Wednesday 27 July 2016

#bookreview: The Timeloopers series by Dan Rix

I've probably posted reviews of some of the books here already, but I thought I'd get them all on one page. :)

A Strange Machine (Timeloopers, #1)A Strange Machine by Dan Rix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Strange Machine starts off with the mysterious disappearance of Franklin Thomas, who walks into the prototype Chronos Quantum Computer and never comes out again. Edgar Faye, the head of the project, closes down the jinxed project and donates the computer to his alma mater - Lakeside Upper. Cory Holland, computer whizz, spoiled rich brat, and all-round annoying jerk, (sounds rather like Tony Stark's playboy, philanthropist, billionaire?) then gets his hands on it after breaking into the school compound. From there, Dan Rix works his quantum physics and time travelling magic, plunging Cory, Noah, and Iris into a crazy loop as they try to change the future in order to change the past. (Time travel paradox, anyone?)

It does Rix credit that his characterisation of Cory Holland is good enough that I really wanted to slap this idiotic teenager several times over. Cory was a very well-rounded character - cocky and egotistical, sometimes even brash, and yet still vulnerable in areas of his life. His two side-kicks, Noah Wright and Iris Strasser (somewhat reluctantly), also manage to live in your imagination as they struggle through the pains of high school, Advanced Physics, and the way Cory bullies them both. (I'm suspecting two possible romances to emerge in the next book from the way it's being set up. Hah.)
On the other hand, Cory's crush, Samantha Silvers, felt a little like a throwaway character - as if she's just there to be his distraction in the book. Part of the reason could be her strange behaviour towards Cory's nemesis, Dante Laurenti (mmm delicious). Her vacillation between the two would have been a perfectly normal confused reaction of a hormone-driven girl with two simultaneous crushes (which can happen!) except for the drugs and her parents' awkward lack of protectiveness and absence, despite knowing that she has a problem.

And that brings up a YA trope Dan Rix has allowed into his book - absentee parents. I didn't quite notice this as strongly in his other books [In [book:Triton|20823076], everyone except the four teens had disappeared - though there was a hint of family dysfunction; In God's Loophole and Eternity’s End, the Rockwell's parents had died (there were an uncle and an aunt) whilst Raedyn was a runaway, however there was the professor who was, in a way, kind of a stand-in parent/mentor]. In A Strange Machine, however, it feels as if the story is littered with absentee/distant parents. Cory's father is too busy with work to pay attention to him, Noah's mother appears to be addicted to the lottery. Samantha's parents conveniently disappear on an anniversary trip just when her ex-boyfriend comes back from juvie and Edgar Faye seems to be drifting too much in and out of reality to be much of a father to Anneliese. Iris' parents weren't mentioned much at all.
I guess it's not ALL bad - certain lack of parental knowledge has to take place in order for the teens to get themselves into trouble, right? - but maybe having so many at once felt a little like overkill.

At any rate, Rix has a good thing going. In most of his books, it's really the way he gets you to identify with his characters and the struggles they go through that makes the story comes to life. That really is his strength, and he manages to continue to harness it, even while improving on his overall writing chops.

I received a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Ghost At Retreat Lake (Timeloopers, #2)The Ghost At Retreat Lake by Dan Rix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh out of the crazy, unnerving, time looping events in A Strange Machine, Iris, Cory and Noah watch with horror as a future Iris Strasser crawls out of the machine and dies in front of their eyes.
Still, Cory Holland, like the annoying prick he is, insists that they go for the senior class lake retreat, because... it will be extremely fun.

Except it's not. A series of close calls and strange happenings further unnerve Iris Strasser, and it's all she can do to convince Cory to stop ogling girls and flirting to listen to her concerns. However, Cory's not as clueless as he pretends to be - even whilst he's enjoying himself zip-lining and swimming (and annoying Iris), he's also trying to work through the events to figure out just what's happening with the Chronos and the strange codes he's found.
Getting the two of them to work together is a huge problem - one that may end up in both of their deaths. But that's not enough. If they don't get Anneliese Faye's cooperation, they may never solve the mystery of the ghost at retreat lake.

Reading The Ghost at Retreat Lake had me confused at times - it honestly felt as if there were dual story lines, or at least dual versions of Cory in the book. Part of it, I suppose, was because of the extremely opposite viewpoints used - between Iris' perception of Cory and his own perception of himself, I was beginning to wonder whether the timeloop had created another version of Cory! There didn't seem to be a similar duality with Iris though. Maybe because Iris sees herself more clearly than Cory does?

