Wednesday 29 August 2018

#bookreview: Spice Bringer

Spice BringerSpice Bringer by H.L. Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever since I read Coiled, I think I've been a little bit of a Burke fan. So I was quite excited for Spice Bringer!

The story is set in a lush, beautiful, fantasy world--full of colour and spice--with slightly Indian undertones. I was initially slightly wary of this--after all the publishing kerfuffle and fuss, you tend to look askance at stuff like this... but whilst Burke uses the real world for inspiration, this fantasy world is all her own.

Alk, the ornery fire salamander, is one of my favourite characters in this book. He's sarcastic and prickly, hiding a caring heart that has a soft spot for the girl he watched grow up. The interplay between Niya and Alk made me chuckle with amusement many times. And the ending! It made me cry.

Spice Bringer is all about Sacrifice for the Greater Good and Putting Others Above Yourself, which are good things to read about in this increasingly selfish society. It's also very much a story about Personal Responsibility and Keeping Your Promises. (And I don't really know why I'm capitalising those things.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's a story that believes in the good of people.

Spice Bringer is also a love story, of course. What YA fantasy isn't? But Niya knows she will never live a long life, so she vows not to fall in love... and Jayesh is supposed to be a monk, so he's not supposed to fall in love... Can you see that perfectly mushily stupid setup there? There it is... all that diabetes-inducing sweetly forbidden love. It made me cry.

You'll notice I mentioned crying twice already. Which is strange because I rarely ever cry while reading. The one short story that made me cry (a lot) was Orson Scott Card's Gert Fram. Another book I cried (a little) at was J.M. Frey's The Silenced Tale BUT I CRIED THREE TIMES IN THIS BOOK. It's either it's really good or I'm really PMS-ing, or both.

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

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A deadly disease. A vanishing remedy. A breathless journey.

All her life, Niya's known she will die young from the fatal rasp. She survives only with the aid of vitrisar spice and a magical, curmudgeonly fire salamander named Alk. Then an ambitious princess burns down the vitrisar grove in an effort to steal Alk so she can claim her rightful throne. Joined by Jayesh, a disgraced monk, Niya and Alk must flee to the faraway Hidden Temple with the last vitrisar plant, or all who suffer from the rasp will perish.

But even as Niya’s frustration and banter with Jayesh deepen to affection, the rasp is stealing away her breath and life.

For a girl with limited time and a crippling quest, love may be more painful than death.

Spice Bringer releases August 28 so get your copy today! 
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | iBooks

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic. 

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture. 

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

#bookreview: GILA: A Journey Through Moods & Madness

GILA: A Journey Through Moods & MadnessGILA: A Journey Through Moods & Madness by Hanna Alkaf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In GILA: A Journey Through Moods and Madness, Hanna takes you on a journey through mental illness in Malaysia, covering the four most prevalent types: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. She seems to cover the first two in more detail, most likely because depression and anxiety may also be symptoms/stem from them. It appears as if all are interrelated and interlinked.

I haven't read a non-fiction book other than writing craft books in a while, so Gila is a surprisingly easy and accessible book to read. Half the book is made up of personal anecdotes and the stories of various people who are struggling with--and hopefully winning against--their own minds. Hanna also offers commentary from local mental health professionals, including tips on how to tell if your mental health professional is right for you (it's really about your rapport) and what not to say to someone with a mental illness.

In a country where mental illness is increasing, care is still scarce, and talking about it is often taboo, this book is a good primer to both discover resources as well as to learn how to deal with friends and family in your life who struggle with their mental health.

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Monday 20 August 2018

#musicmonday: Reckless Love | Cory Asbury

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

Friday 17 August 2018

#fridayflash: A Still, Small Voice (an excerpt)

Coronation dayand Hono's eighteenth birthdayfinally came.

The young princess stood on the balcony, heart pounding. On her right was her mother, regal and assured. On her left, her father smiled, his eyes wide and wary. Further back, Mica's face was studiously blank. She wished she knew what he was thinking. The Steward stood at the fore speaking to the gathered crowd below, his words slow and sonorous, a wealth of years in statesmanship on display. Hono only noticed something was wrong when he stopped mid-sentence.


He didn't reply, his gaze fixed on something in the distance.

Hono stepped forward. "Granduncle? What's the matter?"

The crowd started to buzz as the Steward raised his hand, pointing at something on the horizon.

"He comes."

