Wednesday 24 August 2016

#bookreview: Gloaming series by JB Simmons

Light in the Gloaming (Book One)Light in the Gloaming by J.B. Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd put this somewhere between a 3 and a 4 star - it was interesting enough to catch my attention and I did like the story very much. It's classic fantasy - bad prince usurps the throne, good prince fights to win back his throne and his bride (though his bride wasn't really in any danger, I think?)

Throw in family relationships and make it convoluted - Andor is a half-brother to Tryst, though there was a mention of an orphanage and adoption - so he could just have been an adopted brother. Ravien is Tryst's full sister... Lorien is (somehow) a half-sister? At first, I interpreted this for her to be Andor's full sister, but this didn't quite make sense, and also they were... betrothed? This was one of the things that confused me actually - how everyone was related to everyone else, and a family tree would have helped. Or them not being related at all might have worked better, because Andor's lineage apparently has some repercussions for the second book...

The weakest point in this novel, I think, is the constantly changing point of view. Simmons jumps from third to first between chapters, changing viewpoints from Andor to Tryst to I think Lorien at one point. There's no indication of this in the chapter headings (I checked because I was confused) so that doesn't really help you along.

At any rate, Andor makes for a good, complex character, even if he plays into the trope - the broken prince trying to reclaim his own, walking the tightrope between strength and weakness. Ravien is full of intrigue - I would like to know much more about her, actually. Tryst is pompous, proud and idiotic - he felt almost one-sided, but not quite. There were a few glimpses into his character that proved otherwise, but we don't know much more about him.
Of the other characters, I like Jon and Wren quite a lot. Father Yates was quite annoyingly preachy, but I suppose, in character. The Gloaming could be a character on its own, though it's a place, and exploring its origins and its purposes would have been fun.

So yeah. I guess somewhere about a 3.5 star.

Breaking the GloamingBreaking the Gloaming by J.B. Simmons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prince Andor has much to do to rebuild Valemidas in the aftermath of Tryst’s coup. With Tryst languishing in the Gloaming and Ramzi dead, Andor must forge a way forward in the midst of an uncertain nobility and the threat of war from Sunan. Secrets are being revealed and plans are being laid bare - how true is Sebastian and what is his true motive? In the background, the priests plot - from the still-preachy Yeats, to the tandem Sunan priests, Malam and Ilias.

Simmons ups the complexity in Breaking the Gloaming, with many little mysteries and allusions in Light in the Gloaming now coming to light (or fruition?). Redemption is a recurrent theme - from Andor’s to Tryst’s to the smuggler.

The changing point of view is still a weakness in this sequel, with the story jumping from a third-person point of view to first person (usually Tryst, sometimes Andor) without indication, though this seems to happen less than in the first book.

All in all, Breaking the Gloaming is a pretty solid 3-star story. It doesn’t push many boundaries and there aren’t any spectacular twists to look out for, but it plods steadily on to a satisfying conclusion.

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Monday 22 August 2016

Wednesday 17 August 2016

#bookreview: Mesilithia by @KDDelgado123

Mesilithia (#1)Mesilithia by K.D. Delgado
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Katie is kidnapped by a stranger, her husband jumps into the weird hole-in-the-wall portal to save her. However, his brief hesitation lands him in Mesilithia 50 years after his wife. She's grown wings and she's married to Lord Wicket. Even without this complication, how would they get home when she hasn't found a way in 40 nyias?

Delgado has built a pretty fascinating world filled with new creatures. There's the Zothan Clan who are human-like with wings. There's the Shendoot Clan who have dark green skin and live in the water. Then there are the Bandorges - giant wolfish beasts with purple skin and black fur, Wistons - who are shape shifters, and Seleens - small fairies. Then there are the Snites who eat your heart, absorb your soul, and are intent on taking over Mesilithia.

There's a lot to explore here - so much so that the story felt a little rushed. You're pulled from one scene to another - probably to be expected in a world at war - leaving little time for introspection, reflection, or exploration of the world for the sheer joy of it. Then again, I like long epics, so this might just be preference; this brevity is also due to her stated intention of not making it "a Large or Wordy book" so that it can be enjoyed by all ages. It's also written in present tense, which does counter the quick pace just a little.

Personally, I'd rate it at a 3-star (I liked it, but it didn't really capture me) though I think a younger/MG reader might put it at a 4.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Not in the official review: Oh, look, pretty pictures!

Monday 15 August 2016

#musicmonday: Wonder | Delirious?

