Friday, 17 August 2018

#fridayflash: A Still, Small Voice (an excerpt)

Coronation dayand Hono's eighteenth birthdayfinally came.

The young princess stood on the balcony, heart pounding. On her right was her mother, regal and assured. On her left, her father smiled, his eyes wide and wary. Further back, Mica's face was studiously blank. She wished she knew what he was thinking. The Steward stood at the fore speaking to the gathered crowd below, his words slow and sonorous, a wealth of years in statesmanship on display. Hono only noticed something was wrong when he stopped mid-sentence.


He didn't reply, his gaze fixed on something in the distance.

Hono stepped forward. "Granduncle? What's the matter?"

The crowd started to buzz as the Steward raised his hand, pointing at something on the horizon.

"He comes."

Everyone turned to look. A dot in the distance resolved into a bird, which soon morphed into a dragon that wheeled above the castle. The people shouted and pointed, some cowering, others running. Chaos reigned below, but the royal family on the balcony observed the dragon solemnly.

"Listen!" the dragon cried and Danis knew it was the Dragon who had first directed him North.

"Listen!" the Dragon bellowed and Mica knew it was the Great Dragon who once told him no and yet again sent him forth into the Deep.

"Listen!" the Great Dragon roared and Hono heard its call resonating in her heart, requiring her to step forth into Destiny.

Then he was gone.


Preorder links will be up soon. I'm in the process of doing final edits to A Still, Small Voice before uploading it to online retailers for sale. The target launch date is Sept 24!

Want an ARC? Let me know! 

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

#bookreview: For Us Humans by Steve Rzasa

For Us HumansFor Us Humans by Steve Rzasa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picked up For Us Humans for review via NetGalley mainly because I wanted to read more of Rzasa's work.

It took me a little while to get into this one, probably because of the first person POV (still tends to be a hit-or-miss for me personally) and also because I'm not quite a Trekkie. Which goes to say this book is perfect for sci-fi lovers who can remember multiple episodes of Star Trek (and maybe other science fiction movies/series I don't watch enough of?) to get all the inside jokes I missed.

Still, For Us Humans is an exciting read: high-stakes intergalactic art theft with a side of espionage. For Caz Fortel--whose major talent is lying--to work with Ghiqasu Hounder Prime Nil--who smells lies amongst other things--to find the art thieves, he has to put aside both his prejudice against aliens and unwanted memories of the past. Nil doesn't make it easy either; the alien specifically requested to work alongside a Christian because of his personal quest for Qas and the One Who Died for All--which is exactly one of the things in Caz's past that he refuses to face.

Rzasa deftly serves you a side of theology alongside this cop procedural-thriller-space opera (because why not), but it's tastefully done and doesn't overwhelm the story OR push Christianity down your throat. Instead, it poses the question: what would happen to the Christian religion if aliens were real? Does it destroy faith altogether (because aliens weren't mentioned in the Bible) or is this something that can be worked around and accepted? Some concepts knocking around in there are faintly reminiscent of CS Lewis's Space Trilogy, but in a slightly less heavy-handed manner (if I recall right; it's been a while since I've read the Space Trilogy).

Despite being a "Christian" book (in some form or other), it isn't exactly "clean"--Caz has all but given up on faith ever since the aliens appeared and he's getting over his one-true-love by having multiple one-night stands. Nothing graphic is described, but the implications are there--including the impression that Caz swears a lot, even if it's not exactly written in the book. So if you're looking for a nice, clean, holy Christian read, this probably isn't for you. But if you're looking for more grit and reality and down-in-the-trenches stuff in your Christian fiction, this one's definitely for you.

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

View all my reviews

Monday, 13 August 2018

#musicmonday: Faithful to the End | Paul & Hannah McClure

A Father's heart that's for me
A never-ending story
Of love that's always chasing me

His kindness overwhelming
And hope for me unending
He's never given up on me

I will sing of all You've done
I'll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end

There wasn't a day
That You weren't by my side
There wasn't a day
That You let me fall
All of my life
Your love has been true
All of my life
I will worship You

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

#bookreview: Battledoors: The Golden Slate | Brian Wilkinson

Battledoors: The Golden SlateBattledoors: The Golden Slate by Brian Wilkinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The premise of the book sounded interesting, but reading it turned out to be rather meh overall.

There's a bit of a disjointed prologue and then first few chapters basically screamed white boy wish fulfilment. You have Owen Thomas, the misfit white male protagonist who's trying his best to hide in the crowd but can't, because oh, he's so smart so he's always picked on. By his side is the ever-so-beautiful, angelic, everybody-loves-her princess Emily Lloyd, who is, of course, also smart and brainy and kind, befriending fat, loud-mouthed, panicky Bea Wells out of the goodness of her heart. Then you need the bullies: James Vanier who has anger management issues and is cruel, angry, and snarky for no reason at all, and his large, dumb, hulking, not-very-verbal muscle friend, Lucas Walton.

There is some development of the characters. Emily turns out to be not so perfect, there may or may not be an upcoming love triangle, and James is horribly annoying through and through. After a while, I felt like I was mostly skimming through the book to get find out what happens in the end. Which is a bit of a non-ending. There's book 2 coming up.

I know I've been raving about stories where readers enter the fictional world recently, especially J.M. Frey's The Accidental Turn Series ( and Jill Bowers's Immortal Writers Series. Battledoors is Wilkinson's offering in that category, but he didn't pull it off quite as well. It'll probably appeal to white male teenagers, though.

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, 7 August 2018

#IAmChevening: A year in the making... for a year in the UK!

So I've been um semi-sharing, but not quite really talking about the Chevening thing. Right.

TL;DR: I have a Chevening scholarship to do an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel University London.

What is that?
A full scholarship to do a 1-year masters in the UK.

What's covered?
  • university tuition fees
  • a monthly stipend
  • travel costs to and from the UK
  • an arrival allowance
  • a homeward departure allowance
  • the cost of one visa application
  • a travel grant to attend Chevening events in the UK

What do you have to study?
Anything, actually! When I first talked about it, my parents asked, "Don't they only fund STEM programmes?" (not in those exact words lah). The answer is no--Chevening does fund arts-related programmes too! Somewhere on the site (which I can't find now, lol) it mentions that scholars are selected by the local British High Comm based on the needs of the country (or something like that?) so probably in the past, the focus was on STEM. Based on the current whatsapp group, it feels like 50% are in medical-related subjects, but there's business, law, engineering, journalism, education, and governance. And in the arts, we have writing, cultural studies, media and comms, and comparative lit. yay.

How did you get it?
I applied online, was called for an interview, and was chosen!

So simple meh?
Okay, so the long, convoluted story goes like this...

Sometime in 2016 I thought about applying for Chevening, discovered you had to write 4 essays and then got lazy. Hahaha. BUT THEN IN 2017... my secondary school classmate, Evelyn Teh, became a Chevening scholar... and you know how it goes. (She can means I can also la! Right? Right?)