Everyone turned to look. A dot in the distance resolved into a bird, which soon morphed into a dragon that wheeled above the castle. The people shouted and pointed, some cowering, others running. Chaos reigned below, but the royal family on the balcony observed the dragon solemnly.

"Listen!" the dragon cried and Danis knew it was the Dragon who had first directed him North.

"Listen!" the Dragon bellowed and Mica knew it was the Great Dragon who once told him no and yet again sent him forth into the Deep.

"Listen!" the Great Dragon roared and Hono heard its call resonating in her heart, requiring her to step forth into Destiny.

Then he was gone.


Preorder links will be up soon. I'm in the process of doing final edits to A Still, Small Voice before uploading it to online retailers for sale. The target launch date is Sept 24!

Want an ARC? Let me know! 

Wednesday 15 August 2018

#bookreview: For Us Humans by Steve Rzasa

For Us HumansFor Us Humans by Steve Rzasa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picked up For Us Humans for review via NetGalley mainly because I wanted to read more of Rzasa's work.

It took me a little while to get into this one, probably because of the first person POV (still tends to be a hit-or-miss for me personally) and also because I'm not quite a Trekkie. Which goes to say this book is perfect for sci-fi lovers who can remember multiple episodes of Star Trek (and maybe other science fiction movies/series I don't watch enough of?) to get all the inside jokes I missed.

Still, For Us Humans is an exciting read: high-stakes intergalactic art theft with a side of espionage. For Caz Fortel--whose major talent is lying--to work with Ghiqasu Hounder Prime Nil--who smells lies amongst other things--to find the art thieves, he has to put aside both his prejudice against aliens and unwanted memories of the past. Nil doesn't make it easy either; the alien specifically requested to work alongside a Christian because of his personal quest for Qas and the One Who Died for All--which is exactly one of the things in Caz's past that he refuses to face.

Rzasa deftly serves you a side of theology alongside this cop procedural-thriller-space opera (because why not), but it's tastefully done and doesn't overwhelm the story OR push Christianity down your throat. Instead, it poses the question: what would happen to the Christian religion if aliens were real? Does it destroy faith altogether (because aliens weren't mentioned in the Bible) or is this something that can be worked around and accepted? Some concepts knocking around in there are faintly reminiscent of CS Lewis's Space Trilogy, but in a slightly less heavy-handed manner (if I recall right; it's been a while since I've read the Space Trilogy).

Despite being a "Christian" book (in some form or other), it isn't exactly "clean"--Caz has all but given up on faith ever since the aliens appeared and he's getting over his one-true-love by having multiple one-night stands. Nothing graphic is described, but the implications are there--including the impression that Caz swears a lot, even if it's not exactly written in the book. So if you're looking for a nice, clean, holy Christian read, this probably isn't for you. But if you're looking for more grit and reality and down-in-the-trenches stuff in your Christian fiction, this one's definitely for you.

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.

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Monday 13 August 2018

#musicmonday: Faithful to the End | Paul & Hannah McClure

A Father's heart that's for me
A never-ending story
Of love that's always chasing me

His kindness overwhelming
And hope for me unending
He's never given up on me

I will sing of all You've done
I'll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end

There wasn't a day
That You weren't by my side
There wasn't a day
That You let me fall
All of my life
Your love has been true
All of my life
I will worship You

Wednesday 8 August 2018

#bookreview: Battledoors: The Golden Slate | Brian Wilkinson

Battledoors: The Golden SlateBattledoors: The Golden Slate by Brian Wilkinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The premise of the book sounded interesting, but reading it turned out to be rather meh overall.

There's a bit of a disjointed prologue and then first few chapters basically screamed white boy wish fulfilment. You have Owen Thomas, the misfit white male protagonist who's trying his best to hide in the crowd but can't, because oh, he's so smart so he's always picked on. By his side is the ever-so-beautiful, angelic, everybody-loves-her princess Emily Lloyd, who is, of course, also smart and brainy and kind, befriending fat, loud-mouthed, panicky Bea Wells out of the goodness of her heart. Then you need the bullies: James Vanier who has anger management issues and is cruel, angry, and snarky for no reason at all, and his large, dumb, hulking, not-very-verbal muscle friend, Lucas Walton.

There is some development of the characters. Emily turns out to be not so perfect, there may or may not be an upcoming love triangle, and James is horribly annoying through and through. After a while, I felt like I was mostly skimming through the book to get find out what happens in the end. Which is a bit of a non-ending. There's book 2 coming up.

