Monday, 23 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Tulen (an excerpt from Secretkeeper)

Rahsia pushes the problem aside when she reaches the Iman’s apartment building. Iman lives—lived—in a small one-room flat on the second floor. It’s poorly maintained, the once-white paint now a dirty, peeling grey. There are weird greenish fungus patches in various corners. There’s rubbish strewn along the hallway and up the stairs. She has to pick her way through the dirt. It’s not as if this is the first time Rahsia has seen it—she comes over often to take care of the children during the weekends when Iman can’t tear herself away from the Memories—but it’s the first time she’s really noticed it. No, the children cannot stay here on their own.

She knocks on the door and smiles when she hears Tulen’s careful voice asking who it is.

“It’s Aunty Sia,” she says.

The chain rattles and the lock turns and the door opens with a squeak. The ten-year-old girl looks up at her with worried eyes. “Where’s Mak?” she asks.

Rahsia’s voice sticks in her throat. How does Tulen know to ask?

“She’s late again, isn’t she? Too busy to come home?”

When did Tulen start sounding so bitter against her mother? Rahsia shakes her head. “No, Tulen. I’m afraid…” She cannot continue the sentence. Looking down, she sees that she’s gripping her hands together, right over left, left over right, cracking her knuckles. She stills them. “Let me in,” she says quietly.

Tulen lets her in and closes the door behind them.

“Aunty Sia?” she asks, a quiver in her voice. She must suspect something now, because of Rahsia’s inability to act normally. How does one act in the face of death? She hadn’t had to think of that when Nek died because Nek was old, and her grandmother, and she’d known she was going to die months beforehand. Why hadn’t Iman told her that she was about to die? Didn’t the Secretkeeper know such things?

A Memory stirs in her.

‘There is no time,’ Iman says to Father Farouk. ‘It will happen today and I cannot say goodbye to my children.’ 
The priest protests, ‘Don’t go that way then. Take another route. We need you, Iman.’
‘You don’t need me, Father. You need the Secretkeeper. And I am not the one. I was meant to only hold this role to teach my daughter what she needs to know for the future and I have failed in that task. I have been so subsumed with the Secretkeeper role and the Memories and the need to know that I have missed out on my true task.’
‘Your daughter?’
‘Tulen will be the Helpmeet. How she comes to that role, I do not know. I have not been given to see. You priests should know. Don’t you?’

Rahsia skims through the rest of the Memory. “Your mother left you a letter,” she says to Tulen.

“What? Why? Where is it?”

“I must find it. I just learned of it. There is no easy way to say this, Tulen, but your mak is dead.”

Tulen is silent for so long that Rahsia is afraid she doesn’t understand. “Do you understand what I just said?”

“Mak is dead,” Tulen repeats hollowly.


I was going to give you a snippet from Absolution, but I figured I'd give you a current one from Secretkeeper instead.
Here, Tulen is ten.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Secretkeeper

Secretkeeper first started out with the thought: What do you do with the secrets you keep?

I’d originally wanted to do an urban literary type story about a girl—one of those quiet types who are great listeners—that’s feeling bogged down by all the secrets she has to keep because people keep telling her things and being trusted to keep them secret. It was supposed to be set in Penang, because why not write about the place I actually live in, huh?

But… I couldn’t get the story to move. Nothing worked, nothing was interesting enough.

Then I decided okay, let’s add in some magic since I seem to write better when its fantasy.

So the story got revised—she’s still burdened with secrets—but this time, it’s because she has developed some magical powers that lets her see visions of the future/or snippets of things that are happening. And what if she sees something, but misinterprets it? And there’s this whole fiasco of her trying to prevent this calamity from happening, but it’s only happening because she’s trying to prevent it…

And it also didn’t work out.

Well, so, I was also working on editing (or trying not to rewrite) Absolution and I got to the bit where I gave the Impianans mind powers and wondered what on earth for. BUT wouldn’t it be interesting that because of these mind powers the priests from Impian are feared? And the common people have to learn tricks/skills to prevent their minds being read?

I was still thinking about that one person made to bear everyone’s secrets, and that felt rather like priests who take people’s confessions, and thought … but what if only ONE person listens to confessions and those confessions and memories can be passed down through the generations?

So yeah, that was how Secretkeeper more or less came about.

Friday, 20 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Rahsia

Secrets are a burden.

Rahsia had known that since she was seven and her teacher had stared when she said her name was Rahsia binti Abdullah. The teacher asked if that was really her father’s name, but hadn’t said why, so Rahsia asked her mother when she got home in the afternoon.

“That’s none of her business,” her mother replied with venom.

“But what does she mean, Mak? Why would she ask that?” Rahsia pressed, confused though she had never known her father. Maybe now Mak would tell her about him. “Why shouldn’t bapak’s name be ‘Abdullah’?”

Her mother wouldn’t reply, so Rahsia asked her grandmother that night at dinner.

Nek Ramalan glanced at her daughter over their simple dishes of fried fish with sambal tumis and fried kangkung with steamed rice.

Mak shrugged her shoulders and refused to say a word.

Nek shook her head and sighed. “Rahsia, there are some things that you are too young to understand now. It is your mother’s secret and she will tell you someday.”

“Mak!” Rahsia’s mother protested, scowling.

“Even if she doesn’t tell you in her lifetime, one day when you are Secretkeeper, you will know. For now, it is your Mak’s secret to keep and mine to bear.”

“I will know it as the Secretkeeper?” Rahsia asked with excitement in her voice.

“Yes. You'll bear our secrets, Rahsia, when the time comes. You'll be our Secretkeeper, the one that the world needs at this hour. For this time.”


As a random aside, I don't know what Rahsia's mother's name is yet. LOL

This is also all very disjointed, and scattered all over the place & timeline, sorry.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Quest

I’ve been somewhat defining Absolution, and to some extent Secretkeeper, as YA fantasy. Yet whilst Absolution does fit the demographics (with characters in the YA range) Secretkeeper in all likelihood (especially with what I’m currently writing) will not. Rahsia, who is the main protagonist in Secretkeeper, will be in her thirties for the bulk of the story, at least in this envisioning. (WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN THE MORE I ACTUALLY WRITE! WHEN I WRITE!)

Right now, I’m thinking that both the stories might actually fit better as a Quest fantasy. The overall arch of the two books (I have no idea what the third one is about yet) is basically a quest to rediscover and fulfil the Berith Melach and the Sacrifice to prevent the destruction (or downfall) of the Trikingdom. Secretkeeper focuses more on the discovery by the Secretkeeper and the priests, Absolutions follows how it all actually comes to play.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Penance (an excerpt from Absolution)

“Sayang, you have the talent of saying many things without telling us anything of importance. I gather that you took up the burden they offered you, but what does it mean?” Magda laid her open palms on the table, as if in invitation. “You use many fancy words, but do not explain the meanings behind them.”

Tulen tugged lightly on Magda’s sleeve. “Ibu, do not press him if he does not want to explain. A pilgrim’s quest is sometimes secret.” She smiled at him.

“There are—it’s not—I do not understand all of it yet, Mother.” He reached out and grasped her hands. He thought he’d covered most of it—the prophecies in both Maha and Suci. What else did she want? What else was there to say? Did he have to spell out the details? He sighed.

“But I will tell you what I can. What I do know.” Yet all I know is merely words, his mind protested. “I am the Penance and the Sacrifice. The Firstborn Male offered freely as Sin Eater, the sacrifice to God to save the Kingdom. The journey starts from Nun. I will have to travel alone through Guruntulang to Suci, accepting only what the Nomad encampments have to offer. If I survive that journey, I will need to carry out six rituals before I can be admitted to the temple. I … I’m not entirely sure what happens after that, but that will be when I offer myself up to God as Sacrifice.”


Adam stared at Tulen. “Have you not been listening? Because God requires it. Or he will destroy us all.”

Tulen’s eyes seemed to burn into him. “No, but why would you agree? Why would your father agree?”

“For the sake of the Kingdom. For the sake of the people.”

“For the sake… oh, that’s what you meant this morning.”

