Wednesday 30 May 2018

#bookreview: Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed through Brokenness | Les Ferguson Jr.

Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed through BrokennessStill Wrestling: Faith Renewed through Brokenness by Les Ferguson Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My favourite thing about this book is its absolute honesty about where Ferguson is with his faith. It's easy to talk about bad stuff or doubt and then gloss it over with a flippant "I'm better now" or "I've overcome that" especially when you're a preacher.

But Ferguson doesn't take the easy way out. Right near the beginning, in his introduction, he hits you with this:
It wasn't that I doubted God's existence. No, I doubted whether I mattered to God at all. And if I didn't matter to God, then how could his Word offer any hope to me?"

Towards the end, through the expected look-aheads and positive notes, he also offers acknowledgement that the fight isn't over yet, with these:

Sometimes I get mad at God. Often the only time it seems I really talk to him is when I need something.
Though smiling and laughing at memories happens often, fresh tears are never far away.... So keep wrestling. Don't quit. Remember this is just a battle--God has already won the war.

In between, Ferguson explores 26 different stories from the Bible, both OT and NT, from a single perspective: pain and brokenness. He's honest about where he was and where he sometimes still is: running away from God, doubting God, questioning God, struggling so much against all that we're supposed to know and be just by virtue of being "Christian." At times, it looks bleak, but at times God's light also shines through. Sometimes he asks the hard questions, even those he would rather not ask, would rather not know.
The real question isn't why he did or why he didn't. The real question is, Will we serve him anyway? The real question is, Will we trust him?

I think, in the end, what you get out of this book will be what you put into it. Ferguson is being vulnerable here, and if you're still hiding behind that pretty veneer of respectability and strength, you'll spend most of your time avoiding the hard-hitting questions. True, not all the stories and narrative (and questions) impacted me personally, but as a whole, Ferguson tackles a difficult subject from a wealth of experience and from multiple angles.

Don't look for platitudes of faith where everything is nicely tied up and presented. You'll find instead plenty of brokenness on display--and yet despite it all, shattered faith is still faith.

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

View all my reviews

Monday 28 May 2018

#musicmonday: Light | Gungor -- and #LemmeLearn fundraiser!

"In 2014, a woman tweeted that she would be faced with "a real ethical dillema" if she became pregnant with a baby with Down Syndrome. Richard Dawkins responded "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice." Also in 2014, we had a beautiful little girl with Down Syndrome and two heart conditions. We named her Lucette, which means 'light." Lucie has taught us how much every life matters. This song is for her and all the beautiful people on this planet with special needs. We think that you make this world a better place."


LemmeLearn is raising funds for the LemmeLearn Empowerment Centre. Funds raised will be used to furnish the centre with the following:

- Simulated kitchen
- Simulated office space (incorporated within our real office space)
- Hydroponics Urban Edible Garden
- LemmeDrink Kombucha brewery
- Training and therapy rooms

LemmeLearn Fundraising Dinner 2018: Lemme Go Bling!
Date: 23rd June 2018
Time: 7pm
Location: Bayview Hotel, Lebuh Farquhar
Dress code: Evening wear with sparkly BLING

Tickets are going at:
RM150 per ticket
RM1500 per table

For tickets, please contact Indra at 016-5447727 or

Who is LemmeLearn?
At LemmeLearn, we strive for effective inclusion. Our program is designed to equip people with special needs with social skills, functional living skills and required skills for employment. Partnering with the community, we aim to build purposeful, functional, independent lives.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

#bookreview: The Sorceror's Bane | C.S. Wachter

The Sorcerer's Bane (The Seven Words Book 1)The Sorcerer's Bane by C.S. Wachter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sorceror's Bane is an enthralling, action-packed read. And I use enthral in both senses of the word. This first novel in a planned series of four books follows young Prince Rayne through his kidnapping and enslavement at six and his journey to becoming a master assassin.

The fact that I read this in one sitting says a lot. And no, this isn't a quick 2-hour light read. It was one of those sprawling life epics--okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration--that take up like 5 or so hours of your time. I legit started reading during late dinner at 9 pm (duh, because you need to read something while you eat alone, right?) and finished at almost 3 am, because I am an idiot that way.

