Sara staring at the open door. In a daze, she stumbled out of bed and into the shower, where she took an extra-long, extra-hot shower. She left feeling refreshed and comfortable, having quite forgotten about Garuda. She was boiling water to make instant noodles and tea when Garuda re-materalised and perched on one of the dining chairs. Surprised, she threw the hot water at him, screaming.

“What was that for?” Garuda said in annoyance as he flapped frantically out of the way.

She stared at him. “You’re not a dream!”

“I told you that already,” he huffed, settling on a dry chair.

“Okay. Yes. You did. I forgot. Sorry.” She hurried to wipe up the spilt water and then stopped to stare at the bird.

“Go on, you were in the middle of making breakfast.”

Sara opened the packet of Maggi Kari, noting distractedly that her hands were shaking as she poured the flavouring powder into the bowl. She managed to pour hot water into the bowl and into her tea cup without spilling anything. When she was finally settled at the table with food and drink, she took a deep breath, grateful that she hadn’t dropped anything.

She looked expectantly at Garuda. “So…”

“Go ahead,” the bird said politely, cocking his head to one side. “I’ll talk while you eat.”

He waited until Sara had started eating before he cleared his throat. “You read fairy tales, don’t you?”
Sara looked up at him and nodded.

“And you know Tinkerbell’s story.”

“The Barrie version or the Disney version?”

A smile crossed his face. “Ah, most people would not even think to ask that. The Disney version.”

“Well, yes.”

“At that tragic moment when Tinkerbell is dying and Peter is trying to save her, what does he do? He asks all the boys and girls in the world to clap for her. The more that clap, the more that acknowledge her existence, the faster she recovers. It’s the same thing. Your belief and your stories fuel our continued existence.”

Sara swallowed. “The NeverEnding Story.”

“Ah yes, yes, something like that.”

“So, you are being forgotten and you want me to be like him and save your world?”

Garuda’s grin looked almost mischievous. “Yes and no. You see, we’re in this unique position of being part of stories told in a language that is confined to these borders. And as much as we can try to keep ourselves alive in the Kisah Dongeng, hikayat and folklore of these people, we won’t get very far. Once our language dies out, we will die too.”

“Your language? Dying out? Malay is the official language of Malaysia. It’s not going to die out. Not like all the other little dialects and tongues used here. I mean, if you were saying that Iban legends or Dayak legends were dying out, I’d believe you. But Malay? I mean, everyone in this country of 30 million people knows the language.” It was true. She spent eleven years in school learning it. She may not be fluent… but at least she knew it.

---

Dongeng is now up for pre-order! Check out the landing page here! :)

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Super lovely cover commissioned from Charis Loke features Sara, Helmi, and Garuda. Check out her site if you want to commission her art.

Monday, 15 May 2017

#Musicmonday: What it should have been



I sing because You are good
And I dance because You are good
And I shout because You are good
You are good to me 
Turn it around 
Open the windows of heaven
Pour out Your spirit
Overflow
So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name
It is well with my soul
This is how we overcome:
You have turned my mourning into dancing
You have turned my sorrow into joy
Pull me a little closer
Take me a little deeper
I want to know Your heart
I want to know Your heart
And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in Your hands
I'm holding on to Your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful
Whom shall I fear?

---

And so it goes, a full circle.

---

As it should have been.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

#bookreview: Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How to Act | Jeff Corey

Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How to Act (Screen Classics)Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How to Act by Jeff Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in a while I decide to read something useful. Like Improvising Out Loud, due to my sporadic interest in acting and amateur theatre. Okay, I have a bunch of drama books that I should get round to reading... which I will get round to one day, after I read the bunch of writing books that I should get round to reading...

Anyway, Improvising is Jeff Corey's fascinating (mostly) memoir .

Part I: How to Live, Corey's memoir, is mostly easy reading and accessible to all. Corey's story is captivating as well as relevant, reminiscing about the good old days which segue into the bad old days, and finally into the better new days of film in America. Blacklisted from acting jobs in the 1950s after being offered up as a scapegoat during the HUAC's witch hunt for communists, Corey pressed on, refusing to name names, leave America or his love for acting. Instead, he diverted his energies into teaching acting, gathering luminous students, including James Dean, Kirk Douglas, Jane Fonda, Rob Reiner, Jack Nicholson, and Leonard Nimoy. He is frank and open, talking about his experiences as a photographer during World War II, his bitterness at the blacklist and how it changed his life and the lives of countless other hapless actors, the unfairness of the House Un-American Activities Committee, as well as the hope and the excitement of working on stage and in the burgeoning American film industry.

Part II: How to Act rambles on about different acting techniques, styles, theory, and ideologies. Corey offers fascinating thoughts about acting, improvisation, and text which might need some prior knowledge of acting (at least theoretically, if not practically), but is still pretty much accessible to the layman. I'd rather like to re-read this part and chew over some of the thoughts here (I highlighted a bunch of quotes in this section).

