Wednesday, 23 January 2019

#bookreview: New Suns

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of ColorNew Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm thinking really hard about what I want to say in this review because I do want to be supportive about spec fic by POC but I also want to be real. And honestly, either my expectations were too high (most likely) or I don't know what I want (I never know what I want), because I finished the book with a slight sense of discontent.

I guess as anthologies go, this is a proper mixed bag. There were 5 that I really liked and 4 that I liked but had some reservations about? So that’s already 9/17, which is more than half. There were only three that I found very confusing or weird, which I guess just goes to say that it was a nice, interesting read, but nothing especially spectacular, no matter how much I was hoping to be blown away. I guess I really did expect too much. (You can see that inconsistency here, don’t you?)

STUFF I REALLY LIKED, in no particular order.
The Fine Print - Chinelo Onwualu
Djinn! Always here for the djinn. This has a kind of Aladdin feel, but also a very lawyer-y thing going on. I’m looking for a term to describe it but can’t think. Like the smart, fast-talking guy trying to get out of a contract. Oh. I know what I was thinking of. I was thinking of that scene in the American Gods TV series with the djinn. (I can’t recall the book well enough now to remember if that was in it too? I know the TV series did add some scenes.)

Burn the Ships - Alberto Yanez
THIS IS THE CONTENT I'M LOOKING FOR. Lush, rich worldbuilding, magic oozing out of every pore. There’s this intricate weaving of faith versus lore, a juxtaposition of male priesthood and women's magic; both doing what they believe to be right, letting the other go in love. Beauty and death. Anger and life.

Dumb House - Andrea Hairston
I don’t really know how to explain why I like this one. Most of it is just the Cinnamon trying to chase off these two annoying salesmen who are trying to make her upgrade her dumb house into a smart one. Nothing really happens at the end. But it was amusing. I suppose I liked the humour.

Blood and Bells - Karin Lowachee
Though the first prologue (?) threw me, the story unfolded in beautiful ways. An utterly charming story (it has an adorable kid) that ended in an unexpected way.

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath - Darcie Little Badger
I love the concept in this. It’s kind of bittersweet plus nostalgic with a side of ghostbuster detecting. I don’t think I’m explaining myself very well.


STUFF I KINDA LIKE BUT I DUNNO?
The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations - Minsoo Kang
I liked this, like a little Chinese historical story, but it was a little too wordy and repetitive at places. I think there was this bit which felt like they backtracked and retold part of the story and then there was this addendum about omitting the female point of view which just felt a bit awkward. Stylistically on point, but could have done with a little editing down.

The Freedom of the Shifting Sea - Jaymee Goh
Storywise, I liked it, but it was a little gross, honestly. It would honestly be in my “really liked” section if it didn’t have the weird (mandible?) sex.

Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire - E. Lily Yu
A straightforward retelling of The Emperor's New Clothes. I see no lie here. Last variation sounded just a little bit too forced, but tone is a very easily misinterpreted thing, so it could just be my own biases.

The Shadow We Cast Through Time - Indrapramit Das
As much as I liked this, it was a little hard to follow. There’s a nice mythic storytelling feel to it, but it also came across like too much story in too few words. I had this overall feeling that I was missing something that maybe wasn’t being explained well enough? Or maybe like a myth that was just a bit too obscure and I’m too far distant to understand it.

I wasn’t going to mention the others I didn’t like, but I guess I’ll give One Easy Trick - Hiromi Goto a quick mention. I did like this in the beginning, but it got weirder and weirder until I was like.. uh, wth? So really, I’m quite ambivalent. I don’t know what to think.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Snowwwwww


Our Chevening Malaysia whatsapp group is filled with pictures and videos of snow because... what can I say? All these tropical kids have never seen snow before. lololol. (Well, I have, but still.)


AT ANY RATE.
Critical Commentary has also been submitted, so that's last term's Elements of Fiction assignment all done. 

I also wrote a long email detailing the type of posts and materials needed for a blog tour, so I decided I might as well turn that into a post for my self-publishing blog next month. Now I'm just prepping for tomorrow's classes, drinking lots of tea, and looking forward to starting two beta reads!

Monday, 21 January 2019

#musicmonday: Do It Again | Elevation Worship



Walking around these walls
I thought by now they'd fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle's won
For You have never failed me yet

Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I'm still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You've never failed me yet

I know the night won't last
Your Word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus, You're still enough
Keep me within Your love
My heart will sing Your praise again
Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I'm still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You never failed

I've seen You move, come move the mountains
And I believe, I'll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I'll see You do it again

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Done! And a #RealmMakers kickstarter!

