Saturday, 4 April 2020

D is for Dreams #AtoZChallenge

They were little things. She held five of them in the palm of her hand, little seeds the size of a Tic Tac, each a different colour.

The first was a beautiful blue, like the sky on a sunny, cloudless day. It tasted like adventure and excitement, the rush of possibility. She spat it out, afraid. The world was too vast, the future too frightening. There was no knowing how it would all end up, whether she would live a long life with the people she loved.

The second seed was lime green, fresh and bright and a little sharp on the eyes. She rolled it between her finger and her thumb before putting it on her tongue. It tasted like growth and stretching, roots digging deep, branches reaching ever upwards. She held on to it for longer, chewing enough to break through the capsule, before spitting it out as well. There was too much bitterness hidden inside.

There were three left in her palm and she wanted to throw them away. It was too risky. Life could be lived normally without them. She didn't need them.

Still, it was curiosity that finally made her stick her tongue out and lick the bright red seed. It burned on her tongue like fiery peri-peri and she dropped it immediately. In her mind, her thoughts ran to fire, the anger of a thousand tiny cuts bursting into one huge bonfire. She could burn the world down and rebuild it from the embers. But would she stay the same? This one she held for a little longer, then went out to press into the soil. Even if she couldn't handle it, she could keep it, nurture it for someone else. Someone stronger.

She went for the grey next, tasting ash on her tongue. If fire had been too strong, this bleak nothingness was too weak for her. It tasted of routine and boredom, a life of safety that was too empty, too constrained, too dead. She pondered it for a moment longer, then gave it up with a sigh. As much as she loved the quiet, it would bury her alive.

The final seed was a curious thing, purple dappled with pink. She held it up to her nose and inhaled the scent of cotton candy and morning dew, lavender and chocolate, a first edition musty with age. It sparkled slightly, reminding her of fairy dust and unicorns, and the improbable balance of being. She didn't have to taste this one to know what it would bring.

---

Pfft. This one took forever to write because I couldn't find any nice D words.

Friday, 3 April 2020

C is for Chamomile #AtoZChallenge

She sat, sipping slowly. The warm brew settled her stomach, taking away the queasiness that had been building up all morning. She closed her eyes and basked in the sweet smell of honey and chamomile. When she opened them, she drank deeply, set down the empty mug, and got up to get things done.

###

"It doesn't work that way," the healer insisted. "He's dead. You can't get anything from--"

"Just show him to me." She folded her arms on her chest and stared him down. When he didn't move, she reached out and nudged the papers she'd shown him when she entered the room.

He flipped through them again, bringing the seal on the last page right up to his nose.

"It's authentic," she said drily. "I highly doubt anyone would forge the Secretkeeper's seal just to see a dead... person."

"This is very unconventional," he protested, but he handed the papers back to her and crossed the room to where, presumably, the head was kept.

She followed close behind him. "It's not every day you find a severed head in the street."

"It was at the port," he replied, "and it was deliberately planted. By our enemies. As an act of war."

"Which makes it an even more singular event."

He opened the chest on the table and stepped aside, nearly knocking into her.

She looked in. It was a ghastly thing to behold, a severed head on a silver platter--why was it on a silver platter?--eyes still open in shock. She reached out her hand.

"Don't touch it."

She ignored the warning, taking a deep breath while wishing for more honeyed chamomile to fortify her. Nothing. Well, she'd expected that. You'll likely find nothing, the Secretkeeper had said, but we owe it to the Sultan to at least try. She shifted her fingers downwards to close the poor man's eyes, then jerked her fingers back at the buzz. There was the faintest wisp of a memory still lingering. Amazing. He's been dead for three days. She closed her eyes and concentrated.

"Well," she said when she'd gotten all she could. "Baginda Paduka will be quite interested in that."

"What? What did you find?" The healer stared at her incredulously.

She smirked a little. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"But the head--he's been dead--how--"

"Don't underestimate the powers of Impian's Justices," she said, leaning towards him. "Should I read your mind?"

He shrunk back, raising his arms in front of his head. "No! I haven't done anything."

"Of course you haven't." She looked back at the chest, and Amanah's head, and sighed. "Poor man." She closed the lid. "See to it that his head is returned to his family."

###

Mikal, Jeffett turns the Bayangan nobles against me and I am under house arrest. If he succeeds in his bid, he will do all he can to re-start the war. Suspect all missives that come under my name. Yosua.

She finished writing down the message that Amanah had held as his last thought and wondered if the man had known that she would be able to extract it. Mind-reading was such an imprecise gift and very few Justices could read from the dead, especially one that had been dead for such a length of time. Still, his name indicated that he came from Impian, which could mean that he might have more than a passing knowledge of the gift--maybe he had sisters who were gifted Justices themselves.

Like me.

She sent off her findings with the messenger who had been waiting, made herself another cup of honeyed chamomile, then curled up on her bed. She took a deep draught as she dropped the mental walls she'd erected in the morning.

Grief crashed over her as Jujur finally mourned her dead brother for the first time today.

---

Okay, I opened the dictionary at random and picked the word Chamomile. Which led to this unexpected story that's somehow tied in to the WIP I'm working on right now. I don't know if it will actually happen in the story, but eh.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

B is for Bayangan #AtoZChallenge

Bayangan comes into view in the evening. The walls surrounding the city are still blackened with fire, partially crumbled from the last war. No effort seems to have been made to rebuild them. We pause for water by the gates, where a large party awaits us.

An open carriage, white trimmed with gold, stands ready. The two white horses harnessed to it paw at the ground and toss their manes. Permaisuri Layla takes the hand of a groom and steps up into the carriage, arranging her skirts as she sits down primly. Ayahanda is brought up behind it. They rearrange his chains so that his hands are bound before him to a bar that runs across the back of the carriage.