The final part, Part 3: Etudes - The Acting Exercises, is the most technical part of the book and is probably only relevant to actors & acting teachers themselves. I have to admit, I skimmed over parts of this.

All in all, I'd recommend this to film & acting students as well as anyone who'd like an insight into acting.

Note: I received a free digital ARC of this book for review via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

Monday, 8 May 2017

#musicmonday: The More | Downhere



Because I've been on something like a nostalgia trip, playing old compilation CDs of stuff from past free music fridays.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

#bookspotlight: The Water Cave by Rachel Lopez


Today we're hosting Rachel Lopez's book, The Water Cave.

Rachel is celebrating the release of The Water Cave with a Facebook party on May 4th at 8PM EST. Prepare for a fun night of chat, games, and giveaways not only with the author, but with special guests Desiree Williams and Sara Baysinger!

About the Book
A sinister experiment gone wrong has come to haunt the life of an innocent girl sixteen years later. Injected with a serum developed by Satan himself, Meadow Fields discovers she is a transporter (a person with the unique ability to transfer their soul between hell and earth).

Unaware of her special gift until the day her soul transports to hell Meadow saves a tall, pale, handsome young man from drowning in the lake of the Water Cave (the outskirts of hell). This striking young man, Mark Angel, has a deep connection with Meadow and wants to help her explore her new found ability.

An unfortunate accident forces Meadow to transport to hell where she is unable to make it back home. Alone and frightened she is faced with the horrors of Satan and his fiends. Time is not on Meadow’s side, the longer she is stuck in hell the more demon like her soul becomes. In the nick of time—and with the help of a newfound ally—Meadow’s soul makes it back to Earth with moments to spare. However, her world is torn apart once more when she is faced with the reality that her loved ones are not who she believed them to be.


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Rachel has generously offered to give away a signed paperback of The Water Cave, a $15 Amazon gift card, and a book mark (one winner). Open to US only.


About the Author
Rachel Lopez is a Respiratory Therapist by day, a Family Coordinator for her church on the weekends, and a writer by night. Rachel lives in Hardin County, KY with her husband and three children. She loves to read, write, and to collect new hobbies.

Rachel is the author of a series of books in the Transporter Series: The Water Cave, The Cave of Darkness, and The Fire Cave.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram




(Also, if you're curious, I did review it here.)

Monday, 1 May 2017

#musicmonday: Let The Heavens Open | Kari Jobe



I had the hardest time figuring out what it was.

Let the Heavens open
*(No Heaven locked up, let it open)
Let Your Kingdom move
*(No Kingdom stand still, let it move)
All our faith and hope
*(Our faith, our trust, our hope in our great God)
Our great God
*(Our Great God)

---


Sunday, 30 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Zany Zebra

Princess Zeva stood before her easel, a slight frown on her face. She wasn’t sure what to do next. It was all too strange. She’d invited a few zebras over because she wanted to practice drawing portraits and patterns, so why not do both at the same time? However, one of the zebras, Zee, was acting really weird. More than weird. She had no idea what Zee was doing and none of the other zebras knew either.

Right now, Zee appeared to be prancing around with a bouquet of flowers in his mouth. What for? No one knew.

“I can’t draw your portrait if you’re running all over the place,” Princess Zeva said again.

Zee just smiled and continued prancing.

Princess Zeva looked at him again. Had he really put a flower behind his ear? How did it even stay there? She turned to look at Zee’s sister, Zen. Zen just rolled her shoulders in something like a shrug. She’d already finished Zen’s portrait, and the other zebras’ (she couldn’t remember all their names; for some reason they all started with Z) but Zee hadn’t been still long enough for her to get the patterns right. And he had pretty patterns. She had originally wanted to do a full body painting, but that obviously wouldn’t happen. Not right now, with that zany zebra prancing… had the crazy animal somehow managed to paint hearts over his rump without her noticing?

Zee danced a little in front of her, his mouth a wide grin, with the flowers now sticking out at odd angles.

Princess Zeva wondered what he would do next.

---

Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Yodelling Yak

She woke up to the sound of singing. Well, yodelling, actually. Princess Yvette rubbed her eyes and yawned. It was cold high up in the mountains. Not what she was used to. Waking up to the sound of yodelling wasn’t what she was used to either. She slid out of bed and crossed over to look out the window.

The mountains were white with snow. It looked fresh, untouched, except for a spot of brown. Princess Yvette narrowed her eyes at the spot and rubbed at the window a little to make sure it wasn’t something on the glass. It wasn’t. The brown spot moved a little and the princess’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.

Curious, she dressed up in her warmest clothes and headed out of the castle. She looked around for a while to get her bearings, then gasped in surprise when she noticed that the brown spot was much nearer now. The yodelling was also getting louder. Wading through the knee-high snow, she soon found herself face to face with a shaggy, four-legged animal—which also happened to be the source of the singing.

“Uh. Hello?” she said, before stopping herself. Why on earth would she say hello? It was an animal. Well, it was a singing animal but—

The singing stopped. “Who are you?” the animal said.