Adam felt the heat in his cheeks. He hoped the flush wasn’t noticeable against his fair skin in the darkness of the room. “The honourable king serves those he loves,” he said, looking at Tunku Nawal.

There was no sympathy there, no understanding as he’d hoped. Instead, she leaned back in her chair, looking at him with hard eyes. “So your brother will be king. Abel, the second son, will be king?”

“They will knight him once the Berith Melach has been completed.”

Nawal looked confused. “But why? Why wait? Or will you take the throne after…”

Adam’s smile felt brittle, fake even to himself. “I doubt I will survive this sacrifice, Your Grace. No, the reason Maha cannot knight him now is because my father has placed the city under a banner of repentance. There will be no feasts until I am mourned and buried and the Kingdom is safe once more.”


As you can tell, I have not been writing T.T

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Nek Ramalan + Oblectation

In my Iman post, I introduced the character of Nek Ramalan.

Nek is a short form for nenek, which is the Malay word for grandmother. She’s Rahsia’s biological grandmother, but since Iman grew up with Rahsia (they were neighbours and went to the same school) she also calls her Nek.

In other parts of the story, others—including Father Farouk—also refer to her as Nek. To me, it’s because she’s this little old woman who is so beloved in her community that everyone refers to her affectionately as grandma. I don’t know how this will hold up in the long run, though.


I couldn’t think of anything for O, so I went to look at Rebekah Loper’s The A-Zs of Worldbuilding.
O is for Oblectation, which means enjoyment; pleasure. So ... entertainment!

This is something that’s not really developed yet in my world, so… wow. Hard thinking here. Lol.
What I’d like is for some common Malaysian children’s games to come over, like kali toi, congkak or pepsi cola. Though… the names might have to be changed because they’d make no sense at all. This would probably feature more in Secretkeeper than Absolution, because Tulen in Secretkeeper will be younger and more carefree. By the time she gets to Absolution, she’s too busy fending for herself and trying to stay alive to even think about entertainment.

Here’s some examples:


This is also a two-in-one post because I gave up on thinking yesterday.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Memories (an excerpt from Secretkeeper)

Rahsia flops on her bed and stares up at the ceiling, watching the fan spin hypnotically.

You’ll bear our secrets, Rahsia, when you come of age. You’ll be our Secretkeeper, the one that the world needs at this hour. For this time.

Nek’s words slip into her mind and she has to pause to decide if it’s really her memory of Nek’s words, or if it’s something that’s resonating from Nek’s Memories. She doesn’t know if there is a difference, or if there should be. She’s so unprepared, despite having built up her life towards this point for the last thirty years. Her cheeks burn as she remembers how she’d given everything up so easily when Iman had taken the Memories from Nek. But what else was she to do, to think?

The sting of betrayal still sits in her heart, but its grip is looser now.

‘You have the Memories,’ Father Farouk says. 

The dreamlike quality and the setting in Rahsia’s guest room lets Rahsia know that it’s Iman’s Memory. This must have been from a year before, when Iman had first woken up.

‘The priesthood is not involved in the dealings and the office of the Secretkeeper. You alone hold its secrets. You hold all the secrets of the Secretkeeper.’ The priest tries to hold back a grin, but fails. He thinks he’s funny. He’s always had.

‘Why did it not pass to Rahsia?’ Iman asks. 

Rahsia feels a swirl of emotions that aren’t hers. Did the Memories pass on emotions? She isn’t sure. A little, she decides. There is, after all, muscle memory that she can interpret. Rahsia remembers the feeling of eyes widening, a realisation. Iman’s mouth falls open, she shakes her head. What had Iman realised?

But Rahsia cannot read thoughts, she cannot Remember Iman’s unspoken thoughts. So she doesn’t know what happened then, except that Iman had thought of her, had asked the same question she had, before taking up the role. Iman hadn’t stolen it from her. It had been forced on her. There is a little comfort in that.

In Impian, Memories are passed down through an unbroken line of women who take on the role of the Secretkeeper. It’s often passed from mother to daughter, but in certain cases, the Memories choose a more suitable host. In The Weight of Secrets (or Secretkeeper, as I call it), there’s a slight blip in the line of succession.

Also, yay! A current excerpt.

Still way, way, behind goals, but I WROTE STUFF!!

Friday, 13 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Language, and the politics of it

One problem I am facing with the whole Absolution series is language. See, the thing is, I’m trying very much to write local, even whilst retaining an international feel. Which is a very, very difficult thing to do. I want to use local Malay words and expressions. But how much is too much? Do I need to italicise everything? How much can I get away with?

I figured I can get away with a lot, as long as I don’t explicitly state “this word is in/from a foreign language”. After all, millions of science fiction and fantasy books get away with created words and concepts that are easily accepted (and sometimes hungered after) with no trouble at all. But bring in the fact that it’s a foreign language, and the outrage starts. I mean like, using Elvish and Klingon is so cool, right? But OMG WHY ARE YOU USING SO MANY SPANISH (or Chinese or Malay) WORDS. It’s all about perception of worth, you know what I mean? (So so so very political, sigh.)

I also struggled with this when writing Dongeng, but since that was very much a Malaysian fairy tale set in Malaysia, it didn’t feel so hard. In Absolution, it’s very much a created world based on a mishmash of parts and cultures of Malaysia. The religion is obviously very much based on Christian tenets, but the names, especially of those in Impian, are very much based on local Malay-ish names, which sometimes have an Arabic background. I also used the word “Temple” instead of “Church”, because temple is a much more generic word for a place of worship and church is very Christian-specific, which I wanted to avoid. Unfortunately, this threw off a few Malaysian beta readers who, when reading a Malay name (Tulen) had trouble matching that with going to a Temple (presumed Chinese-Buddhist) instead of a mosque and a religion that conformed more with the shape of Christianity than Islam.

Our use of language is so very much more coded than we realise—and the codes are very different depending on the culture you grew up in. Over here, everything Malay = Muslim, Indian = Hindu, Chinese = Buddhist and everything White = Christian. And I am a pure-bred banana* who falls in between the cracks so sometimes I know the codes but sometimes I don’t, and I’m trying very hard to break them.

What do you think of using foreign or made up words in fantasy?

* yellow on the outside, white on the inside, geddit?


Also, I apparently skipped K by accident and I'm too lazy to go and fix it. Cos I dunno what to write about it either.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Johann

Magda groaned. Slowly, her eyes opened, widening as they fixed on the face above hers. Her pale face grew even whiter. Her lips fell open as if in wonder before her eyes narrowed, her brow contracted and her mouth set itself in a thin line.

“Magda,” he said.

“Johann.” The name came out hard, harsh, broken.

Tulen gasped.

Tears filled Johann’s eyes. “You—you remember.”

She looked away, turning to see Adam and Tulen in their cages.

“I never knew what came of you…” he stammered. “You disappeared… at first, we thought you ran…”

“You never came after me.”

“I—” he caught the word in his mouth, as if unsure what to say. “I wanted to.”


“I had no say.”

Fury spread across Magda’s face. “What do you mean? Why didn’t you come after me?”

“We knew it was revenge. We had—had to protect our reputation.”

“Revenge? Reputation? I was kidnapped and you did nothing because of your reputation?”

Johann hung his head. “It was my father’s decision. He held control of the business. We could not… we couldn’t do anything because if we did, if we had found you, if we had struck and gotten you back, the townspeople would know that we… that we were in the business. There was no way to get you back.”

Adam’s head reeled. His own people were slavers? His kinsmen were the one who did this to other people? To Magda, their own fellow citizens? He’d always thought it was an external threat. Impianans kidnapping Mahans, or rogue nomads attacking both sides.

“You—what?” Magda shrieked, struggling upright.

“I’m sorry.”

Magda slapped Johann across the cheek. “Let me get this straight,” she growled, ignoring the pain from her stab wound. “Your family was always in the slave trade.”

The man nodded.

“And when I was kidnapped on our wedding day, your father decided you should do nothing to get me back because… because it would expose you and jeopardise your business.”

He nodded again.

Magda spat at him. “I hope you rot in hell.”

“Magda, please.”

