Saturday, 23 September 2017

Saturday #worship setlist



I struggle. I don't want to do this. It's tiring, exhausting, I don't get anything out of it.

Yet, the reminder again is that this isn't for me.

It is, yes. But not alone.

In the end, it is for the church.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Shadows

Walau sekalipun ku berjalan
She's standing 
between light and dark 
life and death 
truth and lies--
Yet she's pushing forward, 
striving, always striving, 
remembering that 
the enemy's gate is down 
Dalam lembah yang kelam
It's harder than it seems 
wavering between 
progress and regress 
entrance and egress
and sometimes--most times--
both look the same. 
It's inertia
paralysis
a stuttering
a stopping
a void
Ku tak takut kar’na Kau besertaku
But depression is depression even if you're functional 
because you're high functioning until you're not
Yea, though I walk
And when you break 
breakdown
into tiny pieces
your head says you must move
but your body says you can't
and your spirit says you should
you have the power of the Holy Spirit
but your flesh is stronger
so much stronger 
than your will
so you stray
Through the valley of the shadow of death
You are a dichotomy of the
heart that knows it's wandering
and the mind that holds on to Truth;
the soul that's lost and hurting
and the spirit--
     the spirit is at war with itself
I will fear no evil
And the enemy's gate is down
So you will crush them under your feet
once you find where your feet are
and how gravity works
and where the rock on which you stand stands
but only if you will let go
let go of all that binds you
in passion and in want
in desire and in lust
for the things you do not have
cannot have
maybe will never have
because that is how it is
and maybe you will find once you stop looking--
    although you know that that is not true
For Thou art with me
Between light and dark
life and death
She stands
Neither choosing one nor the other
Because all she sees is a shimmering grey
Nebulous
Formless
And sometimes it is enough
Just to trust.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me

---


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

#bookreview: The Worthiest Kiss by Birsilah Bakar

The Worthiest KissThe Worthiest Kiss by Birsilah Bakar


In terms of imagination, The Worthiest Kiss makes for an enticing read. Despite promises on the back blurb, not all the stories were retellings of beloved fairy tales (or maybe some were not recognisable enough?) and not all of them had science fiction twists, but all fairy tale-ish, so yeah.

It starts off well with De-Cinderellalized, a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella where our titular character has been duped into working as a prostitute on the moon and needs to get to the castle for her one chance of freedom and ends with the hilarious The Lamest Super Power which isn't quite a fairy tale but is a battle between two superheroes, one with awesome powers and the other with... frankly, the weirdest power ever.
Other stories that appealed to me include The Worthiest Kiss (Snow White), Knock on Glass (The Little Mermaid), Pinocchio, and Bon Voyage (Peter Pan).

In terms of readability, The Worthiest Kiss is an absolute disaster. As in I'm-internally-editing-every-single-sentence kind of disaster. A disaster I probably should have clued in to if I'd actually read the back blurb properly, instead of going OMG BIRSILAH FINALLY HAS AN ENGLISH BOOK.

Language-wise, it's worse than the OTHER disaster I once reviewed (no linkies! But you can find it if you decide to search), though since these are all shorts, there are no continuity issues. Actually, the plotting may have been weak in places, but they're over so quickly anyway. (Also, the advantage of retelling fairy tales is that most of the back story/plot is assumed knowledge until you twist it.)

Some of the not-so-appealing stories are probably not so much due to assumed meh-ness, but more of an I'm-too-tired-to-figure-out-this-bit skimming. It's not to say that it's not understandable. It's pretty much Malaysian English with all our strange grammar quirks which work fine in speech but are incredibly confusing in writing, further complicated by shifting tenses. (Malay doesn't have past/present/future tense? You kind of just add another word if it needs to be indicated)

The only excuse I can possibly give is that this is an ESL writer working with a newish (I think?) English imprint of a Malay language publisher.

So yeah, while I think locals (or ESL persons) may like it (especially if they can close an eye to non-standard English), it's really not going to be a break-out bestseller. Not until it's fixed.

View all my reviews

Monday, 18 September 2017

#musicmonday: One Time | SafetySuit



I went into my library on Spotify for the first time since forever and discovered I'd saved this song. I have no idea why.

At any rate, it's pretty catchy and kind of fits my emo-ish mood.

I should really get round to compiling Nan's playlist.


