Wednesday 30 December 2015

#bookreview: The Cyborg Chronicles by Samuel Peralta

The Cyborg Chronicles (The Future Chronicles)The Cyborg Chronicles by Samuel Peralta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The problem with rating an anthology, of course, is that every single story is written by a different person and it's incredibly difficult to give a general rating to such a diverse collection.

Anyway, I'll try.

Foreword - Samuel Peralta: I thought this would be a foreword, but no, it reads like a short story!

The Regular - Ken Liu: I've only read one story by Ken Liu before (The Paper Menagerie) and thought that a brilliant piece of work. The Regular is just as brilliant. Okay, I started off thinking "what, why is this about a murdered prostitute?" and then he goes and brings you into this Asian American world, with damaging parental expectations (but you know only because they love you so much and want you to succeed) and a half-Chinese (half-white) cyborg who's really only taking up this futile murder investigation because she needs the money, but really, it's much more complex than that. (5 stars!)

Upgrade Complete - Paul K Swardstrom: JR-8 MT is a human cyborg, a combatant in a tournament of cyborgs, who has been having strange dreams. Tiny parallels to some of Susan Kaye Quinn's Singularity, but then again totally different. Loved the way it turned out. (4 stars)

Drop Dead, Droid - Artie Cabrera: This one was a little too Cowboy for me. It's like a Western in space, with Rangers looking for leads on a drug heist. Then he gets suckered into helping a poor, helpless (but extremely beautiful) lady who later gets murdered. Throw in a cyborg kid for the space theme and there you have it! A Western in Space! (Actually it ties together better than that; I'm just don't like Westerns that much) (3 stars)

Hide and Seek - Eric Tozzi: I kind of liked this. It had an interesting concept and scattered OMG moments, but in some places, the writing was just... confusing. By confusing, I mean that I had to read some paragraphs a few times to figure out what was happening. It also felt choppier than it needed to be. (3 stars)

Avendui 5ive - P K Tyler: In Mezna City, unwanted kids are being implanted and coded for specific roles in maintaining the world they live in. But not all of these Teks turn out to be unfeeling robots. At least two of them, Avendui 5ive and Virgil 9ine have discovered what it means to be friends, and to love. Now, they need to keep it quiet before they are found out and wiped. Pavarti is a big(gish) name in the corner of the (online) writing world I live in, but I've never really read her stuff, probably because I was mainly only aware of her lit & romance stuff. After reading Avendui 5ive, I really want to check out her sci-fi stuff now. (5 stars)

Indigo - Moira Katson: Cyborgs are wiped after every mission, but for some reason, this one still retains partial memories across missions. Random associations are forming; a sense of incompleteness invades her. Is she broken beyond repair in the middle of this mission? Indigo grows on you, leaving you with the chills. (5 stars)

Augment - Susan Kaye Quinn: I've reviewed Augment, so this wasn't a new story for me. Miriam Levine is a jiv - a human with augments - and she's fighting to win the Resurrection mod - a brand new augmentation that may very well be the only thing that will keep her alive. Because she's about to throw her life away. You know what, after watching Star Wars VII, I'm thinking Miriam has a bit of a Rey vibe. (4 stars)

His Name in Lights - Patty Jansen: There's a slight tinge of The Martian in this one. Daniel and Oscar are on Io overseeing an installation when a sudden quake strikes. The base is almost all destroyed, communications are cut off and they're left for dead, seeing they're not entirely human anyway. Except that Eilin, President of Allion Aerospace doesn't want to leave them behind. Very space opera, the relationship is a little bit predictable, but warm fuzzy feelings anyway. (4 stars)

Dyad - David Bruns: Dr Michael Taylor is an expert on cyborgs, which is why the Tech Div needs his help. Or maybe not. I agree with Bruns that Dyad is all about its ending. Which is why I'm not going to say anything else about the story. (5 stars)

Preservation - Michael Patrick Hicks: There's some surface level similarities between Preservation and Hide and Seek: both talk about poachers and animals in Africa. But whilst Hide and Seek focuses on the killer LEON, Preservation has a single-minded vet cyborg who will do whatever it takes to save endangered rhinos. It was a nice story but I don't think I connected that much with it (3 stars)

Charm Bracelet - A K Meek: Elijah wakes up to find that he has been turned into a cyborg. And each time he tries to kill himself, he finds that he's resuscitated and made even more mechanical. It's a losing game. One thing slightly repetitive about cyborg stories is the fact that they almost always end up being used to fight each other on another's behalf. In this one, it's the war between Mexico and America over trade embargoes. The most fascinating thing about this story is how delicately it weaves everything together from its innocent beginning to its tragic end. I flipped through this again while writing the review and realized that I missed some connections from my first read. (5 stars)

Ghosts in the Mist - Annie Bellet: Yet another poacher and preservation story. This obviously didn't really resonate with me much, because I had to flip through to the middle to remember what it was about. Then again, I remembered liking the ending once I realized which story it was. (3 stars)


So it's a mixed bag of stuff, but mostly good stuff.

I received an ARC for review from Susan Kaye Quinn by being incredibly quick to reply on Facebook. (heh).

View all my reviews

Monday 28 December 2015

Lazy pasta for lazy people

I'm only writing this post because I just made pasta for dinner, being too incredibly lazy to go out and find something to eat, and because I remembered that someone once told me (when I told him/her - I forget who) that this would be an invaluable resource for lazy people worldwide!

Well, I can only hope.
(Also, I am totally procrastinating.)

Well, the only things you absolutely need to make lazy pasta are:
1) a microwave,
2) an electric kettle,
3) a microwaveable bowl,
4) quick-cook pasta and
5) pre-made pasta sauce.
Well, and utensils to eat with, of course. Optional things which are nice to have would probably be meatballs. And maybe cheese. Tabasco sauce and/or cut chillies are also good if you like it hot.