“Please what? Forgive you? For all the years I have suffered? No. Never. I wish I never knew you.”


Johann only plays a minor role in Absolution but I had nothing to fill J with. HAHAHAHA.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Iman

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Man.” Rahsia gripped her mug of hot cocoa with both hands in the silence of her living room. Nek had felt well enough in the morning to go to the Rumah Ibadat, a duty she only managed to discharge two to three times a week now. The priests had sent a young acolyte to walk her there and promised to send her home if she weakened.

Iman, cradling her cup of tea in a similar manner, looked at her pointedly. “You were the one who asked her to stay with you.”

“What else could I do? It’s easier than having to run over five times a day every time Nek has a fall. Besides, she has yet to finish teaching me. She has to teach me everything about the Secretkeeper role before she dies.”

“That’s the real reason you want her here, isn’t it?” Iman said with a sly grin. “You think she’s going to die soon so you want to keep her close to ensure the power goes to you.”

“Iman! You know—”

“Yes, yes, Sia, I know. The role passes through the family line and you’re next in line. You don’t need to worry. Who wants to steal it from you anyway?”

Rahsia rolled her eyes. “Nek will know the time of her death anyway. She says it’s a boon given to the Secretkeeper so that she can prepare her successor.”

“So I’m guessing she doesn’t have a date yet?”

Rahsia shook her head. “No foreknowledge as yet. Though she could be keeping things from me…”

Iman reached over and laid a hand on her best friend’s thigh. “She wouldn’t do that. Look, she’s still strong enough to be out and about discharging her duties. Don’t worry. Besides, I can help, you know.”

“I—she’s not your—”

“Sia, Nek took care of me when I was young too. She’s like my godmother. Like my own grandmother.”

“But your children—” Rahsia stilled at Iman’s hand wave.

“Would benefit from knowing Nek better as their adopted great-grandmother. Tulen is already seven and Telus is three. They don’t need second by second supervision. I can come over on the weekends and you can take some time off for yourself. You need rest, Sia.”

Rahsia sighed, but nodded in assent. “Where are they now anyway?”

“Their father took them out.”

“Huh. Visitation day?”

“He just decided to show up. I don’t know how to predict the man anymore. At least he takes an interest in the children. Occasionally.”

Iman’s husband had left the family suddenly two years ago, when Telus had barely been weaned. After a couple of frantic months searching for him, involving daily visits to the local policing force and the Rumah Ibadat, Iman had decided to move on with her life. With Nek’s and Rahsia’s help taking care of the children, she’d found a job that would enable her to support her family. Now she worked during the weekdays when Tulen was in school and Telus was at the babysitter’s. Her husband had suddenly reappeared a year later, often staying only a day or two before moving on again. 

“You won’t divorce?”

Iman smiled wryly. “You know I don’t believe in divorce. He’s still my husband, still their father. Whether he decides to take an active role in their lives or not, that’s his choice. Though I won’t deny that if he disappears and never comes back, I will be relieved.”

“Did he ever say where he went?”

“No. And I can’t exactly ask, can I? We’re not quite on talking terms right now.”

Rahsia snorted then grew serious. “Iman, I can’t exactly ask you to deal with my problems when you’re barely coping with your own.”

“Rahsia, what else is family for?”


“Shh. Best friend.” Iman pointed at Rahsia. “Plus godmother,” she brought her index fingers together, “equals secret sisters.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Rahsia replied, but she couldn’t help smiling.


And we finally get a current snippet from my failing campnano effort!
Iman is Rahsia’s best friend and Tulen’s mother. She's a slightly wacky and scatterbrained counterpoint to Rahsia's serious, earnest persona, and plays a key role in Secretkeeper.

Monday, 9 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Helpmeet

The high priest is now looking at me and his attention is unnerving. It feels as if his gaze is piercing into my very soul, seeing all the dark things hidden there.

“You stand beside the Penance as his Helpmeet, his right hand. What do you ask for in return?”

It takes me a beat to realise that his question is different. What do I ask for in return? I don’t know. I’d come into this expecting only to give. I have nothing in mind, and I almost say so, but even before I do, the word feels false on my tongue. “What should I ask for?”

The priest smiles. “What do you long for?”

Absolution. But I don’t know if I can ask for that, so I keep silent.

“Ask, Helpmeet. No matter what it is.”

So I do. What I get in response is a contemplative nod.

“Is that wrong?”

“There is no right or wrong, my child. But I sense that there is more.”

More? “I would… I would rather he not die. I would ask for his life.”

“Do you ask for nothing for yourself?”

“I thought I had.”

Holy Father Farouk opens his mouth but snaps it shut almost immediately. I wonder what he was about to say. He shakes his head and instead asks, “Why are you here?”

I want to reply it’s what must be done, as I so glibly had the day before, but I know what the priest will say in return to that. I steal a glance at Adam’s unmoving body and bite back a sigh. The truth had been demanded so I will give it. I hope that he’s unconscious, or at least so deep in his own thoughts that he doesn’t hear my answer.

“It’s for him. I’m doing this for him.”


“Because I love him?” It comes out like a question, my voice rising in pitch and in uncertainty.

He doesn’t comment on that. Doesn’t rebut, doesn’t press further.


Here’s another snippet from Absolution.

As you can now tell, Absolution jumps between various POVs, beginning with the first part as an almost second person epistle, moving into third person in the second part and then ending with the third part written in first person, from Tulen’s POV. It was a risk I was willing to take earlier on, but is now one of the reasons I’m really itching to edit and restructure everything.

The Helpmeet is a concept that came up during the writing process. I started off with the Penance carrying the main role of redemption, but later I needed it to be a collaborative effort and I needed a name for the role. The Helpmeet concept will also appear in Secretkeeper—Rahsia’s quest as a Secretkeeper is to rediscover the ancient rituals, eg Berith Melach, that make up the bulk of Absolution, and the concept of the Helpmeet is one of them.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Geography

So, talking about geography … I made a map!

So there are three city-states in the Trikingdom. Which is a stupid name because I couldn’t think of anything better. Hahaha.

Maha—meaning Great—is the strength of the kingdom. This is where the King is based, where he governs from. It’s a lush country with forests and farmlands, and is a more typically western/medieval-European type city. Think grand castles and looming arches, large stonework, and cobblestones—and, further out in the countryside, charming brick cottages.

Impian—meaning Dreams—started off as the tech-wonder type city, you know where people chased their dreams. It was meant to be more industrial at the start, but later evolved into something more dreamlike. Because if Maha is the strength of the kingdom, Impian is the heart. It holds the dreamers and the mystics, and is where the Secretkeeper is based, where judgement is often made. Impian is more tropical, with warm, humid weather, hard dirt streets and terrace houses with peeling plaster walls. It has jungles and rainstorms, and is a crowded South East Asian type setting.

Suci—meaning Holy—is the soul of the kingdom. Life revolves around the Temple and the priests, plus the constant traffic of pilgrims entering and leaving. This is where the High Priest is based, where sacrifices are made. To get to Suci, pilgrims from both Maha and Impian have to pass through Nun, which is the only entryway to the Guruntulang Desert. Then they have to trek through the desert to reach Suci. It’s sandy and dry and very, very brown.

(And yes, anyone who knows Malay can now tell I am very unoriginal with names. LOL)

Friday, 6 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Father Farouk

In my initial draft of Absolution, the High Priest was named Malachi. He was supposed to be this old man, waiting to die, waiting to pass on his office to the next generation. Here's a snippet of that deleted scene:


In the middle of the Holy City stood the Great Temple, a massive stonework structure that had stood on that same spot for thousands of years. Malachi, the High Priest, stood before the altar, holding up the brazier of incense, feeling almost as old as the temple.

How long has it been, he wondered to himself. He had come to the Holy City as a boy of twelve, starting as an acolyte and finally being ordained as a priest in his twenty-fifth year. He had served through two High Priests before being elected by God as the High Priest in his sixty-fifth year—that had been nearly twenty years ago. He had spent a total of seventy-two years in the Holy City.

When is it my turn to die, O God, he silently prayed as he waved the incense in the air. When will my turn be to hand this duty over to the next priest? I am old and tired, God. Take me home soon.

