Wednesday, 31 October 2018

#bookreview: Three | Krishna Udayasankar

ThreeThree by Krishna Udayasankar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this book in a blog giveaway sometime last year in conjunction with #singlit. Figured I should read it now, or it would languish in my bookshelf for another year and a half at least.

Three is the story of the founding of Singapore out of the ashes of the Srivijaya empire--or, at least, the story of its founder of legend, Sang Nila Utama. It tries to pose as a grand epic; the saga of how Nila was ousted with his family from Palembang as a young boy and how he grew into his life as the king of Tumasik, which he renames Singapura because of the lion that shapes his dreams. And the framework of it, the background of the novel, is... yet the novel itself... isn't.

I couldn't quite get into it. There's nothing wrong with the prose. It's not the stilted, oddly academic "historical fiction" that's commonplace here. No--the language is lovely, almost ephemeral, like a dream.
I sleep. I dream. The children are still laughing, and there is still song. A ship appears on the horizon of placid seas. By the time it reaches shore, a storm is raging. Men, monsters with red eyes and drooling maws, emerge in droves from its dark hull. The children continue to play right till the monster-men trample them underfoot, their young bodies squelching into a morass of blood and meat.

What's not to like about that? It's haunting, it draws you in. And that's just a random paragraph my eyes fell on when I opened the book.

But it's waffly. Nila is a dreamer whose life is driven by the past, his fears, and indecision, and it makes for a story that goes in circles, especially when it's written from his point of view. Again, there's that first-person present-tense POV that comes to bug me--it's harder to like a story when you're reading it through the viewpoint of a person you don't resonate with in any way.

Udayasankar hints at many things but never says anything outright. It feels very Asian, to not say what you mean in hopes of saving face. Emperor Prabu Dharmasena only reveals his feelings when whispering in the night to a son he thinks is asleep. Nila's interactions with his brothers and sisters, and even the Majapahit emperor he considers his best friend, are couched in political terms. They cannot say what they really mean. They circle around issues, using metaphors, never getting to the meat of it. And that irritates me. Which is maybe hypocritical but it is what it is.

If there is a driving question in this novel, it's the question "what does it mean to be king?" that plagues Nila from the start of the novel when he is 17 to its very end when he has to face Majapahit in what might result in war. Through the three parts this book is divided into (Palembang | Bintan | Tumasik), Nila wavers back and forth, rejecting his heritage, his kingship because he doesn't know what it's supposed to mean to him. He seems to lack ambition, always pulling back into the shadows, unable to live fully in any calling--even if it's to be the sea warrior in his blood. Maybe that's why I can't stand him, because I personally cannot stand unambitious, overly waffly men. (Make up your mind! It doesn't matter if you fail, just make up your mind!--maybe this is why I am still single, but that is a digression, ha.) The only two things Nila seems to be sure of is his love of his wife, Sri Vani, and the fact that the seas are what matter. Even then, he needs to be prodded to ask for her hand, needs to be goaded before he will fight for the seas that matter to him.

Still, if you're looking for a novel that:
a) has adventure on the high seas (pirates! sea battles! swashbuckling stuff!)
b) has royal family drama (political marriages! barely veiled threats! deposed kings!)
c) is centred in Southeast Asia (the fall of Srivijaya! the strength of Majapahit! the ascendancy of Singapura!)
d) is historical fiction
I suppose this is for you. (Assuming you like waffly first person present POVs)

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Friday, 26 October 2018

#fridayflash: Breathe



Day and night, night and day, let incense arise.

###

He lingered, caught between life and death, suffering and bliss, finality and eternity. There was nothing more she could do but watch. Watch and pray, pray and watch, seeking assurances where there were none.

###

http://www.penang-vacations.com/kuan-yin-temple.html

The courtyard was hazy with incense. Ahead stood two iron stoves grey with ash, red joss sticks, perfume rising to the sky.

Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t cough.

The prayers of many lifted to the heavens. Inside, she raised her eyes to elaborate wood carvings, stained a dark brown, peeking out behind the thick miasma of sandalwood and agarwood. And looming in her vision, Kuan Yin Ma, Goddess of Mercy, in gold and red.

Save him. He deserves to live.

She lifted her arms over her head, joss sticks in hand. The temple medium muttered. What mysteries did he speak? Or what banalities? His utterings were translated by another priest, a foretelling of the future. Did she believe? How could she tell if the medium was in a trance or if he was high on fumes, drugged by the chemicals in the incense? She’d been told that there was only one God, only one Truth, but what if He did not speak to one like her—

The gospel is coercive at best, violent at worse, bathed in blood; not just the blood of the saints and martyrs, but the blood of those who refused to believe.

You who believe in the Prince of Peace while immersed in a history of physical, mental, emotional violence; you who speak words you do not believe, believe words you do not act on, act on words you’ve made up for your convenience, but subscribe to the god you say you obey; no other gods, you say, but what if other gods of wood and iron and spirit spoke when yours did not?

—She burnt her paper prayers in the iron stoves, wondering if the smoke would reach someone, anyone, up there. Then she left the temple with a string around her wrist and a blessing, thrown back out into the world with a wish and a hope, pigeons scattering as she walked away.

###

Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem

The room was hazy with incense. Ahead, the censers gleamed, perfume rising to the ceiling.

Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t cough.

The prayers of many lifted to the heavens. She raised her eyes to tall columns, images of the saints, behind the thick scent of frankincense. And looming in her vision, the cross, symbol of the Christ, in wood and gold.

Save him. He deserves to live.