There’s a short discussion amongst them, then Temenggung Jeffett mounts a large, black horse. He raises his parang, shouts an instruction, and we set off.

Inside the city walls, rows and rows of shacks have mushroomed in the ruins of old houses. The buildings are haphazard and there’s rubble everywhere. The stench of decay and sewage permeates the air.

Is this what Maha will look like in twenty years? I cannot imagine returning to a place like this. I cannot imagine why they haven’t rebuilt, why neglect pervades this part of the city. Is it the lack of money? Lack of resources? If Bayangan really needed resources, why have they given up the treaty and the marriage alliance for this? Surely continued trade would help Bayangan more than whatever plunder they’ve taken from Maha?

The deeper into the city we go, however, the more prosperous it gets. Wood turns to brick and stone. New buildings tower above us. There are some remaining patchworks of blackened stone, but most of the buildings have been rebuilt. We pass a large marketplace where all sorts of wares are on display. It is here that we stop first, where many of my countrymen are led away.

The Bayangan citizens come out to watch, lining the cobbled streets or peeking out of high windows.

“Behold your triumphant Permaisuri!” the soldiers that precede us shout, blowing their trumpets and waving flags.

Trade comes to a temporary stop. The Bayangans cheer for their permaisuri and their army. They jeer at us as we pass, pelting us with rotten fruit. Slowly we proceed through the throng, boxed in on all sides by sharp parangs and ugly, angry faces. The road narrows, inclining upwards. Walls rise again to greet us as we reach the end of our journey.

The Bayangan Castle is tall and narrow, made of scrubbed white stone. There are no large, wide windows for the breeze to flow through, only narrow slits that squint and sneer at us. It is a defensive place, built to repel others, unlike the Mahan Palace, which is gentle, open, and welcoming.

The gates open with loud clanks and the crack of whips, a great maw opening to swallow us whole. There are no open balconies or large gelanggangs, only suspicious turrets and the one crowded courtyard we’re being herded into like cows.

The slam of the gates closing behind us is a knell of doom.

---

Here's a short excerpt from The Weight of Strength, Mikal's reactions when he and his fellow captives see Bayangan for the first time.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

A is for Amazing! #AtoZChallenge #bookreview: Writers of the Future 36

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 36: Bestselling Anthology of Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Short StoriesL. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 36: Bestselling Anthology of Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Stories by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As anthologies go, I really, really like this one. I don't think I'll talk about every single story--there are 4 additional/commissioned stories and 3 articles PLUS the 12 winners for the year--but I can safely say I did not dislike any one of them. At most, there were maybe two or three which just left me puzzled.

Here are the ones I loved the most:
A Word That Means Everything (Andy Dibble)
THIS was an unexpected gem. I started it a little warily, wondering if it was going to be a bad take on Christian mission work, but ended up with a very intricately written story on cross-cultural missions and Bible translation... to aliens, of course. While trying not to be eaten by lamprey.

Stolen Sky (Storm Humbert)
This starts off with so much hope, so much joy and wonder at discovering new things, but ends on such a bittersweet note. That last line... oof.

Yellow and Pink (Leah Ning)
How many times would you be willing to reset your life to be with the one that you love? This story takes a look at grief and letting go, and the things people will do out of desperation.

Foundations (Michael Gardner)
I found this beautiful and yet a little eerie.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Galaxy Press. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

---

Here's a note to self not to sign up for stuff when you're bored.
A's a cop out of what I actually plan to do for A to Z, which is flash fiction, because I woke up lazy today and realised that I'm supposed to post my regular book review anyway.
I suppose I shall just change my goal to be flash fiction on days except wednesdays, and then worry later about how to fit the alphabet in for the rest of my reviews. HA.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Welp! It looks like I'm staying in for another three weeks!

Malaysia has just extended its MCO order to end on April 14... which means I'll have another three weeks of staying in.

This isn't much of a HUGE change for me, personally, but "Eh, I don't feel like going out" has a different connotation than "I'm not allowed to go out".

Work on the WIP is going fairly well: I passed the 30K mark on Monday, and will probably buckle down to get out another 15K to 20K by the end of the week.

Look at that!
Work-wise, I have 3 projects to keep me busy for a while.

At any rate, since I probably won't have any distractions (other than facebook, twitter, and following COVID19 updates, ha!), I decided that I might as well participate in the A to Z challenge again. 


I don't know what I'm going to be doing yet, except that it will be flash fiction. If you have any topic/theme/word suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Hope all of you are keeping safe, staying healthy, and staying at home! 


Wednesday, 25 March 2020

#bookreview: Girl, Woman, Other | Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well. That was an interesting read.

I've read one other book by Bernardine Evaristo, Mr. Loverman, because it was on our MA reading list and she was teaching that session. I liked it so much I bought (pre-ordered) Girl, Woman, Other (oi too much money ke?) in hardback (omg anna how are you going to bring all these big, fat, heavy books home!), but also because omg I've been invited to her book launch I should gooooooooo and get the book siggggnnneeeed (I went. I did not get the book signed. Book launches are crowded and noisy and awkward, also I had pre-booked for Phantom but in hindsight...).

Minor fangirling aside, I finally got round to reading the book this week after putting it off for ages because obviously free review copies with upcoming publishing dates take priority over books I bought that were published a year ago. But I HAD TO READ IT SOON because of the Booker thing and all that; the TBR is neverending, y'know?

But about the book.

