Wednesday, 5 August 2020

#bookreview: Flirting With Darkness | Ben Courson

Flirting With DarknessFlirting With Darkness by Ben Courson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ben Courson starts by telling us why he wrote this book: because there are twice as many suicides than murders in the United States, because we are not called to live with depression but to defeat it, because he has walked this road before and wants to share the hope he has found.

The meat of this book is in the second part, where Courson shares the various tools and practices that have helped him in defeating depression. I went into this a little skeptically because it started off rather Christian-counsellor (pray and read your Bible and everything will be okay). I’m not saying that God can’t heal, but I’m also wary because God doesn’t always heal. In fact, Courson does address this:
“Well-meaning people might tell you that the solution to your problem is right there in the Bible, but I’m here to say that it’s more complicated than that. So-called biblical counselors may be able to provide some relief to people with mild cases of depression, but when you are in psychological pain, you’ll need more than a spiritual Band-Aid.
And that’s perfectly okay.”
There’s a level-headed mix of faith and science in his eleven “weapons”. There is both very Christian-y stuff (dive deep into Scripture, hold on to heaven, letting God love on you) as well as medical stuff (exercise, stop wallowing in social media, go for therapy, take medication). He also goes for the slightly bizarre—having crazy adventures with your friends!

Part 3 is where things get a little disjointed. It felt like Courson had a bunch of thoughts and slapped them into a chapter each, jumping all over the place. I understand what he’s getting at though: If the Creator of this amazing universe knows the stars by name yet still loves and calls you by name, you should accept that He wants the best for you!

Courson circles back to a few central thoughts throughout the book—that God loves and cares for you, and a proper understanding of God’s love, who He really is (in spite of religion, despite Christianity), and what He wants for you will help you defeat depression. I’m slightly wary of the reshaping-consciousness-by-telling-yourself-truths thing (which feels a little positive-confession to me), but overall, the message is clear: we need to learn how to rest in God and accept his grace, whether that means you pray for healing or you head to the doctor’s, or both.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 29 July 2020

#bookreview: The Space Between Worlds | Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between WorldsThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cara has a job not many can hold--traversing through different Earths in the multiverse--because most of her other selves are already dead. But technological advancements may mean Cara's job is invalidated--and her latest pull reveals unexpected events. What starts off as a simple multiverse-travelling story turns dark and complex when Cara uncovers dangerous truths.

The Space Between Worlds is perfect for casual sci-fi readers, those who prefer their sci-fi on the space opera/soft end of the spectrum and don't want to worry about the actual tech or How It All Works. Johnson doesn't actually explain how it works, just that it does, also providing a mythological response to this science: the traversers assigning the name "Nyame" to the pressure felt and dangers of traversing. It does segue more into myth at the end, so I'd say this is more science-fantasy than anything else.

Overall, the novel deals with the theme of rich vs poor, haves vs have-nots, and the way they impact each other individually and collectively. Cara is a Have-Not, only given this chance because of this unique quality of hers (still being alive on Earth 0); her Watcher, Dell, is a Have, born into money and Wiley City citizenship. There's a brutality that exists in the spaces outside the city, one that Cara cannot help that carry as part of her, affecting the way she reacts to people--especially Dell.

Dell, whom she is hopelessly in love with, but is sure does not love her back. A very strange kind of romance/non-romance exists between them, where it's increasingly obvious to the reader what Cara just cannot see (accept might be a better word).

Overall, The Space Between Worlds is fascinating with a slow-building intensity.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Space Between Worlds releases on Aug 4. Preorder now (affiliate link)

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

#bookreview: Lead Like a Woman | Deborah Smith Pegues

Lead Like a Woman: Gain Confidence, Navigate Obstacles, Empower OthersLead Like a Woman: Gain Confidence, Navigate Obstacles, Empower Others by Deborah Smith Pegues
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lead Like A Woman is divided into two parts: 'Inherent Traits to Embrace and Manage' and 'Counterproductive Tendencies to Let Go'.

The entire book works on a generalising of "female traits and tendencies", whether it is a natural or taught one--this is helpful in some areas, not so helpful in others. Still, any book that addresses gender stereotypes will have to make generalisations. It's up to the reader to filter through which ones are applicable to their individual personality/makeup.

Deborah Smith Pegues brings a wealth of knowledge to the conversation, explaining how to utilise your natural strengths and tendencies in the workplace, whilst being aware of and working around your weaknesses. I especially liked the way she highlighted and challenged the way certain traits (nurturing, intuition, vulnerability) are seen as a liability--and demonstrated with examples how they can be utilised to bring positive impact to the workplace.

As a Christian book, each chapter quotes various scriptures and Pegues is also open about how her faith has impacted the way she does things and how she relies on God in many situations that arise.

The only disgruntlement I have is the fact that in some of the "tendencies to let go" the advice is still working around or catering to men's expectations in the workplace. That said, until the world really changes, it's the best you can do if you want to get ahead.

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

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Thursday, 16 July 2020

#bookreview: Creatures of Near Kingdoms | Zedeck Siew, Sharon Chin

Creatures of Near KingdomsCreatures of Near Kingdoms by Zedeck Siew
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Creatures of Near Kingdoms is a beautifully illustrated bestiary of Malaysian flora and fauna. Each one-page description is accompanied by a full-page illustration or lino print.

It's whimsical. And fantastic. And witty.

And occasionally confusing if you're trying too hard to figure out The Point.

It's best read in short bursts. Take it as a collection of microfiction, if you will.

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---

I'm lagging behind in my reviews because... idk. I'm playing catchup with work stuff that I can't delay because I'm clearing up my schedule. So the book reviews are the first to go.

Anyways, thought I might as well post this to make up for yesterday's missed post, even if it's not in the current review schedule (which is messed up).

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

#bookreview: The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia

The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast AsiaThe Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia by Jaymee Goh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suppose if I like half of an anthology, the anthology is a good one. I've been trying to find a way to review this more critically, but it just seems that I can't.

I suppose the dissonance comes from several things, the first of which primarily stems from the lack of steam in this version of steampunk. There's a quite a bit folklore/magic, sometimes used in combination with the technology; where it seems to grate (or at least confuse) are the bits where it seems to be substituted for the gears and clockwork. Either that or I'm not quite getting what they're trying to say.

The second is really a follow-on thought that a lot of SEAsian folklore tends towards horror and the macabre, which isn't what I enjoy reading. So whilst I enjoyed some of them, they turned out a little darker than I expected.