She closed her eyes. The priest intoned. What mysteries did he speak? Or what banalities? But they were the words she couldn’t speak, in faith or in unbelief. She would not doubt. To doubt was to sin, to sin was death, and to die was to negate all that had been done—

There were things you were not allowed to think, even in the privacy of your own mind. Things like how faith was a dead thing, a hope in something invisible, delusional, yet the crutch many held on to.

You couldn’t hold faith, like you couldn’t hold the incense that rose to the heavens representing the prayers you couldn’t speak. It had no shape, no physical being, but you could feel it, like you could smell the perfume that lingered in old cathedrals, in the lighting of candles, in the censers raised, physical monuments of Man to the immaterial presence of God

—She rose as the congregation rose, sat as they sat, listening to the rise and the fall of the priest’s voice, following the rhythms of the service, tried to feel the things she was supposed to feel. She wrote her prayer, lit a candle, wondering if the smoke collected in the rafters ever reached heaven.

###

When her husband died, she watched the black cloud of his cremated body and wondered if he would find god, any god, there. Prayers were prayed, words were said, but they were empty fumes that dispersed without impressing anything on what was left of her soul.

She sifted through the ashes, picking out bones. What he had been had dispersed with the fire of the furnace. What was left was residue, ephemeral, kept in a jar in a columbarium she would avoid, not because she could not remember, but because she remembered too much, felt too much, grieved too much.

Her faith or his? Sandalwood or frankincense? Statue or cross? Did any of it make any difference when death came all the same despite prayers raised, hope promised, despite words of comfort that only hid the emptiness of disbelief—

The gospel is violence to those who believe. Saint Stephen could tell you that, martyred for it. Or Apostle Paul in chains. All the saints smoked out of hiding by sword and fire.

Or you.

You who profess faith while ripped from your roots, from your heritage, culture, tongue; you who do not recognise the violence done to your souls while you worship the white man and his foreign god—who died for you, yes, died and rose, death and life, bread and wine, body and blood, flesh and soul, fire and incense—the brown god of the white man who insists, demands, you conform.

The brown god who said all peoples, all tribes, all tongues, all nations.

But the white man who says, you must become. Become us

—She was unmaking herself. All the things she once strove to be, once strove to become, she lay aside, weary. She was what she was, a foul stench of unbelief, a censer bereft, cold with old ash.

###

Faith and fire.

Faith by fire.

Let incense arise.

---

She said make it experimental. So I did. (Related reading.)

The theme this past week was motifs/themes.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

#bookreview: Faithless | Janeen Ippolito

Faithless (Ironfire Legacy, #2)Faithless by Janeen Ippolito
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shance's story takes the forefront in Faithless, though there are some major events that happen in Kesia and Zephryn's storyline. One of which is... utterly shocking. The appearance of Lurien as their nemesis really ups the stakes in this book--not only is she a powerful death unicorn with many other death unicorns in her (and the Curious Intrigue's) service, she also holds Maira's son captive. Actually, I think you see more death unicorns than dragons in this one. Ademis the cat-dragon is also an utterly fascinating and unique character here, though he's in a rather more support-y role.

Storywise, things get more twisty--lots of secrets revealed, new enemies appear, unexpected connections, both good and bad... I really don't know what I can say that isn't spoilery. You just have to read it!

Where Lawless focused on redemption, resilience seems to be a key theme in this second book in the series. Blow after blow strikes the ranks of the Lawless, both personal and political, and it's all they can do to keep it together through death, near-death, and betrayal. Still, they push on. Kesia has to find new ways to survive, both emotionally and politically; Shance has to deal with extremely surprising revelations of his identity and past; Lirome has to deal with his dark past in light of his strange new future; and Maira has to figure out how to defeat Lurien, who's holding everything dear to her at ransom.

The one thing that confused me a little was the elocution ranks... which qualifies who can or cannot speak. I don't think that came up in any of the previous books, but it's probably something unique to the Scepter of Knowledge.

Faithless seems slightly less focused than Lawless and Priceless, probably because of it's wider scope and all the new threads that are going on. Still, it's an intriguing read, full of twists and revelations and OMG WHAT moments... and it looks like we might be heading to the Scepter of Pleasure next!

Can't wait! :)

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher. This review is my own independent and fair evaluation.

View all my reviews

About the Book


One wild night, Shance Windkeeper discovers he is married to a death unicorn.

But that’s the least of his troubles.

As an agent for the Lawless, Shance is working with dragonshifters Kesia Ironfire and Zephryn Nightstalker, trying to end the dragon-human war and the organization that masterminded it. While on a mission in the Scepter of Knowledge, the Lawless is hit with a devastating death unicorn attack.

Out of the wreckage new allies emerge: Lirome Ukerys, and his twin sister Maira, the death unicorn queen—Shance’s long-lost wife.

Recently freed from captivity, Maira is fighting to regain control of her herd. Lurien Alistil, a rogue death unicorn, has bespelled the Scepter of Knowledge and taken Maira’s son. When Kesia unexpectedly challenges Lurien to a public debate, the Lawless has a chance to break the usurper’s hold. To obtain vital information they must infiltrate her lair—and as the husband of the death unicorn queen, Shance Windkeeper is the perfect prize to go in.

But Lurien’s power is stronger and more insidious than they realize. And if the final pieces of her plan fall into place, not even Shance’s newfound Talents and knowledge will be enough to stop her.
A steampunk fantasy adventure with much intrigue, unexpected romance, sudden tragedy, and a snarky cat-dragon.