Good versus Evil, Light versus Dark
At its core, The Sorceror's Bane is a sword and sorcery tale of Good versus Evil. In the vein of fantasy epics such as Eddings' Belgariad and Gemmell's Legend, Wachter utilises prophecies and faith to spur the actions of her heroes, even when a subconscious action on their part.

The Sorceror's Bane holds echoes of Wachter's Christian faith. There is a single god known as the One that rules over this universe, represented by the light. There is an evil, or a darkness, that opposes the One and his believers, embodied by Sigmund. There are seven scrolls, or prophecies, to each of the seven worlds in Ochen, reminiscent of the words of the Lord to the seven churches in the book of Revelations.

Unexpectedly hopeful
Wachter is masterful at pulling at your heartstrings. Just as soon as you see a glimmer of light for our poor young protagonist, just as soon as you think things will not get worse, Wachter breaks your heart as Sigmund and his evil cohorts find new ways to break Rayne's spirit over and over again. Yet threaded subtly through all this darkness, Wachter manages to always leave the reader with a glimmer of hope--whether via Rayne himself or through his friends Anne and Warren--reminding you that although evil abounds, the One is in control.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of this series and I hope it doesn't take too long to come out!

View all my reviews

Monday 21 May 2018

#musicmonday: Build My Life | Peyton Allen

Oh really.

Because I cannot discern your motives and motivations right now. 

Or what you're even doing with your life. 

Wednesday 16 May 2018

#bookreview: Irresistible World Building for Unforgettable Stories

Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories: A Creative Writing Guide For World Building That SellsIrresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories: A Creative Writing Guide For World Building That Sells by Janeen Ippolito
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Irresistible World Building, Ippolito focuses on how each author's worldview and unique perspective, the characters they've created and their specific narrative style plus genre expectations, all need to contribute to the creation of a world and a story that is unforgettable. She reminds us that a world is not built in a vacuum--what the author believes in and has experienced is often the best way to connect with intended readers. She suggests that using this perspective as a core base--not to push an agenda or belief--tied in with the theme of the story is the best jumping point to create a world that stands out and is beloved by readers.

Structure-wise, this short guide is simple and easy to follow:
- an introduction to the section
- application questions
- writing challenge

Where Loper's The A-Zs of Worldbuilding: Building a Fictional World from Scratch focuses on the nitty-gritty, micro process of world building, looking at all the aspects that should be covered (or at least considered), Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories: A Creative Writing Guide For World Building That Sells focuses on the larger, thematic overview of building a world, emphasising the passion and goals of the authors themselves.

Ippolito also has a book & workbook, World-Building From the Inside Out, which likely deals with the micro stuff, but I haven't read that one yet.

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

Thursday 10 May 2018


Okay, just for one day, let's talk politics.

I don't like talking about politics because it tends to be highly controversial and I don't like conflict. Also, everyone has a right to their opinions, even if it means I'm going to privately judge you forever. It's okay, you guys can privately judge me forever too. You know, just privately in our heads, and not on social media or something like that.

I really should be getting some work done right now, but whatever.

This last Malaysian General Election has been a wild ride, full of gerrymandering, fake news, immense Whatsapp spam, and a gazillion ads. Even now, after everything has been counted, the swearing in of the new government is being delayed and there are parties shifting allegiances.

We did this musical last weekend, and my feelings today are summed up by the very words I spoke:

Excerpt from Abbie & the A-Team by Nancy Jenster
[In this scenario, CAT = Malaysia; FRANK = Dr Mahathir]

I'm a sceptic at heart. I don't believe in too good to be true scenarios and I have a tough time believing in miracles. Yay, people, the nation voted in change... but it's not going to be all peachy, okay?

And with this kind of history... you never know what's actually going to happen.

So yes, we rejoice (temporarily) and also worry (temporarily) but once this kerfuffle has died down and the mess that is democracy starts to settle, I guess we'll see.

Also, another apt quote:

Excerpt from Abbit & the A-Team by Nancy Jenster
P/S this is why you need the arts. More funding and recognition for writers, please?

Wednesday 9 May 2018

#bookreview: Not So Stories

Not So StoriesNot So Stories by David Thomas Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not So Stories has been one of my most anticipated reads ever since Zedeck Siew announced that he was part of the lineup. I was about to bite the bullet and buy the book when I managed to score a review copy, so YAY!

