Wednesday, 17 October 2018

#bookreview: Singapore Love Stories

Singapore Love StoriesSingapore Love Stories by Verena Tay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I might have been a little too distracted to enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. Similar in concept to LOVE IN PENANG, Singapore Love Stories is an anthology of love stories set in Singapore. The themes and stories are a little darker, and a lot grittier, though.

The anthology opens with the brilliant A Poor Man by Audrey Chin, which immerses you in the life of a poor immigrant Indian construction worker in rich, cosmopolitan Singapore. Written in epistolary style, the richness of the tone and voice is the first thing that struck me. A reader unfamiliar with the tone and style of speaking of the region would struggle with the non-standard grammar and the strange, sometimes awkward style of the text, but for me, reading it felt like having the person stand beside me and tell his story.

A Bad Decision by Damyanti Biswas was another one I quite liked, though the ending felt a little too open-ended to me. I could also be a little biased on this one because I've read quite a few of Biswas' work before.

At first, I didn't really think much of Clarissa Goenawan's The Things We Hide . The story jumps between present and past, and there's a ghost. Right. But as a whole, it's beautifully and simply told, with very soft, gentle undertones to the harsh truths that are revealed.

The Gardener by Raelee Chapman is another one that caught my attention with its voice and tone--whilst not as impactful as A Poor Man, it was still delightful to the ear.

I cannot fail to mention Wan Phing Lim. The Ruby Case is amusing and vividly told in Lim's distinctive style. I'm not sure if the police work that way in Singapore, but who knows?

Space, Time and Chicken Rice by Kane Wheatley-Holder is another piece that I didn't quite appreciate--until it suddenly became sci-fi. I did not expect the ending at all. But it was very aww-inducing.

One of my favourites of this anthology has to be Melanie Lee's ATM Agony Aunt, which is basically a girl asking relationship advice from the quotes provided by the ATM machine. It's also very Singaporean in sound, which I like.

S. Mickey Lin closed off the anthology with Merlion's Magic, which I initially really liked because woohoo! magic! Alternate magical Singapore history! And then the twist in the end came (no spoilers) and I was all what. =.=

But at any rate, Singapore Love Stories is as vibrant and eclectic as its inhabitants. The stories cover both new love and old, uncertain relationships, filial love and loss, long-distant relationships and longing. The recurring themes of divorce and affairs do make me wonder about the state of love and marriage in Singapore, though.

View all my reviews

Monday, 15 October 2018

#musicmonday: Your Love Awakens Me | Phil Wickham & Chris Quilala



And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive
And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive
And what a love we found
Death can't hold us down
We shout it out
We're alive
Cause you're alive

Your love is greater
Your love is stronger
Your love awakens
Awakens
Awakens me
Your love is greater
Your love is stronger
Your love awakens
Awakens
Awakens me

Friday, 12 October 2018

#fridayflash: Bitter Dregs


Sip.

“I wish you’d talk to me, Denise.” Casey looks at his ex expectantly.
She frowns at her cup, a finger lying lightly on the rim.
“Look. I know it’s my fault. I got angry and said things I didn’t mean. Can you forgive me?” He keeps his voice low so no one can overhear. Not that there’s anyone close enough.

She holds the warm liquid in her mouth, letting it sit on her tongue. She imagines she’s Sherlock Holmes; wishes she were as smart, as observant, wishes she could deduce a way out of this.

There’s an almost-smile on Denise’s lips and Casey is jealous. He’s here to talk, explain himself, beg forgiveness but she won’t look at him. No, she sits there looking as if she’d like to orgasm from drinking her damned tea. He should never have asked her to this pretentious Singaporean place, all tinkly and shiny and stiff-upper lip, mocking his faded polo and worn jeans.
“Den, look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have accused you of cheating on me. And I shouldn’t have laid a hand on you,” he tries again.
The remnant of a yellowing bruise is still visible on her cheekbone. Her long-sleeved turtleneck hides whatever other evidence there still is. He’s grateful for that, grateful he can’t see what he’s done.
Her eyes are still fixed on her half-full cup, as if trying to divine secrets from the light brown liquid.

A second mouthful. There’s something floral about it; floral and slightly smooth. Vanilla? She can feel the caffeine kicking in, so it’s not a tisane. Probably a black tea blend; there’s no green tea smell. Black, red, or white–red has its own distinctive taste and a white would be lighter. She should have asked, should have studied her order, but she’d just waved at the waiter and asked to be surprised. 

“You’ll never understand, Case.”
A couple passes close by their table, arms linked. He tries to look pleasant, understanding. “Help me. Please.”
“I’ve tried. You don’t listen.”
“I remembered you liked this place.”
Her shoulders spasm. She fiddles with her sleeves, rubbing at them.
He scowls and grabs at her wrist, making her cry out. He pushes her sleeves up to her elbows and stares at the criss-crossed marks. Faded, brown, scarred. Fresh, red, lightly scabbed. He didn’t put them there. Is this what she’s been hiding all this while? “Who did this to you?”

She closes her eyes and breathes in. The scent is settling. Calming. Peaceful. Blue cornflowers. That’s it. She’s had this before. Sweet. Light and refreshing. Coincidence? Or had he tampered with her order? She knows what it is now: French Earl Grey, the very TWG blend she’d bought as ‘his’ last birthday gift for herself. She doubts he remembers that.