About Janeen: 

Janeen Ippolito believes words transform worlds. She creates writing resources and writes steampunk fantasy. She’s also an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, and the editor in chief of Uncommon Universes Press. In her spare time, she enjoys sword-fighting, reading, food, and making 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: janeenippolito.com

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

#GuestPost: Why I Write: Marvelous Misfits and Heroic Outcasts by Janeen Ippolito



A faithless, flirtatious man with a family he forgot. A rejected woman still bearing the shame and suspicion from abuse she suffered as a child. A refugee queen fighting for her people, even when those people rebel and undermine her in front of her host country’s leadership. An assassin from a pacifist culture who harbors an isolating secret beneath his physician exterior.

In case you can’t tell, I love my misfits and outcasts. In fact, until a main or supporting character is in some way dealing with a hard issue or a problem, I have no idea how to write them. I’m just waiting for a reader to ask “where are your happy characters already?” And possibly, “why don’t you fix everything by the end?”

But the hard, scarring truths of situations are more compelling to me, and I consider them some of the most realistic parts of my fantasy fiction. We all carry burdens and scars from our past. Because of the inherent difficulties of this world, even someone with a seemingly perfect life has undergone situations that have impacted them in ways that cannot be altered.

I know I have. My own difficulties drove me to study and understand people in order to make sense of my own life. In college, I studied anthropology, cultures, reconciliation, history. So much beauty—and so much darkness. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by the turmoil in the world. But those things are part of life, and I recast those hard realities in my fiction to hopefully build empathy and understanding.


In each and every character I write, I pour hardship. And then I pour hope and humor and whistling in the darkness. Because there is beauty in facing that brokenness and choosing to love anyway.  Choosing to forgive and stand up against injustice with grace and compassion. Clinging to faith and belief even when it seems impossible.

Plus, jokes in the face of grief is one of my personal coping mechanisms. Laughing until you cry or crying until you have to laugh. Either way, humor is part of the rhythm of life and a great gift from God in the face of adversity. So I write characters who try to walk to that rhythm, who wear their scars as beauty from ashes, and who understand or come to understand that they aren’t just misfits—they are marvelous. Imperfect and marred, but beloved. There is hope in their future.

The Ironfire Legacy series seeks the balance between the tragedy and the joy, as do all of my stories. Sometimes my books drift a bit darker, sometimes they favor a lighter tone. And yes, my situations for my characters are a little larger than life, because that’s what makes fantasy fun.

But at all times, I hope readers will see in my stories and characters that no one is beyond grace—or giving grace. That even the most misfit or outcast individual is alive for a reason. And that they are marvelous. No matter what scars they carry on the surface or underneath.

About Janeen:
Janeen Ippolito believes words transform worlds. She creates writing resources and writes steampunk fantasy. She’s also an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, and the editor in chief of Uncommon Universes Press. In her spare time, she enjoys sword-fighting, reading, food, and making 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: janeenippolito.com




About the Book

One wild night, Shance Windkeeper discovers he is married to a death unicorn.

But that’s the least of his troubles.

As an agent for the Lawless, Shance is working with dragonshifters Kesia Ironfire and Zephryn Nightstalker, trying to end the dragon-human war and the organization that masterminded it. While on a mission in the Scepter of Knowledge, the Lawless is hit with a devastating death unicorn attack.

Out of the wreckage new allies emerge: Lirome Ukerys, and his twin sister Maira, the death unicorn queen—Shance’s long-lost wife.

Recently freed from captivity, Maira is fighting to regain control of her herd. Lurien Alistil, a rogue death unicorn, has bespelled the Scepter of Knowledge and taken Maira’s son. When Kesia unexpectedly challenges Lurien to a public debate, the Lawless has a chance to break the usurper’s hold. To obtain vital information they must infiltrate her lair—and as the husband of the death unicorn queen, Shance Windkeeper is the perfect prize to go in.

But Lurien’s power is stronger and more insidious than they realize. And if the final pieces of her plan fall into place, not even Shance’s newfound Talents and knowledge will be enough to stop her.

A steampunk fantasy adventure with much intrigue, unexpected romance, sudden tragedy, and a snarky cat-dragon.


Monday, 22 October 2018

#musicmonday: Glorious Day | Passion



You called my name
And I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness
Into Your glorious day

Friday, 19 October 2018

#fridayflash: Incomplete Visions


Nek Ramalan paused in the doorway. The pudgy, brown-skinned boy sitting in her chair had an exceptionally strong mind. She could not see his face—he sat with his back to her, facing the wall—but she didn’t need to know what he looked like to read his thoughts. Her already-wrinkled face scrunched up even more in distaste at stray images of kickball, fishing and swimming in the scummy pond at the edge of town, vapid thoughts that made him seem like a simpleton. Yet again, he wore the white robes of the holy city’s priesthood; he must be someone important for the temple guards to allow him into her inner office at such an early hour. Stupid, but important. A discordant puzzle.

Nek entered the room, allowing the door to slam shut behind her. He didn’t move, either lost in thought or ignoring her. “Is Suci sending rude children to me now?” she asked sharply.

“Oh! Your Grace!” he replied, almost falling off the chair as he twisted to face her. “Father Farouk at your service.”

She leaned harder on her cane, glaring at him until he hurriedly got up and assisted her to her chair.

“Sorry, sorry, Your Grace,” he blabbered. “Uh, I… I didn’t expect you to, well—”

“Father, are you? Young for one. What are you, twenty?” She straightened her chair behind her desk and waved him to the visitor’s chair on the other side of it. The one he should have been sitting on in the first place. She checked that the desk drawers were still locked, not that she kept anything of importance in them. Everything confidential was locked in her head, in the Memories.

Farouk flushed as he took a seat. “I’m thirty-six, actually.”