I know I've been raving about stories where readers enter the fictional world recently, especially J.M. Frey's The Accidental Turn Series ( and Jill Bowers's Immortal Writers Series. Battledoors is Wilkinson's offering in that category, but he didn't pull it off quite as well. It'll probably appeal to white male teenagers, though.

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

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Tuesday 7 August 2018

#IAmChevening: A year in the making... for a year in the UK!

So I've been um semi-sharing, but not quite really talking about the Chevening thing. Right.

TL;DR: I have a Chevening scholarship to do an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel University London.

What is that?
A full scholarship to do a 1-year masters in the UK.

What's covered?
  • university tuition fees
  • a monthly stipend
  • travel costs to and from the UK
  • an arrival allowance
  • a homeward departure allowance
  • the cost of one visa application
  • a travel grant to attend Chevening events in the UK

What do you have to study?
Anything, actually! When I first talked about it, my parents asked, "Don't they only fund STEM programmes?" (not in those exact words lah). The answer is no--Chevening does fund arts-related programmes too! Somewhere on the site (which I can't find now, lol) it mentions that scholars are selected by the local British High Comm based on the needs of the country (or something like that?) so probably in the past, the focus was on STEM. Based on the current whatsapp group, it feels like 50% are in medical-related subjects, but there's business, law, engineering, journalism, education, and governance. And in the arts, we have writing, cultural studies, media and comms, and comparative lit. yay.

How did you get it?
I applied online, was called for an interview, and was chosen!

So simple meh?
Okay, so the long, convoluted story goes like this...

Sometime in 2016 I thought about applying for Chevening, discovered you had to write 4 essays and then got lazy. Hahaha. BUT THEN IN 2017... my secondary school classmate, Evelyn Teh, became a Chevening scholar... and you know how it goes. (She can means I can also la! Right? Right?)

So even though the journey feels like it's just begun, it really started in August 2017 when I started an application. There's a bunch of stuff you need for your application, but most of it is pretty basic: an existing degree, 2 years' working experience, referees. The difficult part is the essays. Because ESSAYS. ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND WHY. You either have too much to say or not enough, if you get what I mean?

But you're a writer. How hard can it be?
I'm sure that's going to come up 90% of the time. But no. This isn't Sara meets Garuda or freaks out at the pontianak in her room. Or Danis meeting a dragon. This is omg how on earth do I network, I dunno, I talk to a bunch of writers on twitter and facebook and run this write-in that hardly anybody knows about and leadership skills? What leadership skills? Can I claim stressing out over mywritersfest and making detailed excel spreadsheets for events as leadership skills? Ok wait well I was a manager in my past (working) life. I managed people! And teams! And whyyy do I want to study in the UK uh because it's uh UK and like Tolkieeeennnn and CS Lewissss and actually oh why this uni ah? Um, it sounds interesting? It's probably going to help me? And my career goals are to uhhhhhh sell books? Hopefully in Malaysia? Menghebohkan MYWriters and Malaysian writers in the future? *runs around like headless chicken*

Well, obviously the final essays were much more lucid than that (ha) because I was shortlisted for the interview, but the point is this: essays are hard. Work on them. Figure out what you really want. Get people to read them to see if they're excited about it... or just underwhelmed. Freak out a little. And for once, well twice (in your essays and during your interview) in your life, exude the confidence of the mediocre white man. Because you know you really can. You are able to can!

At any rate, my email says I submitted my application in October, way ahead of the November deadline. (Really? I was that kin cheong? haha).

Apply then finish ah?
Not quite. After that came uni applications. You get to pick three courses/universities during the Chevening application, so you should start applying for these as soon as you can. The thing with uni applications is this... I did a four-year dip/advance dip course in TARC, where my application mainly consisted of submitting SPM results and ticking off what course I wanted to study. UK uni applications are... much more complex. They require personal statements (MORE ESSAYS URGH) and references. I technically needed an academic reference but because I graduated in 2006, I asked if I could get two work references and they said ok.
Special note on references: make sure all your references are on letterheads and SIGNED. Or at least from OFFICIAL EMAIL ADDRESSES. Because I did not know this was such a sticking point. Haha. Caused little mini panic right there.

Then I had to take an English exam, both for Chevening as well as the uni application. Being the crazy person I am, I had nightmares of not being able to speak English during the spoken IELTS test... when my primary language is... English. Go figure.