The stories almost all focus on a colonial past, on that space where history could have probably gone either way. This, I suppose, is already defined in the Introduction:
It was, and still is, imperative that we have volumes dedicated to our own voices, projects not of postcolonial melancholia, but decolonial determination. Our psyches cry for justice for lost names, lost stories, lost histories, all lost to globalized, systemic racism, lost to imperial dreams imposed upon us for too long. In the absence of time machines to recover them, we turn to re-creating, and creating anew. Thus, we use steampunk to have that conversation with our histories, our hearts and dreams.
I suppose i should end this updated review with some of the stories I enjoyed.

- The Last Aswang, Alessa Hinlo
-The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso, Kate Osias
-Working Woman, Olivia Ho
-On the Consequence of Sound, Timothy Dimacali
-Spider Here, Robert Liow

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Wednesday, 17 June 2020

#bookreview: Daclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent | D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Book 1: NascentDaclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent by D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Nascent follows the three Manstead siblings and their dealings with angels and demons across the world (and out of it). First, there's Max, the genius, estranged, eldest child, an avowed atheist who is found wanting. Then there's Mark, the middle child who becomes one of the first Nascent-capable, Augmented Intelligence humans but is ambivalent in his faith. Finally, Meghan, the baby of the family, is the bleeding heart Christian who puts off university for missions work.

Part of the description is spot on--'Frank Peretti (This Present Darkness) meets C.S. Lewis (The Space Trilogy), "sci-fi-turns-spiritual" drama' fits this first novel well. On this count of premise and concept, it delivers. Like Peretti's work, angels and demons are physically present and active in the world--they inhabit other dimensions of the universe, but interact with humans via a fifth dimension that intersects with our world at various points. Cliffson then layers this with a Singularity-type concept of merging tech and DNA which turned out to be very intriguing, as well as disturbing. Cliffson presents it with all the related moral ambiguity, starting out with enhanced humans and ending with spiritual and ethical dilemmas of using (or misusing) such tech. (What, then, is a soul?)

Unfortunately, "heart-pounding" and "breathless" is the farthest away from this book that you can get. The entire novel is made up of infodumps interspersed with flashbacks, and a little bit of current action. This makes it super hard to get through and, honestly, a little difficult to understand. If you're not already a science geek (I'm not), you'll probably get very turned around halfway as to what on earth the dimensional and genetic stuff is actually supposed to do or mean. I can't actually decide whether this book was a little too hard-science for my taste (I've been known to skip technical descriptions in hard sci-fi books but still enjoy the story) or whether it really wasn't that technical, but just the way it was written made it confusing (it's not exactly handwaviumish enough to count as space opera-type soft sci-fi).

There's little in the way of organic character development. You're presented with a character doing something or facing an epiphany of sorts, and then there's a backstory infodump to tell you why the character is struggling with that (or not) and then it all moves along. The dialogue is often stilted and relies on a lot of repetition, which goes something like this:
A says, "such-and-such revelation."
Random confusion/flashback/infodump, including maybe a side-track from the conversation.
B replies, "Wait, so you mean such-and-such?"
A (or someone else in the scene) confirms it, often by repeating it.
It's very exhausting to read.

Being... Christian fiction, it does cover quite explicitly Christian faith issues plus conversion stories. This may be a plus or minus point depending on your own personal views. There's the usual appearance of Christian "relics", though not quite the holy grail.

Reading this would really be more for Cliffson's take on the Singularity, genetics, and multiple dimensions--plus the coming apocalypse--in an alternate world where faith really is by seeing. Though I guess if you really like very exposition-y books you may like this one.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author as part of a review programme. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 15 June 2020

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

#bookreview: Strange Ways | Gray Williams

Strange WaysStrange Ways by Gray Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strange Ways is a story of guilt and grief, and how you deal with them in an unjust world. It's about personal choices and political choices and taking the higher ground... or not... in a dark, gritty London full of illegal magic.

In some ways, Strange Ways can be read metaphorically. Amidst the Coleman family drama is the underlying question of justice for the oppressed; in this case, magic users. Karina Khurana appears in The End of the Line, but I don't remember much about her there. Here, she's much more central to the story--her political fight to legalise magic forms one of the core themes of this thriller.
'The slightest slip from me, just a frown or a clipped comment, and they analysed it. They picked it apart like it was evidence of something. I couldn't be tired or harassed or angry. Every time I let them get to me, I fed them just what they needed to point and say "there, that's her true nature, that's what they're all like."
... I tried so hard. I played by every rule. I talked, never argued. I debated but never shouted...'
In her fight for magic users' rights, Karina ends up having to act as a sort of "model minority" (model politician?), living under the scrutiny of the nation to prove that magic users are not inherently evil; magic can and is being used for good. As fiction, it's easy to skim over. Magic isn't real, after all. But there's always truth to fiction.

In our current living dystopia, the tension is real: when the laws (written or unwritten, constitutional or societal) are unjust and violence erupts (no matter who starts it or how it starts), where do you draw the line between continuing to claim the moral high ground (you must never give them grounds to accuse you) and retaliating to protect yourself (staying alive vs being a martyr)? Where's that turning point that says now it's okay for you to fight back, not just in words but in action? And once violence has started, who stops it? What's the best way to fight for a right? Do you keep playing by the rules? When do you throw the rules away and agitate for new ones?

In the midst of these charged times, these are especially important and pertinent questions. Violence isn't the answer, but sometimes violence can bring you to an answer. How this looks like in real life is what everyone needs to decide for themselves.

Williams explores this in how Amanda, Karina, Michaela and Steph react to the situations they find themselves in. There's no clear-cut right or wrong; like life, such decisions are messy and ambiguous--and often full of compromise. There's a divide between how the older generation react versus how the younger ones do. Yet the clearest chasm comes in Karina's accusation:
'You were willing to kill for what's important to you. Well, I'm willing to die for what's important to me.'
I'm probably overthinking this thriller, but that's what books are for. At any rate, I liked Strange Ways so much better than The End of the Line mostly because it's dealing solely with magic, and not the demonic aspect that was the core of the first book. Or so I tell myself.

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

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Wednesday, 3 June 2020

#bookreview: Tales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the World

Tales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the WorldTales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the World by Csenge Virág Zalka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're interested in how folk and fairy tales differ--or are the same!--around the world this is a good place to start.

