Thursday, 31 December 2020

2020: A Year in Review

I suppose, in keeping with the Joneses, or whoever it is who lives near me (Lees? Oois? Lims? Yims?), I should do a year-end review. I used to do one every year until I got lazy. 

2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016

But since I can't seem to concentrate on getting anything done, I suppose I should have one last hurrah on this year-end thing, then go and read in bed (currently reading: A River Called Time) until the new year dawns. 


Things I Have Accomplished This Year

Writing-related

  • Finished final edits for The Weight of Strength, variously known as Berserker and maybe now Amok? Since I decided to localise the term. 
  • Also finished two-ish rounds of edits on The Weight of Secrets, also known as Hostage, which I should probably get round to sending off to beta readers.
  • Finally rewrote The Weight of Sin, also known as Absolution, during my residency at Rimbun Dahan
  • Reprinted (!!) Coexist and Dongeng, and distributed them for sale via MPH.
  • Edited and published Home Groan: A NutMag Anthology.

(Keep in mind that I haven't actually published anything this year, other than that one short story in the Home Groan anthology. But this also means that I *may* have multiple things to publish next year, funds permitting.)

Reading-related

Here's My Year in Books! I credit the high number to several rounds of binge-reading during MCO.

I suppose my top 5 reads this year would be:

How did I choose these? Well, I went back to see my 5-star ratings in Goodreads this year. The top 3 were obvious choices. Then I discounted those that I liked enough to give 5-stars but wasn't bothered enough about to actually write a review. Then I whittled it down from there. 

Blog-related

These are the top 5 posts for the year, that I'm too lazy to link to. 


And here's my all-time most popular post: Why Your England So Bad?

Other Miscellaneous

I can't think of anything else to, I guess I'll end it here. 
Have a great 2021, or at least a not-so-awful one. 

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

#bookreview: Captain Arnold and Other Tales of the Abnormal | Arthur M. Doweyko

Captain Arnold and Other Tales of the AbnormalCaptain Arnold and Other Tales of the Abnormal by Arthur M. Doweyko
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You know that feeling when you finish reading a story and you're kind of left wondering... what really happened there? Sometimes that feeling is one of wonder and open possibilities. Sometimes, it's just a vague feeling of disconnect, like there was something that you were supposed to get, but you missed. 

Captain Arnold and Other Tales of the Abnormal was a mix of both for me. The short stories were amusing and intriguing--and some unsettling and scary--but there were quite a few that left me feeling like I would have liked them more if I could just...get...whatever "it" was.

Several that I quite liked:
Nothing to See Here
Billy and the Time Machine
What Goes Around
The Translator
Retirement
The Zoo
Son
Lost and Found

8/17 - not quite that bad a ratio.
The collection includes Doweyko's original art, so that's pretty cool, I guess.

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

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Friday, 18 December 2020

#fridayflash: Regrets (excerpt) from #homegroan: A #nutmag anthology

Home Groan: A NutMag Anthology cover

Catherine Chong stood in the middle of the road on Puncak Bukit Mutiara and stared at the house in front of her. It was a squat, blocky thing that didn’t look like much from the outside—standing at road level, it appeared to be a very small single-storey house with a tiny front porch.

She frowned at it, then checked the address again.

It was the right house…

But it wasn’t what she’d expected to see, not with the vague memories she still held of this place. It was supposed to be huge, palatial. Three-storeys high, a wonderland she and Julia had roamed, going from room to ever larger room, conquering balconies that overlooked the sea, snuggling in the white wicker swing.

Maybe it’s bigger on the inside. Catherine snorted as she stepped off the road and approached carefully. It’s not a Tardis.

Walls spread out on both sides, blocking the rest of the house and its grounds from sight. That, at least, felt right. 

She knocked on the door. A minute later, Catherine slapped her forehead. Obviously, no one was going to answer because no one was currently living there. She had the keys in her pocket. Still, her school friends had once told her it was courtesy to knock anyway, to let any spirits living in there know you were entering. Catherine wasn’t sure if she believed in spirits, or if that rule applied to anything other than hotel rooms. She dug in her pockets and pulled out the keys.