Friday, 15 September 2017

#fridayflash: Snapshots

It's his favourite photograph: Daniella laughing in the rain and him splashing towards her with a yellow slicker. His sister Livvy had caught it from the front porch, whilst yelling that he'd catch his death of cold and shouldn't he have another so they'd be a matching pair? He'd snorted and told her to shut up as he approached the love of his life cautiously, as if she were a wild horse ready to shy away at any moment. Daniella hadn't shied. She'd dropped her button nose from its skyward direction to point directly at his chest. Her mouth had widened even further and his heart—oh his heart tumbled and was trampled beneath wild hooves—stopped for a beat, two, three. And then it raced as she grabbed his arm and they danced in the rain until she was shivering.

She's sitting by him now, face buried in her hands—all tense lines and taut muscles—and if Livvy were here, she’d have taken that shot.

"I'll be fine," he says. It's a grunt, a groan, and Daniella's head shoots up.

"Sunny…"

"I'll be fine."

"You've broken—"

"Nothing I haven't broken before."

"Not all at the same time!"

Sunny closes his eyes. She's right.

Back then, he'd held the slicker over their heads as they dashed back to the house—what for? They were both already soaking wet, but it was The Thing To Do—and Livvy had caught that too, Daniella's boisterous grin and his shyly smitten smile a study in contrasts. It's like something for an advert, except neither of their clothes are Insta-worthy. He's still astounded at how good they looked together, and if it weren't for his tattered shirt and ragged jeans, maybe it would be perfect.

Daniella shifts. "Livvy's on her way."

"No. She's not to come."

"She insists."

"She can't just give up that photography project—"

"You're her only brother! You can't expect—"

"—do you know how hard it is to get an—"

"—her to stay away when you might—"

"Art grant?"

"Die?"

The silence is too awful, too empty, between them.

#

The light is streaming in, golden and warm. Inviting. Like love, enveloping her frigid spaces, telling her to come. Come in. Come sit with me awhile. We'll curl up in the sun like cats; languidly. Daniella takes a step forward. The light strikes her face and she looks up. Out.

It isn't supposed to be warm today. It's supposed to be cold, dreary. There are rain clouds in the sky. They've been there all morning, but now it's noon and the sun has broken through. It strikes his face and she looks down.

How can the sun shine when it's dead?

#

Livvy's hands clench around her camera. Daniella's head is bowed over the coffin, her fingers splayed on the space over his chest. She's spent years documenting her brother's life in snapshots and this—an utter invasion of privacy, of grief, of pain—would be the crowning glory of her collection. But she can't. She drops her hands and steps into the room. Daniella turns and the look on her face makes Livvy's fingers itch. She won't.

Daniella flings her arms around her, the awkward bulk of the camera pressing between their ribs like the invasion it has always been. Neither had complained, yet Livvy carries her own guilt.

"I'm sorry," she whispers.

Daniella stares at her.

"What can I do to help?"

"You're his sister—"

"You're his widow." She can't stand around and accept condolences. She'd go crazy.

Her sister-in-law hesitates, her eyes flicking to the camera. "I don't want to—"

"I don't mind taking photos," Livvy interrupts, "if you don't mind the intrusion."

"I don't."

Daniella is standing again by his coffin and Livvy is backing away, fingers tense. There is light and symmetry and grief and beauty, so much beauty—a life made up of snapshots; moments in time preserved. Daniella's tears are the pain Livvy cannot express, so she takes another photograph in her endless quest to document what it means to live, love, and now, grieve.

---

Something from the recent-rejection pile.

Oh well.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

#bookreview: Alara's Call by @KristenStieffel

Alara's Call (The Prophet's Chronicle, #1)Alara's Call by Kristen Stieffel


I honestly don't know how to put a star on this. Maybe I won't. There are too many factors that I can't reconcile which swing the bar anywhere from a two- to a four-star. A three would be a logical compromise, but, well.

At its core, Alara's Call is a romance. Yes, it positions itself as adventure/fantasy, there is politicking and battle and a strong core of faith that runs through the whole novel, but in the end, it's really about Alara and Dorrell and their fight to be together.

If it had been based in the real world, instead of a completely made up one (which was beautifully done, actually), Alara's Call would definitely fall within the bounds of a Christian romance of the historical type, with the princess (or not-Princess, as she insists--she is a Curate following God's will) being sold by her father into an arranged marriage to the Prince of another country for Political Reasons, but resisting it on Faith Reasons because the Other Country is one that persecutes her Faith (and treats women badly, but that's another point).
[Anna's star rating: 3, for personal reasons; I'm okay-ish with romances, but Christian Romances kinda tend to rub me the wrong way, though the fantasy background aspect of it was a plus. Oh, it's also very clean. ;)]

The religion, worship of Telshi, is a thinly-veiled version of Christianity, even keeping the concept of the Trinity intact. Alara prays often and has the gift of seeing (visions of the future); there are several theological-type discussions, including quotations from their Holy Texts, which sound vaguely epistolary of the Pauline kind.
[Anna's star rating: 2; I mean, at least be original about it--either be in or out.]
If anything, I like the way this continuous quest for God's will threads its way through the novel, beginning from Alara's concern if obeying her father's treaty is Telshi's will though it seems to be contrary to everything she knows about her faith, up to the point where she's stepping out in faith to be Telshi's voice for the nations. In a way, there is something of an Esther-for-such-a-time-as-this vibe.
[Anna's star rating: 4; it's honest and genuine and very real.]