Girl, Woman, Other is easy to read. It feels like speech, like these twelve women (womxn?) speaking to you
narration flowing into speech, everything is fluid and leading you somewhere
prose-poetry, or poetry-prose
whichever way you put it
it speaks to your soul, wrenches at your emotions
you have to nod and go, yeah, I feel you
not denying history, reality, but dragging it out to be acknowledged
and even if you're not black nor British
you relate

Girl, Woman, Other is also difficult to read. It takes a while to get used to the style it's written in, it takes a little time to figure out the patois and pidgin, but most of all, it takes a lot of effort to follow the connections as Evaristo points you from one person to another and then back again. (Was this person mentioned before? Oh yeah, so-and-so's friend, I forgot. Wait, I did not expect that connection, huh!) She doesn't sugarcoat the dark stuff, but neither is it graphic.

I think it is, overall, a good read, an eye-opening read, and I may one day revisit it again.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

#coverreveal: Shadow Light | Sarah Delena White

Presenting... Shadow Light!


Night lived in a tower at the end of the world.
Her name was Layla, and the world did not know her.

Day had no tower.
His name was Aeric, and the world held no refuge for him.

Yet with the evil Coroc and his army of shadowfiends terrorizing the lands, Layla and Aeric must work together to restore light and hope before all is lost.

Night and Day must unite to save all peoples from eternal, terrifying evil in this lyrical tale that combines the wonder of George MacDonald’s fairy tales with the beauty of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.

Shadow Light releases on 31 March! Preorder on Amazon now.
Add to Goodreads

---

Author bio
Sarah Delena White was raised by wolves in an alternate dimension. She writes eclectic speculative fiction that reworks mythology with a fine balance of poetry and snark. She's an experienced world traveler who loves to weave world folklore and ancient concepts into vibrant, original story worlds. She is the administrative manager for Uncommon Universes Press. When she's not writing, she can be found making elegant designer bead jewelry, traveling to festivals as a professional ballad singer, drinking tea, and seeking to create the perfect latte. She can be bribed with dark chocolate.

Website | Facebook | Reader Group | Instagram

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

#bookreview: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water | Zen Cho

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in WaterThe Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some of the most difficult reviews to write are the ones that you love so much for undefinable reasons. Do I say I like The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water (Pure Moon for short) because of the way it's written? Do I say it's AMAZING because, on the very first page, I paused and thought it really sounded like the corner coffee shop? Do I count the times I chuckled because those situations and responses are legit what (and how) the aunty or uncle down the road would say?
"You hexed a customer?" he roared. He smacked her on the side of the head.
"I didn't say that, Mr Aw," protested the waitress, rubbing her head. "I just said I didn't deny only."
It's really not what I expected to find in a Tor book. Even though it's rather par for the course with Zen Cho's other (Malaysian-published) work. But better. Much better. I was looking at texts to use to illustrate using Malaysian English in writing, and I have to say, this is it. THIS is pretty much it. I spent a lot of time reading the text (especially the dialogue) in my head with the intonation of a Cinapek-uncle-next-door, if you get what I mean. But it's not that foreign that you can't read it in a normal quasi-British tone. Though, where's the fun in that?

Pure Moon's world seems to be a rather thinly veiled pre-independence Malaysia: the Reformists/bandits (Communists) and the Protectorate (the British) banding against Yamatese (Japanese) occupation, only for the Reformists to be outlawed again once the war was won.

What's the novella about? Well, a nun joins a group of bandits, hilarity ensues.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tor via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

#bookreview: The House in the Cerulean Sea | TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean SeaThe House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Linus Baker is a caseworker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youths (DICOMY). When he is unexpectedly sent on a classified mission to an orphanage on a faraway island, he has to face up to several hard facts about his work, the Department, and himself.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is really quite a lighthearted fantastical romp, though it dips into heavier themes about discrimination, bigotry, and abuse. The six very dangerous children are a delight no matter how evil they come across at first, and you'll soon find your heart melted along with Linus' through their innocence and their adventures.

Although somewhat self-indulgent at times, the writing is filled with dry wit and humour. It feels like a happier, less gruesome version of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children with a bit of... Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch(?); while the set-up feels like it should be a rather high-stakes story, the actual major conflict (and resolution) didn't quite peak as much as I thought it would, falling instead on a later, less physical, but more emotional conflict. If you're looking for sweet stories about found family and unconditional love and acceptance, you'll probably find it here.

All said, here's the content warning that whilst there is nothing graphic or sexual in the book, it IS a queer book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tor Books via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 7 March 2020

#bookreview: Liquid Crystal Nightingale | Eeleen Lee

Liquid Crystal NightingaleLiquid Crystal Nightingale by Eeleen Lee


Well, where do I start with this one?

I haven't been reading much sci-fi lately, mostly because I don't seem to enjoy them as much as I imagine that I used to. I don't know if it's because of a shift in my reading tastes, or if it's an overall change in the style of writing in newer sci-fi books.

Liquid Crystal Nightingale is a case in point. I picked it up because it was written by a Malaysian and it sounded interesting enough; it's basically a murder mystery with political underpinnings set in a space colony in the future. I wanted to devour it but found myself struggling to anchor myself in the story and the world. It didn't help that besides the very carefully structured and described advanced future on Chatoyance that hinged heavily on gemology (something I have no idea about), it also flipped back and forth in time with rampant flashbacks and scarce signposts of whether the thing happening was in the present or the recent past or actually a few years back by now.

This makes it sound like I hated the book. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. It just required too much effort at the initial level. I admit, I am a very lazy reader. I was planning to review this according to my normal schedule on Wednesday (I DID finish it by then), but decided bagi chance la and did a re-read. The second read-through flowed much better when I could orient myself properly.