Rix again shows his mastery at meshing seemingly random and unrelated events and story lines so that they begin to make sense - and he addresses at least one concern I had from the first book - Edgar Faye. (One thing I'm hoping very hard does not happen though is this burgeoning "romance" thing between Cory and Iris. It's just no no no no no, you are NOT right for each other.)

Of course, he just *has* to end at a cliff hanger and ask you to wait for book three...

I received a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

An Infinite Loop (Timeloopers, #3)An Infinite Loop by Dan Rix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh gosh. This book was tantalizing from start to finish. I would like to gush, but I don't gush (right).

Cory, being Cory, lands himself and Iris in big trouble when he accidentally sends her into an infinite timeloop. What that means, really, is that she's stuck in the stupid time machine and can't escape because Cory made an error in the code. Which means... she's dead.

What results is a heartbreaking story of a Cory trying to make amends, and trying to figure out how to save the girl he finally realises that he doesn't actually hate. (Ah, I guess I'm a little more okay with this now than I was when reading The Ghost At Retreat Lake)

Rix is getting better at this alternate timeline stuff too. Where in The Ghost At Retreat Lake it felt like there were dual story lines that didn't jive (whether on purpose or not, it just felt jarring), it just seems to flow one after another in this book. There's still the inevitable repeating timelines, told from past and future Cory/Iris, but it seems to pick up seamlessly from where the other story line let off.

And seriously, I'm glad that Cory isn't as annoying a jerk as he used to be. Though what's with all the annoying girls? I'd like to slap Sam, Anneliese and Pris and tell them to grow up. I'd also sometimes like to slap Iris as well, though I kind of get where she's coming from with Cory being an idiot.

*I received a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Though to be honest I just like his stuff. Lol.

The Man with Two Pasts (Timeloopers Book 4)The Man with Two Pasts by Dan Rix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am surprised I did not review this book the minute I finished it. (I'm still not sure why)

The Man with Two Pasts is a superb ending to the Timeloopers series. Cory and Iris have gone back and forth in time so many times, it comes as no surprise that now, Cory is dead, AGAIN. It seems that Rix has written himself into a corner, but a-ha! something changes again and Cory is alive! But then someone - a certain dead someone - changes time again... ensuring that Cory stays dead. There's no win in this. Either Cory dies, or Iris dies, or Cory dies. Usually Cory. And as much as I love to hate Cory (ever since the start; A Strange Machine), I've too much invested in this love-hate Iris/Cory relationship to really want him to die.

Just a word of advice: keep note of the dates in each chapter. Or you'll constantly be going, "eh what? When is this again?

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Friday 22 July 2016

#fridayflash: Never Ending

It's not that it's heavy, just that it's never-ending. 

It starts as a light drizzle, and you welcome it. You want to stand in the rain, revel in the cool air that now blows through your wet clothes. Singing in the rain, indeed.

By the second hour, when it gets heavy enough that each drop stings - and you wonder if this is just rain or is it something else? - you're already in the house, curled up in bed, your hair damp from the shower you took to chase away any illness you could have caught from being caught in the rain. Though you weren't caught in it. And you don't believe in such superstition. But the rain beats a heavy pattern on your roof, and it's nice and cold as you snuggle up in your comforter with a book in hand and a steaming mug of tea on your side table. 

The tea is now cold because you've been too absorbed to remember it's there, and besides, you tell yourself, you're too comfortable to get out of bed to go to the loo, so you shouldn't be drinking anymore at this hour. Your book is almost slipping out of your fingers, your eyes are almost closed, but you're hanging on because, darn it, you want to know how it ends.

When you wake up the next morning, you find that you've only a few pages left to the end, but you're going to be late for work if you don't get up now. The howl of the wind and the torrents that beat against your window make you wish you could skip work for "weather-related circumstances" but you know that while that may work if you were snowed in (fat chance in tropical Malaysia), it's not going to work for this rain. Weather-related excuses are only tolerated up to "I was stuck in the jam because the road flooded." You'd be late, no doubt, but you still have to show up.