The 55 tales are arranged around various superhuman powers, including shape-shifting, control of the elements, superstrength and mind-reading. Besides the tales themselves, Csenge provides some background to the stories and where they come from, as well as variants on the stories or similar stories from around the world. Being a storyteller, Csenge also includes the age the stories are appropriate for, plus adds in snippets of her experience telling these stories.

At points, the notes imply that Csenge has rewritten some of the stories, including merging several variants into a single story, or editing it down into a shorter version. I'd guess that she has also translated some of these from the original languages into English. As such, quite a few of the collected stories centre around Europe, with a focus on Hungary, but there's also a wide enough selection of stories from parts of Asia... including one from Malaysia!

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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

#bookreview: Seen. Known. Loved: 5 Truths About God and Your Love Language | Gary Chapman, R York Moore

Seen. Known. Loved.: 5 Truths About God and Your Love LanguageSeen. Known. Loved.: 5 Truths About God and Your Love Language by Gary Chapman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I dunno. It's a really, really short book? 95-ish pages--at least based on the contents page of this e-ARC. My Kindle says its 51 minutes long (at my average reading speed), so more like a booklet.

Seen. Known. Loved: 5 Truths About God and Your Love Language rides on Chapman's earlier 5 Love Languages book(s), relating each love language to an expression of God's love. Although he (they?) explains a little bit about the five love languages in the first chapter, passing familiarity with the concept helps. I've never read any of those earlier books, but they're referenced enough in popular culture that I kinda know what they are. There's also a website quiz to discover your love languages that they refer you to.

Seeing that this rides on a whole series of books, I don't know that it presents anything new, other than that they tie it back to how you can receive and relate to God's love in each of the five love languages. While Chapman and York do quite well relating the five love languages back to God's love, I think the Physical Touch analogies kinda fail a little.

Overall, the book probably works more as a devotional or study group discussion to, uh, "unpack" the truths. Each chapter starts with a narrative, explaining the relevant love language with both generic (secular) stories and Christian ones (either current or from the Bible). The chapter closes with a "Refocus" section that directs you back to the God stuff and has either reflection questions or action items. On the other hand, coming from an angle of one who has been in church all her life, it reads rather evangelistic at points. Browsed again; based on the number of "if you have never", this book seems targetted at non-believers, or as church people would say, pre-believers.

Conclusion: this book is probably for people who already LOVE the 5 Love Languages brand and want to know how to relate it more to their lives or people who are trying to figure out this "God's love" thing.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Northfield Publishing via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Friday, 22 May 2020

Teenage keepsakes: a strange badge of honour

During the saga of the Strange Smell that turned out to be a Dead Rat Under The Staircase (a story I have not yet told and may probably never bother to tell), my mother cleared out all the stuff that had piled up in the storage area under the stairs. Most of this stuff is junk: old stationery, various wires from various appliances (and eras), decorative knick-knacks--the kind of stuff that you keep "just in case" and then find out that you'll never use again.

And then there was my woodwork project from school.



Well, then.

I remember hating this. Kemahiran Hidup (KH; Living Skills) was like the Worst Class Ever after Art and PJ (sports). Mostly because I'm terrible at working with my hands. And the problem with that is I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, and when something Just Won't Work I get this terrible urge to Destroy Everything In Sight (also why I hate art class).

So anyway, KH had like several components and you have to do a project for each one of them in Form 3 (Grade 9? idk the year you turn 15). Sewing was okay, I think (at least, I don't remember having any meltdowns, and I also don't even know what happened to that project) and Electronics was terrible (everything I soldered probably came out the next day lol but it wasn't as frustrating in general), but Woodwork was...

This is what I learnt:

  1. I cannot saw straight (I can't even cut paper in a straight line with scissors so...)
  2. I do not have the strength to saw through thick pieces of wood (I relied on help from the teacher and some classmates to actually cut through some of those chunks lol)
  3. I cannot hammer straight either (this also relates to strength, plus being generally bad at angles)
  4. Using sandpaper is slightly therapeutic, but also boring, and I have no patience 
  5. I know I'm bad at art, but this also translates into not being able to shellac in nice, flat layers, leaving weird streaks and clumps.
  6. I will never ever do woodwork again. 
If I'd found this ten years ago, I'd probably agree and junk it, but right now, it feels like a souvenir of my past--a hard-earned accomplishment made of my Blood and Sweat and Tears (there probably was blood). Right now, it feels like a badge of honour, if only because if it survived 20 years without falling apart, I probably did a better job of hammering than I thought I did.

Also, I probably did all the fancy stencil work to earn more marks for making it pretty because I was obviously going to lose a lot for the way the nails were bent and the joints aren't actually flush or even.

Anyways, it will look nice on my shelf and actually has a use!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

#bookreview: Feathertide | Beth Cartwright

FeathertideFeathertide by Beth Cartwright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marea was born with feathers and raised as a secret. When she turns eighteen, she sets out on a journey to find her father--only to find that it's also a journey of discovering and accepting herself.

Feathertide is a slow burn. A very, very slow burn. So slow in fact that the middle gets a bit boring, but the beginning and the end make up for it. They make up for almost everything. The trick, I think, is to read it all in one sitting. Once you stop somewhere, it's difficult to pick it up again.

There's nothing terribly new or exciting about Feathertide, honestly. It's a classic story of self-discovery, a coming-of-age without the excitement of knights and swords and kingdoms to wrest, just one of waiting and listening and asking questions. Marea sets out on her journey intent on finding the place where her parents met, hoping to find clues as to who her father is and why he left--and there she stays.

It's this unnatural stillness and lack of action that drags the story down--yet, it's this undefined longing and yearning that makes the story what it is. You really aren't picking up Feathertide for an exciting or twisty plot, you're picking it up for its beautiful prose and the raw emotions they draw from you. Cartwright captures the strong emotions and needs we all share no matter who we are--love and desire, belonging and acceptance, safety and shelter--and embodies it in Marea, the secret girl with feathers who doesn't know who she is or where she belongs. And as you journey with her, you hope that you too can find what you're looking for.

Feathertide is not for the restless; it's a book for quiet, for yearnings you cannot quite put into words, for those who need to just be for a little while.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House UK, Cornerstone via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 18 May 2020

#musicmonday: The Curse of the Faithful | Justin McRoberts



But the curse of the faithful
Is watching the ones they love go away.

I’m here. I’m always here



I’m here
I’m always here
I’m here because I choose to be
Despite all that’s been done to me
I don’t have much left that I could lose
So I’m here
And I’ll be here tomorrow, too.


