Wednesday, 22 June 2022

#bookreview: These Numbered Days | Anna E. Collins

These Numbered DaysThese Numbered Days by Anna E. Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What does it mean to stay?

Annie Wolff has returned to Snohomish after eight years to make sure that her now-teenage children, Connor and Grace, are doing okay and are being taken care of by their aunt and uncle after the death of their father. She plans to quietly check on them, and then just as quietly leave--but her plans are thrown into disarray when Connor confronts her and asks her to stay.

So she stays, while planning to leave again. Yet the longer she stays, the more she finds that the picture-perfect family she'd always imagined for her estranged family is far from the truth. And the more secrets she uncovers, the more she realises that as broken as she is, she may still be the best person to take care of her children.

These Numbered Days is a story about living with depression. There's a bleakness that seeps out of Annie's point of view, revealing the dark days of her past. There's a sense of hopelessness, of knowing that this curse runs through the women in her family, and the expectation that one day it's going to take over Annie's life as well and there is nothing she can do to stop it.

And yet, it's also a story of hope and grit. Of fighting for better days, fighting for herself and for her family. It isn't a smooth journey. With every step forward comes a new setback. But with every setback, Annie finds a new way forward--with the support of her children and her landlord, Wic Dubray.

What I loved most about this book was the family dynamics. It isn't perfect--in fact, many times, it feels like they just keep breaking apart. But there is a raw honesty in how they try to reconnect with each other despite their hurts and imperfections. I'm a fan of second chances and third chances and all the chances--and this story is really about that: finding the strength to forgive and support each other, not holding their past failures against them.

I wasn't so stoked on the romance, but that was mostly because I'm just going meh, does there really need to be a romance? Must she really have a man in her life to be complete?

Yet the truth is, she doesn't have to do it alone.

You don't have to be perfect to stay.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 13 June 2022

#musicmonday: There Is a River | Jars of Clay

for all of your tears

are the wages for things you have done

and all of those nights

spent alone in the darkness of your mind

give it up, let go

these are things you were never meant to shoulder

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

#bookreview: Buried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's Call | Susan Harris Howell

Buried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's CallBuried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's Call by Susan Harris Howell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buried Talents was birthed from the question: If God calls women to pastor, why don't more churches have women leaders? 

And so Susan Harris Howell sets out to tell us why, or in her own words: to expose the subtle forms of socialization that pull women away from, and move men toward, leadership.

The title is tied to the parable of the talents and draws on Kristina LaCelle-Peterson's book, Liberating Tradition: Women's Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective, which asks:
"Would the returning master of the household be mollified if the excuse for burying one's talent was, 'I got married', or 'My husband didn't want me to'?"
Chapters 1 to 3 cover what gendered socialization looks like in the different stages of growth from childhood to adulthood, how it affects the development of a child (whether male or female), and simply how pervasive it is even if it is unintentional. Even where parents may proactively reject gendered socialization in the home, by the time a child goes out into the world, they will be exposed to such messaging. It can also be as subtle as what stories get highlighted in the media, where "Men are the norm; women, the exception. Men accomplish in ways that are notable; women, not so much."

One thing I found myself ruminating over in these chapters was the point Howell made about identity and how many women, especially in church settings, do not have an identity of their own--because boys are told that achievement is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but girls are often told that whatever they do, they will need to sacrifice it for their spouse. Why then pursue something only to have to give it up? She ties this back to the Fall, saying that "the imbalance in the husband-wife relationship is the natural consequence of sin", later saying:
"In the light of this interpretation, men feeling good about themselves when they are better than women, and women not using God-given abilities to their fullest in order to please men makes perfect sense. "
That's one interpretation I have not really considered before.

Chapter 4 is a fictional case study of how gendered socialization often plays out in real life. I found it to be very realistic --but felt that a concluding paragraph might have helped me understand what these stories were for. As it is, they just...ended and were never referred to again. And so...?

Chapters 5 to 7 offer suggestions and practical steps on how to overcome gendered socialization starting with the home and our personal lives. It also covers the wider societal spheres of church, work, and businesses, and how one can actively push back against gendered messaging, sometimes by just being persistently present.