Is it any wonder that my heart is on the line?
Is it any wonder that my words are out of time?
Is it any wonder that I miss you like you're mine?

Oh sweet heart, you've broken me sweet heart
Oh sweet heart, you've broken me

And you set my world on fire 
I'm turning inside out to be with you
So I'll be waiting here
And our love can live forever 
'Cause in your eyes I've seen who I could be
So I'll be waiting here

Is it any wonder that you stole this heart of mine?
Is it any wonder that our worlds are now entwined?
Often I have wondered if I need a redesign

Oh sweet heart, you've broken me sweet heart
Oh sweet heart, you've broken me

And you set my world on fire 
I'm turning inside out to be with you
So I'll be waiting here
And our love can live forever 
'Cause in your eyes I've seen who I could be
So I'll be waiting here
You are, you are
Turning me upside down, woah

Oh sweet heart, you've broken me sweet heart
Oh sweet heart, you've broken me sweet heart
Oh sweet heart, you've broken me sweet heart
Oh sweet heart, you've broken me

And you set my world on fire 
I'm turning inside out to be with you
So I'll be waiting here
And our love can live forever 
In your eyes I've seen who I could be
So I'll be waiting here


Friday 12 August 2016

#fridayflash: The King of the Files (in memory of Mr Mok)

It creaked.
She stared at the tall cabinets that surrounded her, unsure which one had moved.
The light flickered.
"Chuay ha mi?" The voice was loud. Strident. Annoyed.
"Ummmmmmm... Fairchild?" she squeaked, holding out the piece of paper with a list of files that her senior had requested as an offering.
"Not there la. The other side." The voice moved away, still grumbling to himself.
She headed over to the other row of filing cabinets and peered at directory that hung from one handle.
"Why you dunno how to on light?" the voice grumbled again as the fluorescent lights flooded the area.
She gulped, grabbed the files and started to leave. Then she stopped. Leaning the files against her body and the shelf, she dug in her pocket for a pen to record which files she'd taken, entering her senior's initials for safety.
Then she fled with the files back to the first first floor, feeling his glare all the way out the door.


In memory of Mr Mok, our beloved, ultra-scary, sometimes kaypo, always fussy Ruler of the Second Floor and All Its Files.
Do Not Take A File Without Permission.
Do Not Simply File Things In The Wrong Place.
Just Do Not Come Here Take Things Without Reason. Or Appropriate Approvals.
The Files Are Missing Because You All Simply Take.

May your heaven be filled with files that won't walk away, and everything in its place.


A little more...

Back when I worked in KPMG Penang, our audit office was on the first floor of Wisma Penang Garden. A quarter of the second floor was taken up by our filing cabinets, which was zealously guarded by Mr Mok. I have no idea what his official title was, but it was probably something stupid like "office boy".
He was a fixture in the office - been there for years and years and years, taking charge of all our files and the filing system, as well as mailing and dispatch. He was also the one who printed and bound your accounts. Actually, he did a lot of things. Haha. He was usually the first one in the office, and stayed back late too - though not as late as some of the auditors. When I left KPMG, he was still there.
Most of us were a little afraid of him, I think. He was tremendously sarcastic (in Hokkien at least) and liked to grumble at us. I used to dread going up to look for files, especially files that *other people* couldn't/were too lazy find (nah, you go look lah!), because then you'd have to expect a tongue-lashing for being careless. (But then later on, he'd find it for you anyway.)
I think he mellowed in later years, or maybe he became friendlier once he got to know you better - at least he didn't scold you as much and could laugh with you.

From what I hear, he was still in office last Friday, but had slipped into a coma on Sunday. Yesterday, the doctors decided to take him off life support. :(

Wednesday 10 August 2016

#bookreview: Order of the Eternal Sun

The Order of the Eternal Sun: A Novel of the SylvaniThe Order of the Eternal Sun: A Novel of the Sylvani by Jessica Leake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lucy Sinclair is making her big debut in London Society. Everything is going well - her presentation to the King and Queen is as wondrous as she hoped - and her brother-in-law, Lord Thornewood, is scritinizing everyone and everything to make sure that she's protected from The Order of the Eternal Sun. Yet, Lord Alexander Radcliffe, Earl of Devonshire, manages to attend her debut ball, unknown and uninvited, managing to steal her heart - and exposing her to danger - all in one slick move.

On the surface, The Order of the Eternal Sun felt a little run-of-the-mill. After all, you have a young female protagonist who is coming of age and has new powers she's still learning to control, there's a love interest and another potential love interest (both very young and handsome), dangerous enemies who are after her (and her family), an overbearing/overprotective father-figure and an old mentor who steps into the picture.