Almost mechanically, he set the brazier back into its place and stepped backwards out of the inner sanctuary. He let the curtains fall back into place over the inner sanctuary before turning and making his way out slowly to the courtyard.


The old priest stopped in his tracks, making a half turn to look at the curtained area warily.


“I am here, Lord,” he said, slowly retracing his steps.


I had problems with this later on because everything was super White and there I had a main protagonist with a very local name, Tulen. So when I reworked the geography of the area and decided on three separate city-states, I decided that each city-state would have its own culture, including the type of names. The Holy City was renamed Suci (which means holy, duh) and I figured that Suci would be a blend of both the Western culture of Maha as well as the Eastern culture of Impian… and the current High Priest was most likely have Impian roots at this point of time, also for plot reasons. Thus, he became Farouk, which apparently means Discerning Truth in Arabic.

Father Farouk is a young priest during Secretkeeper, in his late twenties. By the time Absolution comes around after about a ten year gap, he has become the High Priest—at a pretty young age for the role.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Eyad (an extract from Absolution)

Tulen’s eyes lingered on his face thoughtfully. “Magda is always telling me to let go.”

“Can you?”


“Yesterday, you mentioned your brother?”


“What happened?”

“I—He died. It was my fault. I couldn’t protect him. Couldn’t save him.”

“How did he—”

“I wished him dead, so he died. He was annoying and I wanted him out of the way. It was suffocating, taking care of a little child, having to always make sure he was alright, never getting to do what I wanted. I… I hated him and I wanted him to die.”


“I don’t wish for things anymore, Adam. Wishing for things hurts.”

“I don’t understand. Is this… a power? Magic? How can you just—”

“In the end, it’s the same, isn’t it? I don’t understand you, you don’t understand me. There was only the two of us left. I was supposed to be his big sister, to protect him, keep him alive. Keep him safe. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
“Eyad wanted to go up to the cliffs. I told Telus he couldn’t come. He was too young. I wanted to spend time with Eyad. But Telus followed us. He followed us and he was up on that cliff and I was angry. I hated him. I told him to go away, go jump off the cliff and kill himself. I wished so hard with all my heart that he would just die and leave me. Stop annoying me. And then he screamed. And… and all that was left of him was broken bones at the bottom of a cliff.
“I was selfish. Evil. And Telus paid the price. I hate myself. Now you too can hate me.” Tulen turned her face away, tears streaming down her face.

“It wasn’t your fault.” Adam reached out and touched her hand. She drew it away quickly.
“It is. The bells tell me every day, Adam. Every day when they call the faithful, they sound my death knell. He is dead. You killed him. Cursed is the hand that kills.

“That’s not what they say.”

“That’s what they say to me. Every single day for the past six years. I am so glad there are no bells here.”

“So you go to the holy city to find your absolution.”

Tulen nodded, using the palm of her hand to wipe away her tears. “I don’t know if I… if I will…”

“The Reverend thinks you will.”

“Magda doesn’t believe in absolution.”

“What do you believe?”

“I… I don’t know anymore.”


And this is my copout from actually writing a post.
Hope you enjoyed that extract! :D

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Dunno, Distracted, Darn

D is for dunno because I haven’t been writing as much as I wanted to and have been pretty side-tracked by a lot of random things. I should be at 4k by now (with a reduced camp nano goal) but I’m only at about 1.5k. Urgh.

I was thinking of expounding on the Devotions (part of the Blood Sacrifice/Berith Melach) but that is … kind of spoilery and I don’t know how to go about that.

SO BECAUSE I AM DISTRACTED (and obviously got my dates wrong) here's a cover reveal! (I thought today was gonna be C because I forgot we started on the first this year. LOL.)

“I want to be free.” The words came rushing out of me before I could think through their implications and consequences.

“There are two things you need to know about yourself if you want to be free—what you stand for, and what you stand against.” Lady Penelope held up her hands, brandishing a pair of daggers that had been hidden in her skirts. “This world lives enslaved to its destruction, and so long as you are living, as long as you are fighting, you will be free.”

I gazed at the daggers, transfixed. Each blade was clothed in a leather scabbard, but the silver and obsidian of the daggers’ hilts winked at me, as though it was calling for me.

PRAGUE, 1870
For the last ten years, nineteen-year-old Eleanora Svobodová has worked as a servant in her stepmother's household. Along with her older brother, she dreams of the day they will be free to live life on their own terms.

But everything changes when their estranged grandmother comes to Prague on behalf of Queen Victoria. Throughout Bohemia, a string of murders and secret whispers hint at a larger coup. As the leader of the Order of the Crystal Daggers, an ancient order of spies and soldiers that protect kingdoms and their rulers, Lady Penelope is determined to mete out the perpetrators. Now, Eleanora must make the choice between a life of intrigue and saving the lives of others.

Can Eleanora find a way do the right thing and still find freedom?

With a fun blend of historical fiction, true love, castle intrigue, and family dysfunction, The Order of the Crystal Daggers is the latest adventure series from C. S. Johnson.

Kingdom of Ash and Soot is on my TBR right now. Looking forward to reading it! <3

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Conjure

Nun was a quiet, sleepy little town. When Adam first arrived from Maha, he found it strange—and a little creepy—that he saw no one until he reached the town centre. Even if he’d been coddled in the castle, it had always been full of people—servants, ministers, lords, relatives—and the city had always been bustling with life whenever he ventured in.
The Nun Chapel, the town’s main landmark and distinguishing feature, was smaller than he expected. He stood outside for a moment, taking it in. The entire building and its compound could probably fit in the open courtyard of the Maha Temple. He wondered briefly about that—shouldn’t the Nun Chapel be rich from all the pilgrims passing through?—when the door opened and he found himself face to face with its caretaker.
“Greetings, Penance. You have already been Cleansed?” was the first thing the old man said.
Adam was momentarily stunned. “Yes, back in Maha. How did you—” he stammered, before his scattered thoughts fell into place. He’d had an audience with Holy Father Farouk in Suci from Father Peter’s office in the Maha Temple through a shimmering mirror just over two weeks ago. “Father Peter conjured you? Through the mirror?” 
“Peter and the Holy Father both,” the priest replied. “It is the easiest way for us to communicate. Come in, son.” He led the way to a small alcove, gesturing for Adam to sit before introducing himself simply as the Reverend.


This was one of the weakest points in Absolution: the concept of the priests in the three city-states being able to talk to each other through mirrors. I had to find a name for it, and called it "conjuring".

Which I now think is pretty lame.

So... anyone got a better idea?

I'm not sure how I'm going to use it in Secretkeeper yet, but it'll probably be pretty useful since Secretkeeper's supposed to focuse so much more on the priesthood and the past.

Monday, 2 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Berith Melach

Today’s very belated post is about Berith Melach. This started off because of this line about a Covenant of Salt in the Bible… and I took it and ran with it.
The ritual itself appears in Absolution, but the goal is that much of Rahsia's work in Secretkeeper will revolve around discovering what the Berith Melach actually entails.

Here's an excerpt of some "lost writings" around the ritual:
Intricately tied to the Blood Sacrifice, it refers to the addition of salt to the covenant, thereby binding the supplicant to God for eternity. Salt is only added to a sacrifice when it involves the life of a man … To renege on the covenant (turn away from God, or leave the priesthood) will result in death. This is often obscured in the Scriptures due to its imprecise and archaic wording, leaving it open to much misinterpretation.
All High Priests and King Priests have gone through the Blood Sacrifice. It is not required of a normal priest or a king/leader. Thus the ceremony is only held at very long intervals, usually fifty years or more.
The Berith Melach is also used in the covenant between man and wife, where the seal of the covenant is when the man places a pinch of salt on his wife’s tongue and she returns the same. If either of them spits out the salt, that is a rejection of the union. A man may perform his side of the ceremony, but if she does not return the act, the marriage is not yet binding until she does. If she does not seal it within the month, his act is considered void and they are not bound legally.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Absolution

So this year’s A to Z theme is also my current camp nanowrimo project, sorta. Well, the world of my camp nanowrimo project would be a better description. This all happened because I already said YES to camp nano and a private cabin and then I realised but hey waiiiitttt what about A to Z? So yeah, this is me being overly ambitious. But it’s all related to the same thing, so it shouldn’t be too bad, eh? I hope?