I think I expected a little more exposition or teaching on what the Bible says about gender equality, but Howell's target appears to be egalitarian Christians; in talking about building a support network, Howell does advise readers to consider whether [a complementarian] church is the best place to serve, worship, and grow. It's also not written specifically to women--some of the suggestions cover how husbands can support their wives and work towards an equitable arrangement that ultimately allows both of them to live their callings.

While Buried Talents is written for Christians and is published by a Christian press, I felt that it could also be read and appreciated by a general readership that is working towards gender equality at work and in the home. Though there are some sections that are specifically targetted towards Christians and the church (especially in relation to pastoring or church leadership), almost everything else is generally applicable to pursuing gender equality and more women in positions of leadership: just exchange "God's call" for "dreams" or "ambitions".

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 25 May 2022

#bookreview: All the Seas in the World | Guy Gavriel Kay

All the Seas of the WorldAll the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was excited to start reading this because I remembered liking A Brightness Long Ago very much, back when I read it. What I didn't account for was the fact that although by objective time, having read that one in April 2019 isn't that long ago in book publishing time, I have forgotten everything I loved about that one except for vague impressions and, of course, my own review.

Which made for a frustrating feeling of not quite getting the impact that I should be getting out of this book. Sure, it's wonderfully written: a brilliant tapestry of many different yet ordinary lives that affect each other, of futures that shift and change with each person's rather humdrum decisions, whether they are the ex-slave Lenia Serrano, her Kindath merchant partner Rafel ben Natan, or the famed Folco d'Acorsi. I have also not caught up on any of the other stories set in this world--which, if looking at other reviews, might also have impacted my reading experience. This is despite the fact that All the Seas of the World is touted as a standalone. It may have been meant to be, but it didn't always feel that way.

All the Seas of the World starts with an assassination-turned-heist with a side of murder and unintended consequences. It ends with a siege and battle. In between, it explores the intersections of faith and race with identity--and how changing one's faith and name could change your fortunes, but also how faith is often tied to race and vice versa. It also looks at fate and timing, and how being somewhere at a certain time could make or break your future--and how our reactions and unexplainable impulses can set us on a different path altogether. But ultimately, it is also a story of revenge, of people being driven by revenge, and that thirst for retribution for past wrongs.

Like A Brightness Long Ago, the narrative shifts between POVs, though the majority of it is in Lenia & Rafel's POV (third person). But added to the mix is a first-person narrative from Danio which jumps out at the reader suddenly with no explanation, musings from the dying, an omnipotent narrator with Opinions, as well as strange foretellings of what is to come. I remember some of this from A Brightness Long Ago; I feel that I was okay with it then, but there's something about it that irks me now. Then again, taste is a subjective and ever-changing thing.

All in all, All the Seas of the World is a good, thoughtful read, but probably best read and enjoyed in relation to his earlier books. It may come across as a little slow and ponderous, though it is definitely not as repetitive as some of Brandon Sanderson's narratives.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Sunday, 15 May 2022

Sesi Seni with #PenangArtDistrict

I recently sat down with Swarna from the George Town Literary Festival to talk about my writing journey.

It actually came out a few days ago but I was too scared to watch it until now. heh.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

#bookreview: Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man | Guvna B

Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the ManUnspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man by Guvna B.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interspersed with Guvna B's own lyrics as well as his Instagram posts (unfortunately only the captions made it into the digital ARC; I assume the pictures made it into print?), reading Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man felt like sitting in Isaac's (Guvna B's real name) living room, listening to him ramble on about life, grief, faith, and therapy.

It may seem a little weird that I picked this up for review (thanks Netgalley!) since I am not black, British, or male. I don't even listen to his songs; I find rap music a little weird. But the church I attended in Uxbridge had invited him to one of their youth events in 2019 (which is how I remembered the name), so I was a little curious.