(I've forgotten
Just how sweet Your
Mercies are Lord)

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

#bookreview: Sorrowfish | Anne C. Miles

Sorrowfish (The Call of the Lorica, #1)Sorrowfish by Anne C. Miles

Where do I start with this?

Let's start with the star-rating. There is no star rating here because I do not know how to star it, but also inline with my updated rating system. For Amazon, I think I'll settle for a 3.5, pushing towards a 4. (Okay, I went to read through the guidelines for the review programme I got this book from, and realised I had to put a star for this on Goodreads as well. So that's now starred there too.)

It's really hard to define why.

Sorrowfish is an intriguing merged-worlds kind of story, where Sara Moore in Kentucky has waking dreams of a magical world and Dane in Canard is visited by a Fae. There are shades of Ted Dekker's The Complete Circle Series, where both worlds affect each other and Sara is the key to the overlap with her creative gifts.

I love the rich mythology Miles has created, with the World Tree and the Storm King, the Song and the dewin, the Fae and their bonding, gnomes and deemlings, the ties to earth and creative acts. It's all very beautiful and symbolic. Even the title, Sorrowfish takes on great meaning as you journey with Sara, Dane, and Trystan.

But to get there... Where some books have a great start and then let you down with a mediocre ending, Sorrowfish muddles through the beginning until you want to yell at it and then speeds up to a tense middle and an impressive ending. It's an awkward mix between just too slow to keep your attention and yet just too much that it's all so confusing. It's only somewhere midway when the various arcs really begin to overlap that things start to fall into place. But it's not quite an easy oh, that's what she means ding of understanding, more of a pfft, maybe I need to go and read the beginning again to figure this out... which is not quite a reaction I really like as a reader.
Maybe it's because it tries to follow three arcs at once and the correlation isn't really apparent until much later. There's just a little too much going on.

Writing-wise, there's just this odd thing about the sentence structures that makes me feel like everything is a tiny bit stilted. It's not anything really jarring or noticeable, more of an unsettled feeling while reading. I don't even know how to describe it. This is probably just me being nitpicky though (or still slightly in editor mode).
(Stupid aside: Miles uses "dan" in a name sort of like "son of", but "dan" in Malay is "and", so my bilingual brain keeps interpreting that as TWO PEOPLE.)

Overall, I think Sorrowfish is worth a read if you can get through the slightly confusing start.

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.

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Monday, 11 May 2020

#musicmonday: Goodness of God | Bethel



This has been replaying in my head for a few days now.

All my life You have been faithful 
All my life You have been so, so good 
With every breath that I am able 
I will sing of the goodness of God

---

I have lived in the goodness of God

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

#bookreview: Getting Naked Later: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single Life | Kate Hurley

Getting Naked Later: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single LifeGetting Naked Later: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single Life by Kate Hurley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Kate Hurley's bare-it-all memoir...

Not really. But Hurley has written the handbook of my life, the one where you run up against expectations about what your life was supposed to look like and try to make sense of how it actually does. Reading this book is like being known, which is no something that happens often to thirty-year-old singles in church.

My favourite chapter (obviously) is the one titled What Singles Wish Married People Knew because dammit if you'd stop saying those things, even in passing, maybe I wouldn't hurt as much. Or as often. Or decide that some days aren't worth going to church for (the weekends of Valentine's, or Mother's Day, or anything that could possibly head round to why-are-you-single-and-not-having-babies? or maybe-if-you'd-do-this-you'd-already-be-married). Hurley balances it out, of course, with follow up chapters titled What Married People Wish Singles Knew and What Divorced People Wish Everybody Knew.

I think the biggest thing about Getting Naked Later is the validation it brings--that I'm not the only one going through this alone, I'm not the only one struggling with these thoughts, that you know what, it's okay to struggle through this and not be okay. It's okay to be not okay.

It's not all gloom-and-doom. Amidst the soul-crushing pain, Hurley is both hilarious, and hopeful. And it's more than just the hope of a husband-to-come, it's the hope of a God-Who-Is and a Community-That-Can-Be.

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

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Friday, 1 May 2020

So how long does it take to write a book?

Alright, while I'm busy procrastinating on Labour Day, here's a quick look at how long it actually took to write the first draft of The Weight of Secrets, or as I call it, "Hostage".

Why? Because I like stats and I like numbers and playing around with data is fun. LOL.
Also, it helps me figure out what works and doesn't work for me, so that the next time I start a project, I can uh, plan. appropriately. Or something.

So how did it go overall?


Look at that! My original target was to quick draft it in 2 months, from February to March. OBVIOUSLY, no writing got done in February. I did start the first 1K like on Feb 24 or something, but let's disregard that. Well, I still did write it in two months, March and April, so I'll call that a win.

And then after a good start in March, it plateaued again like forever before it picked up again. Um, I don't exactly remember why, but probably because I was either a) doing paid projects to actually earn money or b) lazy.

Most likely lazy. Oh wait, Feb & March was when I was working on the Agape & TMRD scripts.


As my daily word count shows, I'm not very good at writing every day. I already figured this out last year when I was working on Berserker (The Weight of Strength). Whether it was for the NaNoWriMo vomit draft or the actually paced-and-plotted rewrite for my dissertation, the best I could do was write on alternate days. It's as if my brain needs a day to recover, especially if I write anything over 2K a day. Who knew?!

Hence the random spurts. If you track the dates (which aren't actually showing on the graph, idk why), you'll find that most of my writing is done on Monday. Which is when I run writing sprints for MYWriters Penang now that we don't get to meet in LUMA for our write-ins. Actually, half the time I'm sprinting by myself, but that's all cool.


I've discovered sprinting on Discord so I get trophies (even if I'm the only one competing), stats and levels. :p

The NaNoWriMo site covers a lot of info if you write with their timer, which is how I've confirmed that I'm a night owl. (Nothing new there).


But because I also want to look at my own stats, I downloaded info off my Toggl tracker to see how many hours I actually wrote over these two-ish months. The info isn't 100% accurate because sometimes I forget to turn it on and sometimes it's on, but I'm just like rewriting the same few sentences over and over again, but most of the sessions are there.

Here are the stats:


I spent 87.5 hours in total writing this beast! That's 87.5 hours for 81K words, so an average of 925 words an hour. 