The world-building is well done. Chatoyance and its related space colonies feel fully-formed with interesting histories and backstories; the Tiers, the mining industries, the Artisans, the underworld and their religions. There are so many layers to the world that it has a life of its own--though that might have been its own downfall; the multi-layered complexity may have been what confused me (I don't do very well following real-life political intrigue either). I think it would appeal very much to more science-y types (or actual gemologists!) and those who like layers upon layers of political conspiracy.

The ending feels a little like an Inspector Rebus book: the mystery has been solved and the perpetrators caught, but the actual conclusion is still slightly vague. You have to read between the lines (a few times) to figure out what the perpetrators have admitted to and are being arrested for. There's a sort-of satisfaction to this, I guess.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Rebellion via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Friday, 6 March 2020

Oh look, an actual update!

I am sitting here writing an actual blog post that is not a #musicmonday post or book review, which is both weird and awkward because:
a) I haven't done one of these in a while, and
b) I have a lot of other things I should be doing but am not doing because I am not in the mood for it.


This seems to be a recurring theme these days. I'm supposed to be getting back into the swing of things (or "hitting the ground running", ha! a dream I often delude myself that I am able to do) but it seems that I swing from the extremes of being too busy to stop (because I have been procrastinating too much) or stopping for too long (because oh look, there's nothing *urgent* I need to finish right now).

The second part is a lie. My Microsoft To Do list (segued over from Wunderlist) tells me I have 36 things planned, 7 of which are overdue and 5 of which are due in a week. Some of these have been there since December, and I've just been rolling forward the deadline until I gave up and left the red DUE DATE there to make me feel horrible. Not that I feel horrible. I just feel... lost? Anxious? Confused? And I'm drinking copious amounts of tea because making tea makes me sit at the table, thereby increasing the chances of Getting Things Done by at least 50%, if not more.

I console myself that I am, at the very least, doing well at completing paid jobs on time but if I know anything about business, that's not going to be great in the long run because I'm not actually doing anything to give myself more business. (Hire me! lol)

But on the writing front, because I've been telling my critique group that I'm going to start writing the new story since January, I did actually get round to starting the new story and hit 10K a couple of days ago. Which I'd initially targetted to hit a month ago. I don't know if I'll catch up to my original timeline (that aimed for a first draft by the end of March) but I guess I can make whatever's left over for CampNano in April. Well, at least I've started so there's that.

I have a book review that's overdue--I missed this Wednesday's post--so I suppose I should get round to doing that now. Since I don't feel like doing anything else tonight.

Monday, 2 March 2020

#musicmonday: While I Wait | Lincoln Brewster



Deep inside my heart, I know You’ve won
I know You’ve overcome
And even in the dark, when I’m undone
I still believe it

I live by faith, and not by sight
Sometimes miracles take time

While I wait, I will worship
Lord, I’ll worship Your name
While I wait, I will trust You
Lord, I’ll trust You all the same

When I fall apart, You are my strength
Help me not forget
Seeing every scar, You make me whole
You’re my healer

I live by faith, and not by sight
Sometimes miracles take time

While I wait, I will worship
Lord, I’ll worship Your name
While I wait, I will trust You
Lord, I’ll trust You all the same

You’re faithful every day
Your promises remain

Though I don’t understand it
I will worship with my pain
You are God
You are worthy
You are with me all the way

While I wait, I will worship
Lord, I’ll worship Your name
Though I don't have all the answers 
Still I'll trust You all the same

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

#bookreview: Stolen Shroud | Daniel Westlund

Stolen ShroudStolen Shroud by Daniel Westlund

Stolen Shroud is an action-packed Christian thriller that delves deep into apologetics.

How does that work together? Somewhat awkwardly.

Westlund balances the fast action, shooting guns, super human powers, and scientific race (and espionage) with meandering passages on doubt and faith, hard-sell preaching, and tragic backstories. Throwing Mark Eberhart, an ex-youth pastor, together with Cora Byron, a hardcore atheist, means that there's no place in the novel where faith doesn't come up as an issue or an argument. The good thing about this is that their respective faith journeys seem both flawed and believable--just like our convoluted, complex, and constantly shifting beliefs. The bad thing about it is that it sometimes feels just a tad too forced. Still, if you're a fan of such discussions, I think you'll find some very interesting discussions in here.

The narrative style takes some getting used to, especially as Mark's narrative voice is snarky, a little jaded, and sometimes almost comic-book style. It flows well, however, and keeps a strong pace. My biggest annoyance with the book is the POV and its lack of consistency. While the majority of the book is written in first person, with Mark Eberhart as the main narrator, Westlund fits in short flashback chapters from Mark, Cora, Raj, and Stuart's POVs. These are marked in the chapter headings, so that's clear enough, but flip between first and third person for no discernible reason. In the later part of the book, the narrative jumps between POVs without any chapter, or even scene, breaks--I'm not sure if it's a formatting issue in the ePub I received or just something that was overlooked in the editing.

Where Westlund excels is in the creation of his characters. Each one of them has an intricately crafted backstory, all rather tragic, and related in great detail, that fleshes them out. It feels like Westlund knows his characters intimately and is able to make you empathise with them (somewhat) even when they're being idiots because you've been brought to understand where they're coming from. In this case, the flashbacks did serve their purpose, despite their initial clunkiness, especially when he ramps it up at the end to a spectacular reveal/twist.

Overall, Stolen Shroud has an impressive vision and scope but, unfortunately, suffers a little from poor execution.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

#guestpost: I’m Ready to Publish My First Book. Now What?