“Uh. I’m Yvette,” she said. “Who are you?”

“I am Yasmin.”

Princess Yvette wasn’t sure if they were supposed to shake hands—the animal didn’t have hands—so she did the next thing she could think of, which was bob a little curtsy. “Uh, pleased to meet you. Um. What are you, if I may ask?”

“Pleased to meet you too. I’m a Yodelling Yak,” Yasmin replied. “The only one of my kind.”

“Uh. Okay.”

Yasmin gave her a look. “Do you start every sentence with ‘uh’?”

“Uh,” Princess Yvette said before covering her lips with her hands. “It’s just a very bad habit. I’ve been trying to stop for ages.”

“I see. Anything I can do to help?”

The princess shook her head. “Uh, I don’t think so. I only do it when I’m nervous and you’re making me nervous.”

The yak frowned. “Why is that?”

“Uh, well, I’ve never spoken to a speaking animal before.”

“I did say I was the only one of my kind.” Yasmin smiled. “Actually, I used to have the same problem. I found that it can be trained out of you fairly easily. If you want to.”

“Uh, how?”

The yak smiled. “By yodelling.”

Princess Yvette gave her a confused look. “Uh, I don’t know how to yodel.”

“It’s fairly simple. But you don’t really need to know how to yodel. You need to think about it.”

“Think?”

“See, you’ve already stopped.”

“I, uh, what?”

“The idea is to keep your mouth shut until you know what to say. And when you yodel, you have to do that. You have to know precisely where you start, even if you don’t know where to end.”

There was a very long silence before Princess Yvette said, “I am very, very confused.”

“You need confidence to yodel.”

“Uh…”

“Yes, if not your ‘Oh-di-lay’ will not come out perfectly! It will be an ‘uuuuoh-di-lay’ which totally breaks the mood and the tone.”

Princess Yvette scratched at her head, which was suddenly very heavy and very confused.

“Don’t worry. It will come with time.” Yasmin the Yodelling Yak grinned at the princess and then went prancing up the mountain, still yodelling all the way.

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Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

Friday, 28 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Xeroxed Xylophones

First there was one. Then, there were two. And then three, and four, and five and…

The machine wasn’t stopping. It kept popping out xylophone after xylophone, each one perfectly identical to each other, down to the little scratch on the left that Princess Xanthia had made when she was six. The princess wasn’t sure if she should cry or laugh.

~

The xerox machine was a large silver box. Princess Xanthia knew that in the non-magical world she’d taken the thing from, all the machine did was create a flat image of whatever you put face down on its shiny glass on a piece of paper. That was all she wanted! To make an image of her old xylophone to give to the toy-maker. Not a gazillion copies of her xylophone!

She’d expected that bringing the machine back home might change it in some way or other, but she hadn’t expected this. Though, now… she didn’t actually need the toy-maker to create a replica of her xylophone anymore… because she had more than enough.

Oh, it was all so very confusing.

She sat down, buried her face in her hands and groaned. Around her, xylophones multiplied like bunnies.

~

He’d said it would be simple. Put it face down on the glass, close the lid. Press start. She’d seen him do it. And it had been simple. He pressed the button and after a short mechanical whine, a paper came out with a picture on it. ONE sheet of paper. So… what had happened?

She’d put the xylophone face down on the glass. She hadn’t been able to fully close the lid, because the xylophone was bulky, and the lid could only cover flat items. She did everything he said! Why was it doing this? She looked at the screen which had strange numbers and words on them, and the xylophones that were still spewing from the machine, and then she gave up.

With a blast of magic, she destroyed the machine, incinerating half the xylophones along with it. Well, at least she had her replica. Quite a few of them.

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Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

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(Sorry, X is a difficult alphabet)

Thursday, 27 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Winking Whale + Willoughby the Narrator launch!

Princess Winnie was upset. It wasn’t her fault that the whale had winked at her, but now everyone was saying that she’d been acting stupid.

“What did I do?” she protested. “I just smiled.”

“You were flirting!” Sally Stingray said. “You don’t just smile at random whales.”

“He wasn’t random! He was with Ricky and he smiled first. What if I’d met him before?”

“Well, you didn’t recognise him, did you?” Elora Eel asked.

Princess Winnie shook her head. “You know I’m terrible at recognising faces. Especially whales. They’re so big that it takes a long time to see the whole of them!”

“Which is why you shouldn’t smile at random whales!” Cally Clownfish said. “You can smile at random clownfish. They just smile back, not wink.”

“What’s wrong with winking anyway,” the princess said sullenly, crossing her arms in front of her.

“It’s creepy,” Elora Eel said.

“Weird,” Sally Stingray added.

Dangerous,” Cally Clownfish hissed. “You don’t know what he means by a wink. What if he wants to be your friend? Or he wants to take you on a date? Or what if he… what if he…”

“Girls… he’s a whale. What would he want to do with a mermaid?” Princess Winnie rolled her eyes. “Now, if a merman decided to wink at me, I’d be cautious.”