That's a slight variance from NaNoWriMo's 1,140 words per hour (19wpm x 60 mins), but the average 1K per hour is roughly correct. In all likelihood, the Toggle data is more accurate, because I also track time the time I spend light editing the previous chapters to help me get started. I only turn on the NaNoWriMo tracker when I'm ready to sprint. 


In terms of when I wrote, yup, I wrote the most often in the evening, but surprisingly I wrote quite a lot at 2pm as well. This is just the time I started (count of description) and the total hours written in that session (sum of duration) and doesn't tell you how productive those sessions were.

So, how long does it take to write a book?
Approximately 95 hours over 2 months. 

Or if you're mad enough to cram it into an actual 40-day work week, you could be done in... 2.5 weeks.

This is just the first draft, though.
Next, I have to edit it for all the things I set aside and said "I'll fix this in edits".

I'm not going to start editing until at least June.
HMMM maybe that'll be my CampNaNo goal.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

X Marks the Spot #AtoZChallenge

X marks the spot.

Here you'll find buried treasure.

Buried--
so deep you'll never find it again.
Dreams and visions
longings and yearnings all
dead and buried.
Gone up in flames,
ashes.
Ashes and dust,
from dust you came, to dust you return.
Ashes on your tongue from the dreams you've given up,
Dead,
--buried.

Treasure--
once sought after but now forgotten.
All that glitters isn't gold,
but this gold dust you scattered on what you once loved
is gone.
Leaving nothing
but a mirage of
baubles that were gems,
gilded frames,
but nothing of worth, fake
--treasure.

Here you'll find treasure, buried treasure,
the ashes of dreams
and their once-gilded frames.

X.


Monday, 27 April 2020

#musicmonday: W is for Waymaker #AtoZChallenge



I'm not quite back, but here's a half-hearted attempt to get one more entry in. lol.

Phil Wickham makes everything better.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Q is for Quandary #AtoZChallenge

You say you want to build a community
Yet you only want a community
of people
Just
Like
You.

How then will you grow?


Friday, 17 April 2020

O is for Opiate #AtoZChallenge

Are you done yet, he asks. His face is full of kindness, shadowed with sorrow.

What with? She doesn't look at him. Cannot look at him.

You use bitterness as an opiate. Do you feel any better?

No. Nothing feels better. It just feels as if she is falling apart.

Come. He reaches out his hands.

She takes them, studies the scars. She lets go.

Come, he repeats.

What else would you suggest?

He kneels before her, taking her hands. That you open your eyes. 

My eyes are open.

Harsh truths. A gentle whisper. Yet you do not see. 

I see too much. She wishes she didn't. Wishes she could turn back time to five years ago, ten years ago, when everything was simple and hopeful and bright.

He smiles, sorrow and kindness mingled still. No, you see much but you do not see enough. You cannot look beyond, because your eyes are fixed on what you lack. 

I still lack.

But is that what you really need?

She sits still, silent.

You can only live in a stupor for so long. 

Tomorrow, she finally says, ask me again tomorrow.


Thursday, 16 April 2020

N is for New Way to be Human #AtoZChallenge



Because it came up on today's CG video.

---

Everyday it's the same thing,
Another trend has begun.
Hey, kids, this might be the one.

It's a race to be noticed,
And it's leaving us numb.
Hey, kids, we can't be the ones.

With all of our fashion
We're still incomplete.
The God of redemption
Could break our routine.

There's a new way to be human.
It's nothing we've ever been.
There's a new way to be human.
New way to be human.

And where is our inspiration
When all the heroes are gone?
Hey, kids, could we be the ones?

'Cause nobody's famous,
And nobody's fine.
We all need forgiveness
We're longing inside.

There's a new way to be human.
It's nothing we've ever been.
There's a new way to be human.
It's spreading under my skin.

There's a new way to be human.
Where divinity blends
With a new way to be human.
New way to be human.

You're throwing your love across my impossible space.
You've created me.
Take me out of me into...

...a new way to be human.
To a new way to be human.

You're a new way to be human.
Where my humanity bends
To a new way to be human.
Redemption begins.

You're a new way to be human.
You're a new way to be human.
You're the only way to be human.
You're a new way to be human.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

M is for MercyMe #AtoZChallenge



---

Whoops. It looks like I skipped L yesterday.

Also, I don't know if I'm going to see this through to the end. It feels like all my brain juices are being sucked up working on the WIP, and I stare at the A to Z posts and can't write a thing.

We'll see. Maybe I'll shift from flash fiction to something else.

Monday, 13 April 2020

K is for Kitten #AtoZChallenge

"Stop that!" Katie said in exasperation.

The kitten just looked up at her, uncomprehending.

"You can't walk all over my keyboard, Kits." Katie booped the pinkish nose offered to her. She lifted the tiny thing and settled her on the pillow beside her.

The kitten mewled her disgruntlement.

"Stay." Katie continued staring at her laptop, willing the numbers in the excel sheet to start making sense again. She was tired, so tired. Maybe it was time to take a break. She leaned back and stretched, only for an orange and white streak to zoom past, settling on the keyboard again.

"Why, Kits, why?" Katie lifted her kitten, made sure that nothing had gone wrong with her formulas, then walked over to the kitchen table with Kits in hand. "Well, I guess it's time for a break anyway."

---

Because people apparently need more kittens in their lives. Here are some!

Saturday, 11 April 2020

J is for Judas #AtoZChallenge

There are guards at my door. Guards who follow me wherever I go, who listen to all my conversations. I tell them to go, but they do not listen to me. They answer only to the Regent. Relka is the only one who has yet to be subverted from my service, as far as I know. He does not leave my room except to do the laundry. Food is delivered to my room.

In defiance, I ignored the food sent up and go down to the dining hall for dinner. There is a troupe playing, though I do not recognise any of them.

“I thought Jeffet would have stopped this… Mahan practice,” I say to Azman. He sits beside me, stiff and awkward.

“Baginda—He tried, but the nobles complained. They like it too much.”

My eyes narrow at his slip. Are they addressing Jeffett as Raja then? Has he gone so far as to try to claim the throne for himself? “Where is this troupe from? I do not recognise any of them,” I say instead.

“From Bayangan,” he answers. “The Mahan troupes have gone. Most left after the execution.”

I choke on my rice. I’d known—I’d accused Jeffett of murdering Amanah, but having it confirmed still comes as a shock. “When did—what did he do?”

Azman looks confused. “Did you not sign off on his death?”

I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, unable to find any tissues or wipes on the table.

“Gross,” he says, handing me a handkerchief. “Did you really not sign off on that?” He looks a little troubled.