Not So Stories was compiled as a response to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which Nikesh Shukla describes in his foreword as "steeped in colonial nostalgia." I don't recall if I've specifically read Just So Stories (which I've recently found on Project Gutenberg) but if it's in the same vein as other Kipling books I've read, I get what he means. Not So Stories tries to recreate a new collection of animal tales from multicultural, multiethnic lenses, "confronting readers with the real harm colonialism did and taking the Just So Stories back." I cannot meaningfully compare the two right now but I will say that this book both succeeds and fails in its intent.

It succeeds because this wonderful collection of short stories does offer a multitude of unique voices, some of which I can personally identify with as a Southeast Asian, and some of which I can recognise and understand as stories from other cultures, none of which revert to the standard white male Christian point of view that I grew up with as an Anglophilic Chinese-Malaysian. Yet, where it fails is in its target audience--although the anthology is purported to be for children, one story has sexual elements unsuitable for younger readers and at least two others have themes that would probably only appeal to adults. Maybe if it had been targetted for "adults who grew up reading the original as children," it would have succeeded on all counts.

Now on to the stories!

Cassandra Khaw opens this anthology with the brilliant How the Spider Got Her Legs . It has a lovely folklorish feel, beautifully lyrical, but is also very, very brutal--not in physical sense, but how it rips away the veils from your eyes to reveal the evils of colonialism. At first, I wondered at "All of them pale, with hair like someone had spun the noon light into threads, eyes like ruptured sea glass", but Spider soon gets the [White] Man to admit that he took the land from "the Man who once lived here" and that his venom makes his victims "slowly wither of self-loathing." It's subtle, easily missed; yet as you read, you come to realise that this is what has been done to us in Malaysia (where Khaw comes from): we learnt to deify the White Man and loath ourselves, until we grew up and realised the lie--they are no better than we are. (5 stars!)

Queen (Joseph E. Cole) brings us into Africa (I presume?) with an inversion of roles: men here are described as beasts, whereas the anthropomorphic animals are the people. There is anger and pain, sorrow and desperation, a fight for life and freedom. There is also the quiet othering of what is usually a central narrative ("when they worship their cruel man-god who makes them eat his flesh and drink his blood, like savages") and harsh accusation against humanity ("... kill one another for paper and pieces of metal and for any number of pointless reasons. You rape the earth, molest the Earth, taking what you desire without thought or consequence"). Yet there is also reconciliation, the Queen who speaks to the princess who would be queen of her tribe. (5 stars!)

Wayne Santos's Best Beloved is one that I resonated with quite a lot, being set in nearby Singapore, but is also the first of the stories that step out of the children's domain into a rather more mature arena. In fact, Best Beloved also seems rather out of style with the other stories in the book. It's very much more contemporary in feel, with a horror/urban fantasy vibe, besides moving away from animal stories into the paranormal, featuring Chinese ghosts, angry spirits and pontianak. (5 stars!)

The next story hops over the causeway to Malaysia. The Man Who Played With the Crab (Adiwijaya Iskandar) has a Stranger trespassing Beting Beras Basah in a bid to find the great crab that wrecked his ship. There's a deliberate garbling of names--Adiwijaya emphasises the lack of effort made by white men to pronounce names from other cultures--and blatant disregard for lives and beliefs that aren't central to whiteness. There is also a sense of heavy resignation ("my kind shall be written away as myths") amidst a tinge of hope ("But your time shall pass too.") There is an amusing hint of an origin story for British perception of Malays and Malay culture in Malaysia--and because I got distracted, here's a link on the mysterious Tasik Pauh Janggi in Beting Beras Basah (in Malay, sorry). (5 stars!)

In Samsara, Georgina Kamsika explores what it means to be bicultural. Should Nina learn to embrace her mother's Indian roots, or should she fight to retain the white-passing privileges inherited from her English father? Must she choose one or the other? Can she not be both? I don't personally have experience in being biracial, but I do relate to her never-quite-fitting in, in my case because I am a "banana"--white on the inside, yellow on the outside. This one, like Best Beloved, dips into the spirit world, instead of the animal one. (Four-ish stars?)