So even though the journey feels like it's just begun, it really started in August 2017 when I started an application. There's a bunch of stuff you need for your application, but most of it is pretty basic: an existing degree, 2 years' working experience, referees. The difficult part is the essays. Because ESSAYS. ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND WHY. You either have too much to say or not enough, if you get what I mean?

But you're a writer. How hard can it be?
I'm sure that's going to come up 90% of the time. But no. This isn't Sara meets Garuda or freaks out at the pontianak in her room. Or Danis meeting a dragon. This is omg how on earth do I network, I dunno, I talk to a bunch of writers on twitter and facebook and run this write-in that hardly anybody knows about and leadership skills? What leadership skills? Can I claim stressing out over mywritersfest and making detailed excel spreadsheets for events as leadership skills? Ok wait well I was a manager in my past (working) life. I managed people! And teams! And whyyy do I want to study in the UK uh because it's uh UK and like Tolkieeeennnn and CS Lewissss and actually oh why this uni ah? Um, it sounds interesting? It's probably going to help me? And my career goals are to uhhhhhh sell books? Hopefully in Malaysia? Menghebohkan MYWriters and Malaysian writers in the future? *runs around like headless chicken*

Well, obviously the final essays were much more lucid than that (ha) because I was shortlisted for the interview, but the point is this: essays are hard. Work on them. Figure out what you really want. Get people to read them to see if they're excited about it... or just underwhelmed. Freak out a little. And for once, well twice (in your essays and during your interview) in your life, exude the confidence of the mediocre white man. Because you know you really can. You are able to can!

At any rate, my email says I submitted my application in October, way ahead of the November deadline. (Really? I was that kin cheong? haha).

Apply then finish ah?
Not quite. After that came uni applications. You get to pick three courses/universities during the Chevening application, so you should start applying for these as soon as you can. The thing with uni applications is this... I did a four-year dip/advance dip course in TARC, where my application mainly consisted of submitting SPM results and ticking off what course I wanted to study. UK uni applications are... much more complex. They require personal statements (MORE ESSAYS URGH) and references. I technically needed an academic reference but because I graduated in 2006, I asked if I could get two work references and they said ok.
Special note on references: make sure all your references are on letterheads and SIGNED. Or at least from OFFICIAL EMAIL ADDRESSES. Because I did not know this was such a sticking point. Haha. Caused little mini panic right there.

Then I had to take an English exam, both for Chevening as well as the uni application. Being the crazy person I am, I had nightmares of not being able to speak English during the spoken IELTS test... when my primary language is... English. Go figure.

All that kept me busy until the interview email arrived in February--and then it was major, major panic time. I hate interviews. My first job interview was basically me chatting with a manager I previously interned with (no interviews required for internships then!). My second job interview was primarily a phone interview (in my pjs haahaha) with a subsequent chat with HR and some outgoing manager which I've mostly blanked out of my mind. I feel like interviews question your right to exist... but that's just me. But yeah, go with all the confidence of the mediocre white man! Toot your horn and show the world how awesome you are! You can go hide under the blankets after its done, but for that short span of time (half an hour? I think? I don't wear a watch and my phone was in the security locker so I actually don't know) you have to sell yourself and your capabilities. NOT sell yourself short. Both sound so similar, I know.

Then it's more waiting... and more waiting... and even more waiting. Until June!
A post shared by Anna Tan (@annatsp) on

The time after your conditional selection comes is the REAL crunch time. That's when you have to hustle and GET YOUR UNI ACCEPTANCES LIKE ARGH UNI PLEASE LET ME INNNN. The thing is, you need an unconditional offer (some unis only give a conditional until you pay a deposit--but don't!) and do a simple medical check and sign some stuff. I did get my conditional offer from Brunel in May so I had to write in to them with the scholarship stuff to request the unconditional offer.

And then you send in all the stuff they asked for and wait. Because your Programme Officer has to talk to your uni and they're handling like hundreds of other students and unis. So you wait. And you wait and then you wait summore. Okay? Because it was only about a month after I sent them everything that I received a confirmation on the final award letter (FAL). Sigh.

ANDDDD it's only after that that you get your CAS (from the uni) to apply for your student visa. Well, apparently that depends on your specific uni--some people in the group got theirs even before getting their FAL, others are still waiting to get theirs... *shrug*. So I had to wait impatiently. And even after the email notification... it took about 2 weeks for the actual letter to reach my hands.

And so here I am now!

My Chevening journey has already been one year in the making. I'm SO looking forward to what this next year will bring. Right now, I'm just waiting for my visa application to be processed (submitted everything last week) and then get my flights booked, and I'm off to London next month! <3 I'm counting down to the day I get to announce that I'm celebrating my 34th birthday by starting an MA. LOL. (Yeah, classes start Sept 24.)

Pre-departure briefing and reception is this Thursday so I'm finally going to meet the 30-odd people I've been chatting with on whatsapp since June or something. I forget when. But like forever.

Lessons learnt? Be patient. Be less kin cheong. Be confident. Don't panic. Go in God's grace. :) [But mostly, Waaaaiiiit. Wait summore. Wait longerrrr.]

If you are still interested in Chevening after this super rambly post, applications are now open for the 2019/2020 cohort. Check out the timeline here!

Monday, 6 August 2018

#musicmonday: Oxygen | Building 429

Still something says
Hold on through the moonlight
Don't let go, don't let go
Something says
Hold on through the moonlight
Don't let go, don't you let go

And if I could breathe you in
I'd be sure to hold my breath
Cuz you are like oxygen
Bringing me to life
So here I stand once again
Open me and come on in
Cuz you are like oxygen
Bringing me to life

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

#bookreview: Mythical Doorways and Tales of Ever After | Anthologies from @FellowofFantasy

Mythical Doorways: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology (Fellowship of Fantasy, #3)Mythical Doorways: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology by H.L. Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great anthology from the Fellowship of Fantasy! (I HAVE to get round to reading that first one, Fantastic Creatures: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology, which has been in my kindle FOREVER.) There are fewer stories in this one than Hall of Heroes: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology, but each story here is longer and somewhat more complex. So, in that way, each bite here is a juicier and more fulfilling read! (If that even makes sense.)

Everwild (J.M. Hackman) started off with a slightly generic feel. Orphan boy discovers his heritage upon coming of age and must choose his path now, now, now before he turns eighteen! Girl + magic vs offer of his wildest dreams! Still, it's a good look at the stark choices that face a young person when they age out of foster care.

Well of Fate (Savannah Jezowski) was brilliant. It's based on Norse Mythology, centring on Ratatosk, the storyteller squirrel that lives on the Yggdrasil. It's not the common mythology fare you get nowadays with Odin and Thor and Loki being so popular in pop culture. I especially liked the twist at the end, which I didn't quite see coming!

I enjoyed Jericho and the Magician's Daughter , probably because I seem to like almost everything I've read by (H.L. Burke) so far. It has a bit of a budding romance (maybe? maybe not?), but was mainly about Jericho standing up for his friend against her father and insisting that she should be given the opportunity to pursue her dreams.