Sally Stingray flicked her barbed tail. “It’s still not safe.”

“Look, anyway, Ricky’s coming back. And the whale’s still with him. So you girls had better be nice.”

The three other females turned to follow the princess’s gaze. Ricky was swimming up to them, with the whale in tow. The latter was still winking.

“What’s wrong with him?” Elora Eel whispered.

“Hey girls, what’s up?” Ricky greeted them. “Saw you passing by earlier. Willy and I were just doing some sightseeing.” The merman introduced his friend to the girls.

“Nice to meet you,” the whale said softly.

“Nice to meet you, Willy,” Princess Winnie said politely, Elora and Sally echoing her.

Cally just glared.

“What’s wrong, Cally?” Ricky asked.

“What’s wrong with your friend?” Cally spat.

Ricky looked at Willy. “Is there something wrong? Willy’s from far up North. He doesn’t come over Reefside that often.”

“Why’s he winking at us?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Willy said. “It’s not intentional. I’ve been having a twitch in my eye for ever so long. That’s what I’m here for, actually. To see if any doctor can cure my wink.”

“You poor whale. I do hope they can help you,” Princess Winnie said sympathetically. She watched as her friends looked mortified.

---

Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

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So today, Jemima's launching book 7 of the Princelings of the East series, titled Willoughby the Narrator.


Just where did Willoughby, who first appeared in the Talent Seekers (book 5), learn his ninja skills?  How did he come to be a Narrator?And what happened after he fell from the high tower at Castle Deeping?  Discover Willoughby’s origins, his big secret, and follow his adventures as he travels around, telling stories and acting as an undercover agent for the rich and powerful, as dark deeds start causing big trouble between the rival castles.

As might be expected from a Narrator, Willoughby tells his story with style and panache, starting with his somewhat surprising arrival in the Realms.

Lovers of the series will enjoy this latest tale, but newcomers may find it easier to start with book 1 or book 5. It’s a mystery adventure in a world not quite like ours, suitable for age 11 and upwards.


Excerpt

In which Willoughby tries out the sport of wall-running (running around the vertical inner sides of the castle walls) for the first time

I wasn’t laughing now. We moved to the windowsill and crouched on it, ready to jump out.  The starter yelled ‘go’ and dropped a flag, and I let Prince Kevin get away first, since he was due to start behind me. He’d been eyeing me up and strutting a bit, and I didn’t feel the need to take him on. He was about my age, and if I did this another time, I reckoned we’d meet then. I wasn’t wrong.

I swung myself out on the window ledge and let the fall forces take my body down and then around, with momentum to fly up to the next floor. I let go of one ledge and turned upside down to grab the ledge below with my nails, and swung again, sideways this time, to the next window. I got a real swing on and made it to the brickwork on the corner. Then I leapt sideways high onto the second wall, sliding a little to the third level, where I thought I saw Diesel’s face pull back as I arrived at the brickwork bar dividing the central glass panes. I brought my back legs around to the bar and sprang off it, leaping horizontally but with my tummy to the castle wall, to catch the next window’s bar and repeat the manoeuvre. I couldn’t do it a third time as a competitor was already on the next window, but I swung down a floor and passed another coming up from the first floor as I made the edge there. I think she slipped, but I ignored her and bounded for the next window and then onto a pole that stuck out. Someone had said it was for banners on feast days. There would be another one opposite. Bearing that in mind, I quickly rounded the next corner, which was a shorter side, flicked myself along three windows, and leapt for the pole matching the one I’d left behind.

Every now and then the crowd roared, but I barely noticed; I was concentrating on the next move.  I suddenly realised Champion Christopher was in front of me, and I wondered if he was leading again. I went to overtake him by a double swing from the third floor ledges, but he ducked beneath me and I slipped right to the ground floor window. The crowd below me scattered so I didn’t touch them and disqualify myself.  I got through a loop of swinging to wind myself back up to leap for the last wall, but collided with Prince Kevin, and we both fell to the ground, caught by the crowd and set back on our feet. He glared at me; I felt his anger in more than just the heat of his eyes. I had a feeling that Kevin and I would meet again. Probably often. I bowed to him, and he bowed back. I wasn’t sure that meant anything, but I turned away and made my way through the crowd to the centre where the announcer was commentating. Huge cheers rang out: Champion Christopher had won again. I was right not to put him off his line, since one of the visitors I’d met in the practice was a close second. I joined in the cheering with the rest of them, and I’m sure he gave me a special wave.

Wall-running.  My new favourite pastime!

© J M Pett 2017  Willoughby the Narrator, Ch 3.