And yet, Leake makes it fresh and exciting. Lucy is no shrinking lily - she's half Sylvanian with dangerous enemies after her and a growing power she's still learning to control but she's not sitting around freaking about it. She's taking decisive action, mostly rational, though sometimes too trusting - like any eighteen year old tends to be when they're in love (or at least when they think they are).

Alexander starts off as an enigma. Leake masterly fills you in with pieces of his history so you think you know his motives and yet at the same time, you're left confused - as confused as Lucy - because you can't tell if he is good or bad. You want him to be good, because you don't want Lucy to be hurt, but at the same all information points the other way and you think that she's being overly naive and trusting.

Because she's a teen and I suppose this is YA fantasy (maybe?) there's a love triangle and whilst I'm tired of this, it was quite well set up and not simply a sappy girl who can't make up her mind.

The Sylvanian world is well-constructed. You're drawn into a place of wonder and excitement. It feels as if Leake has created a real world with very real rules and consequences. The only thing I really want to know is why those with lesser Sylvan blood (such as Lucy's niece) seems to be growing stronger powers than their full-blooded or half-blooded Slyvanian relatives - it's something not quite explained in the book, and something the Queen also wants to find out, so I'm guessing this might be the topic (or at least the driving force) of the next story set in this wonderful world.

One slight detraction - from a story set in the 1800s Victorian English, most of the events of the story felt like it was set in the right period. However, some phrases used and spoken expressions felt a little too modern. Then again, I'm not an expert on the period, so I can't say for sure.

I should probably get round to finding the first book (because it appears there is one called Arcana, in which exciting things happen to Lucy's older sister).

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book for review via Edelweiss.

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The Order of the Eternal Sun is currently available on Amazon in hardback - or you can preorder the Kindle version which releases on August 23!

Wednesday 3 August 2016

#bookreview: Writers of the future

Writers of the Future Volume 31Writers of the Future Volume 31 by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've known about Writers of the Future for a long time - I spent a lot of my younger years thinking of things to submit, but never got round to writing anything I thought worthy of submitting. It was, however, an anthology I have never gotten round to actually reading until now, mainly because I don't think I ever saw it in bookshops.

I picked up Volume 31 from NetGalley, expecting to be wowed. I mean, after all, so many awesome writers got their start from Writers of the Future, right? (Even if I didn't really like Hubbard's Battlefield Earth.)

This is where I admit that I'm perplexed. I've just skimmed through all the stories in the anthology to refresh my memory, and other than Purposes Made for Alien Minds (which I thought was crap and difficult to read) and maybe The God Whisperer (which I thought was short and a little trite) I had overwhelmingly good thoughts about them. As in, I thought most of them were great. They were complex. New. Exciting. Interesting.

And yet... when I think back on the anthology as a whole, all I felt was meh, okay. Which doesn't make sense because if the individual parts were great, the whole should be greater? I should be more excited about what I just read than I am right now?

I don't know. All I have to say was that while most of the stories were individually gripping, there was no momentum or impetus for the anthology as a whole.

I hope that makes sense.

[updated to include review of #32!]

Writers of the Future Vol 32Writers of the Future Vol 32 by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trying to read a book within two to three days isn’t a big deal for me. I was just defeated by fatigue and horrible formatting which made me want to tear my eyes out (though it is a digital ARC, so I can’t complain). The stories contained within Writers of the Future #32 are the best 3 of each quarter’s submissions for 2015, including 1 notable entry. I’ll try to summarise here my thoughts on each one.

The Star Tree (Jon Lasser) - Chiq collects star system cards, what he believes to be deeds to destroyed stars and planets now rebuilt by The Unexpected Delight Company. When he finds a whole deck missing on their journey to their new home, he insists on going back to find them. The Star Tree explores the relationship between two brothers and their father in the wake of their father’s separation - is it divorce? - often wobbling back and forth between understanding and sibling rivalry. Chiq’s revelation throws them all off-course. (3 stars)

Images Across a Shattered Sea (Stewart C Baker) - Driss and Fatima are chasing message-globes on the cliffs above the Shattered Sea, excited for the chance to discover what new meaningless (or maybe meaningful) messages they’ll be able to gleam from the long-dead past. But hidden amidst the harmless globes are some not-so innocuous ones: shards that allow people from the past to see the state of society in the future. I found this a little confusing, probably because I read this in between falling asleep. So I don’t know if it was confusing because I was sleepy or I was sleepy because I was confused. (2-ish stars)