The rain is gloomy now, no longer refreshing, and you wish it would just stop. Because you want to go out for lunch and actually stay dry. Because you don't want your jeans to get wet because then you'd have to wash it, but it wouldn't dry because of this blasted rain. You hear horror stories of people being stuck at work because the car park flooded and water got into their exhaust and you thank God, oh thank you God, that you haven't driven - and will not have cause to drive - to any of the affected areas.

You beg off work early - as do most people - because it's still raining and everyone is afraid that today might be the day our car park would flood. There's a smell of damp in the car from when you ran out in the rain to open and close the gate earlier this morning; you can't do anything about it now and it's only going to be exacerbated later when you arrive home, so you ignore it.

Later at night, you curl up in bed again, reveling in the cool air and the feel of comfort. You finish off the previous book and curl up with a new one. The torrents have stopped now, though the sky is still dark. You look out the window and find that it's still drizzling. A smile spreads across your face.

It doesn't matter if the rain doesn't stop now, or if it's never ending. You have what you need for the weekend. 

Wednesday 20 July 2016

#bookreview: The Dragon Round

The Dragon RoundThe Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeryon, captain of the Comber, is a strict, by-the-book man driven to bring the apothecary and the medicine they've sourced back home to plague-ridden Hanosh - until a dragon attack and a mutinous second mate sees both him and Everlyn cast out to sea on the captain's chance. Luck is with them and when the island they're marooned on gives them an additional surprise in the form of a rare baby dragon, Jeryon jumps at the chance of rescue - and revenge.

The Dragon Round is one of those books that grow on you.

It starts off slowly - almost too slowly - with its ponderous present tense. The subject matter is too practical - head hopping between the Captain, Jeryon, his first mate, Livion, and Everlyn, the apothecary - for Power to achieve the dream-like state I think he's trying to create, so you'll just have to slog through it until you get to the parts where it starts working.

It's on the island itself that Power constructs a thing of beauty. The dynamics between Jeryon and Everlyn are delicately balanced, giving it a rather sweet romance feel as they work through their racial, national and gender prejudices and learn to work together and trust each other as they struggle to survive.

The second half of the book, from Part Two onwards, is quicker paced - or maybe it seems so because you're already invested in Jeryon and his schemes. It continues to build, action upon action, all the way to its devastating end.

For devastating it is. You want to hate Power for what he's done, but something inside you tells you it's inevitable. Revenge is a cold, bitter poison - and that is what The Dragon Round is all about.

Note: I received a review copy of this book via Edelweiss.

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The Dragon Round releases on July 19, 2016. Get it HERE.

Monday 18 July 2016

#musicmonday: In Jesus' Name | Darlene Zchech

Brought to you by this week's anniversary practice.

[is also wondering about that curious lag/drag at about 3:17]

Friday 15 July 2016

#fridayflash: Not the one (excerpt from Winds #2)

But even after the appointed time, Danis, Hana and the babe did not arrive at the castle nor did any news from the south come to the Castle. Restless, Mica paced the ramparts.

He grew melancholy as the days passed and neither his grandfather’s advice nor the Steward’s warnings made a difference. Instead, he spent his days in the Painted Hall, talking to the Yuki-musumi, for she appeared as young as him.

“Do you intend to kill me?” he asked her one day.

She raised her face from her inspection of the exquisitely painted whale to look at him curiously.

“You wanted to kill my father, didn’t you?” he pressed on.

“I didn't. He wanted to kill me. You don’t, do you?”

“No.” He gathered his courage. "But you tried to kill him first." At least, that was the stories said. The white snow woman had tried to kill him, so Danis had burnt her, flinging fire and coal, ending her reign of cold.

The snow girl shrugged. “He broke the first part of my curse.”

“Your curse? But surely you mean our curse.”

“My curse, your curse, what’s the difference? When I cursed your grandfather, I cursed myself too. To be tied to this tedious castle, waiting for the time when I will be released.”

Mica shivered. “I can’t wait to break the second part. Then maybe I can go home.”

“You? I’ve told you before. You can’t break it.”

“Why not?”

“You’re not the right one.”

She watched as his brows furrowed. Before he could voice the stumbling words on his tongue, she shushed him, laying a finger on his lips. "It doesn't matter if you're of age or not. Even if you were a babe, you would have broken the curse just by being here." She watched the emotions play on his face. Fear. Frustration. Worry. Confusion. "Besides, you hate it here, don't you?"

Mica nodded miserably.

"How can you be king of a kingdom you hate?"