I'm primarily here to say I HAVE FINISHED MY PORTFOLIO AND I AM NOT CHANGING A SINGLE WORD. Noooope.
(Now on to finalise that essay.)

But I am also secondarily here to say SUPPORT THIS KICKSTARTER! Even better, ask everyone you know to support this kickstarter so that we can get to the stretch goals! 
Because more money = more stories, and more stories = opportunities to submit! To quote:
Above, I also mentioned that we would have the ability to add more stories to the anthology if we raise funds beyond our initial goal. For every additional $500 we raise, we'll add another author to the book.
Well, ain't that cool :p (scuttles off to plan a hero story)

Full press release below the line!

*

Friday, 18 January 2019

The Painted Hall Collection has a video review!



Just realised I never posted about this. HA!

Check out The Painted Hall Collection on Amazon. More retailers here!

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Rethinking my approach to #bookreviews and star ratings

I blogged about blogging more and then dropped off the grid. haha.

Well, Tuesday I did blog, but over at Teaspoon Publishing. And then classes started again yesterday. I was still hoping to finish my review of New Suns by then, but we hung out after class, and then I dropped by the department's New Year thing, and then I procrastinated dinner, and by the time I actually finished reading the book, it was almost midnight and I was falling asleep. I'm not usually that last minute in reviewing books, though. I was originally planning to review another book this week, but when I finished it, I hated it, and after much thinking, I decided I was not going to expend any more energy on it by writing a review.

I've been thinking about book reviews and star ratings ever since the last SRFC. Someone mentioned something along the lines of how authors shouldn't give a book anything less than 5/5 stars because doing that is pulling their ratings down and being mean to our colleagues. This reminds me now of the stupid kerfuffle that stopped us doing readings at The Constant Gardener (yes, there was a reason we moved), but my immediate reaction was actually well, in Corporate, we rate our colleagues ALL THE TIME. That's why we have 360-degree reviews (we review our juniors, peers AND managers). But thinking it over, we don't rate them in public and no one else knows what we wrote except us and HR, and whatever HR releases (anonymously) to the reviewee. So yeah, maybe there is a difference.

Sidetrack about performance reviews: I used to be super stressed about how to rate people's work, especially those looking for job confirmation, until one of my managers simplified it for me. She asked (I'm paraphrasing, I don't have perfect recall), "well, would you like this person assigned to your team for your next job (project)? If your answer is an immediate no... then you know what to do." Because if it's a matter of personality clash, you're more likely to go ah, well, maybe, we'll see but if it's a matter of that person is so incompetent you just want to stab him/her, it'll be an automatic omg noooo go awayyyy *throws garlic, salt, holy water, whatever is on hand*. That's me anyway.

But back to book reviews, this person's rationale was that as an author yourself, you would have a following who would probably put more weight on your rating and review than they would on others. Which makes sense.

On the other hand, this fallacy in thinking that only a 5-star book is a good book is... silly. The real world doesn't work that way. A 4-star review is still a good review. Heck, a 1-star review with a carefully thought out reason could also end up being good endorsement for a book because hate reads are a thing. Everyone who reviews and reads reviews knows that no one can 5-star everything. That either means that you're overly generous, you don't want to hurt/offend people, or you're not really a good judge of what you're reviewing.

As a reader, the thing that interests me first is the story description anyway, and I'll only turn down a book based on star ratings if it's less than 2.5... kind of like the passing GPA. LOL. That's usually also a budget thing. Because I buy too many books.

So I dunno. I'm rethinking the way I review and rate books. The big review sites usually have a starred review (Fellowship of Fantasy does a "knighted" review) for the really really good books but no star ratings for anything else, and I might swing that way. The stats on Goodreads would look really weird, though. I usually have a range throughout the year, with most falling between 3 - 5 stars. The ones I don't end up rating are usually the ones I'm too conflicted about to even guess at a star.


What do you think? Maintain the star ratings? Ditch them? Stop reviewing?

AM I BEING WORRIED ABOUT NOTHING?!

(I mean yes, a poor review about my books would make me sad but but it's your opinion and you're entitled to it. Does it make any difference if the review is from a writer or a non-writer because we're all in the business of talking about books anyway?)