Obviously, microwaves, electric kettles and microwaveable bowls are things which lazy people would already have in their homes (I assume), because they just make life much simpler. The thing to remember here is to buy quick-cook pasta (those which say "cooks within 2 minutes" or something like that on the packaging) and premade pasta sauce (in cans or bottles, brand/flavour of your choice) and stock them up in your pantry. Frozen meatballs are a fuss-free addition, especially since you don't actually have to defrost them like you would if you bought actual minced meat.

ANYWAY, how to make lazy pasta in 7 steps:

1. Boil water in the kettle. (Go read something while the water is boiling)

2. Pour boiled water into the microwaveable bowl. Add pasta (as much as you want to eat). If you're using spaghetti or something long, break it in half so it fits in the bowl, and so it cooks much faster.
Optional: put in a pinch of salt.
Side note: don't fill the bowl to the brim. Keep it at about half of the bowl so you can safely go do something else, like read, while it's boiling. Otherwise, you'd just have to keep checking to see if it boils over and that is such a bother.

2a. Add frozen meatballs. Totally optional. You don't need to defrost them. Just pop them straight from the freezer into the bowl of hot water.

3. Microwave said bowl of pasta for 2-3 minutes or however long it stated on the packet that it cooks within. Which is why I said buy quick-cook pasta because normal ones take something like 10-15 minutes.

4. Stir, and pour out water into the sink. Try not to pour out your pasta along with it. If you have a colander you would like to wash later in the day, use that. If you added meatballs, now would be a good time to poke them to make sure your fork goes through (i.e. it's cooked).

5. Add pasta sauce. Also add tabasco or cut chillies or cheese (to taste, if you have any in your house).

6. Microwave for about 2 minutes. It would be advisable here to cover the bowl to prevent splatter. Because splatter is annoying to clean up.

7. Stir and eat.

At the end of all of this, you would have realised two things:
1. You "cooked" pasta in less than 10 minutes.
2. You only have 1 bowl and your fork and spoon to wash. (Well, unless you used a colander, then you also have a colander to wash.)


Wednesday 23 December 2015

#bookreview: Grudging by Michelle Hauck

Grudging: Birth of Saints Book OneGrudging: Birth of Saints Book One by Michelle Hauck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Colina Hermosa is under siege, and in a last ditch manoeuvre, Alcade Julian Alvarado sends his two sons and some of their pelotón on a secret mission into the swamps to seek help from the witches, their traditional enemy.

Ramiro, his younger son, wonders why he is in this elite group, seeing that he is only a bisoño, yet to earn his first kill and be counted as a man. But when the mission falls apart tragically, he has to take up the responsibility and do all he can to take the reluctant witch back to his cuidad-estado to fulfil his mission.

Claire, a Woman of the Song, has been pestering her mother to teach her more about the powers that runs in her veins and her voice. However, when she finally obtains her mother's grudging assent, disaster strikes and Claire finds herself on an unwanted journey to places she used to long to visit.

The first thing that struck me about Grudging was Michelle Hauck's decision to set her story not in traditional medieval European settings but in what appeared to me as a very Hispanic setting. (I'm no cultural expert) In her guest post on diversity, she clarifies that her protagonists are based on Spanish and Moorish cultures. Her antagonists, the Northern warriors, have lighter hair and eyes. This casual overturning of common tropes is what makes the story even more attractive.

In many ways, Grudging is a classic coming-of-age story. When circumstances leave Claire and Ramiro bereft of support and guidance, they must do their best with what they have to stay alive, and in Ramiro's case, to fulfil his mission and responsibility to his city. Hauck writes their grief well, colouring it with different cultural expressions and expectations. Cultural differences cause misunderstanding and Hauck handles it deftly; instead of ignoring it, she builds on their generational prejudices to move the story along.

However, if you think that the novel devolves into a lot of touchy-feely scenes as they sort out their differences and mature in their choices, you're sorely wrong. There is battle, blood and gore, political manoeuvrings, magic and faith. Yes, Hauck also touches a little on religion, with Colina Hermosa practicing a faith very similar to Catholicism, whilst the Northerners serve Dal, a blood-thirsty God.

All in all, Grudging is a well-crafted fantasy that whets your appetite for more in the next two instalments.

* I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews


The paperback version of Grudging has just been released!

A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

Find Grudging: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | HarperCollins | Goodreads


Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. She is a co-host of the yearly query contests Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, New Agent, PitchSlam, and Sun versus Snow. Her Birth of Saints trilogy from Harper Voyager starts with GRUDGING on November 17, 2015. Her epic fantasy, KINDAR’S CURE, was published by Divertir Publishing.

Twitter: @Michelle4Laughs
Blog: Michelle4Laughs: It’s in the Details
Facebook: Michelle Hauck, Author
Goodreads: Grudging
Goodreads: Kindar’s Cure
Tumblr: Michelle4Laughs

Monday 21 December 2015

#musicmonday: He is Born! #Christmas

And look! It's finally a Christmas song!

We'll be singing this at our Christmas Eve show this Thursday. See you there!

Sunday 20 December 2015

#Christmas cards: yes or no?

I posted a couple of (non-Christmassy) postcards out this year, following a tradition I started last year. Haha. We shall see how long that lasts.

At any rate, here's an infographic to help you decide if you should send cards this year! (Or next, if it's too late this year).

Holiday Card Flow Chart Infographic2

(courtesy of

Wednesday 16 December 2015

#bookreview: Faith and the Machine by Fadzlishah Johanabas

Faith and the MachineFaith and the Machine by Fadzlishah Johanabas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay. I'm conflicted about this one.

I started reading the book the day I got it and fell in love the way Fadzlishah brought together science fiction and faith. Definitely a five-star book, I thought.