“And what are you here for, Father Farouk? A confession? A Memory request?”

“I’m ah, well.” Farouk cleared his throat and took off his round glasses to wipe them. His small eyes squinted at her, looking slightly anxious without their protection. “Suci has sent me to, um, handle the transition, Your Grace. The Secretkeeper transition from you to your granddaughter?”

“You?” Nek Ramalan leaned forward, studying his features. “Why you? I’ve never seen you before. Surely, you’re too inexperienced for this role.”

“Uh, you have, actually, Your Grace.” Farouk tugged at his collar. “I grew up in this temple.”

The old woman frowned. Images were suddenly pushed into her mind—standing forlornly by a double casket, trying unsuccessfully to hold back his tears; receiving a tongue-lashing from Nek and the then-chief priest for running through the temple courtyard; waving at Nek as he walked into the temple grounds with Rahsia in tow—shimmering slightly as they pinged on her own memories. The thin, awkward orphan with clumsy limbs she’d once known had grown into this round, jolly-faced man in the holy city’s robes. “What did you—how…?”

“Thought projection. It took me years to master. A lot of hard work. Not anyone can do it, you know? You have to have an exceptionally strong mind.” Farouk beamed.

Nek’s eyes narrowed. Suci and their secrets! At least, the boy—young man—wasn’t the stupid official she’d initially took him for. “So, the earlier thoughts…?”

“All fake. I mean, kickball is fun, though I really don’t have time for that anymore. It’s been years since I’ve played.” He straightened, pulling out a handkerchief. “But, as I was saying, Your Grace, I’m here to talk to you about the transition. Is Rahsia ready—”

“It won’t be Rahsia,” Nek interrupted. It was risky, but if Farouk could fool her, the Secretkeeper, he was probably the best person suited to handle the situation.

“But she’s your only granddaughter! Isn’t she?” The bewilderment on his face was as thick as the sheen of oil he was trying to scrub off his forehead.

“She is…”

“I don’t understand. I need to know how this works, Nek. Isn’t the Secretkeeper title passed down the women of your line? And do you,” he flushed again, voice plaintive, “know when you’re going to die?”

“No more ‘Your Grace’?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I just… old habit. Sorry. Your Grace.”

Nek Ramalan looked away, her eyes flitting over the bare brick walls, this empty shell of a room. She’d already packed all her personal effects, labelled them for Rahsia’s convenience. “It’s alright. Few enough call me Nek now.” Only Rahsia called her Nek now, Rahsia and her friend Iman. There was no one else she was close to. “Four months, at most.”

“Oh.”

“I once foresaw that I would die at ninety-five. I’ve been ninety-five for almost eight months now. I don’t have much time left.” In that vision, she was skeletal and shrunken, hunching over a thick cane; her black hair turned a dirty, greyish white pulled into a severe bun. She’d been at home when she died.

“And your successor…”

“Was supposed to be my granddaughter. But things have changed.”

His frown deepened, no longer the vapid boy, but the serious priest. “How? Why?”

She hesitated again, thin, wrinkled fingers tapping on the mahogany table top. With a shake of her head, Nek stilled her fingers and looked him in the eyes. “I’ve had a recent vision.”

“And you did not inform Suci because…?”

“I do not report to Suci, Farouk, no matter what the High Priest may think. I report to the Impian Temple, which means Father Rahman, who will then tell the High Priest in Suci whatever he wishes. But even Father Rahman…” Nek took a shuddering breath, “I have yet to tell him. It is incomplete. The vision did not reveal who my successor will be. It just showed me that it would not be my granddaughter.”

There was a long pause before Farouk asked, “So when will you know who your successor will be? Will there be another vision? Is it like a dream? A thought popping up in your head? Do all Secretkeepers have visions?”

“Farouk.”

“Sorry, Your Grace.” He didn’t look very contrite.

Nek Ramalan sighed. She was weary. She could feel the end coming, knew from the Memories of her ancestors and her own visions that her time was almost up. But without a successor in place, how could she go? For once in her long, confident life, Impian’s Secretkeeper was at a loss.

---

SO.

This one's a new short that would take place sometime in the Secretkeeper WIP. Also, apparently, my writing tends to be confusing?

I dunno. =/

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

#bookreview: Singapore Love Stories

Singapore Love StoriesSingapore Love Stories by Verena Tay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I might have been a little too distracted to enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. Similar in concept to LOVE IN PENANG, Singapore Love Stories is an anthology of love stories set in Singapore. The themes and stories are a little darker, and a lot grittier, though.

The anthology opens with the brilliant A Poor Man by Audrey Chin, which immerses you in the life of a poor immigrant Indian construction worker in rich, cosmopolitan Singapore. Written in epistolary style, the richness of the tone and voice is the first thing that struck me. A reader unfamiliar with the tone and style of speaking of the region would struggle with the non-standard grammar and the strange, sometimes awkward style of the text, but for me, reading it felt like having the person stand beside me and tell his story.

A Bad Decision by Damyanti Biswas was another one I quite liked, though the ending felt a little too open-ended to me. I could also be a little biased on this one because I've read quite a few of Biswas' work before.

At first, I didn't really think much of Clarissa Goenawan's The Things We Hide . The story jumps between present and past, and there's a ghost. Right. But as a whole, it's beautifully and simply told, with very soft, gentle undertones to the harsh truths that are revealed.

The Gardener by Raelee Chapman is another one that caught my attention with its voice and tone--whilst not as impactful as A Poor Man, it was still delightful to the ear.

I cannot fail to mention Wan Phing Lim. The Ruby Case is amusing and vividly told in Lim's distinctive style. I'm not sure if the police work that way in Singapore, but who knows?