The super-long title makes it sound like it's going to be this thesis, but the book reads more like a memoir, with Isaac dropping all pretensions, even his stage name. It centres around his upbringing on a council estate in East London and his grief at the loss of his father and two close friends in the span of two years. It's also mixed up with race relations in the UK, clashes of cultural and familial expectations, and the burden of fame, to some extent. Yet it's conversational and extremely relatable, like an elder brother sharing a personal story.

Some quotes I found super relatable even as someone who's not anywhere near the book's target market:

[For the Asians (lol)]
I was comprised neither of flesh nor blood but of parental aspiration...

[For the artists]
I now know that what was happening was that I was trying so hard to put out what I thought people wanted to hear, without ever stopping to ask myself what I wanted to say, what was in my heart...
I started comparing myself to other people, which made me feel even worse.
Advice to anyone reading this: Never compare.

[For grieving Christians]
'Within modern Christianity,' [Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury] said, 'we are really bad at lament and protest; really bad at saying, this is terrible, this is wrong, this is awful; and we're really bad at saying, "God I am really mad about this. I am so angry about this. God, I think you've let me down".'
What the psalm teaches us is that it is okay to rage against God, even though it does not come easily to us. It is better to rage against him than to shut him out completely.
In showing our true selves to God, he can reveal his true self to us. That is why lamenting and protesting in times of deep pain is as important as praising and celebrating in times of happiness. Learning to lament and protest is a journey towards better understanding God's love.

To be honest, while the storytelling prose is what makes the book, there were times when it felt like the author rambled on too far and then came back again with an, "oh yes, this was where I was going with this story". At the end of it all, he ties all the stories and the almost-devastation that came from those tragic events back to his own response, which was:

This ingrained sense of masculinity led me to believe that the only emotion permissible for me to reveal was rage. I could be angry, upset, hurt, or sad and then punch something, because that is what men did. Bare my teeth. Tighten my fist. Either that or grin and bear it. Handle it. Withstand the pain.

Overall, Unspoken is lyrically written, honest and heartfelt.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from [] via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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I didn't know this song was by Guvna B!

Saturday, 30 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: Z for Zen

It has been awfully difficult to figure out a post for Z. I was thinking of going for ZZZ (sleep) but that was just weird. I’ve got nothing to do with animals (zoo) or even chaos and disorder. So I figured I’d go with zen, in the “peaceful and calm” meaning of the word, and give you a little excerpt of how and where Yosua finds some peace in the midst of the storm. 

Chapter 7 excerpt

The next few days pass in a blur. In the early mornings, before the castle wakes, I find myself sneaking out to the market, Relka trailing behind me. Relka has taken to sleeping outside my bedroom, no matter how many times I tell him I’m fine, I just need to be alone. I do need to be alone. I need to light the censers, to let the incense rise to heaven, to scream out my anger and fear and weariness to Kudus. I need to pray over their souls, releasing them to Kudus. 

O Kudus, please. Grant me strength. Grant me peace.

The Tawanan are a form of peace, if only because of their familiarity. They congregate in the northwest corner of the market, where several have set up their own stalls. I’ve visited them often enough during ‘market inspections’, just to see how they’re doing. 

The first morning I appear after my parents’ deaths, Uncle Dan stares at me wordlessly. He’s thin and grizzled, looking like he hasn’t slept in days. We’re not related by blood, though I call him Uncle. He was one of Ayah’s closest friends in Maha, always coming in and out of our quarters. I lift my hands, shrug. He nods and puts me to work. Relka gawks for a moment before he too gets ordered about. It takes Azman half an hour to blaze in, two Royal Guards on his tail, in a panic. Uncle Dan shakes his head but ignores their presence, as does everyone else, eventually.


And that's a wrap for the A to Z Challenge! Thank you for surviving this whole month with me! 

Every year, I say this is too much, I'm never going to do it again, but...I obviously can't keep myself from it for too long. I hope you've enjoyed this little peek into the Absolution series. If you'd like a look at an earlier form of this series, you can check out my 2018 challenge posts. hahaha. I believe Yosua had yet to exist, Mikal was still called Adam, and this book was supposed to be about Rahsia. *snort*

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


International purchases