“Was it Mark?” he pressed. “Did Mark do this to you?”
“No.” She shakes her head in emphasis but he’s seen similar scars on Mark’s hands, beneath the rolled-up cuffs and the tattoos. Beside the stupid semicolon they both bear. Underneath the ridiculously large Love on his forearm. What’s he compensating for?
“Did he… make you do it with him?”
She finally looks up at him, seeming to study his face though her gaze never fully settles on him. “He’s only ever asked me to stop.”
He stares at her. “You do this to yourself? Why?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” 
“Try me.” His voice is a growl and she flinches, but he’s angry enough not to care. Not angry enough to make a scene at Gurney Paragon Mall, sparse though the crowd is, so he stays in his seat while his hand curls around her left wrist hard enough to bruise. Hard enough to reopen the scabs.
“Stop. It hurts.”
“Isn’t that what you want?”
“I just…” She falls silent. “It’s different.”

Underlying it is bitterness. Too-hot water, too-long steeping, she doesn’t know which, but something is off. It’s too dark. It isn’t her fault. The waiters brewed this. They were careless. Undertrained. She should have noticed. Should have stopped it. Voiced her displeasure. She can’t. She has no control over anything.

“I can’t help you if you won’t let me.”
“You can’t help me.” Her right hand quivers as she lifts the teapot.
“You’re my girlfriend. I’m supposed to.”
“You dumped me. Remember?”
“I was angry! I didn’t mean it!”
“We’re done.”
“We’re not.” He jabs the table. Her overly full cup spills at the violent shaking.
Her eyes fix on the stain. “You hate me. You hate everything I am. You hate everything I do. Why should we be together?”
He hates that she’s speaking so flatly, so emotionlessly, while he’s the one seething, boiling over with rage. He grinds his teeth, fist clenching.
“Do you want to beat me into submission again? Do you want me to cower at your feet?”
“This is not over, Denise.” The chair scrapes a sharp shriek. He pays and leaves the café before he can give in to the temptation to drag her with him, to drag her home.

The little tea candle flickering under the pot has gone out. The pot is cold. The tea is cold. A cold, acrid brew. Dark. Over-steeped. She’s still drinking anyway. Robotically. Down to the dregs. It still smells of flowers, but the bitterness on her tongue overwhelms everything else. 

“Are you all right?” Mark asks as he slips into Casey’s long-vacated seat.
She snorts, grateful he’d come when she called.
He cocks a half-smile. Sad, yet understanding. They will never be all right.
“It gets better,” he says.
Another waiter hovers. Mark mumbles. Another long silence.
The smell of chamomile and vanilla wafts over and Denise looks up to see Mark pouring from a fresh pot. He puts the dainty teacup down in front of her. Her fingers wrap around the warmth, both of his fingers and of the brew.
He quirks an eyebrow then slowly pulls his hands away.
The world shifts, tilts. It doesn’t quite correct itself, but at least she can breathe. She lifts the cup and presses it to her lips.

Sip.

---

I initially wrote this for NutMag in 2017, but it didn't fit in with the rest of the chapbook. The them was tea or coffee, if you were wondering.

At any rate, I've slashed it down from 1.5K to about 1K words here, and the clarity might have suffered a little. Still, it was mostly an experiment, so I'm fine with that.

The theme for this past week was relationships.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

#bookreview: Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut | D.G. Lamb

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest CutDriven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut by D.G. Lamb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Personally, I'd give this one a 3.5, though I think that teen male readers would enjoy it more. It is, after all, about a brave young boy who survives in the wild whilst I am a middle-aged woman who doesn't like camping haha.

This point is important because Lamb dwells a lot upon how Joshua survives on his own in the Swamp, even whilst impressing you with his intricate world-building, creating an alien place with terrifying and beautiful flora and fauna. Filled with SpiderVipers and SwampBunnies, Nuteggs and Bluebells, The Swamp outside New Cincinnati is dangerous unexplored territory--though it's more likely the seedy underground and gangs in The Avenue that will get Joshua killed.

Writing-wise, there are some annoying POV changes here and there--nothing that really pulls you out of the story, but just little things that niggle every once in a while. As mentioned before, Lamb is great at descriptions, and the world really comes to life through Joshua's careful explorations.

An eleven-year-old boy isn't normally expected to be mature or smart, and whilst the protagonist seems advanced for his age, his unusual upbringing and family background provide reasons for that, whilst his stupid--well, not really stupid, but naive--decisions, especially in trusting people, fleshes him out into a well-rounded character with both strengths and weaknesses.

The story settles into a nice, sweet end, still leaving you wondering what's next for Joshua.

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the author as part of a book tour. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

View all my reviews


About DG Lamb:
D G Lamb is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist. His day job involves helping people to become more independent after some type of neurological injury. In addition to a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, he has a Master’s in Art Therapy. He has also worked with law enforcement officers to deal with PTSD after critical incidents. While recovering from prostate cancer surgery, his son suggested he try his hand at creative writing. Although his professional experiences certainly informed aspects of this story, he also drew upon his love of cooking and backpacking the mountain trails of Arizona (where unlike Cypress Grove, it rarely rains).



Check out DG Lamb's website for more information on the blog tour plus giveaway!