Kathy Huth Jones' Dragon's Oath was about forbidden (and impossible) interspecies friendships, as well as breaking with a past that holds you down. Ethaniel is a little too melodramatic (but what teen boys aren't) so this was just okay for me, I guess.

The Hallway of Three Doors (D.G. Driver) has a very old-style fairy tale feel to it--you know, like the old enchanted castles, well, doors, and princes, and trying to decipher the riddle behind it--but it was also a little hard to follow. Still, I liked it.

Bokerah Brumley's Door Number Four was brilliant. It's slightly more sci-fi so the door isn't exactly mystical, but the creature behind it IS indeed mystical. It had a bit of a Ender's Game vibe to it, at least in concept and the way things played out.

Threshold (Laurie Lucking went back to the same choose-your-path theme as Everwild , where Heidi has to decide to stay in fairyland forever, or never go back again. I kinda preferred this one, though. Maybe because of the choices made and the reasons why.

Idiot's Graveyard seems to be a continuation of Arthur Daigle's story in Hall of Heroes: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology--more background is given about Sorceror Lord Jayden, and Dana Illwind is still hanging around! It's still engrossing as a standalone, so don't worry that you'll need to read the earlier ones! Though now ... maybe there's a first story in Fantastic Creatures. Hmmm...

There's always one story in an anthology that I can't seem to get into (sorry), and this time it turned out to be AJ Bakke's Cosmic Cravings . Maybe it was the disjointed feel to it (it jumped between people and places quite a bit) or its ludicrous premise (everything happened just because Bree NEEDS CHOCOLATE) but I pretty much skimmed through this one.

I had to look Dragon Ward (Jenelle Leanne Schmidt) up, which means that I didn't like it that much to remember it, or didn't get annoyed enough to remember it. So that's kinda good? Similar man vs dragon theme as Dragon's Oath , different play out, but almost similar end result.

In What Lies Ahead (Lauren Lynch), a former slave goes in search of the past, but finds instead a path to the future. Certain elements in it reminded me of David Gemmell (walking into/interacting with the past, trying to change the future, foretelling). It felt like a fitting end to the anthology:
"Any illusions of the past I'd clung to faded like stars dissolving in the light of dawn. It was easier than I might have imagined to let go of my childish notions--to reach for the endless possibilities awaiting me."


Tales of Ever AfterTales of Ever After by H.L. Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Fellowship of Fantasy is back with another anthology of short stories, this time exploring the classic fairy tale. There are a lot of fairy tale retellings in this one so I guess I wasn't as impressed. Don't get me wrong--I love fairy tale retellings! I figure it just turns out that some of the retellings here were too straight-forward, and didn't provide enough oomph to make them stand out. In that way, original stories still work better. That doesn't mean that there aren't some gems here though!

Stories I loved:
At the Corner of Elm & Main, H.L. Burke: lovely, bittersweet, and charming. Enchanted lampposts are obviously the way to go. ;)
The Girl Who Talked to Birds, Kristen S. Walker: I like schoolgirl-finding-powers stories.
Wake the Moon, Annie Louise Twitchell: this had a bit of a folklorish feel, which was wonderfully refreshing.
Third Princess, Emily Martha Sorensen: I loved this play on the classic youngest princess always wins. There's a bit of a Howl's Moving Castle vibe to it too.
A Week After Midnight, Alex McGilvery: exploring what happens after the fairy tale has been done before, but I liked the way this one went.
Being Seen, Gretchen E. K. Engel: I don't know why I liked this one. I mean, stuck up Lord vs humble commoner--nothing unusual about that. I guess it's just the way everything fit together with the invisibility curse and all.
How to Hide a Prince, E.J. Kitchens: this one was a little confusing at first but the reveal at the end made up for it.
The Loathly Princess of Edimor, L. Palmer: Another stuck up Lord vs humble commoner, but with a proud princess that needed to be taught a lesson. Sight Howl vibe again, which is probably why I preferred it over other stories with similar characters.

Stories I kinda liked:
Cinders, Kendra E. Ardnek: the double twist on this Cinderella retelling was amusing. The beginning was rather ho-hum until the twist though.
Steelhand, Ashley Capes: As you can tell, I kind of like "the outcast wins" stories.
The Greatest Adventure, J.M. Hackman: I would have liked this better if I hadn't foretold the end. haha.
Believing in Fairy Tales, Arthur Daigle: started off not quite liking this, but it kind of grows on you.

There are some other stories I didn't mention here and I can't recall offhand what they were about, so it goes to say those didn't make much of an impression on me. But 12 out of 16 (I think) on the love/like list is pretty good for an anthology!

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

#bookreview: The Incendiaries | R.O. Kwon

The IncendiariesThe Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished reading The Incendiaries a week ago, and I still don't know how to write this review. It's haunting. Entrancing. Captivating. It's also difficult to read. Highly polarizing. I want to yell at the book that this is not how faith works. This is not what Christianity is! And yet I identify. I've asked these questions. I've thought these thoughts.

Time is fractured--the story is told in three voices, each with different starting points. They meander between present and past, through actual and imagined happenings (in the novel's world), and sometimes it's not very clear what is real, what is imagined, and what is just perceived. It's slightly unconventional, but it works. The only thing I can seriously fault it for is the lack of quotation marks a la Cormac McCarthy.

John Leal's story is told in the third person. It starts from way before, from the North Korean prison that sowed the seeds of his cultic behaviour. They're small sound-bites, little flashes of background. If they weren't there, you probably wouldn't notice, since his story also plays out in the other narratives.

Will Kendall tells his own story in the first person. His is the easiest to follow, and the voice that I identified with the most--not his entitled white male persona (I love you, you can't leave me), but his struggles with faith (Are you real, God? If you're real, why aren't you speaking to me?). His story starts with his reimagining of the Phipps building bombing, his effort to understand. Then he backtracks to the start of his relationship to Phoebe, from when they first met and pushes forward to the present, to the aftermath of the bombing, his implication in it because of his links to the cult. Will is a Nice Guy, and his relationship with Phoebe is problematic. Even though it starts off sweet, it turns obsessive, delusional and abusive. Will is remorseful after the fact, but does that ever really change anything?

Phoebe Lin's narrative is the most difficult to read. It often starts off in the third person and meanders into the first, often flitting between present and past with little notice. I cannot tell if it is someone else telling her story, or if she has multiple personalities she shifts between (she sometimes refers to herself by her Korean name, Haejin). She's drawn to the cult for what it purports to offer: a way to cleanse her soul of guilt.

The Incendiaries is raw, offering up a fractured, misguided understanding of Christianity and faith. Will yells into the void for a God he does not believe in anymore. Phoebe performs penance for the things she cannot forgive herself for. John just wants the world to burn for its sins.

It's also the love story of two people whose religious journeys are diametrically opposed: Will's faith had led to action, but ultimately left him dry and unfulfilled whilst Phoebe hopes that her actions will lead to faith in hopes of forgiveness from her guilt. It's a relationship doomed from the start, inherently incendiary.