Let’s see if my journey into writing resonates with you. I looked into publishing back in the old days when bookstores existed. I heard advice like, don’t hold back on your first book and save ideas for the sequels--put everything you have into book one and worry about follow up books later. And also, I’d hear about some author who got published and was running against a deadline on a subsequent book, so he just whipped something out to pay the bills, and the one telling this story then chided the author for choosing money over creating real literature. I agreed with both of these opinions. Then later in life it was finally time for me to write. I had a book burning inside me, and a feasible amount of available time to do it.

So I wrote, or rather, learned how to write, as I wrote my first book. I heard a bit in passing about changes in publishing over the years but didn’t look into it deeply for fear of discouraging myself. I enjoyed day-dreaming about sending out my manuscript, and then fielding calls from jealous agents fighting over my story. After four years my book was ready for the presses. I started looking into publishing and found out that not only will publishers not take unsolicited manuscripts, even self-respecting agents won’t take them, other than a couple of exceptions, agents who take them so that you’ll buy their e-book about how to write and submit a proposal.

I was bitching about the publishing industry to a friend and he said to him it seems better now, because back in the day, if you couldn’t get time with an agent, your choices were to either give up, or off yourself like John Kennedy Toole. But nowadays, you could self-publish like Andy Weir and hit it big. I hated that idea because self-publishing meant that I would have to push my books to my friends a la Amway, create a mailing list and social media following when there was nothing yet to follow, and try to B.S. my way into getting ‘influencers’ to take a look at it. But, I knew that my friend was right. I felt like God was leading me in that direction (if you believe in that kind of thing).

When I looked into self-publishing, I found out that not only do I need a throng of followers on social media and in my mailing list (which are also requirements for getting published), but I also needed to write a ‘deep series,’ because Amazon doesn’t want to post ads for suckers with one measly book, because that’s only one potential sale to them, as opposed to a dozen future sales of an author with a deep series. So, the advice went, I should pump out a book every six weeks or so.

The reason there are no good soap operas is the same reason I think this is a bad idea. One day is not enough time to produce a good TV show. One week is the minimum. If anyone can write a good book in six weeks, it’s not me. I suppose if a reader likes formulaic pulp with all the genre tropes, they could be happy with a six-week book. But that’s not why I got into this. I don’t want to be like the allegorical author in the first paragraph. I want to write something that matters and affects people. I’m not in this to quit my job.

Don’t take this as bitching about the system. I agree with my friend that now is the best time to write a book. I have a few ideas for how I could pull this off. Had I known what publishing would look like when it was time for me to publish, I wouldn’t have changed anything about my writing process. I would have been a little more discouraged while I wrote, and I knew that deep down, which is why I didn’t look into it. Now it’s up to me to reverse-engineer market my book, shoving its square peg into the round hole of the market and genres, rather than if I would have looked at what was selling at the beginning, and then ‘written to market.’ I write to a market of one: me. And I don’t mean that I’ll be satisfied if no one likes my book, because I won’t. What I mean is that I wrote the book that I wish existed and didn’t, and am putting my faith in the fact that there are others out there like me wishing this book existed, even though they don’t know it. Like that old question, how much did Steve Jobs spent on marketing? Nothing. Because people don’t know what they want. I do.

---

About the Author

Daniel Westlund is an author and cyber-security engineer, but he wasn’t born that way. First, he was a punk kid and then a punk teenager, before God really got a hold of him. Then there was marriage, an English degree, a missionary stint in India, kids, and a crisis of faith. When he finally got through the faith crisis, he looked down at his belly and found himself pregnant with a book.

Visit his website for more info!


About the Book

He was so close. Professor Mark Eberhart was set to carbon date the Shroud of Turin. He was going to finally find out if this relic was real, and if it could revive his dwindling Christian faith. But the Shroud was stolen right in front of him . . . by thieves who possessed super human powers.

As Mark and journalist Cora Byron attempt to recover the Shroud, and find out why it was stolen, Mark’s faith is blindsided. At the same time he was to test the Shroud, other scientists ran DNA tests on the supposed lost bones of Jesus—tests which proved that these were, in fact, the real bones of Christ.

Get Stolen Shroud now!

p/s free promo happens week of March 2nd!

Monday, 24 February 2020

#happybookbirthday to Stolen Shroud

He was so close. Professor Mark Eberhart was set to carbon date the Shroud of Turin. He was going to finally find out if this relic was real, and if it could revive his dwindling Christian faith. But the Shroud was stolen right in front of him . . . by thieves who possessed super human powers.

As Mark and journalist Cora Byron attempt to recover the Shroud, and find out why it was stolen, Mark’s faith is blindsided. At the same time he was to test the Shroud, other scientists ran DNA tests on the supposed lost bones of Jesus—tests which proved that these were, in fact, the real bones of Christ.



Stolen Shroud launches today!

---

Daniel Westlund is an author and cyber-security engineer, but he wasn’t born that way. First, he was a punk kid and then a punk teenager, before God really got a hold of him. Then there was marriage, an English degree, a missionary stint in India, kids, and a crisis of faith. When he finally got through the faith crisis, he looked down at his belly and found himself pregnant with a book.

Find out more about Daniel and Stolen Shroud here.

p/s free promo happens the week of March 2nd!

Friday, 21 February 2020

Chapter 1 and 2 of Dongeng, as read by Jac

Jac Reviews Stuff reads the first two chapters of Dongeng.





A+ for effort, B- for pronunciation of the few Malay words.

Get Dongeng here.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

#bookreview: Empire of Sand | Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha, #1)Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW. Where do I go with this review other than... WOW!

I picked up Empire of Sand when Tasha Suri was at SRFC in March last year. And then I sat on it because I had so many other things to do and so many other things to read and... now I am filled with regret for wasting all that time.