Monday, 8 October 2018

#musicmonday: Known | Tauren Wells



I’m fully known and loved by You 
You won’t let go no matter what I do 
And it’s not one or the other 
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace 
To be known fully known and loved by You 
I’m fully known and loved by You

Sunday, 7 October 2018

#AnnasMA: Tea, Nando's and a lot of literary stuff

It's coming up to a month since I've been in the UK. Nothing has changed, everything has changed.

... and that was just being dramatic for the moment. haha...

I suddenly feel like I'm posting so often, but it's just that I'm in the middle of a few blog tours (extra posts) and I *actually* have stuff to post for #fridayflash (because, oo look! I'm writing) and I figured if I'm going to do this blogging thing, I should actually blog, instead of saying I'm going to but never doing it. LOL. Does that sentence even make sense?


We've had two weeks of classes which, I think, went pretty well. Excepting for the fact that when we start discussing novels and people are like analysing the structure, and the bits that worked and didn't work and this technical something something, and I'm just going... well, I liked (or didn't like) the book? Probably gotta read more critically from now on.


This weekend, I attended the Uxbridge Library Open Mic and the Hillingdon Lit Fest, so I'm pretty sated with literary stuff for the next few days.

Hung out with some Chevenors + a lit student at Nando's (heh heh heh heh) before the open mic so that was pretty cool. One of them, Inga, is from South Africa, the HOME OF NANDO'S.  Note colour differences in the Wild Herb. It tastes slightly different too.



A post shared by Anna Tan (@annatsp) on

Other than that, I've sorta joined the CU (or what we usually call the CF) and we'll see where that leads. (Also, today's church experience was much better than last week's.)

And that's it for tonight. :)

Friday, 5 October 2018

#fridayflash: Malaysian Time


It’s almost noon at Lebuh Pantai. Jen has circled the surrounding streets and the back lanes multiple times, looking for an elusive parking lot. There’s a dip in the row the cars ahead seem to be ignoring. She inches her MyVi closer, only to find a tiny white Kancil.

One more loop? No. Lay Cheng will be annoyed, grumbling as always about Malaysian time and lack of respect.

Jen glances at the clock on her dashboard as she turns left into the multi-storey carpark where she parks on the fifth floor. The heat blasts at her the moment she opens the car door. She takes a moment to wipe the fog off her glasses. By the time she walks over, she’ll probably be late anyway.

Back out on the street, the humid air smells of spices from Enrico; she walks briskly past racks of onions and little brown pottery that jut out into the five-foot way. She lifts a hand to block the glare of the sun as she navigates the narrow space between storefronts—alternating between dilapidated and carefully restored—on her right and rows of parked cars on her left. Momentarily, she regrets not bringing an umbrella.

Ahead, a car pulls out of a lot and she curses her timing; that would have been twenty sen per hour saved, plus a shorter walk. Dust billows from the street with a spurt of warm, petrol-tainted air as the traffic light somewhere behind changes and the cars and buses continue rumbling by.

Past the gigantic plastic bowl of cendol in front of the Wonderfood Museum is the banking district. CIMB is on her right with Allianz across the street, RHB and OCBC ahead on the left, the last three looking slightly more modern than the rest of the colonial-era buildings on Lebuh Pantai. Right in front of her, as she squints down the road before crossing, a building proclaims 1923 in curly black numerals.

The five-foot-way disappears for a short stretch, blocked off by zinc sheets. The new hotel being constructed will probably look like every other building in this heritage area—stark white or grey stone, fancy cornices. A brief block of beige past the construction softens the glare.

Would Lay Cheng glare at her? Silly question.

Jen avoids the scattered clumps of tourists who block the way studying paper maps. The street art is down that way, she wants to say, but doesn’t. It’s the main thing foreigners look for now: Ernest Zacharevic’s famous ‘Little Children on A Bicycle’.

Back on the five-foot-way, she walks almost hugging the wall, partly to get whatever shade she can find, but also to catch brief bursts of air-conditioning that escape from open doorways. Someone blares a horn. Jen looks to see who it is. Some idiot, as usual, has stopped his car in front of the money changer’s. The Indian Muslim owner shakes a calculator in front of the open car window as impatient drivers pull out around the obstruction. US dollars, she overhears, four point something.

Groups of office workers are emerging from their cold caves into scorching sunlight and blue skies in search of lunch, filling the air with chatter—Hokkien, mostly, interspersed with English and Malay. She picks up the pace as her phone buzzes again—Lay Cheng must be there.

Jen can feel sweat dripping down her shirt when she finally arrives at the Sri Weld Food Court. It’s bustling; the smell of oil and frying food hits her. Her clothes are going to stink when she gets back to the office. There’s still a long line of cars waiting to park and she’s glad she’d decided not to park here. Two ringgit per hour saved.

She snags a packet of nasi lemak from Ali’s, shelling out one ringgit eighty sen in coins before she heads into the main part of the eatery. She scans the tables and the food stalls, wondering both what to eat for lunch and where her friend is.

Lay Cheng isn’t anywhere and Jen frowns, standing uncertainly by the beef noodle stall. She pulls out her handphone to find that she is late, and there’s a series of WhatsApp messages from Lay Cheng.

11:45 – Rushing report. Sorry. U there d?
11:55 – Leaving soon!
12:01 – Boss caught me at lift. Have to fix some stuff. 10 mins. U ok for time?
12:04 – Jennnnnn replyyyyyyy.
12:05 – Ur late rite I know u r


Jen spies an empty table and hurries to it, sitting just before a large group of four arrive. They stare at her as she plonks her banana-leaf wrapped rice on the table. She sucks the chilli oil off her thumb before replying Lay Cheng.

