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.

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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!