Empire of Sand is stunning. It stuns you with the sheer beauty and intricacy of its world-building, inspired as it is by medieval India. It stuns you with the depths of its emotions as Mehr is entrapped within inescapable silk cages by her words and her honour and her love. It stuns you with its brutality, where even the simplest choice can become an issue of life or death. And as you read, your heart bleeds with Mehr, with Amun, with all those who serve the mystics, whether from fear or from love.

Love is a funny thing. It gives you courage to do the impossible, but it also takes away your choices. Protected by her father's love and his power as Governor of Jah Irinah, Mehr is also looked down on as the illegitimate daughter of an Amrithi nomad. Within those strict confines, Mehr exists as neither one nor the other, until she's caught performing a forbidden rite. And it's there, out of her love and fear for her sister, that she makes a tough decision, the first in a long line of many harder choices. Yet, if there's anything to be taken from this book, it's that love also empowers you and helps you find ways where there is no obvious solution.

I'd go as far as to say that Empire of Sand is the best book I've read this year, even if it's only February.

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look look look, signed copy!

Monday, 17 February 2020

#musicmonday: The End Where I Begin | The Script



Sometimes tears say all
There is to say
Sometime your first
Scars don't ever fade, away
Tried to break my heart
Well it's broke
Tried to hang me high
Well I'm choked
Wanted rain on me
Well I'm soaked
Soaked to the skin

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

#bookreview: Asperfell | Jamie Thomas

AsperfellAsperfell by Jamie Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Asperfell is the kind of book that you start reading, and you fall into fairly easily, even while your mind goes, I know exactly where this is going. And it goes in those exact. same. places. without deviating. But it doesn't stop you from devouring it anyway.

It pings every single YA trope there is, which may be what makes it (5 stars woot!), but also what breaks it (3 stars eh, I saw that from a mile away). Briony is the feisty, untrained but unquenchable female protagonist who blunders into everything--not quite blindly, at least, but with more faith and hope than her skill and talent warrants. And obviously, she has the one rare magical aptitude that is needed for this time... Then there is the broody, irritable, and unlikeable male protagonist, traitor prince Elyan, who holds deep, dark secrets he can't share with anyone--and is not so bad when he finally smiles.

Add in the classic enemies to lovers and a slight tinge of coming-of-age (or at least growing into responsibility), the semi-medieval setting, court intrigue, and there you have it. Only, Elyan and Briony are actually of legal age (at 28 and 20-ish?), so it's basically aged-up YA. Other than an attempted rape and backstories of abuse, neither of which go into graphic details, it's a very clean read.

Predictability aside, Asperfell is a fun magical romp, with deftly executed twists and tragically crafted backstories that add to the depth of the characters, even if they don't bring anything fresh to the plot. It unfortunately ends on a cliffhanger, because trilogy. So... book 2?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Uproar Books via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Asperfell releases on 18 February 2020. Preorder here (affiliate link).

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

#bookreview: Brunt Boggart: A Tapestry of Tales | David Greygoose

Brunt Boggart: A Tapestry of TalesBrunt Boggart: A Tapestry of Tales by David Greygoose
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Brunt Boggart: A Tapestry of Tales is a collection of brand new folk tales. From the (imaginary) village of Brunt Boggart to the (equally imaginary) town of Arleccra, Greygoose brings you down the Peddlar Man’s track, one that twists and turns, slithers and jumps through space and time. It’s an ambitious undertaking.

And it starts off well. I fall into this quaint English village with whispered superstitions, chanted verses, and secret songs. I am enchanted by the Wolfboy who gives up the woods to become Greychild, all the while harbouring in his heart a secret quest to find his lost mother. There’s so much to discover about Brunt Boggart, about Ravenhair and her grandmother’s black ribbon; Crossdogs who is the best fighter, the Wolf Slayer, but also has the kindest heart; the Peddlar Man who trades ribbons and dolls and shiny things. It’s almost real, encased in a kind of shimmery surreality. There’s a lilt to the words, a purposeful rustic garbling that’s almost authentic, but not quite. At times, I can almost hear the rhythm and the beat, can almost be absorbed into the lyricism of the story. But then some wildly outlandish thing happens and I am dragged out again, wondering, what’s going on here?

It’s a tapestry, alright. There’s no one story, but many, thrown together haphazardly with many loose ends that just disappear. There seems to be a larger narrative arc that follows Greychild and smaller arcs following Crossdog and Ravenhair, but it’s all jumbled up and jumps around way too much for me to get a proper grip on. There’s also the impossibility of it all. Whilst folk and fairy tales have their fair measure of magic and bizarre happenings, there’s usually something that pulls them together and gives the story a cohesiveness that makes it believable, magical even. In Brunt Boggart, it just stays bizarre and confusing; I’m often left wondering if the events in the story were meant to be real, or a dream, or a fever dream, or a… what?

All told, this book is meant for reading aloud, to let its repetitions and rhythms bring you to another world… where you don’t have to think about plot and what the heck is actually going on.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Pushkin Children's Books via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Monday, 3 February 2020

#musicmonday: Body and Wine | Jars of Clay



Rusty ground and dusty roads
It's been a while since you were king
Undermined and overthrown
You tried to run it on your own

Forget the birds with broken wings
Under piles of things on things
No one stops and no one stares
Seen it all and no one cares

What if this was all that we were made of?
This was all that we could make of love
If there wasn't more, I wouldn't be here
Hero and crime, body and wine

Drove my heart toward the sea
Passed the graves up over hills
Saw the spires hit the ground
Voices raised without a sound

What if this was all that we were made of?
This was all that we could make of love
If there wasn't more, I wouldn't be here
Hero and crime, body and wine
Hero and crime, body and wine

What if this was all that we were made of?
This was all that we could make of love
If there wasn't more, I wouldn't be here
Hero and crime, body and wine

What if this was all that we were made of?
This was all that we could make of love
If there wasn't more, I wouldn't be here
Hero and crime, body and wine
Hero and crime, body and wine
Body and wine

notes.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

#bookreview: Adults | Emma Jane Unsworth

AdultsAdults by Emma Jane Unsworth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmmmmm. I took a chance on this because OMG I'M THIRTY-FIVE I SHOULD READ THINGS ABOUT PEOPLE LIKE ME.