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

View all my reviews

Monday, 23 July 2018

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

#bookreview: Star-Touched Stories | Roshani Chokshi

Star-Touched Stories (The Star-Touched Queen, #2.5)Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hoooboy. Where do I start?

Star-Touched Stories is insanely lyrical and immensely beautiful. Chokshi writes with an enchanting rhythm and voice, which really makes you want to read the stories out loud. 100% performance pieces. As it is, I want to read them over and over again, but I can't because my TBR is too long. But since this is book #2.5 it means I need to go and find books #1 and #2 (The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes).

My favourite of the three stories was Death and Night which tells of the courtship between the Dharma Raja, Lord of Death, who was cursed never to love and Night, who refuses to marry without love.

Poison and Gold was also enchanting--though it may set off some reader's squick metres as it touches on a f/f relationship. There's background to this which is possibly from A Crown of Wishes, but it's still easy enough to follow.

The last story, Rose and Sword , jumps between the present and the past. Gauri tells her granddaughter about her past, but it's shrouded in myth. There are allusions to both The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes I figure, which made me think I probably don't appreciate this one as much as the other two due to lack of knowledge.

But I'd say read it for Death and Night . If that's all you have time for.

Note: I received a digital 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

Monday, 16 July 2018

#musicmonday: Broken | Lifehouse

Old gold.

No relevance to current life circumstances except the fact that I won't be at Realm Makers Conference this week.

Also, it was recommended for me on YouTube and I don't know why. What do you know, YouTube?! Huh?

Boooo T.T

Thursday, 12 July 2018

#coverreveal: Spice Bringer by HL Burke!

It's cover reveal day for Spice Bringer by H.L. Burke! Isn't that just so pretty :) I can't wait to get my hands on this.

A deadly disease. A vanishing remedy. A breathless journey.

All her life, Niya's known she will die young from the fatal rasp. She survives only with the aid of vitrisar spice and a magical, curmudgeonly fire salamander named Alk. Then an ambitious princess burns down the vitrisar grove in an effort to steal Alk so she can claim her rightful throne. Joined by Jayesh, a disgraced monk, Niya and Alk must flee to the faraway Hidden Temple with the last vitrisar plant, or all who suffer from the rasp will perish.

But even as Niya’s frustration and banter with Jayesh deepen to affection, the rasp is stealing away her breath and life.

For a girl with limited time and a crippling quest, love may be more painful than death.


Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.


Regularly 17.99, autographed paperback preorders are 14.99 with free shipping discount (free shipping to US locations only).

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

#bookreview: Flame by Selah J Tay-Song

Flame: Tales of QaiMaj Volume IIFlame: Tales of QaiMaj Volume II by Selah J Tay-Song
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where Frost: Tales of QaiMaj Vol I told tales of Iskalon, Flame tells the stories of Chraun. Flame focuses quite a lot more on King Dynat with 3 of the 6 stories (Orphan, Kinyara, General) exploring his background and his ascension to the throne, including his relations to those closest to him.

Tanner was a bit more of a Chraun folk tale--and it's not clear whether the tale is true or an exaggeration.

Semija felt a little jarring at first, with some non-standard grammar, but later proved to be a rather tragic story of the slaves of Chraun.

The final story, Khanten goes back to the founding of Chraun--and explores how and when everything first went wrong.

Personally, I think I prefer Frost--probably because I liked Stasia and Glace more--but Flame works out to be a pretty interesting read as well. So overall, a good way to get to know this series just a little better.

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

#bookreview: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes #netgalley

FawkesFawkes by Nadine Brandes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. I was initially going to only give it a four, but oh my the emotional pay off at the end. So yeah.

An alternate history of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in a magical Britain, Fawkes follows Thomas Fawkes, the (maybe imaginary) son of Guy Fawkes and his desperate attempt to gain his colour mask from a distant father. Fortunately, you don't need to know any history to follow this story! I only had a sketchy idea of Guy Fawkes Night based on Enid Blyton stories and V for Vendetta... but after finishing Fawkes (and before starting this review) I went to google Guy Fawkes to find that almost everything in the story is accurate. Well, except for Thomas (though rumours say Guy had a son), the magical Stone Plague, Emma and colour magic.

Kicked out of school, Thomas sets off to London in search of his father, the only one who can give him the mask that will enable him to use colour magic and ensure a place in society. Fawkes is a coming-of-age story, with Thomas learning to search for the truth and stand for his beliefs--though it will ultimately either set him against the estranged Keeper father he so desperately yearns for approval from or against the Igniter girl he has come to love. Whichever side he takes, there is no going back in this war.

The story is gripping and the stakes are high, though there are some draggy-ish bits here and there. It's everything you could want from a Historical Fantasy, probably (I don't read enough of these to really say). Brandes describes the difference between Igniters and Keepers by paring down the differences between Protestants and Catholics into something simple to understand: direct access to God (or in this case White Light). It felt really blatantly obvious to me at first, which led to some impatience--and the primary reason it's a personal 4-star--until I realised that this is something the general reading (i.e. non-Christian) public wouldn't pick up on (or would they? I dunno).

Fawkes ultimate provides a balanced view of the reasons behind a religious war in an exciting novel. No one group is right or wrong--each has their legitimate worries and issues--but everything is muddied by personal agendas, politics, and disinformation. The novel manages to get its point across without being preachy and without pushing one group's view above another, showing both group's strengths and weaknesses as Thomas grapples with the issue in a personal capacity. Because that's what faith is about, isn't it? A personal conviction that made in spite of opposition?

I loved seeing Thomas grow and change throughout Fawkes--and that his greatest wish was finally fulfilled. :)

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

#bookreview: Kingdom of Ash and Soot | C.S. Johnson

Kingdom of Ash and Soot (The Order of the Crystal Daggers, #1)Kingdom of Ash and Soot by C.S. Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Right. I think I'm gonna put this at something like 3.5 stars.

Kingdom of Ash and Soot starts off with a very Cinderella vibe. After the death of her father, Eleanora and her brother Benedict are treated as servants by their (evil) step-mother. The plot does veer away after that, but the Cinderella-ish undertones remain throughout the rest of the story, especially when she's later given the nickname "Ella." Lady Penelope appears on the scene, the siblings are invited to join a secret society, spying and shenanigans ensue.

The novel's written in the first person, so obviously the character of the main protagonist is going to be a big deal for me--Eleanora is almost on that edge of annoying-idiot-kid but just mature enough that I'm not exasperated by her, which is probably why I'm not super over the top about this, and yet I don't hate it. Let's just leave it as Johnson's got a pretty good balance going.

Overall, it's enticing enough to keep reading, but the politics are a little dense. And since I'm not super invested or super interested in European politics, I ended up skimming a bit. Main point to keep in mind: the revolution removed the monarchy, now someone's plotting to put a prince back in power... resulting in a lot of dead bodies.

Anyway, politics aside, there's this Cinderella thing going on, right? And there's this love triangle thing, right? (Duh, it's YA, what do you expect?) I had my guesses and it was partially correct but the final twisty revelation at the end!!! Was twisty! And unexpected! And of course, Johnson then had to end on a cliffhanger. So it's like, darn it, I DO need to read the next one. Hopefully, it will arrive before I've forgotten everything about this one.