12:08 – HAH for once earlier than u! M ok for time.
12:09 – Hurry up. Ppl are staring like I’m hogging the table cos I’m not letting them share
12:13 – Cheeennngggggg replyyyyyy
12:14 – OMG this is the first time I get to do this to u hahahaha


12:15 – Idiot. Almost there.

Jen wants to order a plate of wan tan mee, but has nothing to chup the table with. The umbrella would have come in handy. She’ll just have to wait for Lay Cheng. She’s almost finished her nasi lemak when Lay Cheng finally arrives, huffing and sweating.

“You know, I’m the one who had to brave traffic and find parking to get here. All you had to do was leave your building and walk over,” Jen says in greeting.

“Yah, gloat when you can. You’re the one who is always late,” Lay Cheng snipes back. “Have you ordered? Or is that it?”

“Not yet. What you getting?”

Lay Cheng shrugs.

Jen tells Lay Cheng to order wan tan mee for her then continues to savour the last bits of spicy sour sambal and salty anchovies on fragrant rice as she waits for her best friend return. They only have thirty minutes to gossip before they have to head back to their frigid offices.

---

Because I finally wrote something new that's not for like publication or submission or something.

Week 1 homework
Setting & place: Bring a street, city or town to life through all your senses. Have your character walk through the city, describing it through the eyes of the character. Interweave description as part of the character’s journey & tension.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

#GuestPost: Finding Ways to #SHINEBeyond by Ralene Burke

People often ask me why I chose the tagline #SHINEBeyond. What does it mean? Where did it come from? How does it relate to what you do? These are all great questions, and I love discussing the answers because that IS exactly why I chose this tagline (which also happens to be a hashtag).

My life did not start out easy. I was born with a tumor in my neck. Even with surgery, the doctors only gave me a 50% chance of living, and, if I did live, I would most likely be so physically/mentally handicapped, I would need care for the rest of my life. Here I am, so many years later, and aside from a few minor physical disabilities, you wouldn’t even know how close to death I had come.

Growing up, I was different. I couldn’t do some of the sports and gym activities the other kids could do. I spoke softly, and kids mistook that for weakness and tried to take advantage of it. Yet, I never let them change me, never let them get so far into my head that I lost track of what was important.

I grew up, got married, had kids…and I live a fairly normal life. Except I’m not normal. I am uniquely called to a unique purpose. One that only I can fulfill. (And it’s not just me. Everyone is called to a unique purpose.) There are plenty of things in my life that try to hold me back from that purpose: my health, naysayers, my own doubt, money, fear…the list goes on. But I persevere because it is what I was called to do.

I am a wife to a disabled veteran.

I am a homeschool mom to our 3 kids.

I am a fantasy author with stories to tell.

And I choose to #SHINEBeyond my circumstances, my past, my disabilities, and whatever else stands in the way of my purpose in order to be the light I have been called to be.

In Armor of Aletheia, that’s exactly what Karina, the main character, faces as well. She’s had a tough past: daughter of a traitor, orphaned twice, and now she’s being charged with murder. (What? Well, you’ll have to read the book.) Still, she’s been chosen for a sacred task. She has to decide whether or not she can #SHINEBeyond HER circumstances, HER past, and everything else that stands in her way in order to accomplish the mission before her. If she can’t, her world will be doomed.

Any life has its share of storms, some more than others, but they all have them. It’s how we weather those storms, and what we do with the outcome of those storms, that really says who we are. Choose to #SHINEBeyond. Choose to be a light.

A world in danger. A queen betrayed. A bounty hunter bent on revenge. You can find out more about my newest release, Armor of Aletheia, on Amazon!

About the Author:
Whether she’s wielding a fantasy writer’s pen, a social media wand, or a freelance editor’s sword, Ralene Burke always has her head in some dreamer’s world. And her goal is to help everyone SHINE BEYOND their circumstances! Her novels, Bellanok and Armor of Aletheia are available on Amazon.

When her head’s not in the publishing world, she is wife to a veteran and homeschooling mama to their three kids. Her Pinterest board would have you believe she is a master chef, excellent seamstress, and all around crafty diva. If she only had the time . . .

You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or at her website.

Bonus! Anna's review Of Armor of Aletheia


Armor of AletheiaArmor of Aletheia by Ralene Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a classic coming-of-age style fantasy, Karina inherits the throne at the same time as a mysterious angelic-like being sends her on a quest to retrieve the "Armor of the Creator. Six sacred relics divided among the three kingdoms." Dogged by death and murder, Karina is thrust on the quest--where she's kidnapped by a bleeding heart mercenary, meets an evil warlock, and discovers a hidden gift.

Filled with lupens, elves, dragons, goblins, and other exotic creatures, Armor of Alethia is packed with action and magic. That comes with a downside too--the novel felt a little too dense at points. Where a few devastating setbacks often move a story forward and keep you tense, AoA reached a point where I started to get numb from all the setbacks and twists Karina faced in her bid to retrieve the armour.

At its core, AoA is a battle of good vs evil with a very Christian viewpoint, where redemption is offered to each and every participant. Karina and Tristan must learn not to trust themselves, but listen instead for the Creator's voice. Exploring the theme of the armour of God in Ephesians 6, Burke covers Faith and Truth in this one, leaving Righteousness, Peace, Salvation and the Word/Spirit. I'm intrigued to know how she'll deal with those in the next two books!