“Not personally,” I reply, after thanking him for the handkerchief. “Jeffett made me sign the edict. He did not see fit to inform me of what else he has done after that.”

“Oh.” He shifts in his seat, avoiding my gaze. “He made the proclamation in the square, and then he had him beheaded. There was a crowd. It was… messy.”

“I see.”

“I’m sorry, Tuanku. I know you… knew the man.”

I shrug my shoulders, trying to seem nonchalant, but failing. “Do you know what happened to the rest of his troupe?”

“As I said, most of the Mahan troupes left after that spectacle. I… have not seen any of them around, so I suppose they have all left.”

I hope so too, but I cannot count on it. “Who’s in the dungeons?”

His eyes flick up to mine, then quickly flick away.

“Who is in the dungeons?”

He sighs. “I don’t know, actually. I have no cause to check.”

I consider that for a moment. Repetitive actions in the dance catch my eye. I study them, study their movements, scrutinise their hands and fingers, but there is nothing there for me. This troupe either does not know the secret hand language, or they carry no messages. I cannot tell which.

“For the sake of our… friendship,” he winces when I say that, “would you please let me know if any of the troupes are in the dungeons?”

He sits, eyes fixed on the dancers. The dance is nearly at its end when he says, so quietly that I almost miss it, “What good will it do for you to know?”

“It would ease my conscience.”

He doesn’t reply then, just lets me finish watching the dance, then escorts me back to my room.

“I’ll try,” he says. He lingers in the doorway a little longer, then moves to shut it.

He stops when I turn. I don’t want to look at him. I force myself to lift my eyes to stare into his face. “Why?”

“Why what?” He tries to make his face calm, but he’s the first to drop his eyes.

“I just need to know why.”

He huffs. “I thought it was for your own good. The Regent convinced me that you were not in your right mind, that your reason was compromised. What was I to think when I saw that letter?”

“You couldn’t have asked me first?”

“You were compromised.”

“I was grieving.”

“We all were.”

The audacity of his statement strikes me like a physical blow. “They were not your parents.” I slam the door in his face, then lean my forehead against it, trying to stop the tears that flow.

The lock snicks from the outside.

---

Here's an excerpt from the WIP because I was trying to write something else, but couldn't. 

---

From Raising Cain: How the Bible Shapes the Things You Say

Judas 
Meaning: Someone who betrays another under the guise of friendship.
Source: Matthew 26-14-15

Friday, 10 April 2020

I is for Innocent Blood #AtoZChallenge #GoodFriday

The world stuttered to a stop for a split second. It was dark, where light should be. Weakness where strength should be.

What is happening? This is wrong.

A cry. Loud, haunting. Terror. Pain. Determination. Alone, so very alone.

Into Your hands. For them.

Exhale. Quiet, at peace. Life laid down. Done, so very done.

This should not be. 

The dry earth opened its maw and drank, accepting innocent blood in place of the guilty. The ancient laws of redemption fulfilled in life and blood.

---

Mark 15:22-26, 33-39 [AMP]

Then they brought Him to the place [called] Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh [to dull the pain], but He would not take it. And they crucified Him, and divided up His clothes among themselves, casting lots for them to see who should take what. It was the third hour (9:00 a.m.) when they crucified Him. The inscription of the accusation against Him had been written [above Him]: “THE KING OF THE JEWS.”


...When the sixth hour (noon) came, darkness covered the whole land until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.). And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Some of the bystanders heard Him and said, “Look! He is calling for Elijah!” Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave Him a drink, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah is coming to take Him down.” But Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed out His last [voluntarily, sovereignly dismissing and releasing His spirit from His body in submission to His Father’s plan]. And the veil [of the Holy of Holies] of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

When the centurion, who was standing opposite Him, saw the way He breathed His last [being fully in control], he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”


Thursday, 9 April 2020

H is for Hands #AtoZChallenge

"They're your children. You can't just wash your hands of them," a voice spoke from the darkness.

Iman froze. She spun around, searching the dimly lit room.

Rahsia rose from the couch, rubbing at her eyes as she yawned.

"What are you still doing here?" Iman clutched at the door frame for support.

"Making sure your two young children are fine. I couldn't leave them alone, could I? When I don't even know when you're going to get home?" Rahsia turned up the lamps, revealing dark circles around her eyes. She shuffled towards the door, stretching as she went.

Iman stood blocking the doorway. "Well, you might as well spend the night then."

"I have work tomorrow."

"Oh. You couldn't--"

"No, Iman. Unlike you, I am responsible. I won't shirk my work to take care of your children."

"But Rahsia, you know what the Secretkeeper has to do. Nek herself bore this responsibility--"

"Don't bring Nek into this." It came out sharper than she intended, but Rahsia allowed herself to be a little bitter. After all, she'd been waiting, training to take over Nek's role as the Secretkeeper, only for it to somehow jump family lines to her best friend, Iman.

"You know how important this is. With the sacking of Suci and the prophecies..."

Rahsia's face didn't soften. If anything, it grew harder. "Tulen misses you. Telus is asking for his mak. Farouk can deal with Suci for one day without you. Your children must come first." They must, because she knew this feeling too well. Rahsia knew how it felt to be deserted by her parents, by the grandmother who was supposed to take care of her, but was always too busy with the Temple, always on call for everyone except her. She couldn't let her godchildren feel the same way too.

Iman bowed her head, stepping aside. "I... yes, fine. I'll tell Farouk."

She looked so lost and exhausted that Rahsia finally relented.

"I'll come by after work. Tell Tulen that." For the children. She would do this for the children, even if their own mother abandoned them.

---

From Raising Cain: How the Bible Shapes the Things You Say:

Hands, Wash one's
Meaning: To end one's association with someone or something; to abandon or renounce responsibility for someone or something.
Source: Matthew 27:24; When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

A fitting prompt, I thought, for the Holy Week even if the story doesn't quite keep the theme. 

Also, remember to wash your hands!

Stolen from the Internet.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

G is for Ghaut #AtoZChallenge

Wait for me at the ghaut.

She followed the ghaut down to its natural end, soon leaving hard-packed dirt for coarse sand. The soft breeze stirred her hair, warm and balmy, but still a slight relief for the sweat that dripped down her neck. She reached up and caught her hair up, twisting it into a bun. Holding it with her left hand, she dug into her pockets for something to tie it with. All she found was a blunt pencil. She fiddled with it a little, then stuck it into the bun. It held.