Back in I don’t know when (I could check, but I’m too lazy), I started a novel project called Absolution. And then I finished it, and rewrote it, and pitched it … and it got rejected a few times so I’m thinking of doing a rewrite. I also have a bunch of notes from the last beta read that I’m still pondering over, but there is still a version of it out on submission, so I haven’t started the rewrite project yet.

ANYWAY, all this is background to this year’s camp nano project.

This year’s project is a rewrite of last year’s failed nanowrimo project because I had a theme and a concept then, but I was trying to ground it in reality AND IT JUST WOULDN’T WORK. (But I got an 11K day out of it so I’m good.) Late November I was thinking it over a bit more, and then it clicked. This concept would work if it were written in the same world as Absolution. AND it might even be the story before Absolution. So wait, now Absolution might be a book 2 instead of a book 1!

And because I had a lot of free time (my brain was just being a little hyperactive and procrastinating on doing everything else), I then had this BRILLIANT TRILOGY IDEA. (Maybe brilliant? I dunno. Let’s pretend it is for now until the next bout of self-loathing begins.

Book 1: The Weight of Secrets (also known as Secretkeeper, which is this year’s campnano project; focused around Impian)
Book 2: The Weight of Sin (also known as Absolution, because I like themes; focused around Suci, or the journey to Suci)
Book 3: The Weight of Strength (I have no idea what this is yet, except that it should be focused around Maha, which is the third state in my Trikingdom. I also don't know when in the timeline it should be yet. Lol)

At any rate, since this post is supposed to be about Absolution, here’s a snippet:


The thing is, sayang, there is no such thing as absolution. You just walk your path with faith and pray that it is enough. There, I have said it. Let there be no illusions between us. You search for absolution like I yearn for closure. Neither of us will find our hearts’ desire in this lifetime. Such things are not for the likes of us, murderers and slaves. Listen to Magda, child, and lessen your heartache.

Let me lay it out for you right at the start before I ramble and forget what it is that needs to be said. You will search, but you will not find. You will yearn, but you will not be fulfilled. What use does God have for us? We are dust in the desert, water in the ocean. One out of too many supplicants. Insignificant. Why should He grant you absolution? What penance can you perform in return?

We have left on a pilgrimage, but are we true pilgrims? We go because we have no choice. You would protest that you do. That you are not a slave like me. You could have declined, refused the journey, but would you have done so? You are as much a slave to your guilt as I am to my mistress. Your physical freedom to decline is worth nothing in the light of your spiritual need to go. This pilgrimage is a selfish one, begun in pride. It can only end in ruin. I pray you will find something good out of the wreckage to come. Maybe your purity—both in name and in spirit—will preserve you. God knows the rest of us do not deserve it.

You think I am devout, that I hold the secrets to reaching God. I do not. I have believed and I have doubted. I have prayed and I have railed against. He is who He is, unreachable. Unattainable. Magda will cease to exist. Yet, we are children of God. How do I explain this? How do I reconcile this? I do not. There is no point in trying to know the unknowable. My mind and my heart do not need to believe the same things. Is that not what pure faith is? (Maybe it is pure foolishness.)

But let me return to what drives you most. Sayang, no matter how many times you lay your hand on a goat and will your sin onto it, your guilt will remain until you find your own peace with God. The goat is not magical; it is an escape for those who wish to delude themselves. The animal cannot hold your sin, cannot take it. It makes no difference if you offer your sacrifice in the holy city of Suci or back home in Impian. If you believe God is all-seeing, you would know that location and distance is nothing to Him. But maybe it will assuage your heart, if nothing else.


See you tomorrow for B! I don't know what it will be yet! :)

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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

#bookreview: Immortal Creators | Jill Bowers

Immortal CreatorsImmortal Creators by Jill Bowers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott Beck doesn’t want to be an Immortal Writer. Not after watching his father, Kent Beck, die defeating his own villains. Yet, there he is. His characters are coming over into the Real World and he needs his protagonists help to defeat the Betans, horrible blood-thirsty aliens, before they destroy earth.

Immortal Creators is an absolutely fun read. I liked it much better than the first one, Immortal Writers, even though I’m mostly a fantasy fan and this book camped out in the SciFi wing of the Castle. Well, fun that is, until you hit the ending and go, “What? But I don’t understand…” See, cos Scott has this Writing Fever and a weird connection to the Imagination Field that no one can explain. Bowers drops hints here and there, and something happens at the end which makes Scott go OH NOW I KNOW WHY. But that eureka moment is never explained to the readers. At all. I thought I might have missed it, but I went back and read through the last few chapters to try to figure it out, but I still don’t get it. All I can tell is that it’s something to do with him being different and something his father did. But what?! (I doubt that’s a spoiler because it’s so vague, ha)

One thing I loved about Immortal Creators is how self-aware it is as a novel about writers. Bowers pokes fun at writers who have fuzzy ideas of some parts of their creation—but it works in the book because the details weren’t necessary. One of the problems they faced is the fact that Scott may have dreamt up their alien spaceship, but he doesn’t know the details of the second floor because he never had to use it! (And of course, the Reality Field fit in whatever it thought best when the fictional characters crossed over.) They faced a similar problem with the Betan language, but Tolkien was there to help.

Also had a little squee moment when CS Lewis showed up.

Immortal Creators is really a writer’s fan book, disguised as a novel. You’ll love it if you love everything to do with writing and reading. And long-dead writers.

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

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Mythical Doorways Blog Tour

About the Anthology

Eleven Tales of Magical, Mysterious, Mythical Doorways! 

Step through portals and into adventure as the authors of the Fellowship of Fantasy take you on another journey into fantastic worlds. Travel through time, space, and realities to encounter monsters, mechanical foxes, and the Fates themselves. You'll fly with dragons, save implausible beasts, and perhaps find your true home. Choose your path wisely, for dangers lurk in the lands beyond.

In the third anthology from the Fellowship of Fantasy, eleven authors promise you journeys into fairy lands hidden within the modern world, futuristic universities, and lands of ancient myth. So what are you waiting for? Cross through our Doorways for the adventure of a lifetime!

Download the ebook (free to download starting March 27th) at your favorite digital store:

Mythical Doorways Authors

(Click the author to learn more about them and their books!)

Let's Party!

Fellowship of Fantasy is celebrating their third short story anthology release, Mythical Doorways!

Whether they open onto new worlds or just new opportunities, doorways allow us to step through and uncover great adventures, discoveries, and risks.

Where will these Mythical Doorways take you?

Grab your favorite drink and snack on March 29th at 8 PM EST (7 PM CST and 5 PM PST) and be prepared for a fun time of chatting with multiple authors, games, and giveaways!

RSVP Today

Giveaway Time!

The Fellowship of Fantasy and Deep Magic E-Zine have joined together to offer you an awesome paperback giveaway! Dive into eleven new worlds by entering to win a paperback of Mythical Doorways! (US only.)