Space, Time and Chicken Rice by Kane Wheatley-Holder is another piece that I didn't quite appreciate--until it suddenly became sci-fi. I did not expect the ending at all. But it was very aww-inducing.

One of my favourites of this anthology has to be Melanie Lee's ATM Agony Aunt, which is basically a girl asking relationship advice from the quotes provided by the ATM machine. It's also very Singaporean in sound, which I like.

S. Mickey Lin closed off the anthology with Merlion's Magic, which I initially really liked because woohoo! magic! Alternate magical Singapore history! And then the twist in the end came (no spoilers) and I was all what. =.=

But at any rate, Singapore Love Stories is as vibrant and eclectic as its inhabitants. The stories cover both new love and old, uncertain relationships, filial love and loss, long-distant relationships and longing. The recurring themes of divorce and affairs do make me wonder about the state of love and marriage in Singapore, though.

View all my reviews

Monday, 15 October 2018

#musicmonday: Your Love Awakens Me | Phil Wickham & Chris Quilala



And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive
And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive
And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive

Your love is greater
Your love is stronger
Your love awakens
Awakens
Awakens me
Your love is greater
Your love is stronger
Your love awakens
Awakens
Awakens me

Friday, 12 October 2018

#fridayflash: Bitter Dregs


Sip.

“I wish you’d talk to me, Denise.” Casey looks at his ex expectantly.
She frowns at her cup, a finger lying lightly on the rim.
“Look. I know it’s my fault. I got angry and said things I didn’t mean. Can you forgive me?” He keeps his voice low so no one can overhear. Not that there’s anyone close enough.

She holds the warm liquid in her mouth, letting it sit on her tongue. She imagines she’s Sherlock Holmes; wishes she were as smart, as observant, wishes she could deduce a way out of this.

There’s an almost-smile on Denise’s lips and Casey is jealous. He’s here to talk, explain himself, beg forgiveness but she won’t look at him. No, she sits there looking as if she’d like to orgasm from drinking her damned tea. He should never have asked her to this pretentious Singaporean place, all tinkly and shiny and stiff-upper lip, mocking his faded polo and worn jeans.
“Den, look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have accused you of cheating on me. And I shouldn’t have laid a hand on you,” he tries again.
The remnant of a yellowing bruise is still visible on her cheekbone. Her long-sleeved turtleneck hides whatever other evidence there still is. He’s grateful for that, grateful he can’t see what he’s done.
Her eyes are still fixed on her half-full cup, as if trying to divine secrets from the light brown liquid.

A second mouthful. There’s something floral about it; floral and slightly smooth. Vanilla? She can feel the caffeine kicking in, so it’s not a tisane. Probably a black tea blend; there’s no green tea smell. Black, red, or white–red has its own distinctive taste and a white would be lighter. She should have asked, should have studied her order, but she’d just waved at the waiter and asked to be surprised. 

“You’ll never understand, Case.”
A couple passes close by their table, arms linked. He tries to look pleasant, understanding. “Help me. Please.”
“I’ve tried. You don’t listen.”
“I remembered you liked this place.”
Her shoulders spasm. She fiddles with her sleeves, rubbing at them.
He scowls and grabs at her wrist, making her cry out. He pushes her sleeves up to her elbows and stares at the criss-crossed marks. Faded, brown, scarred. Fresh, red, lightly scabbed. He didn’t put them there. Is this what she’s been hiding all this while? “Who did this to you?”

She closes her eyes and breathes in. The scent is settling. Calming. Peaceful. Blue cornflowers. That’s it. She’s had this before. Sweet. Light and refreshing. Coincidence? Or had he tampered with her order? She knows what it is now: French Earl Grey, the very TWG blend she’d bought as ‘his’ last birthday gift for herself. She doubts he remembers that.

“Was it Mark?” he pressed. “Did Mark do this to you?”
“No.” She shakes her head in emphasis but he’s seen similar scars on Mark’s hands, beneath the rolled-up cuffs and the tattoos. Beside the stupid semicolon they both bear. Underneath the ridiculously large Love on his forearm. What’s he compensating for?
“Did he… make you do it with him?”
She finally looks up at him, seeming to study his face though her gaze never fully settles on him. “He’s only ever asked me to stop.”
He stares at her. “You do this to yourself? Why?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” 
“Try me.” His voice is a growl and she flinches, but he’s angry enough not to care. Not angry enough to make a scene at Gurney Paragon Mall, sparse though the crowd is, so he stays in his seat while his hand curls around her left wrist hard enough to bruise. Hard enough to reopen the scabs.
“Stop. It hurts.”
“Isn’t that what you want?”
“I just…” She falls silent. “It’s different.”

Underlying it is bitterness. Too-hot water, too-long steeping, she doesn’t know which, but something is off. It’s too dark. It isn’t her fault. The waiters brewed this. They were careless. Undertrained. She should have noticed. Should have stopped it. Voiced her displeasure. She can’t. She has no control over anything.

“I can’t help you if you won’t let me.”
“You can’t help me.” Her right hand quivers as she lifts the teapot.
“You’re my girlfriend. I’m supposed to.”
“You dumped me. Remember?”
“I was angry! I didn’t mean it!”
“We’re done.”
“We’re not.” He jabs the table. Her overly full cup spills at the violent shaking.
Her eyes fix on the stain. “You hate me. You hate everything I am. You hate everything I do. Why should we be together?”
He hates that she’s speaking so flatly, so emotionlessly, while he’s the one seething, boiling over with rage. He grinds his teeth, fist clenching.
“Do you want to beat me into submission again? Do you want me to cower at your feet?”
“This is not over, Denise.” The chair scrapes a sharp shriek. He pays and leaves the café before he can give in to the temptation to drag her with him, to drag her home.