Or not. Really, really not.

I finished this with the same kind of vague disconnect that I had reading Normal People; the kind of feeling that I should like this, I should relate, but I don't. Who are these awkward creatures posing as humans and doing these outlandish things that no one in their right mind would? There's a huge cultural divide, even after recently spending much time amongst these fancy white people.*

Sure, there were some things that pinged: an over-reliance on social media and its accompanying anxiety, the need to always perform, needing to disconnect but being unable to, the call of the aging female body to procreate**.

But it all hinged overly much on Jenny's neurosis, which flares in very unattractive ways.

Overall, Adults is a book with too much drinking and too little class. I am obviously not the target audience, despite the sad similarity in age and single status. I shall toddle back to my bright-eyed boys and girls trying to save the world with magic. Or dragons. Or both.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harper Collins via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

* Or, rather, not going out to avoid very drunk white people.
** If anything, the thing I related to the most was the confused desire of my bloody uterus to host a little alien in it. Whether or not I really do want to have kids or have any maternal instincts at all.

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Monday, 27 January 2020

#musicmonday: A Message | Coldplay



My song is love
Love to the loveless shown
And it goes on
You don't have to be alone
Your heavy heart
Is made of stone
And it's so hard to see you clearly
You don't have to be on your own
You don't have to be on your own

And I'm not gonna take it back
And I'm not gonna say, "I don't mean that"
You're the target that I'm aiming at
Got to get that message home

My song is love
My song is love, unknown
But I'm on fire for you, clearly
You don't have to be alone
You don't have to be on your own

And I'm not gonna take it back
And I'm not gonna say, "I don't mean that"
You're the target that I'm aiming at
And I'm nothing on my own
Got to get that message home

And I'm not gonna stand and wait
Not gonna leave it until it's much too late
On a platform I'm gonna stand and say
That I'm nothing on my own
And I love you, please come home

My song is love, is love unknown
And I've got to get that message home

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

#bookreview: Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space | Amanda Leduc

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making SpaceDisfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone loves fairy tales. We've grown up longing for, and dreaming of, our own fairy tale endings. Some of us can and do end up getting some version of happily-ever-after, but Leduc asks a harder question: must fairy tales and happy endings be solely hinged on the magical healing of physical disability or disfigurement, of things that are ugly or broken being made pretty and whole again?

Why can't those who live with disabilities be happy and whole even if they never find a cure?

Throughout Disfigured, Leduc explores the history of fairy tales and their current manifestations, ranging from the earlier compilations by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson's original tales, up to Disney retellings and modern superhero or fantasy stories as their new reiterations. She expounds on this in tandem with scrutinising her own lived experience of growing up with cerebral palsy, and how, whilst she loved fairy tales and their magical endings, it eventually seemed like they were not for her.

Because the magical happily ever after always involved a cure or a fix, one that she, and many like her, has not and will likely never receive.

...the focus of fairy tales...has always been on finding magical instruments, extraordinary technologies, or powerful people and animals that will enable protagonists to transform themselves along with their environment, making it more suitable for living in peace and contentment.

Leduc quotes fairy-tale scholar Jack Zipes, putting into focus why fairy tales resonate with so many--there's always that hope that something (God, the universe, karma, fairies) will happen to fix what's wrong and then we can go on to successful, fulfilling lives. In the past, fairy tales were a way to justify mysterious illnesses and wish for miraculous cures, things that science can now explain and medicine can help.

Why then, if technology and medicine, have opened new frontiers and magical possibilities for everyone, do our storytelling and narratives still imply that one needs to be "normal" and "healthy" to live a blessed, happy life?

Why do modern fairy tales still so often rely on the erasure of disability?

This is honestly something that I have never thought about. Who doesn't want limbs to regrow or cancer to disappear, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and the blind to see? It's what we are taught to pray for in church; it's this hope of the miraculous cure that fuels faith-healing rallies.

Just as media portrays people of colour as "odd and exotic" or just "wrong", it's not a huge leap to see that the media does this to the disabled as well. The evil witch is a hunched old crone with warts on her face, waving a cane; the villain is ugly or disfigured in some way. The quest is completed, or evil vanquished, when the Beast is transformed back into the handsome prince, or when the mermaid walks down the aisle with her brand new legs.

Disability is something I live with, not something I've vanquished as if it's a villain. The stories I now tell try to show this. The stories we all tell, now, should try to make space for this truth in some way.

Disfigured offers a dissection of the impact of familiar fairy tales on Leduc's own experiences and lays bare the insidious narrative that disability--or anything that makes us different--is a villain to be vanquished. As writers--and readers--we are often blinkered to the experiences of people who are not like us, people who are not able-bodied, and this shows in the stories we tell and the language we use; my first instinct was to say that we are "blind" to those experiences, but are we? Or do we just refuse to listen, refuse to try to understand?

Going back to faith-healing rallies, we want people to be healed, but what happens when they are not? What happens when the dreamed-of fairy tale ending is just another huge disappointment? In what ways do we, does society, change to allow them to live and thrive independently instead of just blaming them for their perceived "lack of faith"?

How should this be reflected in our stories and in our societies?