Then I got home, left the book aside, did a lot of other stuff and continued on, only to find that somewhere between when I put it down and picked it up again, the stories veered off science fiction into... supernatural horror stories. That's not to say that his writing turned bad or horrible. Just that I didn't like the subject matter any longer. This is just a generic three-star, I rated, upset about the half of the book that I didn't like as much as I wanted to.

And then I started writing the review and figured that if half of the book is 3-stars and the other half is 5-stars, then the final rating should be an average of four.

I love the way faith and local beliefs are weaved into the stories unapologetically. In Act of Faith, the Imam questions if an android can really be a Muslim; the villagers in Kuda Kepang seek a boon of the Mistress of Gunung Ledang to save them from the invading Portuguese; Blood Debt dances the line between Islam and black magic.

Fadzlishah's medical background shows up in many of the stories both in the way he translates medical terms for us lay people, and in the way he empathises with those who are ill and hurting. Grief and difficult choices are shown in all their rawness in In Memoriam, A Long Sigh Goodnight and Picking Up the Pieces .

Faith and the Machine is a glorious Malaysian mess that merges everything we love of this multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-streams-of-upbringing into one anthology of short stories. The pontianak take their place beside vampires and witches. Bomohs fight spirits alongside doctors who save lives. Beauty and the Beast and Puteri Gunung Ledang alike have new stories added on to their legends.

I would just say read it. And decide for yourself.

View all my reviews

Monday 14 December 2015

#musicmonday: Spirit Break Out | Kim Walker-Smith

This is the song I always want to sing, but I always cannot remember what it's called, nor the lyrics.

But it's always in the back of my mind - we need to sing this song in church. 

Sunday 13 December 2015

On attempting to live The Dream

TL;DR version:

I am now writing full time. Support me on Patreon or hire me to edit your work!
Pick up When Winds Blow Cold free on Noisetrade or purchase it from Smashwords or Amazon.
Sign up for my mailing list and be notified when my next story comes out! (Hopefully April 2016)


Full, convoluted, Anna-style version:

A little over three months ago I gave up my day job to live The Dream.
But really, it has been nine months since the day my heart shifted. (This is why I have a blog; because I forget too easily the things I should remember.) I have been wanting to write this post for ages now, but I have never gotten round to it until now. Is there a significance to the timing? I don't know. Maybe.

It's not as if this dream hasn't been there for a long time. It's just that it has never actually been very focused, and whilst there is somewhat a little bit more of a focus now, it still seems like a very hazy reality.


But what is The Dream?

It's difficult to describe. The Dream consists of many parts. Of books and words, of dance and song, of theatre and the stage. It has spanned many years. Constantly evolving, yet somehow somewhat the same. It has been birthing for the past 9 years, from when I first made that choice to return and build. It has been discarded and reinstated. It has been given up on and pursued.
It's like I know what I want but I don't know how to get there. I don't know 100% how to yet.

But in its original version, at the core of it, it stays unchanged:
You will see songs of worship raised in fragrance to heaven.
You will see dances of praise choreographed for His glory.
You will see life-changing dramas written and acted that will speak truth to the nations.
You will see your words and books that will impact a generation through story.
At the midst of it, audacious prayers have been prayed, mountains have been asked for.

But what does it LOOK like?

Which is difficult, difficult to explain. Because I don't know. At its very basic, it looks like this:
Write. Because that’s what I called you to do. And from your words will flow My rivers of living waters. And My seed will be planted in each heart because of each word that you write, because of each word you speak.
Speak. You are not my silent one. You are my Spoken one. I have spoken for you. I have spoken to you. I will speak through you. I have given you a Voice. So Speak. Not hide.
Sing. Because those are My songs in your heart. And My anointing does not run out. You will sing what I tell you to sing, you will declare what I say to you to declare, and My Word will go forth in the congregation.

The past 3 months have been decidedly weird. As Daral has mentioned a few times, I have been surprisingly busy, despite my worry that I would devolve into a lump of blubber. As KK and Mookie have also mentioned, I've been busier than when I was actually working a 9-6. I'm not entirely sure that this busyness has been fruitful, or if it will bear fruit eventually, but it is what it is, and if for nothing else, I have also discovered things that I will absolutely not do ever again.

Anyway, here's a summary of what I've been doing:

  • Volunteered for FreedomFilmFest Penang (which I will continue to be involved in for the foreseeable future)
  • Helped work on a proposal and pitch for the Kaki Lima International Film Fest (which is a no-go, unfortunately)
  • Released my short story - When Winds Blow Cold. This is currently for sale on Amazon and Smashwords at $0.99, but is also free on Noisetrade until the end of the year, primarily so that I can add people to my mailing list. Hee. 
  • Continued working on edits to my still-untitled Fairy Tale. I think I should be done by January. Finally. Hopefully to be released in April! :D
  • Uh. Blogged. And reviewed books. 
  • Volunteered at an Arts-Ed Youth Arts Camp where we taught teenagers about timelapse photography. I also discovered (or re-discovered) that I am very bad at facilitating, and I really do not like talking to random people. And no, I am still not a kid person, though these teens are decidedly better than... others. 
  • Did a couple of proofreading/editing jobs. (Hire me!)
  • Kicked off Christmas practices, which are stressing me out. (I will never ever ever ever direct ever again)
  • Finished writing a script for Easter next year (Yes, I will act. No, I will not direct)
  • Failed miserably at Nanowrimo due to Easter script and youth arts camp.
  • Helped out at LUMA, mainly by sitting there during exhibitions when Choon Ean has to head off and do stuff; also by pretending to know how to help set up stuff for the BIG FISH, little fish exhibition.
  • Submitted to another Fixi Novo anthology (keeps fingers crossed, though I know that doesn't work)
  • Did book signings and readings with MyWriters!
  • Went to Hatyai with the YAs and bought stuff. And ate stuff. 
  • We had write-ins.