A few more steps and she'd be in the water. The wooden pier on her right continued on into the sea. At the end of the pier, fishing boats congregated, her father's among them.

The cool water lapped against her toes. She wiggled her toes in the sand, digging them in. The sun burnt her skin, harsh and hot directly above her, triggering a headache. Still, she stood there, watching the sluggish activity at the end of the pier.

Why are they not searching?

Hardly anyone was out in the heat of the day. Her father often left before the sun rose, returning with his catch whilst it was still rising. Except today, he hadn't returned. His fellow fisherfolk had brought his boat back without him. They'd go out again in the evening when it was cooler, and he wouldn't be with them.

The water was cold against her knees. She slumped against the wooden stakes of the pier, sheltering in its slight shade.

If you wait for me at the ghaut, he'd promised her as a child, I will always return.

She waited. He didn't return.

---

From the Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words & Phrases, 2nd edition.
Ghat (also ghaut), from early seventeenth century Hindi:
1. (In the Indian subcontinent) a mountain pass.
2. (In the Indian subcontinent) a flight of steps leading to a riverbank; a landing place.
3. A level place at the top of a river-bank ghat where Hindus cremate their dead. In full burning ghat.

...which also solves the mystery of why, along Beach Street, we have Church Street on the right and Church Street Ghaut on the left (and others, all along the street), except that the ghauts don't reach the sea anymore. They just reach Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay), which used to be the port until it was reclaimed and the jetty pushed further out.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

F is for Fragile #AtoZChallenge

You say you are strong, you can make it on your own.
You put on your cape, strap on your mask, and you stand tall, ready to face the giants.
Then the world crashes around you and you realise you are smol, and you are precious.

It's okay to be fragile.

---

My brain died today.
That's it.
Better luck tomorrow.





Monday, 6 April 2020

E is for Estate Agent #AtoZChallenge

The young woman looked at Elena with just a little bit of trepidation.

"I'm sorry, you what?" Elena asked. She hadn't been paying attention, wondering what her children were squabbling about in the background.

"Just wondering if I could have a bit of help with the rent this month, Miss...?"

Elena sighed. "Elena, just call me Elena. Hold on one second," she said, muting the video call. She turned around and yelled, "Five minutes you miscreants! Just shut up for five minutes and I'll get you lunch!"

"You said that an hour ago!" Julie, her eldest yelled back.

"I promise. Last call before lunch. Now take Tommy to your room and keep quiet!" There was some grumbling before the door slammed and all was quiet again. Elena turned back to the video call and unmuted it. "Sorry about that. Kids. You know how it is."

The young woman nodded, eyes wide.

"What's your house number again?" Elena asked, buying time as she stared at the woman's details on her second screen.

"A-22-8," the woman said, "it's just that my husband's lost his job, and my freelance work isn't enough to--"

Elena knew that. "Rachel, is that right? You've been at A-22-8 for five years?"

"Yes. We've always paid on time. If we could delay it by a week? It's just till--"

Elena looked again at the email from the head office. She swallowed her discomfort and said, "Unfortunately, management has issued a directive that all rent is due per normal and we can't give any discounts or allow delays. I would really like to help, but..."

Rachel's shoulders slumped. "Well, thank you anyway."

"I'm sorry, Rachel. We've been trying to lobby management but we haven't made much headway yet. If anything changes, I'll let you know immediately."

Elena ended the call, leaned back in her chair and massaged her forehead. These days, she really hated her job as an estate agent.

---

This story has been brought to you by the Oxford Dictionary, Twitter, and COVID-19.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

D is for Dreams #AtoZChallenge

They were little things. She held five of them in the palm of her hand, little seeds the size of a Tic Tac, each a different colour.

The first was a beautiful blue, like the sky on a sunny, cloudless day. It tasted like adventure and excitement, the rush of possibility. She spat it out, afraid. The world was too vast, the future too frightening. There was no knowing how it would all end up, whether she would live a long life with the people she loved.

The second seed was lime green, fresh and bright and a little sharp on the eyes. She rolled it between her finger and her thumb before putting it on her tongue. It tasted like growth and stretching, roots digging deep, branches reaching ever upwards. She held on to it for longer, chewing enough to break through the capsule, before spitting it out as well. There was too much bitterness hidden inside.

There were three left in her palm and she wanted to throw them away. It was too risky. Life could be lived normally without them. She didn't need them.

Still, it was curiosity that finally made her stick her tongue out and lick the bright red seed. It burned on her tongue like fiery peri-peri and she dropped it immediately. In her mind, her thoughts ran to fire, the anger of a thousand tiny cuts bursting into one huge bonfire. She could burn the world down and rebuild it from the embers. But would she stay the same? This one she held for a little longer, then went out to press into the soil. Even if she couldn't handle it, she could keep it, nurture it for someone else. Someone stronger.

She went for the grey next, tasting ash on her tongue. If fire had been too strong, this bleak nothingness was too weak for her. It tasted of routine and boredom, a life of safety that was too empty, too constrained, too dead. She pondered it for a moment longer, then gave it up with a sigh. As much as she loved the quiet, it would bury her alive.

The final seed was a curious thing, purple dappled with pink. She held it up to her nose and inhaled the scent of cotton candy and morning dew, lavender and chocolate, a first edition musty with age. It sparkled slightly, reminding her of fairy dust and unicorns, and the improbable balance of being. She didn't have to taste this one to know what it would bring.

---

Pfft. This one took forever to write because I couldn't find any nice D words.

Friday, 3 April 2020

C is for Chamomile #AtoZChallenge

She sat, sipping slowly. The warm brew settled her stomach, taking away the queasiness that had been building up all morning. She closed her eyes and basked in the sweet smell of honey and chamomile. When she opened them, she drank deeply, set down the empty mug, and got up to get things done.

###

"It doesn't work that way," the healer insisted. "He's dead. You can't get anything from--"

"Just show him to me." She folded her arms on her chest and stared him down. When he didn't move, she reached out and nudged the papers she'd shown him when she entered the room.

He flipped through them again, bringing the seal on the last page right up to his nose.

"It's authentic," she said drily. "I highly doubt anyone would forge the Secretkeeper's seal just to see a dead... person."

"This is very unconventional," he protested, but he handed the papers back to her and crossed the room to where, presumably, the head was kept.

She followed close behind him. "It's not every day you find a severed head in the street."

"It was at the port," he replied, "and it was deliberately planted. By our enemies. As an act of war."