Stieffel seems to have very strong opinions on feminism and equality, which form the core of the political rifts in the book. Besides persecution of believers, one of the main reasons Alara believes that this alliance/marriage is not Telshi's will is the fact that Makut oppresses women and treats them like property, besides still having the Monarchy and Peerage system in place--both of which have been abolished in Glynrell. I'm not saying this is a bad thing--there's nothing preachy about the way it seeps into the story and plot. It's a rift between two cultures about women's agency and how women should be treated, including discussion about meritocracy and the right to lead, and dealt with well within the story's parameters and the world created.
However, the heavy-handed visions regarding the monarchy and its abolishment sometimes irks me for one reason: my own belief in the separation of Church (or any religion) and State.
[Anna's star rating: ??? Plus points for YAY good discussions, minus points for relying on religion for matters of state]

In conclusion, Alara's Call is quite an interesting read. It would probably have a stronger appeal to Christian and/or romance markets, so if that's your thing, this book's for you!
If you're looking for something more solidly fantasy, you'll get a bit of it, but probably not as much as you'd like (it's very low-fantasy; no actual magic, but there are magic-type "gifts" granted of a religious nature). Those looking for adventure and a bit of swashbuckle would probably be happy with the copious but awesome fight scenes, assuming you're okay with romance mixed in your adventure.

Note: I received a review copy of this from the publisher as part of the book launch tour.

View all my reviews

---

About Alara's Call
Tales are often told of heroes who fulfill ancient prophecies. Alara’s Call is the tale of a woman who gives new ones. 

Alara sees visions of other’s futures, but never her own.

A young clergywoman with a fiery passion for her Telshan faith, she has been assigned to a mission abroad but longs to lead a congregation in her homeland. Her father, the prime minister, jeopardizes her dream and her safety when he coerces her into what he calls a diplomatic mission.

But it’s a ruse.

The trip is meant to end with her marriage to the crown prince of a foreign nation, where members of Alara’s faith are persecuted and women oppressed. All for a trade agreement her father is desperate to enact.

But her mentor intervenes and takes Alara to Dorrel, the suitor she left behind. They believe they are safe, but foreign soldiers are under orders to bring Alara to the king’s palace…by any means necessary.

About the Author
Kristen Stieffel is a freelance editor and writer who specializes in speculative fiction. Although she edits projects in varied genres for both the general market and the Christian submarket, she is a novelist at heart. Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Christian Editor Connection, mentor with Word Weavers International, and on the planning committee for Realm Makers, Kristen stays busy doing what she loves most.

She is also the associate editor of Havok, a flash-fiction magazine focused on science fiction and fantasy.

Visit www.KristenStieffel.com to learn more about this many-faceted author.


Where to buy: http://www.love2readlove2writepublishing.com/books/alaras-call/

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Monday, 11 September 2017

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Saturday #Worship Setlist



Where I am surprisingly safe this week.

No new songs!

Also, fantastically spread across a wide selection.

Friday, 8 September 2017

#Fridayflash: Come Home

Extracts of Nan's diary, as pertains to Walker. 

1994
October
He's gone. I don't know where he is. No one knows where he is. Milly asked about him at the funeral: Where's Uncle Walker?
He's late. He's coming. 
He never showed. I lied. Only Walker would pull a stunt like this in the middle of a funeral. I'm so angry I could kill him.

November
It's been a month. The detectives can't find him. No clues. No bloody clues. He's just vanished. Poof.
Magic.
I don't believe in magic.
He just "walked out of his apartment" and nobody has a clue where he's gone. This is ridiculous.
I hope he's alright.

December
Milly wanted to know why Uncle Walker didn't show up for Christmas. I want to know why Walker hasn't shown up for months.
Maybe he's dead in a ditch somewhere.
Good riddance.
Lina doesn't know. I can't tell her.


1995
January
Maybe he's gone crazy and forgotten his name and address. If he's institutionalised, how will we find him? Will he grow old alone, forgotten in a home?
Lina's doing better. Time to break the news.