Buying Links

iTunes | B&N | Kobo | Smashwords | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com.au
Paperback: Amazon.com | Book Depository

About the Author

Jemima wrote her first book when she was eight years old. She was heavily into world-building, drawing maps, building railway timetables, and dreaming of being a champion show-jumper, until schoolwork got in the way and she went down the science path, writing research papers, manuals and reports, as well as editing the newsletters for her sports clubs. Forty years on she started writing stories about her guinea pigs and their adventures in a fantasy world where everything ran on strawberry juice. Eventually the Princelings of the East took shape, originally intended as a trilogy, but the characters just wouldn’t lie down.  The planned ending will now be with book ten.

Meanwhile, Jemima continues to enjoy the company of new guinea pigs in her home in Norfolk, UK. Only Kevin is left of the ones in the stories to date, and he runs their blog ‘George’s Guinea Pig World‘. Check out their posts for the A to Z Challenge, too!

Blog | Amazon | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Smashwords

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Valiant Vicar

The church shook. The Vicar stopped mid-sermon and looked up at the ceiling. The congregation was already screaming and running out as fast as their legs and lungs could carry them.

“Wait—”

Nobody heard the Vicar’s call except the young girl who sat calmly in the front pew, watching him.

“They won’t hear you,” Princess Victoria said primly as she got to her feet. “They’re too frightened.”

“Are you not?”

“It’s only a little shaking.” But she too looked up to the ceiling and watched the chandelier swing. “What was it?”

The Vicar opened his mouth, only to shut it again a few seconds later. Then he shrugged. “Earthquake? I can only hazard a guess.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t be afraid of a little seismic activity.”

The church was empty now—except for the unlikely pair. The Vicar was a thin rake of a man at seventy, with a sharp face and short, thinning white hair. Princess Victoria was just seventeen, with a happy, round face and thick violet hair that hung past her shoulders. She held out a hand and he took it, leaning slightly on her as they walked down the aisle to the door. She could still feel slight tremors, and she looked at the Vicar.

“Aftershocks are perfectly normal,” he said, stumbling a little at the unsteady ground.

Princess Victoria nodded.

“That, however, is not quite normal.” The Vicar stopped walking.

She turned to look in front of her again, her eyes widening in surprise at the sight of a large dog with three heads. “Oh!”

“Stay back, Your Highness,” the Vicar said, pushing himself in front of her.

The dog growled.

Behind the old man, the princess moved. “Be careful!” he shouted. “He may hurt you.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, dear Vicar. Cerby won’t hurt me.” She held out a hand to the dog. “Come here, boy. What are you doing up here? Did you cause that shaking?”

The dog whined and wagged its tail. Then it nuzzled one of its heads into Princess Victoria’s hand, astonishing her companion.

“You know him?”

“Belongs to a cousin of mine.”

“A cousin…”

“A very distant cousin,” she added, seeing the look on the Vicar’s face.

“It’s a myth—”

Princess Victoria smiled. The Vicar wasn’t sure if it was intentional, but the smile didn’t exactly seem pleasant. “I’m sorry to have shaken up your view of the world, Vicar.”

“Oh, no, no, my dear princess. I know Hell is real. I just don’t understand what you have to do with it.”

~

“You want me to what?”

They were sitting in the Vicar’s study. Princess Victoria had a hand on Cerby’s middle head. The Vicar was pacing.

“Oh, just take care of Cerby for a few days while I find out where my cousin went. He’s in trouble.”
“You want me to dog sit while you walk into Hell.”

“Hades, Vicar dear.”

“Same thing.”

The old man was silent for a long time. “I will go with you.”

The Princess looked surprised. “You? But you belong in Heaven!”

“As do you.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know it in my heart,” he insisted. “And it’s not safe for you to go alone! You can’t face all the powers of darkness on your own.”

“I’m quite well equipped, Vicar.”

“I must insist that you let me protect you.”

She smiled. “I don’t think anything you can offer will protect me. At any rate, they wouldn’t let you in. You’re very definitely His.”

“And you’re not?”

She sighed. “It’s complicated.”

He sat down opposite her. “So tell me about it.”

~

It was a strange thing to be sitting alone in his parish, stroking a three-headed dog from He—no, Hades. It was not something the Vicar had ever thought he’d find himself doing ever since dedicating his life to God and the church. Princess Victoria had been very convincing though.

“You’re the most valiant vicar I’ve ever seen,” she’d said. “No one else would be able to take care of Cerby, or even look at him without freaking out.”

“You’re just saying this so that I’ll give in to you.”

“Look, you’re even valiant enough to want to come with me.”

“It’s not about being valiant—”

“But believe me, Vicar, this is not a place you can go. So be a darling and take care of Cerby, please?”

He’d given in, after giving her reams of advice.

Both the Vicar and Cerby looked up when the place shook. Cerby whined a little and got to his feet, prompting the Vicar to stand as well.

“I guess we should see what’s happening, eh?” the man said as they headed towards the front door.
Princess Victoria stood in the doorway, a triumphant grin on her face, and an injured young man leaning on her for support. She gripped him around the waist with her left hand.

“Found him. Now we can go,” she said, clicking the fingers of her free hand at the dog. “Thank you so much Vicar.”