About Deep Magic E-Zine: The name Deep Magic pays homage to C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. Deep Magic is a quarterly e-zine dedicated to creating a safe place for minds to wander in the worlds and universe of SFF. We want all who visit to feel welcome and confident that they will encounter professionally written fiction of the highest quality that is safe for all to read. Click here for more information:

>>> Entry-Form <<<

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, March 27th
Wednesday, March 28th
Thursday, March 29th

Monday, 26 March 2018

#musicmonday: Our Happy Home | David Crowder

Hallelujah, we are on our way
Hallelujah, we are on our way to God

From Egypt lately come
Where death and darkness reign
To seek our new, our better home
Where we our rest shall gain

There sin and sorrow cease
And every conflict's o'er
There we shall dwell in endless peace
And never hunger more

Jerusalem, our happy home
Would God I were in thee
Would God my woes were at an end
Thy joy that I might see

We soon shall join the throng
Their pleasures we shall share
And sing the everlasting song
With all the ransomed there

Jerusalem, our happy home
Would God I were in thee
Would God my woes were at an end
Thy joy that I might see

There in celestial strains
Enraptured myriads sing
There love in every bosom reigns
For God Himself is King

Jerusalem, our happy home
Would God I were in thee
Would God my woes were at an end
Thy joy that I might see

Jerusalem, our happy home
Would God we were in thee
Would God our woes were at an end
Thy joy at last shall see


On a random aside, this came up on a random playlist while I was leaving Jerusalem.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

#bookreview: Megge of Bury Down

Megge of Bury DownMegge of Bury Down by Rebecca Kightlinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Megge of Bury Down is a story of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and facing up to hard truths. At six, Megge was too afraid to take up her mother's book and at eleven, all she can do is watch as her cousin, Brighida the golden child, shines in everything Megge has refused. She feels like an outcast, even in her own family, but cannot find the courage to do the one thing that would make a difference: open The Book of Seasons.

The novel follows Megge's life and growth from this point onwards, giving you a long, charmingly rambling look into life in Cornwall in the 1200's from Megge's point of view. There is a sweet classical quality to the writing; it's a slower pace of things, a certain choice of words and tone, a rootedness to the earth, and a dual sense of mysticism and spirituality. Yet the older I get, the more impatient a reader I am. I think I've gotten used to reading quick stories with fast-moving action, so when I reach a story that seems to play out over several years, I start skimming to try to push things onwards. The inability to linger is the fault of none but myself.

The plot is involved. There are many things going on: the secrets of the seers and healers of Bury Down, the jealousy and fear of the villagers, the odd hatred of Jenifer Pennick and her mother, and the persecution of the church, all coloured in the narrative by Megge's naivete, fear, and ignorance. Her guardians (Mother, Aunt Claris, Morwen, and Aleydis) are seemingly at odds about how much and what to tell her; Megge's ignorance throughout the novel is needful and yet terribly frustrating, especially since it's partially a wilful one. Other core themes dealt with in the novel are the effects of greed and jealousy, both of which lead to dire consequences. Yes, dire. There is a lot of fire and death in this story.

Overall, there's a very pretty arch to this novel; the prologue felt a little disjointed at first since there's a skip of about 900 years when chapter 1 starts, but it plays out to be pretty important as the story develops. However, you only see the full impact of it in the last couple of chapters. Which is also why I think the story was just a little too rambly. It felt like it built and built much too long and much too slowly for how quickly it ended after that last revelation. You could probably skip a little of the middle and head straight to the end and not lose out on much except maybe some understanding of Megge's slightly convoluted family history.

Still, despite its faults (or my impatience), Megge of Bury Down is still quite an engaging read.

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

View all my reviews

“Creating powerful female characters, combining magic and medicine, Rebecca Kightlinger tells a compelling tale of what it takes to walk the 'path of the protector.' In a timeless yet also timely story, Kightlinger's heroine rallies supernatural strength and all matter of healing arts to find her path toward protecting books, the land, and most of all her fellow women. Readers will not forget the women of Bury Down."
—Elizabeth Searle, author of We Got Him and librettist for Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera

Confused, unsure, and trying to avoid a twist of fate—a vow that she fears will lead to murder—a young woman makes a decision that places her family in unimaginable danger.

A story intertwining destiny with reckoning, and tradition with dreams, the debut coming-of-age novel Megge of Bury Down: Book One of the Bury Down Chronicles [Zumaya Arcane], by Rebecca Kightlinger, radiates feelings of togetherness and protectiveness as seen through the eyes of a young girl embroiled in a mystical struggle that threatens to tear her family apart.

Set in thirteenth-century Cornwall, on a sheep farm in the shadow of Bury Down – known for a thousand years as the land of the second sight – a healer has vowed to face flames rather than fail in her one task in this life: to bring her young daughter to vow to protect The Book of Seasons, an ancient grimoire whose power sustains the spirits of all their ancestors.

On the night of her vow-taking, wanting only to become a woman of Bury Down like her mother and aunts, and drawn by an inexplicable yearning to possess her mother’s book, Megge reaches for it. But when she touches its cover, it burns her fingers and she hears it whisper, “Murderer.” Fearing that the book will make her harm those she loves, she rejects it and renounces her birthright.

To what lengths will Megge’s mother go to help the child find the courage to take that vow? And how far will Megge go to elude a terrifying destiny?                      

This newly released title, Megge of Bury Down, addresses family issues prevalent in today’s world in a tender yet cryptic setting, creating a storyworld readers of all ages will want to visit again and again.

In this magical and suspenseful chronicle, Megge of Bury Down depicts
• An unimaginable bond of family. Through generations—even after family members have passed—togetherness and protectiveness are ever-present in Megge’s family.
• Powerful female characters—how their strength, wisdom, and compassion allow them to defy all odds.
• The intense conflict between the yearning to belong and the need to find your own path.
• Tolerance—understanding that the life you
must lead in order to hone your skills may make you an outsider, even to those you serve.
• A real-life setting—Bury Down is an ancient hill fort whose ruins can still be seen on a hilltop just outside of Lanreath, Cornwall.

About the Author:
Rebecca Kightlinger is a novelist, a book critic for Historical Novels Review, a fiction- submissions reader for New England Review and Stonecoast Review, and a copy editor for Stonecoast Review.

Born in Erie, PA, Kightlinger practiced medicine for nineteen years. For six of those years, she served on a Remote Area Medical volunteer team diagnosing and treating cervical cancer in Amerindian women living in the rainforests and savannas of rural Guyana. In 2010, Kightlinger suffered an injury that permanently damaged her wrist, forcing her to leave medical practice and pursue a new direction in life.

Earning an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program and a copyediting certificate from UCSD, she turned her Masters thesis into her debut novel. Kightlinger and her husband reside in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Connect with Rebecca Kightlinger on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about Megge of Bury Down at

Megge of Bury Down: Book One of the Bury Down Chronicles is available for purchase in paperback and e-book via Amazon* and all major booksellers.

* affiliate link

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

#bookreview: Floating Petals | Leela Devi Panikar

Floating PetalsFloating Petals by Leela Devi Panikar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Floating Petals is an eclectic mix of short stories. Shifting from slice-of-life to horror, to the almost fantastical, you're never quite sure what you'll be getting next. Despite its dreamlike title, Floating Petals isn't quite a happy book: the 14 stories contained here mostly touch on dark themes, whether its the cruelty of bound feet, unhappy marriages, murder, or death.

Actually, death features quite a lot.

Leela's prose is tight, economical. There's a strong sense of place, whether the story wanders through Hong Kong (where she first published this book) or Malaysia (where she grew up), in the city or out in rural farmlands. Having lived in various countries, she scatters her prose with Cantonese phrases, Indian terms and Malaysian sensibilities, making it a wonderful window into life on this side of the world.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

#bookreview: Pearls on a Branch: Arab Stories Told by Women in Lebanon Today

Pearls on a Branch: Arab Stories Told by Women in Lebanon TodayPearls on a Branch: Arab Stories Told by Women in Lebanon Today by Najla Khoury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every country has its own folklore, stories from ancient past handed down from generation to generation. As with all oral traditions, similar stories with a single origin are spread over a wide district, changing along with the ever-evolving culture and circumstances of the storytellers themselves. Most of the time, the differences are only in the details. The thirty translated stories in Pearls on a Branch are a window into the lives of Arabic women, selected from a larger repository of Arabic tales recorded and transcribed by Najla Jraissaty Khoury. As with all fairy tales and folklore, the stories range from the almost mundane to the extremely fantastical, including animals that speak and classic forms of poor men winning the hands of rich princesses (and vice versa).

These tales capture the poetic forms of its original language, with most of them beginning and ending in verse. Yet, as Khoury herself notes, the essence of such oral stories are captured in “the nuances in the choice of words, the comments and body language of the storyteller. It was a revelation: certain stories told by women were for women only.” It is a shame that such nuances cannot be captured in print, and that some references are inevitably lost when such stories are translated into English and read by one without the appropriate local and cultural cues.