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the author as part of a blog tour. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

#bookreview: where I intensely dislike award-nominated books from my MA reading list #AnnasMA

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer here: I would not normally ever, EVER pick up this book on my own. I'm only reading it because it's on my MA reading list.

First up: UGH PUNCTUATION. I hate this no-quotation-marks style. Hated it when Cormac McCarthy used it, hate it now. I know it's a stylistic thing, but... well, I guess I'll just say it's not a style I like.

Normal People is a story of abuse. It's the story of Marianne who goes from terrible relationship to terrible relationship and allows herself to be abused because it's all she's ever known. In a way, it's gripping because you just want Marianne to get out of this, get out of all this crap she's living with, but she just goes from bad to worse. Everything in her life is tied around Connell and his acceptance/rejection of her, and it's ridiculous because even though he doesn't actually hit her or anything, it's obvious (to me, at least) that he's an oblivious idiot who is obviously using Marianne for his own benefit. It's not to say that she didn't get anything out of it--she did--but if this is what relationships are like in the 21st century, I'm glad I'm not in one. Maybe I'm too prudish for this book. Marianne has a warped idea of "submission" and part of the story veers into something BDSM-like relationships, except Marianne did not seem to like it very much, even if she somehow craved it.

On the other side, it also explores Connell's anxiety and depression, and how desperately he needs Marianne in his life to make him feel normal and in control, even though he's seeing/dating other people. It's just... messed up.

The shifting timelines--each chapter jumps a few months, and then hops back a little to cover important missed events--was sometimes a little confusing. The constant segueing between present tense and past tense feels fluid at times, but awkward at times. Maybe I'm not a very close reader but with all the jumps, it gives the book a very floating/fluid feel, and I sometimes don't really know when it is anymore.

All in all, Normal People is a dark, stark look at relationships and youth in Ireland.

I guess the writing is good and all, I just didn't like the subject matter very much.


My Year of Rest and RelaxationMy Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Also read as part of my MA reading list.

This is a depressing book about depression and addiction to drugs. Protagonist (what's her name? I forget) is running away from her perfect life (where she has all the privileges in the world) because she is depressed and her parents died and she never got any love from them.

I don't know what to say about this except that it's a bleak, dreary world and I fell asleep halfway through, but I finished it anyway.

It wasn't so much "rest and relaxation" as it was "drugged stupor." Well, to each their own?

View all my reviews

Monday, 1 October 2018

#musicmonday: Living Hope | Phil Wickham



Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There's salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Friday, 28 September 2018

#bookreview: Deepest Blue | Mindy Tarquini

This is a little late. It was supposed to be Wednesday's post, but I had a hard time finishing it.

Deepest BlueDeepest Blue by Mindy Tarquini
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I struggled reading this. I read all the way to about 20% or so, had to stop to finish some class readings and then when I came back to it (only a day later) I was still so lost I decided to start from the beginning again. That didn't help any.

In concept, it's good. Reaching the end and piecing everything together, it's haunting and beautiful. There are layers and layers of secrets, hinted at and alluded to throughout the novel. There's always that something more you want to know, need to know, that's just a little out of reach. Mostly, it's fine--because Matteo doesn't know either, and it's his grief and his anguish and his grasping that you're living in, even when the POV flits over to Claudio and to Antonio and then back again.

But it's not enough. I spent most of the book confused, wondering when I'd know, when I'd find out what on earth was happening. There's no a-ha moment, no spark in the story that makes you want to devour it and move on and on... just a lingering sense of confusion and maybe if I read the next paragraph, turn the next page, I'll finally be less... lost. Then I reached the end (or the last chapter or so) and went Oh. Eh. Well.

Maybe part of this is the fault of the kindle ARC I was reading. Not all the formatting came through--sections/chapters started in the middle of nowhere, and I mainly knew that because there'd be a missing letter which I assume was supposed to be a drop cap. There were quote-like sentences between paragraphs I later suspected should have been chapter breaks, maybe?

I thought I'd like this one, and am a little sad that it didn't quite work for me after all.

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


View all my reviews

Thursday, 27 September 2018

#guestpost: Making Choices by @AuthorDGLamb

Over the years, I have become particularly fond of the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Not only does it blend in well with the Old West motif of Arizona (where I live), but the words are useful in reminding me of my limitations as a psychotherapist. On an even more fundamental level, this truism reminds me that true power for change always lies within the horse. To simplify the point: everyone has the ability to choose.

This idea was driven home to me when I studied the philosophical psychology of Victor E Frankl. He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946, after surviving the horrors of Auschwitz. It was his observation that prisoners who held onto some meaning of life would survive much longer than those who had not found an answer to the question, “Why am I here?” He later developed this epiphany into a psychotherapeutic approach called logotherapy. However, what impacted me most profoundly was the fact that even in such an utterly forlorn environment where life and death daily danced on the razor's edge, people could make choices.

This realization informed the development of a central theme for Joshua (central character in my Driven to the Hilt series) - that he has choices before him. Even when events outside his control seem to have stripped away almost all of his options, he can still trust others, much to his mother’s amazement. After his father is killed, he and his mother are subjected to societal scorn, gradually forced to more and more destitute areas of New Cincinnati, until they are literally living next to The Swamp, but they chose to cherish each other. They also have hope, striving to save enough to start a restaurant, and this external goal is the meaning that keeps their lives going despite their circumstances. Both Joshua and his mother chose to draw strength from the motto of his father’s Space Merchant Marine Unit - Resolute.