Things that are coming up for 2016:

  • Semicolon, an Easter play in March 
  • Release of the Fairy Tale in April 
  • Project Dance Penang in Sept 
  • MyWriters Festival & Workshops in Oct 

So in writing it down, it does look like I did a lot, though as I also said, I don't know if these are going to be the core of what I will continue to be doing. 

I think there is going to have to be a lot more streamlining going on, especially in terms of what I want to achieve, and where my core ministry lies, because at times I feel as if I am doing everything because I can, not because I should be. 

And that is really much too distracting and overwhelming. 

I wanted to write down a vision, but I suppose that will come in another post. Mostly because that is the one thing I am still grappling with. I hoped it would come clearer as I wrote, but not yet. Not yet. 

Friday 11 December 2015

#fridayflash: Patience

Patience, her mother had once told her, is a Virtue. She wasn't entirely sure why. Patience was a horrible, grubby little girl who liked to pull her sister's hair when no one else was looking. That definitely wasn't very angelic. Of course, her mother could have meant something else entirely but Charity wasn't sure what.

Charity is also a Virtue, her mother had tagged on, as if not wanting her to feel left out. But charity as a virtue often went by the name Love, and Charity did not feel very loving, especially when Patience was kicking her in the shin.

"Would you stop that?" Charity asked irritably.

Patience continued kicking. "What for?"

"It hurts."

There was a slight pause as the six-year-old considered it. A few seconds later, she resumed her rhythm.

Charity tried to grab her younger sister's leg. "Patience! Stop trying my... patience." She groaned.

Patience sniggered. "Okay. I need to practice some charity anyway." With an angelic smile, she got up from the table and went to her room, leaving Charity in peace.

No, Patience was definitely not a Virtue. And neither was Charity.


  1. 1.
    behavior showing high moral standards.
    "paragons of virtue"
  2. 2.
    (in traditional Christian angelology) the seventh highest order of the ninefold celestial hierarchy.

Wait. What?

Wednesday 9 December 2015

#bookreview: Stories of Singularity by @susankayequinn

Susan Kaye Quinn just released 4 short stories set in the Singularity Universe! And because *ahem* I am an early reviewer (wheeeeeeee), here are my reviews! (If you follow me on goodreads, you would've already read these.)

Restore (Stories of Singularity #1)Restore by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Restore is written in the voice of Restorative Human Medical Care Unit 7435, an AI built to administer medical care to humans. Replacing Asimov's famous three laws of robotics with a single emotion: unconditional love, Restore explores what happens when Unit 7435 fails in its primary mission.

I guess I *liked* the story. But I'm not raving over it. It was thoughtful. Well-written. Bitter sweet. I don't understand why I didn't like it more.

Containment (Stories of Singularity #2)Containment by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Mining Master of Thebe has encountered a strange arrangement of rocks that shouldn't be there. When a visiting ascender makes a beautiful work of art, he is inexplicably drawn to it. He wants to probe more into this mystery, but there is work to be done and scheduled health checks to be performed.

There was something beautifully haunting about Containment. Quinn explores the idea of sentience and robotic intelligence, providing startling revelations - at least to the robot.

Defiance (Stories of Singularity #3)Defiance by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where The Legacy Human launches you directly into Elijah's world, Defiance gives you a peek into the background of the relationship between Elijah, Cyrus and Mrs Brighton.

It colours in the lines of what you already know from the Singularity series, so it would either be a great tease if you haven't read the books yet, or a satisfying snippet for those who want more from the Singularity universe.

Augment (Stories of Singularity #4)Augment by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Miriam Levine is a jiv - a human with augments - and she's fighting to win the Resurrection mod - a brand new augmentation that may very well be the only thing that will keep her alive. Because she's about to throw her life away.

Susan Kaye Quinn fleshes out a very passionate Mir, one who is ready to give up her life for what she believes in, one who desperately wants to see change in their community. I loved this short story and wanted to give it 5 stars, but to be honest, I think you'd only really love this if you've already read The Legacy Human and The Duality Bridge.

View all my reviews

The books are also available in a box set, which includes a bonus flash fiction.

Monday 7 December 2015

#musicmonday: Compilation of top #worship songs

I missed a few Mondays because I've been incredibly busy and forgot that I hadn't scheduled a Music Monday post in a while.

I'm currently working on building a top 40 list of worship songs for 215District, our youth & young adult group at church, and would like some of your input! Well, technically I wanted to do a top 25 list, but then there were way too many songs, and I already have 44 in the list, which I really need to cut down. Yeah, I will slash this eventually.

What are your favourite praise & worship songs? Are there any I should add to the list?
What songs work in your church, and which ones don't?

Let me know in the comments!

Friday 4 December 2015

#Fridayflash: Bonsai

Pei Pei sat at the mamak stall, staring at her glass of teh tarik which had been served piping hot. It was nearing one in the morning, but there was still a big crowd at the stall because some famous football team was playing another famous football team. A quaint way, her mother would have said, of trying to run away from the troubles that plagued her at home.

The biggest of which was what to do with Kong Kong's bonsai.

It wasn't that there was something inherently wrong with having a perfect little tree in a perfect little pot; a microcosm, her grandfather used to say, of the world. It was just that this particular little tree amongst all the other trees had somehow been bequeathed to her and she didn't know what to do with it. She found it unnerving, to say the least, mostly because it seemed to sit and stare at her with its soulful leaves, as if it wanted to say something but couldn't. She was being silly, of course. Trees didn't talk. Neither did they stare. It was all in her head.

"The problem with being a little shumu penjing is that we're confined to a little tray or pot and we don't grow very deep roots. Sure, we look pretty - or at least artistic - but we're kind of shallow. We also seem to get shifted around a lot, whether we like it or not. You use the word bonsai, which is the correct English term for me, but I thought you might appreciate the fact that the ancient art of making little old me was actually invented by the Chinese millennia ago before it was passed on to the Japanese. You know, cultural pride and all that."