Despite this, it is almost surprising (though it shouldn’t be) that some of the tales are uncannily similar to familiar Western tales. Two striking examples are O Palace Beautiful! O Fancy Friend, which is in essence Snow White (or Pomegranate-on-a-platter) with Ali Baba and the forty thieves as the seven dwarves; and Thuraya with the Long, Long Hair, which follows the form of Rapunzel.

Quite a few of the stories feature clashes between man and woman, the most interesting of which is how Husun Kamil outwits and outmatches Lulu Bighsunu, the snotty young prince in the title story, Pearls on a Branch.

So read on: It was or it was not, in the oldness of time…

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

View all my reviews

Monday, 5 March 2018

#musicmonday: Come Alive | Hugh Jackman

Come one!
Come all!
Come in!
Come on!

[Anne Wheeler]
To anyone who's bursting with a dream

Come one!
Come all!
You hear
The call

[P.T. Barnum]
To anyone who's searching for a way to break free

Break free!
Break free!

[Chorus: Ensemble and P.T. Barnum]
When the world becomes a fantasy
And you're more than you could ever be
'Cause you're dreaming with your eyes wide open
And we know we can't go back again
To the world that we were living in
'Cause we're dreaming with our eyes wide open

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

#bookreview: Hall of Heroes

Hall of Heroes: A Fellowship of Fantasy AnthologyHall of Heroes: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology by H.L. Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a fun anthology of short stories, this is the book for you! Each of the 27 stories in this anthology features a hero of some sort, whether they're heroic friends or warriors or parents, and since it's written by the Fellowship of Fantasy, all of them include some form of magic, superpower, or fantastic creature! There's a little bit of romance in some of the stories, but nothing more than an innocent kiss (or two), so this is perfectly safe for kids to read. I'm inclined to say it's aimed more at the MG/younger YA crowd.

Some of the more touching stories (to me at least) were those with heroic teenagers who did their best despite the odds and/or despite their apparent lack of useful powers: In The Hero Feat of Hannah Helstrom (J. Philip Horne), Hannah only has the strength of her determination and half-trained power of regeneration to attempt to save her cousin's life; Marisol in Sweet Basil (Lea Doué) is on the run from sorcerer hunters, yet she still uses her gift of healing as best she can; Gem (RJ Conte) is the only one who can save his world ... at the cost of his life, whilst Jaiharu in Sacrifice to the Iara (H.L. Burke)is willing to give up his life to save his beloved sister; whilst Jenny puts aside personal enmity to save her nemesis in Save the Day (Page Zaplendam).

There's more than that, though. There are superheroes and supervillains, magicians and sorcerers, sprites and faeries, angels and demons, princes and princesses, and all sorts of legendary beasts (mermaids and dragons, oh my)!

Out of the 27 stories, there was only one that I was rather meh about, so I'd say this was a very good investment.

View all my reviews

Monday, 26 February 2018

#musicmonday: O My Soul | Audrey Assad

Rivers and stones and the trees of the field, they sing in the night
And a thousand tongues lay deep in your lungs to raise to the sky

Don't lie to yourself, O my soul - love your God.
Don't lie to yourself, O my soul - love your God.

Deep in your heart you feather and tar your folly and fear:
Expose them all for the fools they are, and the world becomes clear.

Don't lie to yourself, O my soul, just love your God.
Don't lie to yourself, O my soul, just love your God.
Love your God.

Your worries will never love you
They'll leave you all alone
But your God will not forsake you
O my soul, my soul.

Don't lie to yourself, O my soul - love your God.
Don't lie to yourself, O my soul, just love your God.
Love your God.

Friday, 23 February 2018

#fridayflash: Tides | for the living

Grief comes in stages, like waves lapping on the shore, the crashing of the surf. Softgentleharshpounding.

You sit, staring at nothing, as grief curls its tendrils around your heart, squeezing, bleeding. There are no tears, because tears would mean you feel. You cannot feel. Not yet. Not now. When tears come, they come in floods, fast-rising waters from which there is no escape. You do not wish to escape. You are flotsam on the tide, drifting where grief would take you, tossed between happy memories and the ache of absence, never resting, never stopping, like the child who once ran circles around you.

Grief never sits still, never recedes. If it recedes, flee; the tsunami comes next.

The world is grey, monochrome, perpetually overcast. The cold moon speaks in words you almost grasp, pulling, drawing you into its silvery shine, offering empty platitudes; you are here, but you are not. You drift, ripped from reality. The house is empty, you are empty. You have a girl-shaped hole that can never be filled. A nothingness, a vacuum, a void. Avoid. Avoid everything that once meant to escape the cascade of memories you cannot bear.

Grief sucks you into a whirlpool of losspainsorrowtearsfear and never, never once, lets you go.


In Memoriam

Annalise McKinney
1st Dec 2006 - 20th Feb 2018


I cannot grieve for my dead…
Instead I must take my grief and make it into a figure of alabaster…
“Exhibit N.58 Grief, Alabaster. Miss Henrietta Savernake.”

The Hollow | Agatha Christie


From our last play Stop Interrupting Me! at OBS, 10 July 2016.
L-R: me, Rebecca McKinney, Annalise McKinney
Photo by Thum CC (
For the McKinneys, and Annalise who is gone too soon.

If you have cash to spare, here's a gofundme that's raising funds to cover the costs of Annalise's hospital bills in Children’s Hospital Colorado which has been rejected by their insurance:
"On June 30, 2010 the McKinneys lost their middle daughter, Anya, after a tragic accident. Now, their youngest daughter, Annalise, has lost her valiant battle against Idiopathic Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (IPAH).

Annalise was a vibrant young lady full of life. She loved singing, dancing and playing sports. But in July 2017, her world turned upside down. She was diagnosed with IPAH, a severe and progressive disease that causes irreversible damage to the lungs....
In the midst of this, the McKinneys face an uphill battle with their insurance company, which informed them the first week of February it would not cover the hospital stay at Children's Hospital Colorado. The McKinneys have retained legal counsel in the hopes of compelling the insurance company to pay benefits, but the outcome of the legal process is uncertain.
Sadly, God's plan did not include a miracle healing and double lung transplant for Annalise. Nevertheless, the McKinneys continue to stand firm in their faith in God. Please continue to pray for His comfort and strength for the family in this unimaginably difficult time. Stand with them. Cry with them. Love on them.
The McKinneys have incurred substantial medical costs through this trial. Though God has choosen to bring Annalise home, He is still our provider on earth. Thank you again for your prayerful consideration of being a part of God's provision for the McKinneys.
In addition to helping the McKinneys, we also would ask that you consider donating to the Children's Heart Foundation or other pediatric cardiology charity focused on early detection and treatment of congenital heart defects or reducing the incidents of congenital heart defects."

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

#bookreview: The Song of All | Tina LeCount Myers

The Song of All (The Legacy of the Heavens, #1)The Song of All by Tina LeCount Myers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m gonna give this novel like a 3-star/3.25 star rating because the beginning is so so slow I wanted to die, like legit can I stop reading yet 2 stars.
Part of the problem is that there are so many long-ass multi-syllable words “drawn from various Saami languages” (as stated in the Author’s Note) in just the first chapter alone that I kept going what. What. Who. What. Which is weird because I read (and write) a lot of fantasy with long-ass multi-syllable fantasy terms (I.e. not real words) that I’m okay with. So maybe it was just a little too much a little too soon. Ok, I’m thinking it’s also because the words are initially italicised, so my head interprets it as a foreign language and gets caught up in what the heck is that word and I get stuck. If they weren’t italicised, I’d just be like ooo new fantasy word that I’ll figure out on the way and read on until I get it.
It also switches POV every few paragraphs which takes a little getting used to. It’s just not a book that will capture casual readers. Or readers from the get-go. It’s for the slow-build type of readers who are going to just wait and linger and plod their way through.

BUT it’s beautiful. Of course it’s beautiful. When you get to the middle (or well, at least somewhere in Part 2) it turns very omg this plot why because everything is related to everything else and if you pull one thread out, everything unravels. And the further you get, the more you feel like omg what why no yes, at probably 4.5 to 5 stars. It’s just that you gotta push through until you get there.
And then there’s also the damnit there is definitely a second book to this because why does it end there no don’t end there gah.