All that kept me busy until the interview email arrived in February--and then it was major, major panic time. I hate interviews. My first job interview was basically me chatting with a manager I previously interned with (no interviews required for internships then!). My second job interview was primarily a phone interview (in my pjs haahaha) with a subsequent chat with HR and some outgoing manager which I've mostly blanked out of my mind. I feel like interviews question your right to exist... but that's just me. But yeah, go with all the confidence of the mediocre white man! Toot your horn and show the world how awesome you are! You can go hide under the blankets after its done, but for that short span of time (half an hour? I think? I don't wear a watch and my phone was in the security locker so I actually don't know) you have to sell yourself and your capabilities. NOT sell yourself short. Both sound so similar, I know.

Then it's more waiting... and more waiting... and even more waiting. Until June!
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The time after your conditional selection comes is the REAL crunch time. That's when you have to hustle and GET YOUR UNI ACCEPTANCES LIKE ARGH UNI PLEASE LET ME INNNN. The thing is, you need an unconditional offer (some unis only give a conditional until you pay a deposit--but don't!) and do a simple medical check and sign some stuff. I did get my conditional offer from Brunel in May so I had to write in to them with the scholarship stuff to request the unconditional offer.

And then you send in all the stuff they asked for and wait. Because your Programme Officer has to talk to your uni and they're handling like hundreds of other students and unis. So you wait. And you wait and then you wait summore. Okay? Because it was only about a month after I sent them everything that I received a confirmation on the final award letter (FAL). Sigh.

ANDDDD it's only after that that you get your CAS (from the uni) to apply for your student visa. Well, apparently that depends on your specific uni--some people in the group got theirs even before getting their FAL, others are still waiting to get theirs... *shrug*. So I had to wait impatiently. And even after the email notification... it took about 2 weeks for the actual letter to reach my hands.

And so here I am now!

My Chevening journey has already been one year in the making. I'm SO looking forward to what this next year will bring. Right now, I'm just waiting for my visa application to be processed (submitted everything last week) and then get my flights booked, and I'm off to London next month! <3 I'm counting down to the day I get to announce that I'm celebrating my 34th birthday by starting an MA. LOL. (Yeah, classes start Sept 24.)

Pre-departure briefing and reception is this Thursday so I'm finally going to meet the 30-odd people I've been chatting with on whatsapp since June or something. I forget when. But like forever.

Lessons learnt? Be patient. Be less kin cheong. Be confident. Don't panic. Go in God's grace. :) [But mostly, Waaaaiiiit. Wait summore. Wait longerrrr.]

If you are still interested in Chevening after this super rambly post, applications are now open for the 2019/2020 cohort. Check out the timeline here!

Monday 6 August 2018

#musicmonday: Oxygen | Building 429

Still something says
Hold on through the moonlight
Don't let go, don't let go
Something says
Hold on through the moonlight
Don't let go, don't you let go

And if I could breathe you in
I'd be sure to hold my breath
Cuz you are like oxygen
Bringing me to life
So here I stand once again
Open me and come on in
Cuz you are like oxygen
Bringing me to life

Wednesday 1 August 2018

#bookreview: Mythical Doorways and Tales of Ever After | Anthologies from @FellowofFantasy

Mythical Doorways: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology (Fellowship of Fantasy, #3)Mythical Doorways: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology by H.L. Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great anthology from the Fellowship of Fantasy! (I HAVE to get round to reading that first one, Fantastic Creatures: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology, which has been in my kindle FOREVER.) There are fewer stories in this one than Hall of Heroes: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology, but each story here is longer and somewhat more complex. So, in that way, each bite here is a juicier and more fulfilling read! (If that even makes sense.)

Everwild (J.M. Hackman) started off with a slightly generic feel. Orphan boy discovers his heritage upon coming of age and must choose his path now, now, now before he turns eighteen! Girl + magic vs offer of his wildest dreams! Still, it's a good look at the stark choices that face a young person when they age out of foster care.

Well of Fate (Savannah Jezowski) was brilliant. It's based on Norse Mythology, centring on Ratatosk, the storyteller squirrel that lives on the Yggdrasil. It's not the common mythology fare you get nowadays with Odin and Thor and Loki being so popular in pop culture. I especially liked the twist at the end, which I didn't quite see coming!

I enjoyed Jericho and the Magician's Daughter , probably because I seem to like almost everything I've read by (H.L. Burke) so far. It has a bit of a budding romance (maybe? maybe not?), but was mainly about Jericho standing up for his friend against her father and insisting that she should be given the opportunity to pursue her dreams.

Kathy Huth Jones' Dragon's Oath was about forbidden (and impossible) interspecies friendships, as well as breaking with a past that holds you down. Ethaniel is a little too melodramatic (but what teen boys aren't) so this was just okay for me, I guess.