Pei Pei rubbed her eyes and looked around. She was sure she had fallen asleep, though how she could have in the general ruckus that was happening in the mamak was a mystery to her. One of the teams had won, apparently, and not everyone was happy with that. At least they were only shouting. She took a sip of her cold tea and wondered why she had brought the bonsai out for supper.

"You too are a bonsai, little Pei Pei. Artificially crafted and generally rather rootless. You've built your life a certain way, around certain beliefs you thought were important, but you've never really let yourself grow into your role, have you? You've always balked of the idea of letting your roots take hold and settling down, of choosing one culture or another as your defining... heritage. In fact, you are wary of the word heritage and all that it's supposed to entail because you don't think you belong to one or the other. You're a transplant, like me."

Pei Pei stared at the teh tarik sitting innocently beside the bonsai, wondering whether it was spiked. Maybe they had put in some hallucinogens, or maybe some stray passerby had dropped an ecstasy pill in it. It had tasted perfectly normal though - extremely milky and overly sweet.

"Face it. Without strong roots, you know you're fake. You know that even just a little neglect would kill you because your roots aren't deep enough to find its own water or its own nutrients. So you sculpt yourself meticulously, mirroring the people you think you should be like because you haven't dug deep enough to find out who you were meant to be. Think about it though - this smallness, this cuteness, it's artificial. If you would only plant yourself somewhere and allow yourself to grow, you'd become a huge tree - like that one over there."

Pei Pei caught herself turning to look at the trunk of the ancient tree that provided shade to the mamak stall during the day, including random leaves. She shook her head at herself. "This is some prank you're playing on me, isn't it, Kong Kong? Did you somehow hypnotise me into bringing this stupid potted plant out?" She twisted the pot this way and that, merely stopping short of turning it upside down, in her quest to find the voice recording her grandfather must have stuck somewhere on it before he passed away.

"I'm getting dizzy. Could you please put me down?"

She nearly dropped the pot in surprise. Her grandfather had been a great practical joker, but she highly doubted he was clairvoyant. It must be pre-programmed and tied in with some kind of motion-sensor, she guessed. She shook it again.

"Would you please stop that!"

"Smart. I wonder how he did it." She placed the pot down on the table.

"He didn't do anything. This is all me talking to you," the tree said in a huff.

She narrowed her eyes at it as she sipped on her tea.


It's been a while since I posted a Friday Flash.

I wrote this ostensibly for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Competition but haven't finished it yet (the deadline was Nov 1). I'll probably finish it one day, but for now, it will remain a piece of flash fiction. 

Wednesday 2 December 2015

#bookreview: Brink of Dawn by Jeff & Erynn Altabef

Welcome to the Brink of Dawn Tour
Authors Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef

Brink of Dawn (Chosen #2)Brink of Dawn by Jeff Altabef
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to admit that I started reading this and couldn't remember what on earth happened in book 1, Wind Catcher. Because of that, I had to scramble a little to get myself up to speed - and Brink of Dawn doesn't give you much clues. Or it does, but rather disjointedly.

Written in the voice of Juliet Wildfire Stone, who is not only Chosen, but also their Alpha, you get a glimpse of a sixteen year old struggling to be good enough, but not always believing it. She rails against why she must be "special" and "different", clings on to her best friend Troy, both using him and pushing him away at the same time, develops feelings for her fellow Chosen and struggles with jealousy, rushes headlong into dangerous situations, and is generally full of snark.

In this second book, Jeff & Erynn Altabef solve the glaring pacing issues that were evident in the first one. It also has a wider focus - saving the world - which I guess appeals to me more. Juliet continues to work through her trust issues, learning to work with the other 3 Chosen and Troy as they attempt to save the world - or at least New York for a start.

* I received a copy of this ebook from Novel Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

About the Book

Follow-up to the multiple award-winning Wind Catcher:

They walk among us as if they are gods.
Only the Chosen know what they are.
Only the Chosen know to fear them.
And only the Chosen can defeat them.

Juliet Wildfire Stone and her best friend, Troy Buckhorn, barely escaped their sleepy Arizona town alive. Now they’re speeding to New York City to find the three other Chosen. The Chosen must band together to face an ancient foe that threatens all humanity.

Yet Juliet doesn’t know whom to trust, and strange things are happening in the City.

The Chosen will be tested, their resolve questioned, and their flaws exposed. Each must decide whether he or she will fulfill their destiny—or run. To defeat the enemy, they must stop battling among themselves and overcome their own struggles.

Only one can lead them. Will Juliet embrace her powers in time?

Brink of Dawn picks up where the multiple-award-winning first book in the Chosen series, Wind Catcher, left off, but it can also be read as a stand-alone novel. Continue the adventure! And be sure to watch for the third and final installment in this exciting series, Scorched Souls, to launch in late 2016.

About the Authors

jeff altabefJeff Altabef is an award winning author who lives in New York with his wife, two daughters, and Charlie the dog. He spends time volunteering at the writing center in the local community college. After years of being accused of "telling stories," he thought he would make it official. He writes in both the thriller and young adult genres.

Fourteenth Colony, a political thriller, was his debut novel. Evolved Publishing has published Jeff’s second thriller, Shatter Point, which won the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for Fall 2014 in the category of Best Thriller.

Jeff's first young adult novel, Wind Catcher: A Chosen Novel will be published in March by Evolved Publishing. He's extremely excited that his daughter, Erynn Altabef, is his co-author on the Chosen Series. As an avid Knicks fan, Jeff is prone to long periods of melancholy during hoops season. Jeff has a column on The Examiner focused on writing and a blog designed to encourage writing by those that like telling stories.