February
I can't deal with two crazy people in a family. Maybe he's dead so I won't have to deal with him.
Harry says I should let go. I try.
We're letting the detectives go. We can't afford it anymore. They said they'd leave it on the radar, let us know only if something pings.

March
I managed to catch Pip's show again. I miss him.
I miss Walker.
I wonder if they checked if anyone jumped off the bridge.

April
Six months. Six months and we don't know if he's dead or alive.
He's probably dead. I can't--
Milly turned four today. We had cake. Balloons.
She asked about Walker again. I don't know what to tell her.
I said he's on a long trip in a faraway land. I hope she'll forget about him soon.

May
Harry says Walker can't possibly be kidnapped because no one has asked for ransom. He also says Walker's probably not dead because the police would have asked us to identify his remains.
Unless they haven't found his remains.
Or his body's been eaten by wild animals and there's nothing left with which to identify him.
Or maybe they can't ask for ransom until the estate's settled, but we need Walker to settle the estate so--

June
I cannot not think about him but I cannot think about him. If I go crazy, it will be Walker's fault.
Maybe he was in a plane crash. Or a car crash. Train crash. Burning wreckage out in the desert. Somewhere.

July
What if he's homeless? And too ashamed to ask for help?
Why did he just walk out of his apartment?
Ned's death must have set off an episode.

October
I'm meeting Walker tomorrow. It's been a year. But he's back.
Finally back.
We'll meet the lawyer with Pip.
It'll be good to see Pip again.


---



Our Pip/Theo was injured, so we're starting fresh this week.

---

You know who you are, though I doubt you'll read this.
Come home.

---

EDIT for additional note: realised it's supposed to be cold in New York during the time the original scene takes place, so the months are probably off. Oh well. 

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

#bookreview: Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore | Paula Guran (ed)

Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and LoreEx Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As anthologies go, Ex Libris a mixed bag. It wasn't as dark as I expected it to be (hah), nor half as weird. In fact, it started off almost downright wholesome with Ellen Klages' In the House of the Seven Librarians, which I totally loved.

The libraries depicted in this book are often wonderful, magical places, some of which hold more magic than can be reasonably contained. In Libres (Elizabeth Bear) is a hilarious case in point, emphasising how dangerous it is (can be), where one browses at their own risk and carries a spool of thread to remember how to get out again. Ruthanna Emrys's Those Who Watch explores this further, though in a slightly darker way, with shifting statues and secret myths. Another notably dangerous library is shown in In The Stacks by Scott Lynch where reshelving books is a dangerous job, often involving magic and swords and resulting in trips to the infirmary.

Paula Guran is known for selecting darker, wilder stories and this anthology offers that too, mostly in the form of frightening librarians, such as the one in Special Collections (Norman Partridge). There are nice ones too, such as Miss Louisa Foster in Death and the Librarian (Esther M. Friesner) and Miss Adams in Ray Bradbury's Exchange. Some librarians and libraries are inexplicably linked, harking back to the lost library of Alexandria (The Midbury Lake Incident; Kristine Kathryn Rusch).

All in all, Ex Libris is a celebration of words, the power of words, and the people who try to keep them in order. It's a hefty book but one worth reading!

Note: I received a copy of this ebook via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Monday, 4 September 2017

#musicmonday: Lina's playlist



Chris asked us to come up with songs that our characters would listen to/like, so here's a playlist of songs from the 50's which Lina would likely like, or at least have heard. Often.

Question though: would Lina be a jazz or a rock kind of person?
Ned and Theo are undoubtedly more of the jazz type.

Lina never says, and she's pretentiously artsy and intellectual enough to appreciate jazz, with her cigarettes and wine (she mentions wanting to be a Negro blues singer, so that's a slight indication) but her penchant for smothering the day in speech makes me think she might secretly like a bit of Elvis. Just for the noise.



Friday, 25 August 2017

#fridayflash: Lina

She is
        Sharp lines and taut strings
        Focused on
        Theo, Theo, Theo
but Ned.

No, Ned is comfort. Ned is safety. Ned is the sudden silence in a world of cacophony and if only Theo could be that be comfortsilencesafetysimplicity --

Oh what is the secret behind Theo?

But maybe there is no secret. Maybe he is as empty, as broken, as loud, as crazy and Lina cannot see it. Lina cannot see past -- He wants. Fame. Fortune. Acknowledgement. He is consumed and she is drawn into his orbit; sucked in swallowed down engulfed --

-- no.

She draws herself up, pulls away. The Southern belle has her strength and her dignity and she may not have weight, but she has her power.