Yeah, and I’m too lazy to write my review in proper words right now.

Note: I received a review copy via Edelweiss.

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Monday, 19 February 2018

#musicmonday: Drawn to You | Audrey Assad

'Cause after everything I've had
And after everything I've lost
Lord, I know this much is true
I'm still drawn to You!
After everything's been said
After everything love costs
Lord, I know this much is true
I'm still drawn to You


Audrey Assad on Evergreen:
'But I’m able to come at that from a place where I’m [saying], “God transcends all concept of God.” God transcends everything that I’m saying about God right now.'

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

#bookreview: The World Awakening | Dan Koboldt

The World AwakeningThe World Awakening by Dan Koboldt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The problem with third books in a trilogy, especially when the second one came out about a year ago, is the fact that as much as you really liked the earlier books, suddenly you're thrown into a world that you have vague memories of.

The World Awakening starts in the middle of the action. Honestly, I feel the book loses part of its impact for this sole reason--I had to backtrack a little and skim through parts of The Island Deception to figure out what was happening so that I could move forward. It was rather more jarring between The World Awakening and The Island Deception than between The Island Deception and The Rogue Retrieval, primarily because Rogue has its own complete arc, whilst Island doesn't.

Other than that, Koboldt does a great job tying up all the loose ends he managed to scatter throughout The Island Deception. There're betrayal and secrets galore, but each player is slowly making his stand. Quinn stands with Alissia and Kiara with the Company, but Logan's and Mendez's loyalties are getting muddied.

I loved the interplay between Veena Chaudri and Richard Holt--where everything was confusing and muddled in book 2, things are finally getting clearer here. Veena is smart, conniving at times, but a brilliant negotiator, and you get a front seat view to see how she blossoms into the new role she's created for herself.

The Tukalu are a wonderful addition to the world and Quinn, oh Quinn. You'd think he'd learn not to flirt with dangerous people by now... especially when his grip on magic is still unstable.

Anyways, The World Awakening is a satisfying end to the Gates to Alissia trilogy (is it a trilogy or will there be more? If there's more, I'd rather like a spin-off on Veena, or maybe Relling, because so many questions).

Note: I received a copy for review via Edelweiss

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Monday, 12 February 2018

#musicmonday: Mmhmm | Relient K

Aesthetic of the month, really.


What happened to us
I heard that it's me we should blame
What happened to us
Why didn't you stop me from turnin' out this way
And know that I don't hate you
And know that I don't want to fight you
And know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't


And I'll let it be known
At times I have shown
Signs of all my weakness
But somewhere in me
There is strength

And you promise me
That you believe
In time I will defeat this
Cause somewhere in me
There is strength

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

#bookreview: Writers of the Future Volume 33

Writers of the Future: Volume 33Writers of the Future: Volume 33 by David Farland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Writers of the Future anthologies are a great way to find new writers, and this is no exception. I'm just trying to fix names in my head so that I'll recognise them later on. This one seems skewed more towards fantasy rather than science fiction, with paranormal/horror and folklore thrown into the mix.

Some of my favourite pieces include:
Moonlight One (Stephen Lawson) - how can you prove you didn't murder your husband when you're the only two people living on the moon?
The Armor Embrace (Doug C. Souza) - a dying mech-soldier heads home to see his daughter for the last time.
Obsidian Spire (Molly Elizabeth Atkins) - Fiske isn't much of a sidekick, but Varga can't let him die anyway.
The Dragon Killer's Daughter (Todd McCaffrey) - The village is slowly dying and Paksa's father is keeping secrets, but she's got enough gold to make a small fort, so that'll do for now.

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

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Monday, 5 February 2018

#musicmonday: From Now On | Hugh Jackman

I saw the sun begin to dim
And felt that winter wind blow cold
A man learns who is there for him
When the glitter fades and the walls won't hold
'Cause from then, rubble
What remains
Can only be what's true
If all was lost
There's more I gained
Cause it led me back
To you

From now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What's waited till tomorrow starts tonight
Let this promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on
From now on

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

#bookreview | Amber Eyes | S.D. Grimm + blog tour!

Amber Eyes (Children of the Blood Moon, #2)Amber Eyes by S.D. Grimm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Scarlet Moon was thrilling, Amber Eyes just upped the ante even further. I don’t know how I’m going to survive until January 2019 for Black Blood. (I mean, I will, but still…) On a pure visceral, emotional level, Grimm is a pro-manipulator. By the time you’re midway through the book, you’re struggling with hope and fear and joy and frustration and ALL THE FEELS. Which was why, after finishing the book on Friday night, I had to go to sleep to deal instead of writing the review right away.

This book’s Ultra-frustrating Persons Award goes to Thea. Mostly because she is so extremely cryptic that you can’t decide whose side she’s really on—if she’s on any side. Because this clearly isn’t turning out to be black-and-white good vs evil, Feravolk against the Mistress of Shadows at all. Thea has concealed motives of her own, Franco seems to serve the Mistress but has other personal ambitions, the various camps of Feravolk and leaders still don’t exactly see eye to eye, and the Deliverers haven’t exactly fallen into line either.

Because if Love was important in Scarlet Moon, Individual Agency seems to be the theme of Amber Eyes. Serena has to decide between risking her safety to heal people or obeying the council and staying safe. The Healers must decide if they will help the Deliverers or stay hidden. Ethan can no longer lose himself in revenge, not without terrible repercussions, and he must learn to use his gift appropriately. Ryan still struggles with the black lion venom and with acknowledging that Jayden has agency of her own. Jayden… is not *as* frustrating in this one—she’s better at letting the others take care of her—but she’s still struggling with her Blood Moon gift and her destiny. Because right now, her gift is harming more than helping, and she doesn’t see how it can be very useful at all. And in the midst of all the conflicting hints and prophecies and orders and directives being thrown at her from all sides, she must learn to step up into her role as Deliverer, not mere camp follower.

Additional plus point: all the wonderful mythical creatures are coming out of the woodwork! Unicorns, kelpies, phoenixes, pegasi, gryphons, dragons, oh my!

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from Unicorn Questor for the Amber Eyes Blog Tour. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

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About the Book

Destiny can be cruel. Darkness retreated from the light of the scarlet moon, but has since grown even stronger. The Mistress of Shadows has found a new pawn—one that may be the key to unlocking the door to her underground prison. Now evil threatens to escape its shackles and destroy the land. In the aftermath of loss and betrayal, Jayden’s fight with the enemy still isn’t over. But while she isn’t sure she can stop the Mistress alone, leaving her friends might be the only way to keep them from being consumed by the darkness. With lives hanging in the balance—and no time for error—can Jayden make the right choice?

About the Author

S.D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult fantasy and science fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and author of SCARLET MOON. She currently has four books under contract, including the remainder of her YA fantasy series Children of the Blood Moon. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and binge-watching shows with great characters. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog. You can learn more about her upcoming novels at

Facebook Launch Party

Calling all book readers! Join author S.D. Grimm as we chat about her fantasy novel Amber Eyes on January 30th from 8 PM to 11 PM EST (6 PM CDT and 5 PM PST). Grab your favorite drink and snack and be prepared for a fun time of chatting with SD, games, and giveaways. Special guests Nadine Brandes, Lindsay A. Franklin, and Sara Baysinger will also be sharing their books and joining in the fun.

RSVP Today


Want to dive into a new world? Enter to win a signed copy of both Amber Eyes and Scarlet Moon, a grimmlie dragon of the dragon on the cover (made by the author), a charm bracelet (made by her Captain America), and a $10 amazon gift card. (US only. Sorry!)

>>> Entry-Form <<<

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 22nd
Tuesday, January 23rd
Wednesday, January 24th
Thursday, January 25th
Friday, January 26th
Saturday, January 27th
Monday, January 29th
Tuesday, January 30th
Wednesday, January 31st
Thursday, February 1st
Friday, February 2nd
Saturday, February 3rd
Monday, February 5th