About the Prizes
We've got great prizes for this tour including signed paperbacks AND a 6 month subscription to Kindle Unlimited! You can enter multiple times every day if you want!

a Rafflecopter giveaway //

Friday 27 November 2015

#bookreview: The Migrant Report by @Moha_Doha

The Migrant Report (Crimes in Arabia #1)The Migrant Report by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Police Captain Ali has to give up his dreams of joining the Internal Security Force due to a physical defect. Initially stuck with ridiculous assignments such as arresting chefs for making penis-shaped cakes for a private function, he gets sucked into the investigation of mysterious deaths amongst foreign construction workers.

Maryam needs to write a report - something unique to life in the Arabian Gulf - so that Professor Paul will give her a passing grade. Failing would mean that she would get kicked out of university - and her mother would finally be able to marry her off. When her brother, Nasser, suggests that she write about migrant workers and their lives, she jumps at the idea. Finding one to interview for her report is no easy feat, however. As an unmarried female, she doesn't have the freedom to interview any of the male migrant workers - even if she could find one who was willing to talk to her.

Manu is excited to leave Nepal and join his sister Sanjana in the Middle East. But things quickly turn sour when his expected office job turns into menial labour on a construction site, his salary is slashed, and he has no way to contact Sanjana.

The Migrant Report is an honest peek into life in the Gulf - where profits are more important than the lives of cheap labour, and family honour is more important than truth or education. But the world is slowly changing and Ali, Maryam and Manu find themselves treading in dangerous waters. The three of them, with the help of their family and friends, need to figure out how to walk the dangerous balance between meeting society's expectations and cultural values whilst pressing to expose the corruption behind the scenes without ending up dead. Race, religion and skin colour all make up an important part of one's identity - both in the way one views oneself, and in the way one is treated by others in society - and Moha demonstrates this very well in The Migrant Report.

I enjoyed reading Moha's latest novel. It's an ambitious one - one that contrasts the differences between being an expatriate and an immigrant, though both are foreign workers in a foreign country. It highlights the privileges of being white and illustrates the restrictions of being a Muslim girl.

I think it is an important story that needed to be told.

*I received a free copy of this book via Novel Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews


About the Book - About the Author - Prizes!!!

About the prizes: Who doesn't love prizes? You could win one of two $50 Amazon gift cards or an autographed copy of The Migrant Report! Here's what you need to do...
  1. Enter the Rafflecopter contest
  2. Leave a comment on my blog
That's it! One random commenter during this tour will win the first gift card. Visit more blogs for more chances to win--the full list of participating bloggers can be found HERE. The other two prizes will be given out via Rafflecopter. You can find the contest entry form linked below or on the official The Migrant Report tour page via Novel Publicity. Good luck!

About the book: 

The penalty for stealing is losing your hand. No wonder Ali can leave his wallet overnight in his office. Crime hovers on the fringes of society, under the veneer of utopia. Police captain Ali's hopes of joining the elite government forces are dashed when his childhood deformity is discovered. His demotion brings him face to face with the corruption of labor agencies and also Maryam, an aspiring journalism student, who is unlike any local girl he has ever met. Ali and his unlikely sidekick must work together to find the reason so many laborers are dying. Against the glittery backdrop of the oil rich Arabian Gulf, Ali pursues a corrupt agency that will stop at nothing to keep their profits rising. As the body count rises, so does the pressure to settle the source. Can Ali settle the score before the agency strikes again?

Get The Migrant Report through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the author: 

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s award winning books have focused on various aspects of life in the Arabian Gulf nation of Qatar. From Dunes to Dior is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf and named as Indie Book of the Day in 2013. Love Comes Later is a literary romance set in Qatar and London and was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013, short listed for the New Talent award by the Festival of Romance, and Best Novel Finalist in eFestival of Words, 2013.

She currently lives with her family in Qatar, where she teaches writing and literature courses at American universities.

Connect with Mohanalakshmi on her website, Facebook,or Twitter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday 25 November 2015

#review: Here in the Waiting

It has been a difficult week.

If you know me well enough, you know that I don't do well with dealing with people. Especially young people. What led me to volunteer at a youth arts camp for teens aged between 13 - 17 is one thing. I, at least, was somewhat prepared for it. The drama that teens create that do not relate to the Christmas drama (totally not related to camp) was another thing altogether. Add to that hormones. And overall levels of frustration. "Stress" is too mild a word. I had stabby feelings. Very, very stabby feelings.

One thing that has helped me keep my sanity was Josh's Here in the Waiting album. Like seriously.

The songs on this album aren't exactly new to me. I was there at PenHOP during the recording in May, so I've listened to and sung these songs over and over again. But listening to them again in my car was like a breath of fresh air; like a new wind.

HITW is an album of intimacy. Kau Yang Terelok, Surrender and One Glance are love songs to the Father, Hear Him Roar and The Return are declarations of power, Breath of Heaven invites us to invite God to work in us. And Here in the Waiting itself is the heart-cry of a generation desperate to see the Father move.

On Josh's website, he says (emphasis mine):
Maturity is the ability to live in the tension of unresolved questions. It is the ability to navigate the space between the already’s and not-yet’s of life while being fully present in the now. As believers, we are caught in the pull of the kingdom now and yet-to-come, the “fulfillment without consummation”. We see God’s power manifested through healing and miracles, yet see bodies ravaged by disease and lives truncated by death. We see justice movements being raised and released on the earth, yet are confronted daily with the injustices of living in a fallen world. As beings created with eternity in our hearts, it is difficult, even discouraging, to confront the stark disparity between what is and what should be. 
And this is the space I've been inhabiting lately. A place where I see the things that should be and yet stand in the place where it is not. I see the so much more that we could be, but I do not know how to get there. And I do not know if we will. And yet we hope. We wait. We long. 

In his interview on Selah, Josh says this:
After the final note of the last track has faded and what’s left in the heart of the listener is an aching and longing for Jesus and a desire to love Him more, then it would have all been worth it.
It has then been worth it.