A tilt of the shoulders
        A twist of the fingers

Ned doesn't need seducing. Ned is just... there. Easy. Simple. A rock. An abstraction turning into facts. A lifeline. He pulls her out of deep waters, just by kindness. And she needs to escape because Theo, but Ned --

And maybe it's not wrong. Maybe this simplicity is what she wants and needs and craves but cannot get because Theo wants and Theo needs and Lina

cannot be anything other than what she is needed to be.
No matter how hard she tries. 

What you want.
                                  >
                                             >
                                                        >
                                                                   >
                                                                              >
                                                                                         >
                                                                                                    >
                                                                                                                >
What you will get.

But it's not her ascent.

it's her descent
into madness

---

Character work on Lina; Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

#bookreview: Diadem of Death | BR Myers

Diadem of Death (Nefertari Hughes Mystery, #2)Diadem of Death by B.R. Myers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Terry's life has changed drastically. She's a superhero--or would be, if she'd let anyone else know outside her small circle of friends. But with great power...

Actually, Terry grows rather annoying in this one, all the nice girl-next-door traits from ASP of Ascension slowly being buried in her need to prove herself and her powers. If she had to pass the test to access the power again, I'm not sure how she'd do--something she finally begins to worry about when she's back on the digs in Egypt, messing things up. Terry overestimates herself, overestimates her powers, underestimates her friends, and all round makes herself disagreeable, except dear Maude is too nice so she has to find out the hard way--through another near-death experience.

ANYWAY, Terry and her friends are on the digs in Egypt, partly because Mr Hughes thinks Terry's the only one who can help them find and open Cleopatra's lost tomb, partially because the real Prince Kamal wants to thank them for finding the asp.

If the first book was about girls learning to stand up for themselves, this one would be about continuing to trust and depend on each other--and to learn when to ask for help (and that you can!) Also, that even if you have superpowers, authority figures and rules are there for a reason...

Diadem of Death is still a fun, quirky read, even if I wanted to stab Terry at times.

Note: I received a digital review copy of this book via NetGalley.

View all my reviews

Friday, 18 August 2017

#fridayflash: Nan on Walker

Look. The thing with Walker is. Is. Well, I don’t know.

He came back and… and I was angry. He was supposed to meet me at the airport—he didn’t, of course. What did you expect—and then he was rambling on and on and we were going to be late and…

And then he hugged me and everything was alright for a while because he was alive. He was there. He was real. It was just like the old days. The ones we grew out of. Or I grew out of at any rate. I don’t know whether Walker every grew up or grew out of anything.

The place—Ned and Theo’s place—it… Do you suppose their ghosts… but well, that’s the sort of fanciful thing Walker might believe in. When I first stepped in—all I wanted to do was leave. It was dank. Musty. Draped. Walker might say it’s a place where life has stopped abruptly. Only in more poetic words. Like a graveyard. Of dreams.

I didn’t want to sit. I didn’t want to stay. It’s the sort of thing I’d rather leave behind. But he was going on and on… rather like Lina, really. Like Lina, only old. So fervent. So alive. So… ridiculously alive.

Which I suppose is better than the alternative.

Maybe.

---

The thing with secrets is… they’re supposed to remain secret. What’s the point of dredging up all this mess? What’s the point of talking about all of this? Some things are better off not said, you know?

Only Walker never realises that. He wants to talk. He wants to fill the world with his words and with his… and Pip can’t…

Walker can’t leave the past. He must dig at it, he must prod, trying to find out the truth—but only the truth he decides he can accept. I don’t think he—we—either of us can handle the truth anyway. Whatever that may be. Not that we’ll know now. It’s… he wants to know and I don’t.

I… don’t.

---

Note: character work on Nan Janeway; Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

#bookreview: Asp of Ascension | BR Myers

ASP of Ascension (Nefertari Hughes Mystery, #1)ASP of Ascension by B.R. Myers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The new school year doesn't seem promising. Terry's still dealing with the grief of losing her mother, struggling to get used to her crippled leg, plus trying to deal with fitting in at a new school in a new continent. It only gets worse when her father falls into a coma and his creepy colleague insists that she's the only one who can break the curse... by solving the mystery of the ancient Egyptian asp that went missing from the museum 50 years ago.

On the surface, ASP of Ascension is typical teenage girl fodder. There's the outcast girl--well, girls--who are awesomely kickass, the handsome basketball star who is paying attention to them, the jealous girlfriend who'll stop at nothing, and a real honest-to-goodness Prince (even if he's Egyptian). There's flirting and awkwardness and new love and...

...there's the mystery. The new Egyptian display includes what's rumoured to be Cleopatra's sarcophagus--the very same one Terry's mother died trying to find. Here's where Myers shows her twisty depths. Nothing is what it seems, and not everyone is who they're supposed to be. Everyone has secrets--but which ones are dangerous?