The threads of this theme are also woven into the story after Joshua is on his own and must choose for himself. But that is not strictly true, since his choices are informed by what he has been taught by his parents. For example, his mother assigns Joshua an essay on the Machiavellian concept, the ends justify the means. This may seem too cerebral for an 11-year-old child, but Rachel expected much from her students and even more from her son. The level of this assignment was intended to be an indirect reference to Joshua’s intellectual capacity, but it also lays a foundation for future choices, one of which will cause Joshua a great deal of pain.

As smart as Joshua is, he is also young and alone when he sees no choice but to eliminate Uncle William. True, he has firsthand evidence that Uncle William cannot be bought off or otherwise negotiated with, that the man holds dear the thought of retribution upon the boy who scarred his face. Also, he is alone and with limited resources. But is he really? He had been resourceful enough to survive The Swamp, one might claim, thrive in the deadly environment. At least Joshua will wonder about this and long second guess whether he really had no other choices.

Ah, there we are again. Choices. He made a clear choice with Uncle William. But when later faced with the choice of stabbing Blondie in the back, he refrained. Even though the Bloodstar gangster was a more immediate threat to his life. His prior choice with Uncle William informed his later choice with Blondie. And finally, while he reconciled himself to death at the end of the chase by Fenster, Joshua did not surrender. He chose to remain Resolute.

So, the next time you are led to water, be sure to weigh all the relevant information, but whatever you decide, make it a mindful choice.

DG Lamb

About DG Lamb:
D G Lamb is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist. His day job involves helping people to become more independent after some type of neurological injury. In addition to a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, he has a Master’s in Art Therapy. He has also worked with law enforcement officers to deal with PTSD after critical incidents. While recovering from prostate cancer surgery, his son suggested he try his hand at creative writing. Although his professional experiences certainly informed aspects of this story, he also drew upon his love of cooking and backpacking the mountain trails of Arizona (where unlike Cypress Grove, it rarely rains).



Check out DG Lamb's website (or click the picture above) for more information on the blog tour plus giveaway!

Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut
Young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet Cypress Grove. He faces a dark rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined to their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to survive there, he will then have to brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s criminal
underworld.

It’s a fight for survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, can Joshua afford to consider right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

Debut author DG Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a damaged, but endearing character.

Purchase on: Amazon | Smashwords

Driven to the Hilt: Forging the Blade
An inscrutable stranger offers him a deal that seems too good to be true. And it is. Joshua soon faces new challenges to survive in a place he had not believed was even real.

Having successfully evaded the colony’s underworld and corrupt police, Joshua finds himself trapped alone in a sterile white room. But it is no ordinary room, changing and shifting in response to his reactions and behaviors. Ultimately, he will have to make a choice… one that will forever change the direction of his life.

DG Lamb creates a dynamic world full of new challenges and lessons for an endearing young hero. Lamb’s extensive experience as a clinical neuropsychologist and his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms injects psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua and a host of engaging new characters.

Purchase on: Amazon | Smashwords



Monday, 24 September 2018

A Still, Small Voice launches today!


On her eighteenth birthday, Hono is to be crowned Queen of the City of Winter but the Dragon disrupts the coronation ceremony with a peculiar cry: 
Listen. Listen. Listen!

There is one more task to free the City of Winter of all enchantment—and Hono must listen carefully for it.

A Still, Small Voice (North #4) is the final instalment of the North Short Story Series.

A STILL, SMALL VOICE releases today! Get your copy now!


Add to your GoodReads shelf:
A Still Small Voice (North, #4)

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Where I blog about starting my MA Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel

Today (well, yesterday, since it's crossed midnight; if you can tell, I just changed my timezone, ha) I met my course tutor/convenor Matt Thorne for the first time, plus 9 out of my 11 other classmates. It's a small class and it was gratifying to know that we were the 30% that made it through to the course. Matt said he regularly turns away about 70% of applicants, which was roughly 50 people this year (don't check the maths, I didn't check it)--I don't know if I should be gratified or if I should be panicking right now because the pressure is on.

HA. Stressssssss...

Anyway, this term, we start with Elements of Fiction and Paths to Publication... and it looks like I won't be able to do the two-week placement I was hoping for because of visa requirements. The publishing houses require a full-time commitment for the placement, but I can only work part-time during term time under the Tier 4 Student Visa. Anyway, I'm going to see if I can get that placement AFTER the course instead (when I'm waiting for graduation), since I'll be allowed to work full-time then. It won't count as part of the coursework (which is fine) but it would really help career-wise, I think. I'm gonna think (i.e. worry) about this a little bit more.

SO. I have two books a week to read for class--at least for Elements of Fiction; I don't know what we need to read for Paths to Publication yet--and I'm in the middle of one right now. And I have an essay to write by Sunday, even before classes actually start but it's 12.30am so I'm just going to sleep and think about it tomorrow. I mean, later today.