The little tea candle flickering under the pot has gone out. The pot is cold. The tea is cold. A cold, acrid brew. Dark. Over-steeped. She’s still drinking anyway. Robotically. Down to the dregs. It still smells of flowers, but the bitterness on her tongue overwhelms everything else. 

“Are you all right?” Mark asks as he slips into Casey’s long-vacated seat.
She snorts, grateful he’d come when she called.
He cocks a half-smile. Sad, yet understanding. They will never be all right.
“It gets better,” he says.
Another waiter hovers. Mark mumbles. Another long silence.
The smell of chamomile and vanilla wafts over and Denise looks up to see Mark pouring from a fresh pot. He puts the dainty teacup down in front of her. Her fingers wrap around the warmth, both of his fingers and of the brew.
He quirks an eyebrow then slowly pulls his hands away.
The world shifts, tilts. It doesn’t quite correct itself, but at least she can breathe. She lifts the cup and presses it to her lips.

Sip.

---

I initially wrote this for NutMag in 2017, but it didn't fit in with the rest of the chapbook. The them was tea or coffee, if you were wondering.

At any rate, I've slashed it down from 1.5K to about 1K words here, and the clarity might have suffered a little. Still, it was mostly an experiment, so I'm fine with that.

The theme for this past week was relationships.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

#bookreview: Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut | D.G. Lamb

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest CutDriven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut by D.G. Lamb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Personally, I'd give this one a 3.5, though I think that teen male readers would enjoy it more. It is, after all, about a brave young boy who survives in the wild whilst I am a middle-aged woman who doesn't like camping haha.

This point is important because Lamb dwells a lot upon how Joshua survives on his own in the Swamp, even whilst impressing you with his intricate world-building, creating an alien place with terrifying and beautiful flora and fauna. Filled with SpiderVipers and SwampBunnies, Nuteggs and Bluebells, The Swamp outside New Cincinnati is dangerous unexplored territory--though it's more likely the seedy underground and gangs in The Avenue that will get Joshua killed.

Writing-wise, there are some annoying POV changes here and there--nothing that really pulls you out of the story, but just little things that niggle every once in a while. As mentioned before, Lamb is great at descriptions, and the world really comes to life through Joshua's careful explorations.

An eleven-year-old boy isn't normally expected to be mature or smart, and whilst the protagonist seems advanced for his age, his unusual upbringing and family background provide reasons for that, whilst his stupid--well, not really stupid, but naive--decisions, especially in trusting people, fleshes him out into a well-rounded character with both strengths and weaknesses.

The story settles into a nice, sweet end, still leaving you wondering what's next for Joshua.

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

View all my reviews


About DG Lamb:
D G Lamb is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist. His day job involves helping people to become more independent after some type of neurological injury. In addition to a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, he has a Master’s in Art Therapy. He has also worked with law enforcement officers to deal with PTSD after critical incidents. While recovering from prostate cancer surgery, his son suggested he try his hand at creative writing. Although his professional experiences certainly informed aspects of this story, he also drew upon his love of cooking and backpacking the mountain trails of Arizona (where unlike Cypress Grove, it rarely rains).



Check out DG Lamb's website for more information on the blog tour plus giveaway!

Monday, 8 October 2018

#musicmonday: Known | Tauren Wells



I’m fully known and loved by You 
You won’t let go no matter what I do 
And it’s not one or the other 
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace 
To be known fully known and loved by You 
I’m fully known and loved by You

Sunday, 7 October 2018

#AnnasMA: Tea, Nando's and a lot of literary stuff

It's coming up to a month since I've been in the UK. Nothing has changed, everything has changed.

... and that was just being dramatic for the moment. haha...

I suddenly feel like I'm posting so often, but it's just that I'm in the middle of a few blog tours (extra posts) and I *actually* have stuff to post for #fridayflash (because, oo look! I'm writing) and I figured if I'm going to do this blogging thing, I should actually blog, instead of saying I'm going to but never doing it. LOL. Does that sentence even make sense?


We've had two weeks of classes which, I think, went pretty well. Excepting for the fact that when we start discussing novels and people are like analysing the structure, and the bits that worked and didn't work and this technical something something, and I'm just going... well, I liked (or didn't like) the book? Probably gotta read more critically from now on.


This weekend, I attended the Uxbridge Library Open Mic and the Hillingdon Lit Fest, so I'm pretty sated with literary stuff for the next few days.

Hung out with some Chevenors + a lit student at Nando's (heh heh heh heh) before the open mic so that was pretty cool. One of them, Inga, is from South Africa, the HOME OF NANDO'S.  Note colour differences in the Wild Herb. It tastes slightly different too.



A post shared by Anna Tan (@annatsp) on

Other than that, I've sorta joined the CU (or what we usually call the CF) and we'll see where that leads. (Also, today's church experience was much better than last week's.)

And that's it for tonight. :)

Friday, 5 October 2018

#fridayflash: Malaysian Time


It’s almost noon at Lebuh Pantai. Jen has circled the surrounding streets and the back lanes multiple times, looking for an elusive parking lot. There’s a dip in the row the cars ahead seem to be ignoring. She inches her MyVi closer, only to find a tiny white Kancil.

One more loop? No. Lay Cheng will be annoyed, grumbling as always about Malaysian time and lack of respect.