I started writing a fairy tale because I saw a submission for fairy tales. The deadline is today and I'm only at 3K words, and I don't really know where it's going and I don't want to rush it.

So oh well. At least I started writing something! It's intended as a continuation to When Winds Blow Cold (hahahah) which you can get for free by signing up for my mailing list or on NoiseTrade (which gives me your email addresses to be put on my mailing list). Or you can buy it on Smashwords or Amazon (and I believe other retailers I'm too sleepy to go search links for).

Wednesday 13 July 2016

#bookreview: The Chronicles of St Mary's - Book 1 & 2

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #1)Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't intending to review this (picked it up free on Amazon, would rather have left a star rating only. Oh wait. I actually bought this with my gift card. I don't remember why.) but then I picked up the second book (A Symphony of Echoes) as an ARC from Edelweiss. So duh, now I have to review this too.

Just One Damned Thing After Another is an extremely enjoyable read. It's a time-travelling romp (if I may use that word) through history. If you like time travel stories, this is perfect for you. If you like snarky stories, this is also right for you. If you like powerful women protagonists (who are also charming and a little flustered) then this is it too.

One thing I have to say about it is that it does tend to meander a bit, like Maxwell, who can't keep her head on straight all the time, so if you want a quick read, this isn't it. It's long. Enjoyably long. And it's twisty. It's OH MY GOSH WHY DID THAT HAPPEN HOW COULD YOU twisty. Because it isn't just time travel and history. It's intrigue and betrayal and nasty people. Of course, there's a bit of romance - pretty nicely done for the most part; the prudish part of me says maybe one scene could've been faded to black. But eh, it doesn't overpower the whole story or take over the narrative, which is good.

So yes. Snarky strong woman time travel story. WIN.

(Get it here)

A Symphony of Echoes (The Chronicles of St. Mary's, #2)A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I often find the second book in a series not quite up to par with the first, especially when you've really, really loved the first book. Probably because the first one has set the bar too high.

Maxwell is still as engaging, and the stakes are as high as ever, and the plot twists keep twisting and twisting on themselves... and maybe that's it. After the mind-bogglingness that was Just One Damned Thing After Another, reading A Symphony of Echoes right away did not give my brain enough time to rest. Then again, did I really want it to rest? Thinking it through, I think the main reason I started balking over this one was the fact that she brought in my nemesis: time-travelling paradox.

I mean, yes, the paradox did appear a few times in the first book, but there, it was pretty simple to understand: DON'T BRING ANYTHING BACK, DON'T LEAVE ANYTHING THERE. In this one, you're faced with a pretty indestructible antagonist. Yes, Clive Ronan is still actively trying to destroy St. Mary's, but this time, history *has* to be on his side... merely because killing him now (or, at least, at the specific times Maxwell and her team are travelling to) would create a huge time paradox because he needs to stay alive in order to go back into the past to try to kill them. (Ugh brain. And yes, that last sentence made sense, I think?)

It's like you're hurtling through time and space over and over again, and you're like... stop! Just stop!

At any rate, this one is a little bit more heart-wrenching. I don't always like romances in my scifi, and yes, I mentioned it in the review of the first book, but the dynamics between Maxwell and Chief just drag you in and I don't know if I want to hit her over the head or side with her. Taylor still meanders a little - you can see the disjointedness between the first trip and the rest of the story - but oh well, it's still interesting even if it isn't exactly important?

So, minor annoyances aside, still a great read. :)

Note: I received a digital ARC from Edelweiss for review purposes.

Get A Symphony of Echoes!

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Thursday 7 July 2016

Celebrate #Raya2016 with #Smashwords' #SummerWinterSale2016

So as you guys know (well, I think you do?) I publish on Smashwords because it's one of the online ebook retailers/distributors that sell to Malaysia! (I tried, but can't, sign up for Google Play publishing at this point, boo.)

Anyway, Smashwords is running a month-long SALE!!!

I like that word: SALE!

Coexist is on it - so you can pick up your copy at 25% off all this month. All you have to do is use the code SSW25 at checkout. They'll tell you on the page itself, but I'm telling you here now too, in case you need extra reminders.

Anna's A to Z of worship leading is - and it's at FREE! You should use the code SFREE at checkout.

When Winds Blow Cold isn't - because you can still get that free on noisetrade or by signing up for my mailing list

To check out all my books on Smashwords, my author profile is HERE. You can also go laugh at my newly filled up author interview (and maybe tweet me some questions).