“You’re… you’re very welcome,” he replied.

They turned to go.

“I’ll see you both in church next Sunday?” the Vicar called as they approached the gates.

“Oh definitely,” Princess Victoria replied, turning her head to flash a cheeky grin at him. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

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Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Unexceptional Umber

Picking out curtains was a chore. Princess Undine felt it was a complete waste of time. Her room was white, because she didn’t want to pick a colour. Her furniture was brown because they were made of wood. Her sheets were pink because her mother insisted. And now, she had to pick a shade of colours for her curtains?

It was ridiculous. She didn’t care and would never care.

But Mother insisted.

“You must pick a colour, dear. It’s your room. It should look how you want.”

“Just take whatever colour we already have.”

“That won’t do. It must be unique.”

“What colour’s Udolf’s curtains?”

Mother tsked. “That has nothing to do with you. Your rooms, your curtains, your colour.”

Princess Undine sighed. “It’s not as if anything in my room is colour-coordinated.”

“It should be.”

That was when the Talk started. About how dear young Undine should learn how to keep house. She would be married soon and what would her husband think if she didn’t know how to run a house? (I doubt he’ll care about the colour of the curtains, she thought.) And what would the servants think if Undine didn’t know how to make her own choices? They’d run riot over her and undermine all her authority! (I’ll just ask them to pick any colour that suits them.) And what would her new family and friends say if she let her house run to ruin? (It’s my house. I can do with it anything I like.)

In the end she gave in. There was no point in arguing with Mother when she was in that state, so she scanned the different fabrics that were hanging in the room, all the different colours and materials and patterns making her head spin. She walked up and down poking at the samples the servants were showing her, her mind wandering to other more exciting topics, such as where she’d seen that unassuming moth and whether she’d be able to spot it again.

After a suitable time period had passed, she pointed randomly at a brownish fabric. The furniture was brown, after all, and she wouldn’t have to waste her time with her mother’s protests.

“Oh, that’s such a beautiful burnt umber,” someone exclaimed.

Beautiful? Princess Undine just shrugged. She didn’t even know what umber was. It was just an unexceptional brown in her head, something that she wouldn’t have to notice at all. She ignored her mother as she walked out of the room.

Really. Curtains. 

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Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

Monday, 24 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Time-Travelling Teaspoon

There was a teaspoon on her dresser. She didn’t know why. Or where it came from. Had it been there yesterday? She thought hard, scrunching up her face, but couldn’t recall. She picked it up and scrutinised it. It didn’t look familiar. At all. It wasn’t the usual type her mother favoured when buying cutlery—too ornate, too heavy, too… silver looking? But it was just a teaspoon. Probably some kind of prank. She put it back down and forgot about it.
Three days later, the same teaspoon showed up beside her teacup. Which was normal, probably. That’s what teaspoons were for, wasn’t it? It looked like the same teaspoon. There was that same pretty design… which had her initials on it? She ran her thumb over the engraving.
TSP.
Tanya Sofia Petrina.
There was a number beside it. 2037.
She put the teaspoon down on the saucer and sipped at her tea.
“That’s the year I was made,” a voice said softly.
She looked down at the table. Princess Tanya picked up the teaspoon again.
“Impossible. It’s only 2017 now.”
“Nothing is impossible.” The teaspoon fell silent as she stirred her tea.

~

“Why do you want to go back?”
“To make sure the timeline is secure.”
“What if you change something?”
“I won’t.”
“How sure are you?”
“Because I was already there, wasn’t I? You remember me. From before.”
Queen Tanya’s assent dropped from her lips reluctantly.

~

“You were made in 2037. When I am 36. And Queen.”
“Yes.”
Princess Tanya paced her room. “What message do you bring?”
“Message?”
“There’s always a message. Something the future wants the past to remember.”
“I have no message.”
“I’m crazy. I’m talking to a teaspoon from the future.”
“You’re not. I’m real.”
“Why are you a teaspoon? And not a robot or something?”
There was a long pause before it answered. “The tech was small enough. And Timmy thought it would be humorous. Besides being functional.”
“Humorous?”
“A play on your name and all that.”
“Timmy made you? Stupid stare-in-space Timmy?”
Another long pause. “Yes. Another thing that changes in the future.”
“Oh.”
“You don’t show me to him.”
“What do I do with you?”
The Princess stared at the teaspoon. The teaspoon didn’t stare back due to its lack of eyes. Time ticked by.

~

“What do I do?”
“You insist on going back but you don’t know what to do?”
“You’re the one with the memories. It’s your past but my future.”
“What if what I tell you messes up the integrity of the timeline?”
“Just tell me what to avoid.”
“Timothy should never have made you.”
“If he hadn’t, you wouldn’t be Queen.”
Another grudging assent.