Jen glances at the clock on her dashboard as she turns left into the multi-storey carpark where she parks on the fifth floor. The heat blasts at her the moment she opens the car door. She takes a moment to wipe the fog off her glasses. By the time she walks over, she’ll probably be late anyway.

Back out on the street, the humid air smells of spices from Enrico; she walks briskly past racks of onions and little brown pottery that jut out into the five-foot way. She lifts a hand to block the glare of the sun as she navigates the narrow space between storefronts—alternating between dilapidated and carefully restored—on her right and rows of parked cars on her left. Momentarily, she regrets not bringing an umbrella.

Ahead, a car pulls out of a lot and she curses her timing; that would have been twenty sen per hour saved, plus a shorter walk. Dust billows from the street with a spurt of warm, petrol-tainted air as the traffic light somewhere behind changes and the cars and buses continue rumbling by.

Past the gigantic plastic bowl of cendol in front of the Wonderfood Museum is the banking district. CIMB is on her right with Allianz across the street, RHB and OCBC ahead on the left, the last three looking slightly more modern than the rest of the colonial-era buildings on Lebuh Pantai. Right in front of her, as she squints down the road before crossing, a building proclaims 1923 in curly black numerals.

The five-foot-way disappears for a short stretch, blocked off by zinc sheets. The new hotel being constructed will probably look like every other building in this heritage area—stark white or grey stone, fancy cornices. A brief block of beige past the construction softens the glare.

Would Lay Cheng glare at her? Silly question.

Jen avoids the scattered clumps of tourists who block the way studying paper maps. The street art is down that way, she wants to say, but doesn’t. It’s the main thing foreigners look for now: Ernest Zacharevic’s famous ‘Little Children on A Bicycle’.

Back on the five-foot-way, she walks almost hugging the wall, partly to get whatever shade she can find, but also to catch brief bursts of air-conditioning that escape from open doorways. Someone blares a horn. Jen looks to see who it is. Some idiot, as usual, has stopped his car in front of the money changer’s. The Indian Muslim owner shakes a calculator in front of the open car window as impatient drivers pull out around the obstruction. US dollars, she overhears, four point something.

Groups of office workers are emerging from their cold caves into scorching sunlight and blue skies in search of lunch, filling the air with chatter—Hokkien, mostly, interspersed with English and Malay. She picks up the pace as her phone buzzes again—Lay Cheng must be there.

Jen can feel sweat dripping down her shirt when she finally arrives at the Sri Weld Food Court. It’s bustling; the smell of oil and frying food hits her. Her clothes are going to stink when she gets back to the office. There’s still a long line of cars waiting to park and she’s glad she’d decided not to park here. Two ringgit per hour saved.

She snags a packet of nasi lemak from Ali’s, shelling out one ringgit eighty sen in coins before she heads into the main part of the eatery. She scans the tables and the food stalls, wondering both what to eat for lunch and where her friend is.

Lay Cheng isn’t anywhere and Jen frowns, standing uncertainly by the beef noodle stall. She pulls out her handphone to find that she is late, and there’s a series of WhatsApp messages from Lay Cheng.

11:45 – Rushing report. Sorry. U there d?
11:55 – Leaving soon!
12:01 – Boss caught me at lift. Have to fix some stuff. 10 mins. U ok for time?
12:04 – Jennnnnn replyyyyyyy.
12:05 – Ur late rite I know u r


Jen spies an empty table and hurries to it, sitting just before a large group of four arrive. They stare at her as she plonks her banana-leaf wrapped rice on the table. She sucks the chilli oil off her thumb before replying Lay Cheng.

12:08 – HAH for once earlier than u! M ok for time.
12:09 – Hurry up. Ppl are staring like I’m hogging the table cos I’m not letting them share
12:13 – Cheeennngggggg replyyyyyy
12:14 – OMG this is the first time I get to do this to u hahahaha


12:15 – Idiot. Almost there.

Jen wants to order a plate of wan tan mee, but has nothing to chup the table with. The umbrella would have come in handy. She’ll just have to wait for Lay Cheng. She’s almost finished her nasi lemak when Lay Cheng finally arrives, huffing and sweating.

“You know, I’m the one who had to brave traffic and find parking to get here. All you had to do was leave your building and walk over,” Jen says in greeting.

“Yah, gloat when you can. You’re the one who is always late,” Lay Cheng snipes back. “Have you ordered? Or is that it?”

“Not yet. What you getting?”

Lay Cheng shrugs.

Jen tells Lay Cheng to order wan tan mee for her then continues to savour the last bits of spicy sour sambal and salty anchovies on fragrant rice as she waits for her best friend return. They only have thirty minutes to gossip before they have to head back to their frigid offices.

---

Because I finally wrote something new that's not for like publication or submission or something.

Week 1 homework
Setting & place: Bring a street, city or town to life through all your senses. Have your character walk through the city, describing it through the eyes of the character. Interweave description as part of the character’s journey & tension.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

#GuestPost: Finding Ways to #SHINEBeyond by Ralene Burke

People often ask me why I chose the tagline #SHINEBeyond. What does it mean? Where did it come from? How does it relate to what you do? These are all great questions, and I love discussing the answers because that IS exactly why I chose this tagline (which also happens to be a hashtag).

My life did not start out easy. I was born with a tumor in my neck. Even with surgery, the doctors only gave me a 50% chance of living, and, if I did live, I would most likely be so physically/mentally handicapped, I would need care for the rest of my life. Here I am, so many years later, and aside from a few minor physical disabilities, you wouldn’t even know how close to death I had come.

Growing up, I was different. I couldn’t do some of the sports and gym activities the other kids could do. I spoke softly, and kids mistook that for weakness and tried to take advantage of it. Yet, I never let them change me, never let them get so far into my head that I lost track of what was important.