To find new reads from indie authors, you can also browse all the books on sale.

Hokay. I'm done here.

Selamat Hari Raya!
And Happy World Heritage Day, George Town!

Wednesday 6 July 2016

#bookreview: Beyond the Woods & Cinder

So this week, I review two Fairy Tale books!

Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales RetoldBeyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold is exactly what it sets out to be - a compilation of fairy tales retold for the modern generation. The modern adult generation. Where fairy tales were once cleaned up and made happy and "family-friendly" for the consumption of children (looking at you, Disney), these fairy tales go back to earlier forms when such tales were cautionary tales.

If you were aware that the editor, Paula Guran, edits the annual Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series, you would be prepared for this. I sort of absorbed that, but it did not register totally until I started reading the stories and found that indeed, most of these tales were on the darker side, with some extremely grim ones. I'm not complaining. I don't need all my stories to have happy endings. As it was, I enjoyed most of the stories included in the anthology; there was only 1 story that I distinctly disliked.

Some of these stories are based on very familiar fairy tales, some on the not-so-familiar. Others are totally new fairy tales, but using plot devices, settings or situations common within the fairy tale formula/genre. These do not only stick to the common English/European/American tales - there are Chinese, Indian and Arabian fairy tales, as well as possibly more from cultures I am not familiar enough with to identify.

But "based on" is a rather misleading term to use. Each writer brings a new perspective to well-worn tales, either retelling the story from a minor character, or from the antagonist's point of view. Some of them rewrite the whole story, giving us new endings altogether. Others retain the shape of the story, but bring it into modern times.

I would recommend this extremely long tome to anyone who is a fan of fairy tales and/or horror stories. Unless you're a kid. I would not recommend this for children.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Beyond the Woods releases on July 5th!

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The thing with fairy tale retellings is that if you wander too far from the original, people get upset. And yet if it's just a same ol' rehash, people get bored. Marissa Meyer walks a risky - and bold - path in her retelling of Cinderella.

Cinderella, or Linh Cinder in this case, was saved from the terrible road accident that killed her parents, by being turned into a cyborg. She doesn't remember anything from before her surgery, and she's been earning her keep in her adopted home by working as a mechanic at New Beijing's weekly market. And earn her keep she must, because as a second-class citizen and property of her stepmother, she must do as she's told.

Before you get all excited about how this is an Asian-based story, you need to come to terms with the fact that this is the Earth after World War 4. Countries and alliances as you know them have changed, and the world is largely united against two threats: the Letumosis Plague and the Lunar Queen. Other than scattered Asian-type honorifics, and the fact that most of the story takes place in New Beijing in the Eastern Commonwealth, there isn't anything very culture specific. But that works fine, because dystopia anyway.

So following the Cinderella story, there's this annual ball, where Crown Prince Kai is rumoured to be looking for a bride. Everyone wants to be there, especially Cinder's two stepsisters, Pearl and Peony. Cinder kind of wants to go, but she also wants to make her escape. Then the plague changes everything. First of all, Peony, Cinder's one human friend, contracts the disease, and then Prince Kai's father dies of it. Queen Levana makes an unwanted appearance, Cinder gets hold of some classified information, and all of a sudden, Cinder is caught in a web of destruction.

Does she run for freedom, as she has been planning for so long? Or does she risk her life to get important information to the Prince?

Cinder is a book that you read for the sheer joy of the story. It's not one for complicated plots or sudden twists; after all, it is a fairy tale retelling and you should already know where it's headed. Cinder's hidden past is obvious to the readers, though Cinder seems oblivious to it. In fact, certain times during the novel, it seems that Dr Erland is on the verge of spilling all. The only reason Cinder doesn't get it is because she's too worried about whether the Prince could actually love a cyborg, hoping that Peony will get better and trying to escape a deranged Lunar Queen who wants to kill her for unknown reasons. Well, saving your own life takes a lot more brain space than trying to figure out seemingly coded sentences and dangerous obsessions.

The novel doesn't get to reach its happy ending, though, mainly because Meyer has 3 more stories in the Lunar Chronicles, each of them a fairy tale retelling as well. I guess we'll have to wait until book 4 (Winter) to see if Cinder really gets the Prince.

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Monday 4 July 2016

#musicmonday: Phoenix | Jess Liao

Jess is a phenomenal worship leader from Ignite, ROLCC.
This is her first single! :)