~

“I don’t know.”
“You… don’t know.” Princess Tanya’s voice was flat. “You’re from the future.”
“She wouldn’t tell me.”
“She—future me?”
“It would mess up the timeline if I went in knowingly. She claimed. I’m just a teaspoon. I wouldn’t know.”
“What did Timmy say.”
“Timmy is dead in my time. I didn’t get to ask.”
Princess Tanya stirred her tea.
“Tanya! You have to run!”
Princess Tanya looked up at the young man who barged into her room, panting.
“Move, Tanya. They’re coming.”
“Who?”
“Rebels.”
She stared at him. Timmy is dead in my time, echoed in her ears. But Timmy lives until at least 2037. She followed him.

~

“I miss him.”
The Teaspoon was quiet.
“I’ve been Queen for thirty years. Because of him.”
“You’ve grieved him for five.”
“It’s not long enough.”
“I miss him too.”
“You’re a teaspoon.”
“I’m still sentient.”
She releases her grip on the teaspoon. “Go.”

~

They ran through corridors, crawled through vents and climbed over walls, making it out of the palace as the sounds of shouting built up.
“Where to?” Princess Tanya asked, leaning over to catch her breath.
“There’s a safe place in the mountains. We can lie low for a while.”
“Let’s go.”
He gave her a funny look. “All that running and you smuggled out a teaspoon? Really?”
She stuffed the teaspoon in her pocket without looking. “It’s… nothing.”
Gunshots in the distance spurred them on.
When Tanya next looked, the teaspoon was gone.

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Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Strawberry Scone

“Mum! Mum! It’s Saturday morning!” Princess Shari jumped on her parents’ bed.

“Yes. go back to sleep,” King Stephen mumbled, pressing his face into his pillow.

“Mmmph,” was all Queen Sharon managed.

Princess Shari pulled at her mother’s shoulder. “But muuuuuummmm! You said you were going to teach me how to bake strawberry scones today!”

“Mmmmmmmmph,” Queen Sharon tried again.

“Not at five in the morning, dear,” King Stephen interpreted, grabbing hold of the seven-year-old’s hand and pulling her to lie down. “Give us another two hours.”

Princess Shari wiggled under the blankets and said, “Okay,” before promptly falling asleep again.

~

Three hours later, Princess Shari was down in the kitchens, excitedly tying on an apron with the Cook’s help. Queen Sharon leaned against the doorway, rubbing her eyes.

“We have everything here on the table ready for you, luv,” Cook said.

Shari stared at it. There was flour and eggs and cream and butter and… other flour? She didn’t know what it was. She identified sugar and something that looked like salt, but she wasn’t sure why scones needed salt. Something was missing. “Where are the strawberries?”

“The strawberries…” Queen Sharon looked guilty.

“Oh, we must have forgotten them. I’ll go look in the fridge. Don’t you worry, luv,” Cook said breezily.

“I’m sorry I ate them,” the queen whispered as the cook passed by.

“We’ll find some, no worries,” Cook whispered back.

Queen Sharon walked up to the table. “Come on, Shari, let’s start while Cook is looking for the strawberries.”

“What do we do?”

The queen lifted her to stand on a stool before handing her a bowl. “First, we mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.”

Princess Shari looked at the assorted items laid on the table. “Okay, this I know is flour, and sugar… and salt… what’s a baking powder?”

Queen Sharon handed her the previously unidentified ‘other flour’. Then they added in the butter as they stirred, followed by the eggs and cream. By the time they were done with that, Princess Shari’s arms were tired and Cook had returned with strawberries.

“Ah, just in time!” Queen Sharon exclaimed.

They added in the strawberries and another tablespoon of flour.

“I’m tired, mum,” Princess Shari complained.

“Nuh-uh. You dragged me out of bed to make this so you’re going to finish it!” Queen Sharon wagged a finger in her face.

“Anyway, the fun part’s coming, luv,” Cook said with a twinkle in her eye. “We need to flour this table.” Cook threw a handful of flour on the table. It fluffed up in Princess Shari’s face, catching her by surprise.

“Flour fight!” Princess Shari declared, throwing a handful of flour back.

Soon, the table, the kitchen, and the three women were covered with flour.

Queen Sharon cleared her throat two minutes later. “I think… the table is floured enough.”

Cook gave the dough in the bowl a final stir to make sure that everything was well mixed before dumping it out on the table. “This one’s my job, luv. You don’t have the strength yet,” she said as she rolled the dough with her rolling pin. Once she was satisfied, Princess Shari and Queen Sharon cut the pieces of dough into small triangles and place them on the baking tray.

“Alright, we’re almost done here,” Queen Sharon said, handing a little brush to her daughter.

“What’s this?”

“We need to paint the scones with egg wash before we put it in to bake.”

Princess Shari brushed each scone carefully and sprinkled sugar liberally at Cook’s instruction.
“And we’re all done!” Queen Sharon said.

“But it’s not ready…”

“Now, I put it in the oven, luv, and you can come back in twenty minutes when they’re done.” Cook took hold of the tray and put it into the hot oven.

“Can’t I stay here and watch?” Princess Shari asked.