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

#bookreview: Lost Gods by Micah Yongo

Lost GodsLost Gods by Micah Yongo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are books you like instantly and there are books that grow on you. Lost Gods is more of the latter for me. It sounded intriguing enough that I requested a review copy via NetGalley. And I liked it, it's not that I didn't. It was exciting and mystifying enough that I kept reading, though it wasn't gripping enough that I couldn't put it down. Yet after finishing it, the pervading feeling isn't one of satisfaction--it's one of confusion and mystification, if that's the right word. I feel lost.

Maybe it's the way Yongo writes. Backstories sometimes appear out of nowhere, triggered by a single random thought; the paragraphs, and even sentences, are long and dense; it's very rooted in African legends. I have not read enough African writings, so there is no ready shorthand that I am used to, not like when I read a "standard" Euro-centric fantasy and I already know what things are--or figure out what things are not--because it's what they've always been. This is good--I like it because it is new, it is fresh, it is exciting, and it's truly fantastic--but it is also not so good--because I don't always understand. Meanings flitter away from my grasp.

Still, it entertains. The mystery draws me in. I re-read parts of the beginning to find a better way to write this review, and I find myself finding gems and going - ah, I missed that the first time, that's what it means! So evidently there are layers to be uncovered here. I guess it is the journey of discovery that makes it hard for me to get this book as much as I would have liked.

I want to know but despite a revelation of sorts at the end, there is still much that seems shrouded in mystery. It's not a full revelation either--the major arc is mostly resolved, but the "bad guys" (so to speak) are still at large and there are warnings of devastation to come and vague hints to what Neythan is supposed to become so there's obviously going to be a book two.

Overall, I'd say Lost Gods might probably appeal more to readers who like more classic/literary/older fantasy styles, and not current YA readers who want quick, flashy and exciting. Though there is a lot of death, assassinating and betrayals.

Note: I received a digital 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

Monday, 18 June 2018

#musicmonday: Forward Motion | Relient K


I'm in the midsts of freaking out with all the paperwork for my Chevening award and university unconditional award letters, but I guess now's a good time as any to announce:

I've gotten a place at Brunel University London to do an MA in Creative Writing (The Novel) under a Chevening Scholarship so yes. Freaking out and pushing on and trying to make sure all my dragging jobs get closed up. Besides wondering what else I need to buy to survive four seasons in London when I'm a tropical city girl (but also YES COLD WEATHER YAY)!

I am also about two posts behind in my supposedly twice monthly posts over at AND overdue to finish A Still Small Voice and like super slow in actually finishing April's camp nano novel which I said I was going to finish in June. HA

Yeah. Forward Motion needed.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Down the TBR hole

Time to kinda go down the TBR hole again. I found it off one of the blogs I've been following sporadically, and since my "to read" shelf on Goodreads now stands at 444, it might be time to pare it down a little.

So yeah, it works like this:
  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf. 
  • Order on ascending date added. 
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if you’re feeling adventurous) books. Of course if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time. 
  • Read the synopses of the books 
  • Decide: keep it or should it go? 

Picking up from where I stopped the last time:

The Silence of the Lambs  (Hannibal Lecter, #2)The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

There's a killer on the loose who knows that beauty is only skin deep, and a trainee investigator who's trying to save her own hide. The only man that can help is locked in an asylum. But he's willing to put a brave face on — if it will help him escape.As famous and classic as this one is... I don't think I'm really that interested in it.

Verdict: Delete

EnchantmentEnchantment by Orson Scott Card

In Enchantment, Card works his magic as never before, transforming the timeless story of Sleeping Beauty into an original fantasy brimming with romance and adventure.

I probably added this when I added everything of Card's. Still, it sounds pretty interesting. I'd like to read it, but I won't go so far as to start tracking it down, so I guess I'll keep it off the TBR for now.

Verdict: Delete

Red Prophet (Tales of Alvin Maker, #2)Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card

Come here to the magical America that might have been and marvel as the tale of Alvin Maker unfolds. The seventh son of a seventh son is a boy of mysterious powers, and he is waking to the mysteries of the land and its own chosen people.

Prentice Alvin (Tales of Alvin Maker, #3)Prentice Alvin by Orson Scott Card

The Tales of Alvin Maker series continues in volume three, Prentice Alvin. Young Alvin returns to the town of his birth, and begins his apprenticeship with Makepeace Smith, committing seven years of his life in exchange for the skills and knowledge of a blacksmith. But Alvin must also learn to control and use his own talent, that of a Maker, else his destiny will be unfulfilled.

Alvin Journeyman (Tales of Alvin Maker, #4)Alvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card

Alvin Miller, a gifted seventh son of a seventh son, utilizes his skills as a Maker to help create a brighter future for America, but his task is further challenged by his ancient enemy, the Unmaker, who plots to end Alvin's life.

Doing this as a set because I have read book 1 and skipped to like book 5 or something, because I couldn't find these three. I probably have them in one of my shelves by now (not sure if all, but at least some) so I guess I should get round to reading this set soon just so I can mark it as read.

Verdict: Keep all three!

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

The stunning third and final novel in Stieg Larsson’s internationally best-selling trilogy

Lisbeth Salander—the heart of Larsson’s two previous novels—lies in critical condition, a bullet wound to her head, in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she’ll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for three murders. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will not only have to prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot revenge—against the man who tried to kill her, and the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.

Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now Salander is fighting back.

I also see the rest of the series in my TBR and I actually bought the set a while back with the intention of reading it. When... is just the issue here.

Verdict: Keep all three!

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. 
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

A little ambivalent about this. It was never high on my to-read list, but you know, it's one of the "big names." Kinda.

Verdict: undecided.

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.

This got on my list because of the nanowrimo thing. Without that link, I don't know if it will really pique my interest.

Verdict: Delete? Maybe? Yeah, I guess.

AAANNNDDD my TBR is still at 441. LOL

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

#bookreview and launch: Priceless by Janeen Ippolito

A little ambition can turn into a lot of trouble, even for the city’s wiliest double agent.

After years of rebel spywork in the dragon-human war, Nula Thredsing is ready to claim her legacy.

As the Scepter of Commerce’s new liaison to dragons, she’s one step away from the old family seat on the city council. But during her first meeting with dragon diplomat Tiers Sunscaler, they are attacked by rogue dragons—one of them Sunscaler’s former tactical partner, who is bitterly determined to keep the sham war in action and turn the diplomat to his side.

At the same time, Nula and Tiers discover a startling connection: an embermate bond. While a political marriage suits Nula, the bond’s side effects are obnoxious—and potentially deadly.

Aided by an unexpected cat-dragon and a mysterious unicorn, Nula and Tiers must track down the rogue dragons before their dangerous bond tears them apart.

Fortunately, Nula is used to impossible odds—and this time, she has a dragon on her side.