Society, we have seen, does not change in fairy tales. The transformation is individual, never systemic.

Just as stories shape society and society shapes stories, how disability is portrayed in fiction (whether fairy tale or not) is important. If fairy tale endings are about transformation and triumph, it can surely also show the transformation of society and the triumph of the disabled protagonist even if the disability never goes away.

I've shelved this under "Writing and Publishing" because it speaks a lot to my interest in writing new fairy tales (as well as retelling old ones), but really, it's a thought-provoking read for any fairy tale who is interested in understanding and unlearning the narratives around disability/difference that's coded in these beloved tales.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Coach House Books via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Buy link: Amazon

Monday, 20 January 2020

#musicmonday: King of Majesty | Hillsong



Okay, so this song came up, and I was like, "I didn't know people still sang it."
And someone said, "Yea, all the kids think it's a new song. They don't know how to do the hey! hey! hey!"

... and then later, I'm thinking waitaminute... that version is the remake. THE ORIGINAL DOESN'T HAVE THAT.
This falls in the high school era, where I remember learning/introducing the song in the basement of Chong Nam Theatre.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

#bookreview: Indigo Inquest | Azriel Johnson

Indigo InquestIndigo Inquest by Azriel Johnson


Indigo Inquest, book 4 in the Dragon's Bane Series, follows the life of Plato Kingsley, a Drackne and key leader of the Humankin in Bellato. Whilst the book can be read as a standalone, it does get a little confusing at times, especially if you start with the last chapter of Book 3 that's included as a sort of prequel/prologue. I'd recommend skipping this chapter snippet until later if you're reading this as a standalone; it doesn't really add much to the narrative until you actually figure out what's happening in the rest of the book.

The timeline of the book covers about 50 years, jumping back and forth between the "current" events of 2001 and Kingsley's history from his youth in 1953. It's a simple narrative device: the past is told as a series of flashbacks as Kingsley tells his story to a reporter while on his final quest to confront his greatest enemy. I'm not entirely sure it works for me--because of the way it's structured, it feels as if there is entirely too much backstory, though the entirety of the book is ostensibly meant to be backstory. There are also sections of news-like reports, which serve as a sort of historical touchstone for this alternate earth timeline where Dragons have destroyed most of human civilisation. At least, I think that's why they're there.

Overall, whilst the book is entertaining enough, it suffers a little bit from poor execution. On the plus side, Johnson plays with mind reading, time travel, and mysterious god-like powers, which always makes for exciting plot twists! On the minus side, there's a slight clunkiness to the prose that makes it feel like a lot is being crammed into this one book, including unnecessary backstory as mentioned earlier, and the time jumps sometimes makes it hard to keep track of things. The motivations and actions of the characters are also obscure and underdeveloped, with some relationships that either don't make sense or don't seem to develop naturally.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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---

More about The Dragon's Bane series:

On August 8, 1956 there was a coal mine fire in Marcinelle, Belgium. At least, that's what Humanity was told.

The Dragon's Bane Series (Sunset Red | The Black God) follows an alternate timeline in the events of the war between Dragons and Humanity spanning much longer than anyone ever fathomed.

The main character in the series is John Ross Gerstung, grandson of the first Hell Bringer with whom he shares a name. The novels between his tales focus on prominent people in John Ross' life.

Indigo Inquest is the second of these novels.

---

Azriel Johnson is an inkspatter analyst by day and a serial writer by night.

Currently he can be found teaching English in China if you’re looking hard enough. 

Most side projects have taken a back seat to this new adventure, the card game is on hold, the other stories have been sidelined, but he will resume them once he gets into the flow
of life in Asia.

He still does yoga (sort of), and exercises almost daily (nightly), while exploring as much as he can and getting lost (but not too lost) in a “small” city of five million. He also is attempting to learn Chinese, but it is still poor. He admires his students for trying to learn English as he thinks speaking English is much more difficult than speaking Chinese, although the written characters trip him up. His goal is to be bi-lingual by the time he leaves, even if he is still functionally illiterate in Chinese.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

#bookreview: The Last Mystic | Susan Kaye Quinn

The Last Mystic (Singularity Series Book 4)The Last Mystic by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I went back and read everything in the series ALL OVER AGAIN. I mean, The Illusory Prophet released in 2017, which is really long ago... and I really hate when authors take forever to finish a series, but this was... this was worth the wait, I think. Yes, definitely worth the wait. Though, technically you don't really need to do that. There's enough back info in this one to help you remember what happened in the previous three books (assuming you haven't completely wiped them from your mind).

---

The Last Mystic is not just about tech. It's not just about the mental arms race. It's really about cults and beliefs, ambition and humanity.

All the little hidden secrets come out in this one, all the pieces Quinn has been shuffling around, even in the various Stories of Singularity, and the payoff is like *BOOM* when you realise wait, this new character was that one from that short story, and wait, *THAT* happened because... oh! (Which probably sounds pretty cryptic, but well. No spoilers. Though really the blurb for this one is pretty spoilery for what happens in book 3 anyway.)

Elijah Brighton continues to struggle with the question that's been bugging them since The Legacy Human: do ascenders have souls?

Is there life after death? What does the afterlife look like? Elijah has never believed--and even after resurrecting from the dead, he's not quite sure he believes in God and the afterlife. It's all just the fugue. But the more he discovers about himself and the fugue--the more he grows into what he's created to be--the more complicated it gets. And with Hypatia-Diocles cult gaining power and trying to force the Second Singularity, he's out of time. The world is out of time

So he's left with the biggest question of all: how does he act as a bridge for all of humanity, whether legacy or ascender?

It's a brilliant, brilliant read. You should read it too.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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The Last Mystic just released this week!