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.