I'm still trying to think of a cool hashtag to use for these posts. Help me! #macreativewriting? #CWTNatBrunel? #annaislame? #annasma? #Natzgoesbacktoschool

idk.
eh, goodnight.

p/s. I haven't written a blog blog in EONS. Welcome to the first one :p

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

#bookreview: Medallion of Murder | BR Myers

Medallion of Murder (Nefertari Hughes Mystery, #3)Medallion of Murder by B.R. Myers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Medallion of Murder is about Terry growing up from her reckless days in Diadem of Death--from deciding what to study in university and navigating a fraying long-distance relationship, it seems like life almost as normal. Except for her weird nightmares about Meera. When strange things start happening again, Terry and her band of friends must decide what to do--without getting anyone arrested or killed.

The third book in the Nefertari Hughes Mystery series, Medallion of Murder suddenly seems grimmer and more grown-up than the first two, as it probably should be. After all, Terry has survived death twice by now (or was it three times? I forget). Still, they're teens, so there's a fair share of stupid decisions and light moments scattered throughout the book.

'Expectations' seems to be the theme of this book, whether it's Terry's worry about disappointing her father due to her career choices, or what both she and Zach want from their relationship--and even how Awad seems to expect her to want to leave her peaceful American life. Again, nothing is what it seems, and not everyone is who they're supposed to be, and the Illuminati's involvement just makes everything much more confusing.

It has a good ending though--and one that hints at an even more interesting book to come in the series as Terry and Maude settle into who they are.

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

View all my reviews

Monday, 17 September 2018

#musicmonday: You're Gonna Be Ok | Brian & Jenn Johnson



Hold on, don't let go
Hold on, don't let go

Just take, one step, closer
Put one foot in front of the other
You'll get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You're gonna be ok

Thursday, 13 September 2018

#guestpost: Character spotlight on Menali from Conviction (The Legacy Chronicles 2)


Ten Fun Facts from Menali





  1. I secretly like Than’s nickname for me, Nali, but I would never admit that to him.
  2. I love teaching and working with the little ones, especially telling them stories from Old Earth.
  3. I barely remember my real parents.
  4. I was named after my grandmother, who was named after her great-grandmother. It’s a name that dates back to Old Earth.
  5. I’m very neat. I like to have a place for everything and have everything in its place. One of my favourite chores in the school-wing is to sort the supplies.
  6. I’m fascinated by Old Earth history. I used to search the datablocs for any information about our home planet, and I would love to find the missing datablocs to see what’s on them.
  7. I enjoy being alone by the lake, and I have a spot I sneak away to whenever I can.
  8. Sometimes I pretend I live on the cruiser or another planet and make up stories about my life there.
  9. My hair is my favourite feature, and I keep it long because that’s what I remember most about my mother.
  10. I wish I could be braver, like Dee. She’s so reckless, it scares me to even be her friend at times, but she always enjoys life. Don’t tell her I said that, though, or she’ll be impossible to live with.

Author Lauren Salisbury shares a little about Menali, her favourite character:

We all have things in our pasts, right? Issues that stop us from doing what we were meant to do with our lives. Things we try to avoid at all costs so they don’t happen again. I know I do. That’s what I wanted to write about in Conviction—that struggle with accepting heartache and pain, and the way we sometimes hide behind our faith in order to work around having to face it.

I initially thought Menali was the best-adjusted character in the series. She’s quiet and shy, but I assumed that was her personality type, nothing more. But the more I dug into her past, the more trauma and fear I discovered. She has reason to pause when pursued by a man like Than. There are some truths she definitely does not want to face.

Rather than deal with them, she’s built her life around a set of rules that she thinks she can follow to prevent further loss. She’s not truly relying on God in her time of need; she’s using her faith as a shield against living her life. That’s something I think many of us can relate to. We say, “When God wants me to move on, there will be a huge, miraculous sign to show me the way,” when what we mean is, “I don’t want to be hurt again.”

I believe we are sometimes meant to take risks, to be bold in both our faith and our lives, and to follow God’s lead, even into uncharted territory. I hope that’s the message in Conviction, but you’ll have to pick up a copy to see if you agree.

---

Can two people with opposing principles overcome their differences to be together?

Than has spent his life ostensibly having fun while secretly fighting for his people’s freedom. A member of the underground resistance, he is only ever serious around his comrades and his family. When an injury forces him to step down from active duty and his reluctant nurse sparks his interest, Than finds himself in uncharted territory. The fascinating woman will have nothing to do with him.

Menali’s past has taught her to keep her head down and trust that God has a reason for allowing the human race to suffer on U’du. When Than explodes into her life, he refuses to take no for an answer and challenges all of her preconceptions. He soon has her re-evaluating her priorities and wondering what life with someone like him would be like.


Get your copy today! 



About the Author
Lauren H Salisbury was an English teacher for sixteen years with an MA in Education. She is now a writer who dabbles with tutoring and lives with her husband and a room full of books in Yorkshire, England. She likes to spend winters abroad, following the sunshine and becoming the seasonal envy of her friends. When she’s not writing, she can be found spending time with family, reading, walking, crafting, or cooking. Courage is her debut novel.

Get in touchWebsite | Facebook | Mailing list

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

#bookreview: Conviction | Lauren H. Salisbury

Conviction (The Legacy Chronicles #2)Conviction by Lauren H. Salisbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Star rating: 3.5

Picking up from the end of Courage, Conviction suffers a little from second-book syndrome, in that there's no resolution to the bigger arc of the story, even though there is a resolution to the immediate problem in this one: how on earth (or rather, U'du) Than and Menali are ever going to get together. This means that Gilla and baby Mahsan hardly ever appear, which was a bit of a downer for me because I really, really liked Gilla and wanted to follow more of the bigger baby-Moses-in-space theme.