Priceless: An Ironfire Legacy NovellaPriceless: An Ironfire Legacy Novella by Janeen Ippolito
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, I pretty much loved Lawless to bits, so when I was offered a review copy of Priceless it was all *grabby hands*.

Priceless is not as... involved, since it's like an in-between-novella that focusses on Nula Thredsing, one of the minorish characters in Lawless, and Tiers Sunscaler, who if I recall correctly hasn't quite showed up yet, other than in a few mentions. So yeah-- if this is a tactic to make readers excited for book 2, then Ippolito has nailed it. Because Priceless...

- is snark and craziness
- a little bit of Deus ex machina, but not really, once everything is explained
- spies
- cat-dragon
- bloody unicorns
- like wth cat-dragon
- all these helpless people falling in love but is it love if they are, like, embermates and have no say?

Oh gosh, why am I reading a romance? But you know, it's dragons. And cat-dragons . And all these lovely snarky people ignoring the festering deep, dark desires they've shoved aside for politics and appearances. Until it's almost too late.

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

View all my reviews

*squints at date*
Yeah, you should still have at least half a day-ish to grab the preorder swag deal thing because I was too lazy to do two posts and I'm playing hard and loose with timezones here. But grab it quick before midnight! It's a Cinderella deal! :p
Or just be boring and head to Amazon to get a copy if you read this too late. 

Janeen Ippolito believes words can (and should) transform worlds. She writes urban fantasy and steampunk, and creates writing resources, including the reference book World Building From the Inside Out and the creative writing guide Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories. She's an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, and is the leader of Uncommon Universes Press, a small science fiction and fantasy publishing house. She’s also the cohost of the podcast Indie Book Magic. In her spare time, Janeen enjoys sword-fighting, reading, pyrography, and eating brownie batter. Two of her goals are eating fried tarantulas and traveling to Antarctica. This extroverted writer loves getting connected, so find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and at her website:

Twitter | WebsiteFacebook | Facebook Reader Group | Instagram

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

#bookreview: How to Be a Perfect Christian

How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual LivingHow to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alright, I generally enjoy a little satire and usually find The Babylon Bee pretty hilarious. So when this came up on Edelweiss for review, it was pretty much asdfghjkl;omgineedtoreadthis.

As it turns out, I prefer my satire in small, concise soundbites (see: The Babylon Bee website), not in full-length, dense-ish, how-to-like books (see: How to Be a Perfect Christian). Some of the snark is spot on, but when it's in an endless stream like this one, it just gets a little too overwhelming. Or maybe it's a little too over the top that it ceases to stay funny after a while. Either that, or I've reached my eye-rolling quota for the week/month.

So yeah, if you really, really love satire (or you really, really hate super religious people and churchianity and want to laugh your head off at them), this is the book for you! [5 stars! Best ever!]

But if you're a new-ish Christian, easily confused, or you don't understand humour, you're pretty much going to be burning this book at the stake. [1 star. What rubbish is this! *angry face*]

Final star rating: 3, because I don't know how to rate things anymore.
Personal verdict: amusing, but eh.

Though I have to say that the ending does have pretty solid theology--if you get the roundabout way it's being said.

Note: I received a digital 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, 4 June 2018

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

#bookreview: Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed through Brokenness | Les Ferguson Jr.

Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed through BrokennessStill Wrestling: Faith Renewed through Brokenness by Les Ferguson Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My favourite thing about this book is its absolute honesty about where Ferguson is with his faith. It's easy to talk about bad stuff or doubt and then gloss it over with a flippant "I'm better now" or "I've overcome that" especially when you're a preacher.

But Ferguson doesn't take the easy way out. Right near the beginning, in his introduction, he hits you with this:
It wasn't that I doubted God's existence. No, I doubted whether I mattered to God at all. And if I didn't matter to God, then how could his Word offer any hope to me?"

Towards the end, through the expected look-aheads and positive notes, he also offers acknowledgement that the fight isn't over yet, with these:

Sometimes I get mad at God. Often the only time it seems I really talk to him is when I need something.
Though smiling and laughing at memories happens often, fresh tears are never far away.... So keep wrestling. Don't quit. Remember this is just a battle--God has already won the war.

In between, Ferguson explores 26 different stories from the Bible, both OT and NT, from a single perspective: pain and brokenness. He's honest about where he was and where he sometimes still is: running away from God, doubting God, questioning God, struggling so much against all that we're supposed to know and be just by virtue of being "Christian." At times, it looks bleak, but at times God's light also shines through. Sometimes he asks the hard questions, even those he would rather not ask, would rather not know.
The real question isn't why he did or why he didn't. The real question is, Will we serve him anyway? The real question is, Will we trust him?

I think, in the end, what you get out of this book will be what you put into it. Ferguson is being vulnerable here, and if you're still hiding behind that pretty veneer of respectability and strength, you'll spend most of your time avoiding the hard-hitting questions. True, not all the stories and narrative (and questions) impacted me personally, but as a whole, Ferguson tackles a difficult subject from a wealth of experience and from multiple angles.

Don't look for platitudes of faith where everything is nicely tied up and presented. You'll find instead plenty of brokenness on display--and yet despite it all, shattered faith is still faith.

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

View all my reviews

Monday, 28 May 2018

#musicmonday: Light | Gungor -- and #LemmeLearn fundraiser!

"In 2014, a woman tweeted that she would be faced with "a real ethical dillema" if she became pregnant with a baby with Down Syndrome. Richard Dawkins responded "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice." Also in 2014, we had a beautiful little girl with Down Syndrome and two heart conditions. We named her Lucette, which means 'light." Lucie has taught us how much every life matters. This song is for her and all the beautiful people on this planet with special needs. We think that you make this world a better place."


LemmeLearn is raising funds for the LemmeLearn Empowerment Centre. Funds raised will be used to furnish the centre with the following:

- Simulated kitchen
- Simulated office space (incorporated within our real office space)
- Hydroponics Urban Edible Garden
- LemmeDrink Kombucha brewery
- Training and therapy rooms

LemmeLearn Fundraising Dinner 2018: Lemme Go Bling!
Date: 23rd June 2018
Time: 7pm
Location: Bayview Hotel, Lebuh Farquhar
Dress code: Evening wear with sparkly BLING

Tickets are going at:
RM150 per ticket
RM1500 per table

For tickets, please contact Indra at 016-5447727 or

Who is LemmeLearn?
At LemmeLearn, we strive for effective inclusion. Our program is designed to equip people with special needs with social skills, functional living skills and required skills for employment. Partnering with the community, we aim to build purposeful, functional, independent lives.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

#bookreview: The Sorceror's Bane | C.S. Wachter

The Sorcerer's Bane (The Seven Words Book 1)The Sorcerer's Bane by C.S. Wachter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sorceror's Bane is an enthralling, action-packed read. And I use enthral in both senses of the word. This first novel in a planned series of four books follows young Prince Rayne through his kidnapping and enslavement at six and his journey to becoming a master assassin.