So in lieu of a #musicmonday post and a book review post that's being rescheduled to Friday, here's a song and an invitation. :)


// 26 November - Penang (FGA Centre)
RSVP here today:

// 27 November - Kuala Lumpur (DUMC)
RSVP here today:

// 29 November - Singapore (Faith Methodist Church)
RSVP here today:

Wednesday 18 November 2015

#bookreview: Juma's Rain by Katharina Gerlach

Jumatoa Botango is the only female left in her family and she is intent on claiming the role her late mother gave up when she followed her husband out to the Endless Wells: Chieftess of the tribe. But claiming the role as the chieftess' apprentice is a near impossible task. Her cousin Kandra, daughter of the current Chieftess, is her direct competitor. The tribe is facing the worst drought in history, and no matter what they do, the witch has been unable to wake Vanamate, Mother of the Tribes and Keeper of the Water, from her slumber. Netinu, Kandra's brother, is insistent on trying to court her - mostly to annoy his mother and sister - adding an additional layer of distraction to her complicated life. Worst of all, Juma keeps seeing a red-haired man no one else sees - one she gradually realises is the heat daemon, Mubuntu.

In Juma's Rain, German author Katharina Gerlach weaves an enchanting tale set in Africa. It isn't an African folk tale though - it's a retelling of The Rain Maiden by Theodor Storm, a German writer from the 1800's. In her retelling, Gerlach constructs a very believable matriarchal society and belief system, giving you enough details to make it seem authentic, and yet not enough to fix it to any one tribe or location. The gods referenced (The Nameless, Vanamate, Monnatoba, Mubuntu) do not seem to come from any popular African mythology that I can find online; either Gerlach created them, or they are quite obscure (not that I looked very hard, other than random Wikipedia searches). While I was reading though, it felt authentic, charming and romantic and I was excited to learn something about African myths and beliefs, which says something about Gerlach's growing prowess as a story teller.

It feels odd to say this, but I am proud - and glad - to witness Gerlach's growth over the years. The first time I met her online was through the Writers Platform Building Campaign back in 2011, where she spurred quite a few participants and compiled our flash fiction into an anthology, Campaigner Challenges 2011, for charity.

Since then, I have been on her mailing list and have been invited to review a few of her books. One of the earliest was Urchin King, a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, which hinted at her prowess, but was not quite there yet. The next was The Adventure of Creation, an anthology in which Katharina's short story appears. This was followed by another short story, The Day Music Died, in 2014 and The King's Mechanic early this year.

What makes this doubly impressive is the fact that not only does she write increasingly well in English, she also writes in German. Or rather, she writes in German (which I am not qualified to comment on) and then translates them into English.

Katharina Gerlach is definitely a writer to watch.

*Note: I received a copy of Juma's Rain from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

#guestpost: @michelle4laughs talks about diversity in Grudging

Diversity is a hot button issue. People feel very emotional about it. And rightly so. But that makes it a difficult subject to talk about. And also difficult for writers with their books. Leave out diverse characters in your book and you can be called out on it. Include diverse characters and you can be called out in the opposite way for not being sensitive or genuine enough--for getting it wrong.

As a white writer do we avoid diversity or do we go for it? Either way seems full of the possibility of upsetting someone, no matter our good intentions. Unlike in stories, I don't like conflict in my real life. I just want to write and craft an entertaining story. But I also want to show that our world is full of wonderfully different people. That's why when I decided on a desert setting for my newest book, I knew the characters living there would need to have darker skin than the traditional western European hero in order to be accurate. That's basic evolution. I based my protagonists on Spanish and Moorish cultures. The aggressive antagonists in Grudging have lighter hair and eyes being from the North or colder climate.

The thing to remember is that I write fantasy, and not modern urban fantasy, but fantasy set in an imaginary place--like Lord of the Rings but without orcs and elves and such. These human cultures are fiction, invented by me. They don't have the same racial history of the real world. They didn't struggle with slavery or the same prejudices. Their reactions are going to be different from real world people. What I hope is that they will have human reactions.

I work in an elementary school, helping special needs children. This year I'm in my favorite place--a kindergarten class. I love it because they accept each other unconditionally. There are twenty children from all sorts of backgrounds. We have kids whose parents came from the Middle East. Kids whose parents were born in Africa. There is every color of the wonderful world in this class and every religion, and I adore them all. My days are full of funny and touching moments. Five-year-olds love to hug and share about their lives. And do you know what I noticed? They may be only five, but they all have strikingly different and unique personalities. Not one of them acts exactly the same as another. Not one of them can be classified by how they look.

When I craft a character I hope that's what comes through. That each character is a different and unique individual with their own way of reacting. But whether protagonist or antagonist they all feel human. Perhaps that's the way I feel diversity should work: that it shows how people are the same and how we are different, but that we are all human. And that's how we should be judged--on our humanity.


A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.
On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.
The Women of the Song.
But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.
A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.
Find Grudging: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | HarperCollins | Goodreads


Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. She is a co-host of the yearly query contests Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, New Agent, PitchSlam, and Sun versus Snow. Her Birth of Saints trilogy from Harper Voyager starts with GRUDGING on November 17, 2015. Her epic fantasy, KINDAR’S CURE, was published by Divertir Publishing.

Goodreads: Grudging
Goodreads: Kindar’s Cure

Monday 16 November 2015

#musicmonday: Steady Heart | Steffany Gretzinger

Steady heart that keeps on going
Steady love that keeps on holding
Lead me on
Steady grace that keeps forgiving
Steady faith that keeps believing
Lead me on

Friday 13 November 2015

A #nanowrimo excerpt: Of Elephants and Potatoes

And here it is, an excerpt from the story I started for Nanowrimo, which is probably going to die an ignominious death very soon. Enjoy, or rather, just stab me to death right now.