I grew up, got married, had kids…and I live a fairly normal life. Except I’m not normal. I am uniquely called to a unique purpose. One that only I can fulfill. (And it’s not just me. Everyone is called to a unique purpose.) There are plenty of things in my life that try to hold me back from that purpose: my health, naysayers, my own doubt, money, fear…the list goes on. But I persevere because it is what I was called to do.

I am a wife to a disabled veteran.

I am a homeschool mom to our 3 kids.

I am a fantasy author with stories to tell.

And I choose to #SHINEBeyond my circumstances, my past, my disabilities, and whatever else stands in the way of my purpose in order to be the light I have been called to be.

In Armor of Aletheia, that’s exactly what Karina, the main character, faces as well. She’s had a tough past: daughter of a traitor, orphaned twice, and now she’s being charged with murder. (What? Well, you’ll have to read the book.) Still, she’s been chosen for a sacred task. She has to decide whether or not she can #SHINEBeyond HER circumstances, HER past, and everything else that stands in her way in order to accomplish the mission before her. If she can’t, her world will be doomed.

Any life has its share of storms, some more than others, but they all have them. It’s how we weather those storms, and what we do with the outcome of those storms, that really says who we are. Choose to #SHINEBeyond. Choose to be a light.

A world in danger. A queen betrayed. A bounty hunter bent on revenge. You can find out more about my newest release, Armor of Aletheia, on Amazon!

About the Author:
Whether she’s wielding a fantasy writer’s pen, a social media wand, or a freelance editor’s sword, Ralene Burke always has her head in some dreamer’s world. And her goal is to help everyone SHINE BEYOND their circumstances! Her novels, Bellanok and Armor of Aletheia are available on Amazon.

When her head’s not in the publishing world, she is wife to a veteran and homeschooling mama to their three kids. Her Pinterest board would have you believe she is a master chef, excellent seamstress, and all around crafty diva. If she only had the time . . .

You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or at her website.

Bonus! Anna's review Of Armor of Aletheia


Armor of AletheiaArmor of Aletheia by Ralene Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a classic coming-of-age style fantasy, Karina inherits the throne at the same time as a mysterious angelic-like being sends her on a quest to retrieve the "Armor of the Creator. Six sacred relics divided among the three kingdoms." Dogged by death and murder, Karina is thrust on the quest--where she's kidnapped by a bleeding heart mercenary, meets an evil warlock, and discovers a hidden gift.

Filled with lupens, elves, dragons, goblins, and other exotic creatures, Armor of Alethia is packed with action and magic. That comes with a downside too--the novel felt a little too dense at points. Where a few devastating setbacks often move a story forward and keep you tense, AoA reached a point where I started to get numb from all the setbacks and twists Karina faced in her bid to retrieve the armour.

At its core, AoA is a battle of good vs evil with a very Christian viewpoint, where redemption is offered to each and every participant. Karina and Tristan must learn not to trust themselves, but listen instead for the Creator's voice. Exploring the theme of the armour of God in Ephesians 6, Burke covers Faith and Truth in this one, leaving Righteousness, Peace, Salvation and the Word/Spirit. I'm intrigued to know how she'll deal with those in the next two books!

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

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

#bookreview: where I intensely dislike award-nominated books from my MA reading list #AnnasMA

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer here: I would not normally ever, EVER pick up this book on my own. I'm only reading it because it's on my MA reading list.

First up: UGH PUNCTUATION. I hate this no-quotation-marks style. Hated it when Cormac McCarthy used it, hate it now. I know it's a stylistic thing, but... well, I guess I'll just say it's not a style I like.

Normal People is a story of abuse. It's the story of Marianne who goes from terrible relationship to terrible relationship and allows herself to be abused because it's all she's ever known. In a way, it's gripping because you just want Marianne to get out of this, get out of all this crap she's living with, but she just goes from bad to worse. Everything in her life is tied around Connell and his acceptance/rejection of her, and it's ridiculous because even though he doesn't actually hit her or anything, it's obvious (to me, at least) that he's an oblivious idiot who is obviously using Marianne for his own benefit. It's not to say that she didn't get anything out of it--she did--but if this is what relationships are like in the 21st century, I'm glad I'm not in one. Maybe I'm too prudish for this book. Marianne has a warped idea of "submission" and part of the story veers into something BDSM-like relationships, except Marianne did not seem to like it very much, even if she somehow craved it.

On the other side, it also explores Connell's anxiety and depression, and how desperately he needs Marianne in his life to make him feel normal and in control, even though he's seeing/dating other people. It's just... messed up.

The shifting timelines--each chapter jumps a few months, and then hops back a little to cover important missed events--was sometimes a little confusing. The constant segueing between present tense and past tense feels fluid at times, but awkward at times. Maybe I'm not a very close reader but with all the jumps, it gives the book a very floating/fluid feel, and I sometimes don't really know when it is anymore.

All in all, Normal People is a dark, stark look at relationships and youth in Ireland.

I guess the writing is good and all, I just didn't like the subject matter very much.


My Year of Rest and RelaxationMy Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Also read as part of my MA reading list.

This is a depressing book about depression and addiction to drugs. Protagonist (what's her name? I forget) is running away from her perfect life (where she has all the privileges in the world) because she is depressed and her parents died and she never got any love from them.

I don't know what to say about this except that it's a bleak, dreary world and I fell asleep halfway through, but I finished it anyway.

It wasn't so much "rest and relaxation" as it was "drugged stupor." Well, to each their own?

View all my reviews