I'm probably overthinking it by now so I'm going to go back to actually finish writing my review. HA. But please, settle my doubts.

Monday, 14 January 2019

#musicmonday: Heroes | Amanda Cook



I will trust
Here in the mystery
I will trust
In you completely

Awake my soul to sing
With your breath in me
I will worship
You taught my feet to dance
Upon disappointment
and I
I will worship

---

I've been rethinking my approach to this blog and what I want it to be. I've been blogging for roughly 17 years now, which is like half my life (I DID NOT JUST SAY THAT), starting at the now-defunct tabulas (ah, good times) and then switching over here to blogger sometime in 2011 (I maintained dual blogs for different things for a while). 

That said, I'll probably not be continuing #musicmonday on a regular basis, mostly because I find myself listening to the same songs over and over so there's nothing really new to post. I keep going "hey, I really like this song" and then find that I've already posted it. 

I will, however, try to actually blog more regularly with updates about my life and my writing process, and the weird things I think about. 

One of the things I miss is doing my weekly #fireplace posts, though that's not something I really plan to resurrect. That was supposed to be replaced with the narratives tag, but that didn't work out either, because I didn't have a schedule to hold myself to. As much as I am a free-wheeling creative type, I need deadlines and schedules to get things done. Honestly!

All this blathering just to say that I'll try to blog more this year, and we'll see how long that lasts. I'm also tempted to do #teatuesdays which is this random thing I thought up over breakfast because I was like, eh, I have new tea I haven't talked about yet and I like the alliteration. (AAAAANNNND twitter search tells me it's a thing! hahaha)

And I should get back to my assignment that's due next week. HAH.
(Which I'm procrastinating by writing this blog, formatting the last three NutMags for ebook and planning for next year's NutMag 5th anniversary special. Also I finished watching season 1 of American Gods, which is like the first series I've watched in... years.)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

#bookreview: Blackberry and Wild Rose | Sonia Velton

Blackberry and Wild RoseBlackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Spitalfields riots, Blackberry and Wild Rose tells the stories of an unhappy Huguenot wife, trying to both support her husband and live her dreams, and her English maid, trying to make something of herself.

It's a study in contrasts; rich against poor, churched against the unchurched, pious wife against former prostitute, noble worker against discontent firebrand, masters against journeymen. The two main female protagonists speak in their own voices, telling their story, their motivations and perspective on things. The classism is obvious, but subtle. The snobbery is downplayed, yet prominent. Neither Sara nor Esther can understand the other, but it's all too clear to the reader.

Esther Thorel falls in love with a noble journeyman weaver, Lambert, because he teaches her to weave; Sara Kemp falls in love with his rebellious colleague, Barnstaple, because there is fire in his eyes and his speech. Throughout the warp of love and honour, Velton weaves in the weft of discontent, jealousy, and malice. With each word, each line, each pass of the shuttle, you're drawn to its inevitable end. You know what's going to happen, there's no other way this story can go. Not with what you know of Esther and Sara, of Lambert and Barnstaple, of the way Elias Thorel sees the world.

All you can do is read on as the world crumbles.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Quercus Books via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

#bookreview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8)Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two by John Tiffany
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slightly conflicted about this. The beginning feels very disjointed, as if they're trying to squeeze in too much backstory. It skips through the years fairly quickly--skims, rather. It's really rather hit or miss. And then it somehow settles into the meat of the story midway through and gets better.

The Cursed Child supposedly centres on Albus Severus Potter, Harry Potter's middle child. He's trying to live up to his father's reputation, to the ease with which his older brother James is gliding through Hogwarts, whilst he is struggling with magic and with the shame of being a Potter in Slytherin. His only friend is Draco Malfoy's only son, Scorpius Malfoy. Scorpius initially feels mostly like comic relief, but midway through, the play switches up and he carries the story instead.

These two boys, both failing to live up to their family names, try to change the course of personal history but instead find themselves facing choices that may very well destroy the whole wizarding world, undoing everything Harry Potter had done in the original series. This time though, it's not so much a story of the expectations that lie on the shoulders of one boy because of prophecy than it is an exploration of friendship and loyalty and how that changes people.

Reading the first bit of it a second time and working out the staging in my head made it fit together better though, so maybe by the time I finish the second read, it'll start working in my head. (Or maybe I should just go try to see the show.)

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