ANYWAY! Than is awfully stretched in this one--besides doing his best to be a father figure to his niece Mirami, he's also struggling to find his footing in the Resistance now that his role has changed AND trying to court Menali at the same time. You really get to see his pureness and big heart but you also see him bouncing from thing to thing until he starts to settle down and maybe grow up just a little.

Menali also blossoms through the book. Her initial fearful wavering and wishy-washyness gain new impact as you learn more about her past and why she reacts the way she does.

In terms of interesting characters, Aronin is one I'd have liked Salisbury to dwell on a bit more. In Conviction, much more of his backstory is revealed, at least in relation to Menali, so I'm wondering if there's more to be uncovered.

Nothing really happens though--I mean, all sorts of things do happen, including intrigue, subversion, theft, and grievous bodily harm, but because they happen more in the background of the romance, it feels like nothing of the series' goals are being furthered. Everyone is still just waiting for the right time, and the original arc of saving Mahsan's life seems to be in limbo.

So yeah, Conviction is really a space opera romance, which didn't turn out to be 100% my cup of tea. Overall, I liked it, but I really want to find out what's happening with Gilla, Elias and Mahsan. Waiting for book 3: Strength!

Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the author as part of a book launch tour. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

View all my reviews

Get your copy today! 



About the Author
Lauren H Salisbury was an English teacher for sixteen years with an MA in Education. She is now a writer who dabbles with tutoring and lives with her husband and a room full of books in Yorkshire, England. She likes to spend winters abroad, following the sunshine and becoming the seasonal envy of her friends. When she’s not writing, she can be found spending time with family, reading, walking, crafting, or cooking. Courage is her debut novel.

Get in touchWebsite | Facebook | Mailing list

Monday, 10 September 2018

#musicmonday: Drifting | Bebo Norman



Falling from a rooftop
Crashing like a raindrop
Can you make my heart stop
Shaking like a leaf?
Standing at the floodgate
Steady as an earthquake
Can you hear my heart break
Tearing at the seems?

Some say home is where the heart is
And my heart is in your hands
You are all I need

Rising from the ashes
Lifted from the madness
Now you see my heart is
Deep enough to dream
Hear me from my deathblow
Lead and I will follow
Now you feel my heart pull
Mending at the seams

---

When you see this I'll be on my way to London.

See you soon, lovelies.

Friday, 7 September 2018

#booklaunch: Conviction (The Legacy Chronicles Book 2)

So remember the book review of Courage from Wednesday? Book 2 of the Legacy Chronicles launches today!

Can two people with opposing principles overcome their differences to be together?

Than has spent his life ostensibly having fun while secretly fighting for his people’s freedom. A member of the underground resistance, he is only ever serious around his comrades and his family. When an injury forces him to step down from active duty and his reluctant nurse sparks his interest, Than finds himself in uncharted territory. The fascinating woman will have nothing to do with him.

Menali’s past has taught her to keep her head down and trust that God has a reason for allowing the human race to suffer on U’du. When Than explodes into her life, he refuses to take no for an answer and challenges all of her preconceptions. He soon has her re-evaluating her priorities and wondering what life with someone like him would be like.


Get your copy today! 



About the Author
Lauren H Salisbury was an English teacher for sixteen years with an MA in Education. She is now a writer who dabbles with tutoring and lives with her husband and a room full of books in Yorkshire, England. She likes to spend winters abroad, following the sunshine and becoming the seasonal envy of her friends. When she’s not writing, she can be found spending time with family, reading, walking, crafting, or cooking. Courage is her debut novel.

Get in touchWebsite | Facebook | Mailing list

GIVEAWAY!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

#bookreview: Courage | Lauren H. Salisbury

Courage (The Legacy Chronicles, #1)Courage by Lauren H. Salisbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I signed up for: to help a fellow Realm Maker launch her second book with a blog tour. ('Cos I'm all about the blog tours!) And then I was told that to review book 2, I really should read book 1 as well, so here I am.
What I didn't know I signed up for: BABY MOSES IN SPACE.

So yes, Courage is a FANTASTIC science fiction retelling of Moses--well, the first part of his story anyway so far. Actually, if I hadn't known that going in, I wouldn't have suspected it until much, much later in the story. Salisbury takes her time to establish a credible planet of humans under Esarelian (aliens) rule. It's not an unfamiliar setting--forced labour under strict guard, an underground rebellion, a desperate bid to escape.

Gilla is a compelling protagonist--she's weak yet strong, pushing through her fears and devastating losses to make sure that her children are safe. Then there's Than, her brother, the dashing young playboy who has to grow up quickly and suddenly. Actually, to say that this is a Moses retelling is somewhat odd and wrong. It's actually a reimagining of what Moses's mother, Jochebed, went through to save him. We don't really know much about Jochebed in the Bible, only the bare bones of what happened and how the Egyptian princess came to find the baby in the Nile, so Salisbury has free reign to create her own story--and it's an exciting, action-packed one.

I'm glad I picked this up (on a chance) and am super looking forward to starting on Conviction!

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

View all my reviews

Sale!

In conjunction with the launch of Conviction (book 2) on Friday, Courage is on sale at 99c/99p on Amazon and Amazon.co.uk for one week! Grab your copy now, and head over to preorder Conviction as well! (Amazon | Amazon.co.uk)