A soft “hello” still slipped off her tongue as the door creaked open to a mid-sized room with sagging racks and shelves. For a moment, she was transported back into the past, a seven-year-old clinging to her mother’s hand as she visited a new school friend for the first time. Julia had been sitting in the wicker swing, her twin, James, perched somehow on its rounded back, both staring with identical large, brown eyes.

She blinked.

The swing now lay on the floor, the sad, rusty chain dangling from the ceiling.

Catherine stepped in without taking off her shoes or closing the door. Despite the still-bright daylight, the interior of the house was rather dark. She fumbled along the wall until she found the light switch. There was a faint fizzle and then nothing. With a sigh, she pulled out her phone from her pocket and turned on the torch.

The room didn’t open out to a bigger living room; it led instead to a circular stairway heading downwards.

Of course, you dummy.

She’d remembered the three floors right, just not the direction. The house went downwards, not up.

Catherine hesitated at the top of the stairs, looking down into the dark hole that gaped before her. She glanced at her phone. It was already six in the evening. If the house was already this dark now, she didn’t want to be inside when the sun set without a proper torch, or working lights. She made her way back out of the house, turned off the phone torch, then locked up.

“I’ll be back,” she said aloud, though she wasn’t sure who she was speaking to—herself or the house. Maybe both.

---

Check out our NutMag blog tomorrow for another excerpt!

Want to get your hands on a copy? PREORDER NOW for special rates and packages! 

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

#bookreview: Domesticating Dragons | Dan Koboldt

Domesticating DragonsDomesticating Dragons by Dan Koboldt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Noah Parker needs to get into Reptilian Corporation - the genetic engineering firm headed by inventor Simon Redwood that has cracked the code to hatching real-life dragons. Or, well, synthetic reptilian predators designed from genetically-engineered reptilian genomes, but who wants to say all that?

So. Dragons.

And with his biological simulator plus an added behavioural module, Noah can help the company design family-friendly pet dragons to replace the dogs they lost in the canine epidemic. On the side, Noah's hard at work trying to find a way to secretly use Reptilian's resources and advances in genetic sequencing to help fix one problem that's close to his heart... besides dodging scrutiny for, uhm, Octavius.

Domesticating Dragons was an enjoyable read. Koboldt put his training as a geneticist to good work, but as he assured me, it's not SO hard-sciencey that you can't follow along. It's not all about the dragons, though - what drives Noah is his loved ones, especially the welfare of his brother Connor. And it's not just family. Noah comes across as a guy who just... cares for people in his own way, whether it's his team at work - working collaboratively and sharing credit - or that slightly annoying roommate of his ex who's fighting him for the top spot in their geocaching race.

Anyways, back to dragons, I went into this thinking, what, haven't we learnt from Jurassic Park yet? And it seems we have. Reptilian Corporation takes safety of their dragons veeerrryyyy seriously even if their owners don't (the customer service call logs are hilarious!) and if we were anywhere close to this in the real world (are we? I have no clue), we might actually have a chance to get our own little pet dragons. How fun!

Note: I received a complimentary digital ARC from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Domesticating Dragons releases on 5 Jan 2021! You can preorder your copy now. :D

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

#bookreview: Payoh | Jim Tan

PayohPayoh by Jim Tan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was bored and didn't want to read something long, so I picked this up while surfing PNM on Libby. It's a pretty quick read (Libby tells me I finished it in 1 hour 50 mins) and, other than a few bombastic words assigned to the pompous Leonardo Owl, a really easy read. It's shelved in YA, at any rate.

Payoh is about JG Chan, a retired professor, and how he met the food court cleaner, Alphonsus Goh, at the first Changi Prison Writing Workshop. Interspersed between JG's narrative and musings is Alphonsus's novel, "Payoh".

We are less equal only because we allow ourselves to be
Goh's "Payoh" reads like a modernised, Singaporeanised retelling of Animal Farm in some ways, where a community of birds take over a protected bird sanctuary from the humans. They set up a leadership team. Which turns into a political party. And then... well, it's not hard to predict.

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Monday, 7 December 2020

Coming Soon - Home Groan: A #NutMag Anthology! #mywriterspenang

 


We're launching Home Groan in 20 days! 