The thing with being In a State was that it often tired Cherise out so that she didn’t have any bad dreams. This time though, because she had fallen asleep after less than half an hour of crying, her subconscious was still overly active, resulting in the strangest dream about elephants that she had ever had. Not that she had ever dreamt of elephants before.
She had opened her eyes to see a large, matronly elephant bending over her, nuzzling her neck with its trunk. She had blinked and rubbed her eyes, but the elephant still loomed over her. She could feel the gentle touch of the elephant’s trunk on her neck, unexpectedly feather light, like a warm caress.
“Why do you cry, little one?” the elephant asked.
Cherise’s eyes widened.
“You… you speak. I’m… I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” Cherise pinched herself.
The elephant’s eyes narrowed. “Hmm. Yes, yes you are.”
Cherise nodded. “That’s right.”
“So why don’t you tell me why you’re crying, little one? After all, this is only a dream, so you can say whatever you want.”
“I - I…” Cherise couldn’t figure out what to say. Frankly, she felt a little silly for talking to an elephant, even if it were only an imaginary one.
“You remind me of that cartoon,” she said instead. “The one with the flying elephant.”
“Maybe I am.”
“I haven’t seen that cartoon for ages. I don’t really remember what it was about except that little Dumbo was crying because he had been separated from his mother.”
“So why are you crying? Have you been separated from your mother?”
“I - well, it seems so silly.”
“Nothing can be sillier than you dreaming of talking to a cartoon elephant, so why don’t you try me?” the elephant said. Cherise found herself agreeing.
“Well, you see, Nate got married.”
The elephant waited for her to continue. After a while, it prodded, “and you’re heart-broken because you like him?”
“No, not exactly. I never liked Nate in that way. I mean, he was nice. We’ve been friends for a long time, but I never had romantic feelings for him.” She paused, sitting up. The elephant settled into what passed for a sitting position beside her and they sat companionably in silence. Cherise found herself leaning on it.
“Do you have a name?” she finally asked.
“Hmm. You can call me Iris,” the elephant replied.
“Iris. Like the flower?”
“No. Iris, like your eye.”
Cherise thought about that. “Because you are all-seeing? Or something?”
“Or something.” Iris’ trunk settled about Cherise’s shoulders like a warm hug. “Why don’t you continue telling me your story?”
“Oh. I thought I’d finished. Well, Nate got married. And everyone was so happy and so pretty. And then I felt like a useless fifth wheel which no one noticed or wanted.”
“Fifth wheel?” Iris queried.
“You know, like that spare tire thing that’s in the car that you never remember you have until your get a flat tire?”
“I’m not very familiar with the concept of cars, but I think I get what you mean.”
“Yea, I mean everything is always done in pairs - or in this case, with four wheels on a car - and you never ever need that last person, unless something goes wrong. And I’m always this person - this - useless person until something goes wrong and they say, oh but maybe Cherise knows what to do. And then most times I don’t, but I try. And sometimes I do but it’s all so - ugh.”
“Doesn’t that make you a useful person, though? Because they need you?”
Cherise shook her head. “You don’t understand, Iris. I don’t want to be needed anymore. I want to be wanted.”
Iris flapped her ears thoughtfully.
“And maybe what I really want is a family of my own. Despite the fact that kids are such bothersome things. But… but maybe they won’t be that bad,” Cherise continued in a rush.
“But that sounds like you want to be needed. Children are needy little people after all.”
“I - I…” a small tear leaked out of Cherise’s eye. “I don’t know what I want. I just know that I don’t want to be where I am anymore. The white elephant. The elephant in the room.” She paused. “No offense.”
Iris engulfed her in a warm elephant hug. “Don’t worry little one. Things will get better soon.” Cherise wriggled a little, but Iris’ hug was strong and comforting, and once she was settled in a comfortable position, she closed her eyes and listened to Iris sing a little Elephant Lullaby.

Hush, little one, close your eyes
Iris is here to still your cries
The world so harsh will fade away
As Iris sings her little lay.  


And my terrible word count so you can laugh at me.

Thursday 12 November 2015

#Tea review series: Traditional teas from @roleaftea

And I'm back with my final instalment of the tea review!

The first one I started with was Rooibos the Robust, which hails from South Africa. 

Anna's review: I've had Rooibos before and find that there are varying strengths to this. I once had a whole pack of rather light sachets that I finished off quickly in college, and I've also had some really thick rooibos from when a friend visited South Africa, so I was thinking "Robust" must be really thick. Surprisingly not.
As the product description says: "Strength: Light." Not sure why it's called Robust then. 

How I would describe it to my mum: Hey, it says it's caffeine-free so you can drink it any time. Though I think you probably won't want to try because it still has a very 'tea' taste. 


The next on the list is a rather common tea: Jasmine. The name on the pack they sent me says "Just Jasmine", but I can't find that specific name on the website. they've probably rebranded to either Dragon Pearl Jasmine or maybe Jasmine Luxury. Which ever it is, it's a very nice Jasmine tea. 

Anna's review: Very often you don't get Jasmine tea any more. You get Jasmine green tea which is very much green tea and not enough Jasmine. This... is very flowery Jasmine. Be careful of over-steeping though.

How I would describe it to my mum: Uh, it's Jasmine. Like what you get in pots in restaurants.


The last tea is Imperial Long Jing. I was trying to figure out what tea this was from the name because neither my mum nor I had ever heard of it before. The production description, "variety of pan-roasted green tea from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China," didn't help very much, so I just drank it.

Anna's review & how I would describe it to my mum: We drank this together because we couldn't figure out what tea it was. Our conclusion was that this tasted like fancy Chinese tea from fancy expensive Chinese restaurants. It's pretty light, with a bit of a dry after taste and we still don't know what we would call it here.


Again, super-duper thanks and much love to RoLeaf for these tea samples! Check them out at their websitefacebooktwitter and instagram.