Overall, the novel is a fun read--light enough to keep you entertained, mysterious enough to keep you hooked, and with just the amount of teenage silliness to keep you charmed.

Note: I received a digital review copy of this book via NetGalley.

View all my reviews

Monday, 14 August 2017

#musicmonday: Here Now



Your ways are higher
Your thoughts are wilder
Love came like madness
Poured out in blood - wash romance
It makes no sense but this is grace
And I know You're with me in this place

Here now
All I know is I know that You are
Here now
Still my heart
Let Your voice be all I hear now
Spirit breathe
Like the wind come have Your way

Cause I know that You are here now
Heart and soul
God I know that You are here now
Fix my eyes
On the things that I can't see now
And all I see
Is the glory of Your Name

Sunday, 13 August 2017

#RealmMakers2017: Issues

Another thing that came out a few times over the course of Realm Makers was the cry for Christian writers to actually write about issues. Instead of circling around them. Instead of pretending they don't exist. Or that people don't need to read about them. (Oh, we need to keep our fiction clean, you know, so we don't offend God... or our readers.)

There's issue fiction (stories written specifically to deal with an issue) and there's fiction with issues (it's not specifically written to address an issue, but issues are brought up in them). You can write either. But as Mary Weber pointed out, the important thing is to write what's on your heart.

Where do you need to see God move?
This question wasn't really related to the impassioned talks about issues (it came up during the part about the heart of the story), but I really think it's the perfect question to use when you talk about issues. Because our issues are the issues our readers face. The things we've overcome (or are struggling to overcome) are the things our readers are struggling through. And having it out there in fiction, in tangible words and intangible feelings, can help them process. It lets them know that they're not alone. They're not strange. Other people are facing the same problems they are. 

There's a difference between clean and safe. We can write clean--even if your character is a gangster who has a foul mouth, there are several creative ways to characterise that without actually using swear words (you're a creative writer, aren't you?)--but we shouldn't necessarily write safe. Talking about issues isn't safe. Talking about rape and depression and harassment and racism and equality isn't safe, but they need to be talked about. They need to be addressed. And sometimes your fiction, while it isn't safe or necessarily clean, may be able to provide a safe space for traumatised people to start dealing with or processing these issues and their impact on their lives. 

And maybe, when you address the issue in a way that is honouring to God, they can come to realise that there is another option. There is a way out. They don't need to succumb to what the world is pressuring them to do or be. 

Trust that the Holy Spirit is active and speaking in your writing process.
The question is sometimes this: when is it too much? Where do you cross the line between "being real" and "being offensive"? 

I don't know. I can't tell you. I highly doubt any of the speakers at the conference will be able to give you an exact answer. There are many factors involved: the audience you're targeting, the publishers you work with, your own conscience. But one thing that came out pretty loud and clear was the fact that if you are writing this with God, the Holy Spirit will guide you. 

I wrote this down (it's either Mary or Jim who said it, I don't remember who; it's probably paraphrased anyway):
TALK ABOUT ISSUES. Don't shy away.
Ask yourself: What crosses the line for your spirit? How far does the Spirit want you to go with it?
Then go with it. 
Ted Dekker fielded a question about writing about issues (I think) and his answer was this: agenda-driven fiction only addresses the choir. It never converts anyone. Write to discover. Write to see. Be authentic.

And when you are authentic, genuine, about the realities of life, that's when you really speak into the lives of others, whether you meant to or not.

--- 

As a tag-on note, we've just finished the workshops for Voices 2017 and I am truly, truly deeply honoured to have been able to sit there and listen to the stories these 15 women have had to tell. 

The stories were deeply personal, unapologetically raw and extremely powerful, covering topics such as depression, body image, self-esteem, death, sexual assault, harassment, mental illness, marriage, love, abuse, and faith--all the things that women go through in their lives (there's probably more that my brain refuses to remember right now). There's no sugar-coating, no shying away, just honesty and vulnerability; a voice speaking up from and in the darkness. 

There's power in that honest sharing of lives, made possible by the agreement to create that safe space. And that's what I'd like to believe our fiction can create. 

A safe space for the weakest voices to be heard. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

#bookreview: The Circle Series by @TedDekker

Circle Series 4-in-1Circle Series 4-in-1 by Ted Dekker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SO. I finally got through this 1.6K-page tome that weighs a tonne. And it only took me 4 months!
In terms of actual reading time, I read Black over the course of April/May (I think, or whenever I posted the update) and then I read Red, White, and half of Green in the span of 2 days, while travelling from Malaysia to America. And then I was at a conference, and then I finished up the last half of Green over an afternoon or two, in between vacationing. So it's not really 4 months... but I probably did it an injustice by spreading out my reading over such a long time frame. Details get lost, and all that.