“Nope. You’ll get bored staring at the oven and besides, you need a bath. You’re covered in flour!” her mother replied.

“So are you,” Princess Shari retorted.

“Yes. So we are going to take a bath and when we're done, we’ll sit done for scones and tea. How does that sound?”

“Great!”

~

Princess Shari slathered her strawberry scone with lemon curd and cream. She shivered with delight as she bit into the warm scone. It was the best scone she had ever eaten.

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Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

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Found this recipe online. Don't know if it works. You can test it out.

Friday, 21 April 2017

#AtoZChallenge: The Princess and the Rambling Rill

Princess Rei sat in the bamboo garden, hugging her knees. Her parents had been at it again—this was the 12,874th fight she’d counted (who knew how many more there were before that?), and she was sure—absolutely, definitely sure—that they were going to separate soon. They probably couldn’t divorce—what would happen to the country?—but they would most likely decide to live at opposite ends of the Kingdom, sending angry letters to each other… and Rei would have to decide. Who would she stay with? Who would she side with? She didn’t want to take any side at all.

(Rin, her older brother, would take sides. Rin had probably already chosen a side and say she was silly for not wanting to choose. But how could she choose?)

There were footsteps in the garden. Muffling a sigh, she got to her feet. She didn’t want to talk to anyone just yet. She followed the path for a while, picking random turns at each junction. She eventually stepped off the path and headed deep into the enticing shade. She really didn’t want to be found and she couldn’t get lost anyway, even if she tried. It was, after all, an enclosed garden.
Finally, she stopped by the rill that wound through the garden. It was bubbling merrily, making a little racket of its own. She sat down beside it and stared into its watery depths. She figured this would be safe. She could cry all she wanted, and the sounds of the rill would just mask hers from any prying ears.

“Wait, you’re not crying are you?” a voice startled her.

Princess Rei’s head shot up. She looked around with wide, frightened eyes.

“Shh, shh, it’s just me. Your friendly little rill. Why don’t you come here and wash your face with some nice, fresh water, hmm?”

She leaned over the water, a little wide-eyed, but then squeezed her eyes shut and washed her face. “Who are you?”

“Me. The rill.”

“How come you can talk?”

“Ummmmmmm… I don’t know. I just do.”

Princess Rei fell silent. “I didn’t really want to meet people, you know.”

The rill chuckled. “I’m not exactly people.”

“I’m tired.”

“Why don’t you lie down and rest?”

The princess eyed the rill dubiously, but lay down anyway, curling on her side and resting her head on her arm. A sob escaped her.

“There, there. Calm down now. I don’t know what you’re upset about, but let me distract you okay?”

“Okay.” The word came out in a whisper.

“Let me see. Oh, did you hear about the Legendary Lemonade? That was a chuckle, that one. Perfectly lovely jingle. Bewitched an entire generation. The Egalitarian Eel is still making waves with her Coalition for Companion Equality. CCE, they call it nowadays. The name is just too long to remember. And the Charmed Chandelier is taking singing lessons from the Quail Quintet! Isn’t that amazing! I hope he manages to improve. There’ll be a lot of money in that. I hear that Blueberry Country’s starting to use other berries too, due to Princess Barbara’s influence. There’s a picky eater for you! Freda still wears multiple layers of jewellery and Princess Felicia really can’t do anything about it! They never found who grew the Ginormous Grape, so I’m thinking it’s like James and the Giant Peach. Princess Harmony and Princess Jemma are now close friends, did you know that? I know they were cousins, but not everyone is good friends with their cousins. Joyanne’s also friendly with that herring… I don’t remember his name… Princess Amanda’s doing alright—she’s a distant relation of yours, isn’t she? The funeral was just grand, I heard. Did you know Princess Diana was saved by Loki? That’s a shocker, wasn’t it? Well, conspiracy theories say it was Loki, though they’re probably wrong…” The rill stopped rambling as Princess Rei’s breathing slowed. “And that Inglenook is perfect for people trying to hide, better than a Bamboo Garden anyway...”

The young princess had fallen asleep.

“Well, isn’t that just like kids these days. Ignoring everything you say. Anyway, as I was saying, Princess Katie had better watch out with her kite. He’s learnt some rather nasty habits. Morty got Berty to be friends with Princess Mary now and Princess Nurul is still grounded. Oliver’s decided he hates oatmeal, so Princess Opal really can’t understand what he was so outraged about and Princess Penelope’s still trying to get the potato to talk to her…”

The rill continued rambling until quiet footsteps approached them. Prince Rin smiled at his sleeping sister, bent down, and carried her back to her bed. Tomorrow, he’d tell her that Mother was going to stay in the North and Father was going to stay in the South, but he’d decided that the two of them would stay right where they were in the heart of the Kingdom. Because he had taken a side. Rei’s.

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Head over to Yuin-Y's for today's illustration.

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That was a lot of linking to do. Simply because I decided to ramble. haha. Or, the rill did.