And we finally get to Zedeck Siew's Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger! Other reviews complain that this is three (or more) stories in one. In a way it is--I see the thread that goes through the whole thing, but it's hard to digest. Siew weaves a convoluted story that begins with the river-mother, who makes the crocodiles, the youngest of which becomes a Tiger. This shifts into Were-Tigers and Were-Crocodiles, playing hard and fast with myth and religion, magic and faith, acknowledging the temptation to disregard culture, upbringing and heritage for the feeling of belonging and acceptance, before finally ending up back where he started with the river and the Tiger, and maybe a retribution (but maybe not). The ending feels satisfying, in its own way, but also as if I've missed something. This one isn't explicit, but part of the setting (a girl stays the night, they hang out at the club) might need some navigation with younger readers. (I'm confused. And conflicted. Four stars?)

How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng was like a peek into a culture I'm supposed to be of, but I've never really identified with. I spent much of the time wondering whether the Tree of Wishes was located in Hong Kong, or if this was some other harbour, a village that worships dragons of the sea, "the price paid to buy peace" that becomes part of an "empire so vast that the sun never set upon their queen's soil". Ng returns to the beautiful style that Khaw uses effectively at the beginning of this anthology, tangling history with modernism and progress. I really want to know who Old Man Uncle is. (4 stars.)

After all that good stuff, Stewart Hotston's How the Ants Got Their Queen felt just a little too labourious to get through. It's mainly a powerplay between the ants and the pangolins anyway, with a lot of eaten ants. (I probably didn't get much out of this story as you can tell. Two... three stars, maybe?)

Tauriq Moosa returns us to fantastical animal tales in How the Snake Lost its Spine . I was amused by "the White Devils from distant lands" (Northern Mountains) who believed themselves "first and chosen, those who most resembled the Creators though no one knew what the Creators actually looked like" whilst the "Others, Those Below, Those Far Away" were believed "to be a mistake". There's no hiding that this part at least is allegory, plain and simple, except maybe to the White Devils themselves. (Four stars.)

The Cat Who Walked by Herself (Achala Upendran) is a myth of the origins of the homestead, relating how Man got himself Woman, Dog, Horse and Cow through his might and magic. This one veers out of cultural identity into a more feminist lens, focusing on the power play between Man and Woman. It's a little gory, with many severed limbs, so probably okay for older children. Also, more Woman than Cat, though it's Cat who instigates Woman mostly. (Ah, I'd say four stars.)

Zina Hutton's Strays Like Us meanders into Egyptian territory with Bastet drifting through Miami refusing to be forgotten. This one has hints of American Gods (with a nice reference to Neil Gaiman too!) so it doesn't quite blend in with the rest of the stories either. (Three stars.)

How the Simurgh Won Her Tail (Ali Nouraei) reminds me faintly of Haroun and Luka by Salman Rushdie. Against the backdrop of a children's hospital, Amir tells the story of the Simurgh, who sets off on a quest to make herself a tail. The story is charmingly told, juxtaposing the Simurgh's distress at seeing the state of the world with the comfort gained by the children in the Paediatric Oncology Ward. If there is equanimity to be achieved, it is from the words, "This too shall pass." (Five stars!)

Raymond Gates's There is Such Thing as a Whizzy-Gang is another story that doesn't quite fit. It seems to be about a mythical creature from Australia and reads like a Enid Blyton-type pixie/fairy story but it's never quite clear if this Whizzy-Gang actually exists. Oh well, I guess that's the mystery of the story? (Three stars.)

Back to the animals, How the Camel Got Her Paid Time Off (Paul Krueger) seems to be mainly harping about overwork, bad HR practices and recognising religious celebrations of minority cultures. It gives off a kind of hard-boiled detective vibe, without the detective, and features a lot of smoking, pizza and beer. This story will really only appeal to adults so I'm not sure what it's doing in here. (Three stars.)

Overall, I'd say that each individual story in Not So Stories is great on its own (except the ants. What was with the ants?) but the problem is that not all of them fit together quite well in the same book. Where I was expecting a fantastic collection of animal tales for children (or at least tales related to animals), some stories veered off into the paranormal and the mythical, and some into very adult mindsets/settings.

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

View all my reviews



I was going to post this for Music Monday, but didn't. Still. A song for today.