Mobius (Christoph Weber) - Detective Elizabeth Arus chases down illegal gene-tweakers - but the latest criminal is the one she least suspects… Mobius (and I don’t know how to do those dots above the o) is a compelling medical thriller with very high stakes. (4 stars)

The Last Admiral (L. Ron Hubbard) - this is a reprint of Hubbard’s old story, but it’s a good one. Admiral Barnell is about to witness the death of his beloved US Navy when the Johnsonville colony on Twain is utterly destroyed. Barnell is galvanised into action, sending the Navy into space to do what it’s good at: navigating and running down pirates. (4 stars)

The Jack of Souls (Stephen Merlino) - Harric, the gentleman bastard, is cursed to die tonight. In a last bid attempt to gain the attention of a god and maybe live a little longer, Harric sets out on a dangerous gamble to win the life of a slave from the hands of the West Isle Lord Iras. I loved this piece - a delicate blend of Greek mythology, medieval fantasy and tinge of the Wild West. (5 stars)

Swords Like Lightning, Hooves Like Thunder (K.D. Julicher) - Yvina is running for her life, betrayed in the middle of negotiations with the Methlan Khan. But Mahkah, the Methlan warrior who defeats her, seems to be at odds with his own Khan. As they travel over the steppes into the heart of Methlan’s homeland, Yvina must decide if they are on the same side - and if not, what she should do about it to save her people. This is my favourite story of the whole anthology. (5 stars)

Hellfire on the High Frontier (Dave Wolverton) - I suppose this is Wild West Steampunk? It’s… okay. (2 stars)

Squalor and Sympathy (Matt Dovey) - Society is built on the Squalor of the poor, their machines powered by their feelings of misery. But things are changing and Nelly Ludd is leading an uprising to free them. Squalor and Sympathy evokes memories of A Little Princess (and maybe some Dickens) in its traditional British style and themes. (4 stars)

Dinosaur Dreams in Infinite Measure (Rachael K. Jones) - Liza is trying to convince her aged mother to vacate the old farm. Instead, her mother convinces her to stay and help when she reveals that she’s created a dinosaur engine - a large, clunky machine that creates real life dinosaurs out of garbage. It’s quite a silly romp - hasn’t Liza (or her mother) watched Jurassic Park? - but amusing enough. (3 stars)

Cry Havoc (Julie Frost) - Nate’s entire pack has been eliminated and now the hunters are after him. But Iann MacKinnon, the strange old man who just watches, keeps asking him this same question, “What do you want?” I’m not a big fan werewolf stories, so this was just okay. (3 stars)

A Glamour in the Black (Sylvia Anna Hiven) - Keani lives with a parasite - one that changes her appearance and abilities according to the wishes of the people around her. Nahoa, a straight-talking clammer from the caves, strengthens her resolve to get it removed. Glamour is the story of the lies we tell ourselves, the lies we tell each other, and the wishes we harbour that may be more dangerous than we know. (4 stars).

The Broad Sky Was Mine, And The Road (Ryan Row) - In a post-apocalyptic world, David and Samantha drive into town hunting stage fours. There’s a lot of death and running and memories. (2 stars)

The Jade Woman of the Luminous Star (Sean Williams) - Hugh Gordon, accused of murdering his wife, tells the ghoulish story of a strange woman from another world who visited him on the fateful night. Its a little to wordily philosophical for me. (3 stars)

Freebot (R. M. Graves) - Danny Clark’s wife has just given birth. But he’s lost his job and his benefits and now an ugly old freebot in the bar is giving him life advice. Freebot is dark, gritty cyberpunk in a desperate future world. (3 stars)

Last Sunset for the World Weary (H. L. Fullerton) - Fida has just watched the Earth end from the observation deck of a star cruiser with her poet/boyfriend, Jawry, and Pickets, their insanely rich patron. I didn’t really get the point of this, especially with its weird ending. (2 stars)

The Suns Fall Apart (J.W. Alden) - All Caleb wants it to go outside and see the sun. But he can’t pass the tests that will allow his freedom. When he makes a desperate escape, he soon finds that the outside world is very different from what he expected. The Suns Fall Apart starts off very innocently - you wonder at this strange prohibition, and this magic that the family seems to have. Then clues filter in and you’re left reading in horror. (3 stars)

Overall - I think I pretty much enjoyed this one. Was probably in a better frame of mind than when I was reading #31.

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