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Honestly, if I had just bought Black: The Birth of Evil on its own, I probably wouldn't have continued to read the rest of the series. Maybe it had been overhyped a little (ha, apparently my friends are Dekker fans) but Black was seriously only an okay read.
Thomas Hunter is chased by some unknown men. He falls asleep and wakes up in an alternate reality--a forest--with no idea how he got there, where it is, or even who exactly he's supposed to be. Which world is real? And which is the dream? All he knows is that whatever he's dreaming of in his original world has already happened in this dream/future world.
The flipping back and forth between the realities got a little tiring after a while, especially when nothing much seemed to be happening. I know all that back story and confusion and vagueness was necessary, but I've been becoming an impatient reader lately so I wasn't in the best of mindsets to slog through it. I'd probably have given it a 3-star, noted a "maybe I'll continue the rest of the series" and then forgotten about it. BUT since I had the entire series, AND Dekker was keynoting at a conference I was attending, obviously I had to read the whole thing, right?

---

The meat of The Circle Series is really in the middle two books, Red and White. Which was why I finished them over the course of a 16-hour flight.

General Thomas of Hunter is now a renowned warrior, one of the leaders of the Forest People. They're the remnants who have remained clean, who still hold on to their belief in Elyon. Those who don't believe, the Horde, are infected with a skin disease and are followers of Teeleh and the Shataiki. In Bangkok, Thomas Hunter is still the unknown person who gains information from his dreams and is the only hope of saving the world from the Raison Strain.
It's here that Dekker's allegorical game becomes strong. It's the steadfast Christians against the rest of the world. It's the powers of darkness against the children of light. One of the major concepts of this world is that the hidden, spiritual battle in the 'past' world (i.e. our time) is now shown physically in this future world. Dekker plays with easily recognisable symbols: baptism/drowning, the Gospels/the History Books, sin/Scabs, and then, of course, the Jesus figure (I can't give you the parallel without it being a spoiler, but yes, there is one).

If the theme of Red: The Heroic Rescue was the redemption and salvation of the future earth, then White: The Great Pursuit focuses on the salvation of the past earth even whilst Elyon pursues his people in the future earth.
Past earth is still in dire straits: the antidote has yet to be found and time is running out. Oh, and nuclear weapons have been launched. Future earth seems to have it better--Elyon has revealed himself to them again and started them on a new path. Their healing is now permanent, not a temporary measure. But there's dissent brewing in the camp.
It feels a little like a commentary about theological disputes between churches, especially what it means to be in the world but not of the world. Do you continue to live in your little church/Christian bubbles? Or is it safe--or wise--to live amongst those who seek to kill you? (Well obviously in the real world, they wouldn't actually kill you, but as per the theme of the books, things the metaphysical of our world is physical/lived out in theirs.

---

And finally, you get to the controversial last book, Green: The Last Stand.
There's betrayal in this one, and desperate love. The believers, or albinos as they call themselves, are split. Most of the story is concentrated on the future earth--the main story arch for past earth has been completed in White, leaving only a few loose ends to be tied up (vaguely spoilerish? You decide).
The tension seems to drop a little here, but that could also be because I had to stop reading halfway and then was only able to take it up again a few days later, in a rather disjointed manner. Theme-wise, it's a story of the end-times, with the great deception, the antichrist, the mark of the beast, and the battle of Armegeddon.
BUT I will say this. Contrary to popular opinion (haha), the original ending for Green is probably the right one. It's not perfect. It's devastating, actually, tragic, but it's what really completes the circle. It what makes the beginning make sense.

It's like what I say about the end of The Hunger Games: I don't like what happened, but it is what it is. What it has to be.

(Well, the alternate ending is cool too, and you have closure, and feel happy. So there's that.)

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Here he is signing my book! :)

Sunday, 6 August 2017

#RealmMakers2017: Identity

Dear multiple people who've asked how this conference was for me, I'm sorry for giving you awkward answers because I don't really process well verbally on the spot. Ask me in person now and maybe I can give you more than an "it was really good." (Or maybe not. Just read the blog.)

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One of the things that came up over and over again throughout the course of the conference was the issue of identity.

In David Farland's pre-conference workshop, he asked the question, "Who are you?" (What's your brand? Your territory? How do you define yourself as a writer?)

As part of the Q&A, he also mentioned Own Voices (all the rage, ha) and the need/demand for those authentic voices in the industry right now. (Cultural identity, gender identity, etc.)