Kasih-Mu, karya-Mu, nyata dalamku | Your love, Your works, are evident in my life
Kau pegang hidupku dalam tangan-Mu | You hold my life in Your hands
Darah-Mu, salib-Mu, tebus hidupku | Your blood, Your cross, redeems my life
Nama-Mu berkuasa sanggup bangkitkan | Your Name is powerful enough to raise

Harapanku di dalam-Mu | My hope is in You
Hanya Kau Yesus kuatku \ Only You, Jesus, are my strength
Kupercaya kuaman dalam-Mu | I believe I have peace in You

Tak pernah gagal rencana-Mu | Your plans have never failed
T’rangi jalanku kuasa-Mu sempurna | Light my way with Your perfect power
Pengharapanku takkan hilang | I will not lose hope
S’bab masa depanku Kau sediakan | Because You have prepared my future
Tak pernah gagal rencana-Mu | Your plans have never failed
T’rangi hidupku kuasa-Mu sempurna | Light (Illuminate?) my life with Your perfect power
Pengharapanku takkan hilang | I will not lose hope
S’bab masa depanku dalam-Mu | Because my future is in You

Words & Music: Andre Hermanto, Andriyanto, Billy Simpson, Joshua Tremonti, Kevaz Lucky, Nina Sari Ishak, Ricky Sutanto, Tirza Agatha, Winny Jessica, Yumir Vishreda
Crappy translation by me.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

#bloghop: Irresistable World Building by Janeen Ippolito

Welcome to Janeen Ippolito's The Irresistible World Building Blog Hop! That's when we hop around various blogs that are all talking about the same thing: Irresistible World Building. What's that you say?

Write stories with worlds that create lifelong fans and fandoms!

Irresistible World Building for Unforgettable Stories contains key methods and tips on how to weave your world building into every aspect of your story, from theme to plot to character arcs.

-Use writing prompts and exercises to jumpstart your creativity
-Get ideas on how to refresh world building genre tropes while still hitting reader sweet spots
-Learn to embrace your inner geek and passions to connect your world building with readers

Vivid world building is great. Vivid world building that sells? Even better!

About the author

Janeen Ippolito is two authors for the price of one! She creates writing resources and writes urban fantasy and steampunk. She's also an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, and the editor in chief of Uncommon Universes Press. 

In her spare time, she enjoys sword-fighting, reading, food, and making brownie batter. She believes that words transform worlds and that everyone has the ability to tell their story. Two of her goals are eating fried tarantulas and traveling to Antarctica. 

This extroverted writer loves getting connected, so find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and at her website:

Wednesday 2 May 2018

#bookreview: Frost | Selah Tay-Song

Frost: Tales of QaiMaj Vol IFrost: Tales of QaiMaj Vol I by Selah J Tay-Song
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frost is really a quick read.

The compilation consists of 6 brand-new short stories that explore various aspects of life in QaiMaj, along with a short commentary from Tay-Song, followed by a preview of Dream of a Vast Blue Cavern, the first in the Dreams of QaiMaj series, plus appendices -- which is a bonus if you haven't read that one yet or you're wondering if you should invest your time in it.

Dreamer -- I liked this one. It's a charming piece about Stasia as a child and how Glace was assigned as her guard, but didn't really give me any new insights.

Guildless -- This is a gripping story of betrayal; I vaguely remember Norle from the books, but don't think much of his background is revealed there (I could have just forgotten), so this was interesting both as an origin story as well as insight into how the guilds work.

Warrior -- oh, Larc. Ingenuity and self-discovery is the core of this one. And also, misplaced dreams.

Fisher -- this is probably my favourite of the six. It explores the relationship and dynamics between the humans and the Icers. It's at once immensely down-to-earth, telling you how to fish, whilst being philosophical, as Katu ponders on Icers and the mystery of perfection.

Player -- I don't really know about this one. It's part origin (?) story, part ridiculousness, part economics. Liked the theatrics, meh about the story itself, I guess. Or maybe I just never really personally cared too much for/about Casser.

Slink -- Well, it's about Glace, so... =)

Overall, not a bad read. I'd say a good primer for those who are considering getting into the series, and maybe a nice refresher for those who've already read it.

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

Edit: Have been updated that the preview isn't quite as long anymore! But you're reading it for the short stories anyway...