The Hallway of Three Doors (D.G. Driver) has a very old-style fairy tale feel to it--you know, like the old enchanted castles, well, doors, and princes, and trying to decipher the riddle behind it--but it was also a little hard to follow. Still, I liked it.

Bokerah Brumley's Door Number Four was brilliant. It's slightly more sci-fi so the door isn't exactly mystical, but the creature behind it IS indeed mystical. It had a bit of a Ender's Game vibe to it, at least in concept and the way things played out.

Threshold (Laurie Lucking went back to the same choose-your-path theme as Everwild , where Heidi has to decide to stay in fairyland forever, or never go back again. I kinda preferred this one, though. Maybe because of the choices made and the reasons why.

Idiot's Graveyard seems to be a continuation of Arthur Daigle's story in Hall of Heroes: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology--more background is given about Sorceror Lord Jayden, and Dana Illwind is still hanging around! It's still engrossing as a standalone, so don't worry that you'll need to read the earlier ones! Though now ... maybe there's a first story in Fantastic Creatures. Hmmm...

There's always one story in an anthology that I can't seem to get into (sorry), and this time it turned out to be AJ Bakke's Cosmic Cravings . Maybe it was the disjointed feel to it (it jumped between people and places quite a bit) or its ludicrous premise (everything happened just because Bree NEEDS CHOCOLATE) but I pretty much skimmed through this one.

I had to look Dragon Ward (Jenelle Leanne Schmidt) up, which means that I didn't like it that much to remember it, or didn't get annoyed enough to remember it. So that's kinda good? Similar man vs dragon theme as Dragon's Oath , different play out, but almost similar end result.

In What Lies Ahead (Lauren Lynch), a former slave goes in search of the past, but finds instead a path to the future. Certain elements in it reminded me of David Gemmell (walking into/interacting with the past, trying to change the future, foretelling). It felt like a fitting end to the anthology:
"Any illusions of the past I'd clung to faded like stars dissolving in the light of dawn. It was easier than I might have imagined to let go of my childish notions--to reach for the endless possibilities awaiting me."


Tales of Ever AfterTales of Ever After by H.L. Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Fellowship of Fantasy is back with another anthology of short stories, this time exploring the classic fairy tale. There are a lot of fairy tale retellings in this one so I guess I wasn't as impressed. Don't get me wrong--I love fairy tale retellings! I figure it just turns out that some of the retellings here were too straight-forward, and didn't provide enough oomph to make them stand out. In that way, original stories still work better. That doesn't mean that there aren't some gems here though!

Stories I loved:
At the Corner of Elm & Main, H.L. Burke: lovely, bittersweet, and charming. Enchanted lampposts are obviously the way to go. ;)
The Girl Who Talked to Birds, Kristen S. Walker: I like schoolgirl-finding-powers stories.
Wake the Moon, Annie Louise Twitchell: this had a bit of a folklorish feel, which was wonderfully refreshing.
Third Princess, Emily Martha Sorensen: I loved this play on the classic youngest princess always wins. There's a bit of a Howl's Moving Castle vibe to it too.
A Week After Midnight, Alex McGilvery: exploring what happens after the fairy tale has been done before, but I liked the way this one went.
Being Seen, Gretchen E. K. Engel: I don't know why I liked this one. I mean, stuck up Lord vs humble commoner--nothing unusual about that. I guess it's just the way everything fit together with the invisibility curse and all.
How to Hide a Prince, E.J. Kitchens: this one was a little confusing at first but the reveal at the end made up for it.
The Loathly Princess of Edimor, L. Palmer: Another stuck up Lord vs humble commoner, but with a proud princess that needed to be taught a lesson. Sight Howl vibe again, which is probably why I preferred it over other stories with similar characters.

Stories I kinda liked:
Cinders, Kendra E. Ardnek: the double twist on this Cinderella retelling was amusing. The beginning was rather ho-hum until the twist though.
Steelhand, Ashley Capes: As you can tell, I kind of like "the outcast wins" stories.
The Greatest Adventure, J.M. Hackman: I would have liked this better if I hadn't foretold the end. haha.
Believing in Fairy Tales, Arthur Daigle: started off not quite liking this, but it kind of grows on you.

There are some other stories I didn't mention here and I can't recall offhand what they were about, so it goes to say those didn't make much of an impression on me. But 12 out of 16 (I think) on the love/like list is pretty good for an anthology!

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

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