The fact that I read this in one sitting says a lot. And no, this isn't a quick 2-hour light read. It was one of those sprawling life epics--okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration--that take up like 5 or so hours of your time. I legit started reading during late dinner at 9 pm (duh, because you need to read something while you eat alone, right?) and finished at almost 3 am, because I am an idiot that way.

Good versus Evil, Light versus Dark
At its core, The Sorceror's Bane is a sword and sorcery tale of Good versus Evil. In the vein of fantasy epics such as Eddings' Belgariad and Gemmell's Legend, Wachter utilises prophecies and faith to spur the actions of her heroes, even when a subconscious action on their part.

The Sorceror's Bane holds echoes of Wachter's Christian faith. There is a single god known as the One that rules over this universe, represented by the light. There is an evil, or a darkness, that opposes the One and his believers, embodied by Sigmund. There are seven scrolls, or prophecies, to each of the seven worlds in Ochen, reminiscent of the words of the Lord to the seven churches in the book of Revelations.

Unexpectedly hopeful
Wachter is masterful at pulling at your heartstrings. Just as soon as you see a glimmer of light for our poor young protagonist, just as soon as you think things will not get worse, Wachter breaks your heart as Sigmund and his evil cohorts find new ways to break Rayne's spirit over and over again. Yet threaded subtly through all this darkness, Wachter manages to always leave the reader with a glimmer of hope--whether via Rayne himself or through his friends Anne and Warren--reminding you that although evil abounds, the One is in control.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of this series and I hope it doesn't take too long to come out!

View all my reviews

Monday, 21 May 2018

#musicmonday: Build My Life | Peyton Allen

Oh really.

Because I cannot discern your motives and motivations right now. 

Or what you're even doing with your life. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

#bookreview: Irresistible World Building for Unforgettable Stories

Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories: A Creative Writing Guide For World Building That SellsIrresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories: A Creative Writing Guide For World Building That Sells by Janeen Ippolito
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Irresistible World Building, Ippolito focuses on how each author's worldview and unique perspective, the characters they've created and their specific narrative style plus genre expectations, all need to contribute to the creation of a world and a story that is unforgettable. She reminds us that a world is not built in a vacuum--what the author believes in and has experienced is often the best way to connect with intended readers. She suggests that using this perspective as a core base--not to push an agenda or belief--tied in with the theme of the story is the best jumping point to create a world that stands out and is beloved by readers.

Structure-wise, this short guide is simple and easy to follow:
- an introduction to the section
- application questions
- writing challenge

Where Loper's The A-Zs of Worldbuilding: Building a Fictional World from Scratch focuses on the nitty-gritty, micro process of world building, looking at all the aspects that should be covered (or at least considered), Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories: A Creative Writing Guide For World Building That Sells focuses on the larger, thematic overview of building a world, emphasising the passion and goals of the authors themselves.

Ippolito also has a book & workbook, World-Building From the Inside Out, which likely deals with the micro stuff, but I haven't read that one yet.

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

View all my reviews

Thursday, 10 May 2018


Okay, just for one day, let's talk politics.

I don't like talking about politics because it tends to be highly controversial and I don't like conflict. Also, everyone has a right to their opinions, even if it means I'm going to privately judge you forever. It's okay, you guys can privately judge me forever too. You know, just privately in our heads, and not on social media or something like that.

I really should be getting some work done right now, but whatever.

This last Malaysian General Election has been a wild ride, full of gerrymandering, fake news, immense Whatsapp spam, and a gazillion ads. Even now, after everything has been counted, the swearing in of the new government is being delayed and there are parties shifting allegiances.

We did this musical last weekend, and my feelings today are summed up by the very words I spoke:

Excerpt from Abbie & the A-Team by Nancy Jenster
[In this scenario, CAT = Malaysia; FRANK = Dr Mahathir]

I'm a sceptic at heart. I don't believe in too good to be true scenarios and I have a tough time believing in miracles. Yay, people, the nation voted in change... but it's not going to be all peachy, okay?

And with this kind of history... you never know what's actually going to happen.

So yes, we rejoice (temporarily) and also worry (temporarily) but once this kerfuffle has died down and the mess that is democracy starts to settle, I guess we'll see.

Also, another apt quote:

Excerpt from Abbit & the A-Team by Nancy Jenster
P/S this is why you need the arts. More funding and recognition for writers, please?

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

#bookreview: Not So Stories

Not So StoriesNot So Stories by David Thomas Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not So Stories has been one of my most anticipated reads ever since Zedeck Siew announced that he was part of the lineup. I was about to bite the bullet and buy the book when I managed to score a review copy, so YAY!

Not So Stories was compiled as a response to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which Nikesh Shukla describes in his foreword as "steeped in colonial nostalgia." I don't recall if I've specifically read Just So Stories (which I've recently found on Project Gutenberg) but if it's in the same vein as other Kipling books I've read, I get what he means. Not So Stories tries to recreate a new collection of animal tales from multicultural, multiethnic lenses, "confronting readers with the real harm colonialism did and taking the Just So Stories back." I cannot meaningfully compare the two right now but I will say that this book both succeeds and fails in its intent.

It succeeds because this wonderful collection of short stories does offer a multitude of unique voices, some of which I can personally identify with as a Southeast Asian, and some of which I can recognise and understand as stories from other cultures, none of which revert to the standard white male Christian point of view that I grew up with as an Anglophilic Chinese-Malaysian. Yet, where it fails is in its target audience--although the anthology is purported to be for children, one story has sexual elements unsuitable for younger readers and at least two others have themes that would probably only appeal to adults. Maybe if it had been targetted for "adults who grew up reading the original as children," it would have succeeded on all counts.

Now on to the stories!

Cassandra Khaw opens this anthology with the brilliant How the Spider Got Her Legs . It has a lovely folklorish feel, beautifully lyrical, but is also very, very brutal--not in physical sense, but how it rips away the veils from your eyes to reveal the evils of colonialism. At first, I wondered at "All of them pale, with hair like someone had spun the noon light into threads, eyes like ruptured sea glass", but Spider soon gets the [White] Man to admit that he took the land from "the Man who once lived here" and that his venom makes his victims "slowly wither of self-loathing." It's subtle, easily missed; yet as you read, you come to realise that this is what has been done to us in Malaysia (where Khaw comes from): we learnt to deify the White Man and loath ourselves, until we grew up and realised the lie--they are no better than we are. (5 stars!)

Queen (Joseph E. Cole) brings us into Africa (I presume?) with an inversion of roles: men here are described as beasts, whereas the anthropomorphic animals are the people. There is anger and pain, sorrow and desperation, a fight for life and freedom. There is also the quiet othering of what is usually a central narrative ("when they worship their cruel man-god who makes them eat his flesh and drink his blood, like savages") and harsh accusation against humanity ("... kill one another for paper and pieces of metal and for any number of pointless reasons. You rape the earth, molest the Earth, taking what you desire without thought or consequence"). Yet there is also reconciliation, the Queen who speaks to the princess who would be queen of her tribe. (5 stars!)