Ted Dekker's keynote focused a lot on perception: how our perception of life defines the story we tell ourselves, how our identity needs to be tied up in Christ instead of our writing, our career, our dreams, or our goals.

That identity is one of completion; of fulfilment--to see who you are in Christ is to remember that it is finished. There is no battle. Or as my notes say: Learn to awaken to the reality where you can sleep through the storm because, in your perception, there is no storm. (Ref: Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm whilst the disciples are freaking out)

Our writing is part of our journey to discovering that in full: to discover who we are, who our Father is, and to bring others along so that they too may know Christ in his fullness.


In the continuing session I attended (Heroes, Villians, & the Heart of Your Story), James L. Rubart and Mary Weber talked about how the theme (sermon) of our lives--the thing that is at our core--is really what's going to be the heart (heft) of our stories.

Repeated is the thought that the things that we struggle with, the perspective we hold, our journey of self-discovery, is what's going provide that heft and grounding to our stories.

Weber put it this way, "Your book will be as shallow as you allow it to be." If we don't work through our own issues, including where our identity is, we're just going to keep scratching the surface.

---

I think one of the reasons this resonates with me so much is because it's always been an ongoing struggle for me to fit in. And because of that, I don't really know how to define who I am except in negatives.

  • I'm the banana/"speaking one" (i.e. stupid Chinese kid who doesn't speak her mother tongue, how can you call yourself a Chinese? -- Well, I don't. I call myself a Malaysian)
  • I'm the PK (i.e. the one no one really wants to be friends with because ew, what if she tells her parents what we do? / "eh, LOOK ANNA DID THIS [insert stupid thing I did] MOM so it's okay" which generally leads to "how can the PK act this way? She should know better" -- Give me a break, okay?)
  • I'm the introvert (i.e. I'm going to stand here and stare at you awkwardly while my brain tries to come up with something to say -- Um, which is why I write. lol)
  • I'm the bookworm (i.e. she's boring, she doesn't want to play games -- Not to mention games gives me anxiety.)
  • I'm the single young adult in the Intergenerational Cell (i.e. married with kids group) because the young adult singles group is... just getting too young (i.e. college kids/fresh grads). 
  • I'm the Chinese-Malaysian girl who's not Chinese enough and not Malaysian enough, because I'm culturally too Western. But I'm also not Western enough because I'm culturally too Asian.
  • Here, I'm the person who travelled halfway across the world to put herself in an uncomfortable position and I'm panicking. Because I really want to connect, but I really don't know what to say, and everyone is loud and it's overwhelming and when you talk over me, I just shut down and shut in. (I like wallflowering. It's cool.) 

But this is not truth.

And I know it. In my head. Though not always necessarily in my heart.

So it's affirming. It's really affirming to remember that my identity is not in my writing, it's not in my failures, it's not in my struggles, it's not in my general awkwardness, but it's in Christ.

As Dekker kept emphasising, Christ is all, and in all.
So that's where my identity should be. And although I'm not there yet, at least I know what I'm striving towards.

---

Colossians 3:1-11

AMP:
11 - a renewal in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, [nor between nations whether] [c]barbarian or [d]Scythian, [nor in status whether] slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all [so believers are equal in Christ, without distinction].

ALKITAB:
11 - Dengan demikian, lenyaplah perbezaan antara orang bukan Yahudi, dengan orang Yahudi, orang bersunat dengan orang yang tidak bersunat, orang asing dengan orang biadab, abdi dengan orang bebas. Kristuslah segala-galanya dan Dia bersatu dengan mereka semua.

---

Translation giggles: I would totally translate "orang asing" as "foreigners" and "orang biadab" as "rude people" - not exactly what barbarian or Scythian is supposed to mean?
Amplified puts the notes as such:
c - A derogatory term used to describe uneducated, uncultured people who were not fluent in the Greek language. [I guess foreigners works?]
d - The Scythians were savage equestrian herdsmen who were skilled archers and often worked as mercenaries and/or slave traders. The Scythian women were known to dress as warriors and fight alongside the men. [okay, so maybe biadap as in uncultured, not rude. But then again barbarian already means uncultured. lol]

Other note: the English translation puts it as "there is no distinction" which feels like it's already done. To me, the Malay phrase "Dengan demikian, lenyaplah perbezaan" gives the feel of "With that, we [need to] remove the difference/distinction"--There's an air of continuing and purposeful effort, as if we, the church, need to consciously remember and steadily work towards a world where there is no difference. Or actually, my brain is now saying "With that, the difference (perbezaan) disappears (lenyaplah)." Still, it has the tone of action, or at least being active

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.)

---

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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.