"Which makes it an even more singular event."

He opened the chest on the table and stepped aside, nearly knocking into her.

She looked in. It was a ghastly thing to behold, a severed head on a silver platter--why was it on a silver platter?--eyes still open in shock. She reached out her hand.

"Don't touch it."

She ignored the warning, taking a deep breath while wishing for more honeyed chamomile to fortify her. Nothing. Well, she'd expected that. You'll likely find nothing, the Secretkeeper had said, but we owe it to the Sultan to at least try. She shifted her fingers downwards to close the poor man's eyes, then jerked her fingers back at the buzz. There was the faintest wisp of a memory still lingering. Amazing. He's been dead for three days. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

"Well," she said when she'd gotten all she could. "Baginda Paduka will be quite interested in that."

"What? What did you find?" The healer stared at her incredulously.

She smirked a little. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"But the head--he's been dead--how--"

"Don't underestimate the powers of Impian's Justices," she said, leaning towards him. "Should I read your mind?"

He shrunk back, raising his arms in front of his head. "No! I haven't done anything."

"Of course you haven't." She looked back at the chest, and Amanah's head, and sighed. "Poor man." She closed the lid. "See to it that his head is returned to his family."

###

Mikal, Jeffett turns the Bayangan nobles against me and I am under house arrest. If he succeeds in his bid, he will do all he can to re-start the war. Suspect all missives that come under my name. Yosua.

She finished writing down the message that Amanah had held as his last thought and wondered if the man had known that she would be able to extract it. Mind-reading was such an imprecise gift and very few Justices could read from the dead, especially one that had been dead for such a length of time. Still, his name indicated that he came from Impian, which could mean that he might have more than a passing knowledge of the gift--maybe he had sisters who were gifted Justices themselves.

Like me.

She sent off her findings with the messenger who had been waiting, made herself another cup of honeyed chamomile, then curled up on her bed. She took a deep draught as she dropped the mental walls she'd erected in the morning.

Grief crashed over her as Jujur finally mourned her dead brother for the first time today.

---

Okay, I opened the dictionary at random and picked the word Chamomile. Which led to this unexpected story that's somehow tied in to the WIP I'm working on right now. I don't know if it will actually happen in the story, but eh.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

B is for Bayangan #AtoZChallenge

Bayangan comes into view in the evening. The walls surrounding the city are still blackened with fire, partially crumbled from the last war. No effort seems to have been made to rebuild them. We pause for water by the gates, where a large party awaits us.

An open carriage, white trimmed with gold, stands ready. The two white horses harnessed to it paw at the ground and toss their manes. Permaisuri Layla takes the hand of a groom and steps up into the carriage, arranging her skirts as she sits down primly. Ayahanda is brought up behind it. They rearrange his chains so that his hands are bound before him to a bar that runs across the back of the carriage.

There’s a short discussion amongst them, then Temenggung Jeffett mounts a large, black horse. He raises his parang, shouts an instruction, and we set off.

Inside the city walls, rows and rows of shacks have mushroomed in the ruins of old houses. The buildings are haphazard and there’s rubble everywhere. The stench of decay and sewage permeates the air.

Is this what Maha will look like in twenty years? I cannot imagine returning to a place like this. I cannot imagine why they haven’t rebuilt, why neglect pervades this part of the city. Is it the lack of money? Lack of resources? If Bayangan really needed resources, why have they given up the treaty and the marriage alliance for this? Surely continued trade would help Bayangan more than whatever plunder they’ve taken from Maha?

The deeper into the city we go, however, the more prosperous it gets. Wood turns to brick and stone. New buildings tower above us. There are some remaining patchworks of blackened stone, but most of the buildings have been rebuilt. We pass a large marketplace where all sorts of wares are on display. It is here that we stop first, where many of my countrymen are led away.

The Bayangan citizens come out to watch, lining the cobbled streets or peeking out of high windows.

“Behold your triumphant Permaisuri!” the soldiers that precede us shout, blowing their trumpets and waving flags.

Trade comes to a temporary stop. The Bayangans cheer for their permaisuri and their army. They jeer at us as we pass, pelting us with rotten fruit. Slowly we proceed through the throng, boxed in on all sides by sharp parangs and ugly, angry faces. The road narrows, inclining upwards. Walls rise again to greet us as we reach the end of our journey.

The Bayangan Castle is tall and narrow, made of scrubbed white stone. There are no large, wide windows for the breeze to flow through, only narrow slits that squint and sneer at us. It is a defensive place, built to repel others, unlike the Mahan Palace, which is gentle, open, and welcoming.

The gates open with loud clanks and the crack of whips, a great maw opening to swallow us whole. There are no open balconies or large gelanggangs, only suspicious turrets and the one crowded courtyard we’re being herded into like cows.

The slam of the gates closing behind us is a knell of doom.

---

Here's a short excerpt from The Weight of Strength, Mikal's reactions when he and his fellow captives see Bayangan for the first time.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A is for Amazing! #AtoZChallenge #bookreview: Writers of the Future 36

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 36: Bestselling Anthology of Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Short StoriesL. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 36: Bestselling Anthology of Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Stories by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As anthologies go, I really, really like this one. I don't think I'll talk about every single story--there are 4 additional/commissioned stories and 3 articles PLUS the 12 winners for the year--but I can safely say I did not dislike any one of them. At most, there were maybe two or three which just left me puzzled.

Here are the ones I loved the most:
A Word That Means Everything (Andy Dibble)
THIS was an unexpected gem. I started it a little warily, wondering if it was going to be a bad take on Christian mission work, but ended up with a very intricately written story on cross-cultural missions and Bible translation... to aliens, of course. While trying not to be eaten by lamprey.

Stolen Sky (Storm Humbert)
This starts off with so much hope, so much joy and wonder at discovering new things, but ends on such a bittersweet note. That last line... oof.

Yellow and Pink (Leah Ning)
How many times would you be willing to reset your life to be with the one that you love? This story takes a look at grief and letting go, and the things people will do out of desperation.

Foundations (Michael Gardner)
I found this beautiful and yet a little eerie.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Galaxy Press. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

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Here's a note to self not to sign up for stuff when you're bored.
A's a cop out of what I actually plan to do for A to Z, which is flash fiction, because I woke up lazy today and realised that I'm supposed to post my regular book review anyway.
I suppose I shall just change my goal to be flash fiction on days except wednesdays, and then worry later about how to fit the alphabet in for the rest of my reviews. HA.