Wayne Santos's Best Beloved is one that I resonated with quite a lot, being set in nearby Singapore, but is also the first of the stories that step out of the children's domain into a rather more mature arena. In fact, Best Beloved also seems rather out of style with the other stories in the book. It's very much more contemporary in feel, with a horror/urban fantasy vibe, besides moving away from animal stories into the paranormal, featuring Chinese ghosts, angry spirits and pontianak. (5 stars!)

The next story hops over the causeway to Malaysia. The Man Who Played With the Crab (Adiwijaya Iskandar) has a Stranger trespassing Beting Beras Basah in a bid to find the great crab that wrecked his ship. There's a deliberate garbling of names--Adiwijaya emphasises the lack of effort made by white men to pronounce names from other cultures--and blatant disregard for lives and beliefs that aren't central to whiteness. There is also a sense of heavy resignation ("my kind shall be written away as myths") amidst a tinge of hope ("But your time shall pass too.") There is an amusing hint of an origin story for British perception of Malays and Malay culture in Malaysia--and because I got distracted, here's a link on the mysterious Tasik Pauh Janggi in Beting Beras Basah (in Malay, sorry). (5 stars!)

In Samsara, Georgina Kamsika explores what it means to be bicultural. Should Nina learn to embrace her mother's Indian roots, or should she fight to retain the white-passing privileges inherited from her English father? Must she choose one or the other? Can she not be both? I don't personally have experience in being biracial, but I do relate to her never-quite-fitting in, in my case because I am a "banana"--white on the inside, yellow on the outside. This one, like Best Beloved, dips into the spirit world, instead of the animal one. (Four-ish stars?)

And we finally get to Zedeck Siew's Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger! Other reviews complain that this is three (or more) stories in one. In a way it is--I see the thread that goes through the whole thing, but it's hard to digest. Siew weaves a convoluted story that begins with the river-mother, who makes the crocodiles, the youngest of which becomes a Tiger. This shifts into Were-Tigers and Were-Crocodiles, playing hard and fast with myth and religion, magic and faith, acknowledging the temptation to disregard culture, upbringing and heritage for the feeling of belonging and acceptance, before finally ending up back where he started with the river and the Tiger, and maybe a retribution (but maybe not). The ending feels satisfying, in its own way, but also as if I've missed something. This one isn't explicit, but part of the setting (a girl stays the night, they hang out at the club) might need some navigation with younger readers. (I'm confused. And conflicted. Four stars?)

How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng was like a peek into a culture I'm supposed to be of, but I've never really identified with. I spent much of the time wondering whether the Tree of Wishes was located in Hong Kong, or if this was some other harbour, a village that worships dragons of the sea, "the price paid to buy peace" that becomes part of an "empire so vast that the sun never set upon their queen's soil". Ng returns to the beautiful style that Khaw uses effectively at the beginning of this anthology, tangling history with modernism and progress. I really want to know who Old Man Uncle is. (4 stars.)

After all that good stuff, Stewart Hotston's How the Ants Got Their Queen felt just a little too labourious to get through. It's mainly a powerplay between the ants and the pangolins anyway, with a lot of eaten ants. (I probably didn't get much out of this story as you can tell. Two... three stars, maybe?)

Tauriq Moosa returns us to fantastical animal tales in How the Snake Lost its Spine . I was amused by "the White Devils from distant lands" (Northern Mountains) who believed themselves "first and chosen, those who most resembled the Creators though no one knew what the Creators actually looked like" whilst the "Others, Those Below, Those Far Away" were believed "to be a mistake". There's no hiding that this part at least is allegory, plain and simple, except maybe to the White Devils themselves. (Four stars.)

The Cat Who Walked by Herself (Achala Upendran) is a myth of the origins of the homestead, relating how Man got himself Woman, Dog, Horse and Cow through his might and magic. This one veers out of cultural identity into a more feminist lens, focusing on the power play between Man and Woman. It's a little gory, with many severed limbs, so probably okay for older children. Also, more Woman than Cat, though it's Cat who instigates Woman mostly. (Ah, I'd say four stars.)

Zina Hutton's Strays Like Us meanders into Egyptian territory with Bastet drifting through Miami refusing to be forgotten. This one has hints of American Gods (with a nice reference to Neil Gaiman too!) so it doesn't quite blend in with the rest of the stories either. (Three stars.)

How the Simurgh Won Her Tail (Ali Nouraei) reminds me faintly of Haroun and Luka by Salman Rushdie. Against the backdrop of a children's hospital, Amir tells the story of the Simurgh, who sets off on a quest to make herself a tail. The story is charmingly told, juxtaposing the Simurgh's distress at seeing the state of the world with the comfort gained by the children in the Paediatric Oncology Ward. If there is equanimity to be achieved, it is from the words, "This too shall pass." (Five stars!)

Raymond Gates's There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang is another story that doesn't quite fit. It seems to be about a mythical creature from Australia and reads like a Enid Blyton-type pixie/fairy story but it's never quite clear if this Whizzy-Gang actually exists. Oh well, I guess that's the mystery of the story? (Three stars.)

Back to the animals, How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off (Paul Krueger) seems to be mainly harping about overwork, bad HR practices and recognising religious celebrations of minority cultures. It gives off a kind of hard-boiled detective vibe, without the detective, and features a lot of smoking, pizza and beer. This story will really only appeal to adults so I'm not sure what it's doing in here. (Three stars.)

Overall, I'd say that each individual story in Not So Stories is great on its own (except the ants. What was with the ants?) but the problem is that not all of them fit together quite well in the same book. Where I was expecting a fantastic collection of animal tales for children (or at least tales related to animals), some stories veered off into the paranormal and the mythical, and some into very adult mindsets/settings.

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

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I was going to post this for Music Monday, but didn't. Still. A song for today.

Kasih-Mu, karya-Mu, nyata dalamku | Your love, Your works, are evident in my life
Kau pegang hidupku dalam tangan-Mu | You hold my life in Your hands
Darah-Mu, salib-Mu, tebus hidupku | Your blood, Your cross, redeems my life
Nama-Mu berkuasa sanggup bangkitkan | Your Name is powerful enough to raise

Harapanku di dalam-Mu | My hope is in You
Hanya Kau Yesus kuatku \ Only You, Jesus, are my strength
Kupercaya kuaman dalam-Mu | I believe I have peace in You

Tak pernah gagal rencana-Mu | Your plans have never failed
T’rangi jalanku kuasa-Mu sempurna | Light my way with Your perfect power
Pengharapanku takkan hilang | I will not lose hope
S’bab masa depanku Kau sediakan | Because You have prepared my future
Tak pernah gagal rencana-Mu | Your plans have never failed
T’rangi hidupku kuasa-Mu sempurna | Light (Illuminate?) my life with Your perfect power
Pengharapanku takkan hilang | I will not lose hope
S’bab masa depanku dalam-Mu | Because my future is in You

Words & Music: Andre Hermanto, Andriyanto, Billy Simpson, Joshua Tremonti, Kevaz Lucky, Nina Sari Ishak, Ricky Sutanto, Tirza Agatha, Winny Jessica, Yumir Vishreda
Crappy translation by me.