I'm especially excited since I have technically been working on this since 2019. Really. The first iteration of this project started as a combined writing workshop + writing retreat + anthology for MYWriters Penang and was written as part of my Writers at Work assignment for my MA. (P/S, I got an A okay!)

Since then, we had to split the workshops & retreat (ultimately funded by Chevening's alumni fund) from the anthology project (now in its funding period). 

Home Groan features 22 authors and 3 illustrators, all with strong, tangible links to Penang--in fact, only 3 of them are "Honorary Penangites", and for quite a few of them, this is their first story or poem in an anthology! 

We're raising funds at the moment and have various digital and print "rewards" for you to choose from, so if you have money to spare, do grab your copy now! If you have no money to spare, or you don't read (why not?!) you can still help us by sharing our funding page. 

We launch in 20 days. SEE YOU AT THE LAUNCH

---

A deity laments her lost loves. A pickpocket steals more than just money. A young man wrestles with the colour of the homes he builds.

In Home Groan, we take a deep look at Penang. From idyllic beaches to dangerous jungle, reflections on the past to current issues, island living to mainland life, we explore our beloved home state in both prose and poetry, spinning tall tales and telling it as it is.

This is your Penang. This is your home. Come groan with us.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

#bookreview: A Castle Awakened | Sharon Rose

A Castle Awakened (Castle in the Wilde #1)A Castle Awakened by Sharon Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A mysteriously abandoned castle claimed by an usurping foreigner. An injured lady who refuses to divulge her identity. Strange-looking monsters that threaten their safety. Lord Tristan Petram has finally found lands he can claim as his own--but it's hard to say if he can hold on to it. Beth has found temporary safety--but at what cost?

Filled with intrigue, A Castle Awakened offers an entrancing read for anyone looking for a medieval-style adventure. The first novel in the Castle in the Wilde trilogy, Rose offers a clean, slow-budding romance full of Honour and Virtue and Very Complicated Circumstances. There's an underlying current of mystery and political manoeuvring throughout the novel, all very subtly done.

Whilst the style of the prose is slightly archaic, inline with the eurocentric medieval setting, the narrative itself looks quite deeply into cultural clashes and misunderstandings. Both Tristan and Beth misread each others cues, judging the other's actions by their own standards, without realising that what one does and says means something totally different to the other. Rose delicately reveals this layer by layer, uncovering more mystery and surprising twists the more you get absorbed into their world.

The prequel, A Castle Sealed, was a great jump into the trilogy, and I'm looking forward for the next book, A Castle Contended, as well!

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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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

#bookreview: When You Had Power | Susan Kaye Quinn

When You Had Power (Nothing is Promised 1)When You Had Power by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When You Had Power is a story of found family in a post-pandemic world.

Taking oft-repeated wedding vows, Quinn builds a near-future dystopia struggling through frequent pandemics, energy problems, and climate plagues, where families are formed around a legal vow of care: for better, for worse; in sickness and in health . And Lucia Ramirez desperately wants this--a family that she has chosen and has chosen her in return--in a place where she can use her power engineer training to make the world a better place. But one day into her new job and she's already embroiled in a mystery that threatens to rip the dream apart.

The start of new series, what Quinn labels as HopePunk, feels like a shift from her previous high-stakes, high-action series. Yes, there is danger, but it's more of a slowly looming shadow than a sharp, swift avalanche. And maybe it's more menacing for that. Because when you push missing turtles and threatening bosses aside, what Lucia wants is what so many of us are looking for: safety in a family that accepts us and cares for us as we are, troubles and all. Especially during troubles.

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

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When You Had Power is now available on Amazon

Monday, 9 November 2020

#musicmonday: The Day That I Found God | Switchfoot

v

The morning comes like an enemy soldier
I feel the weight across my shoulders
I feel the shadows getting colder
But that ain't you

This noose ain't getting any looser
I get so fearful about the future
I hear the shame of my accuser
But that ain't you

I found strength but it wasn't what I thought
I found peace in the places I forgot
I found riches ain't the things that I had bought
I found out
The day I lost myself was the day that I found God

I get caught chasing my own illusions
I get so lost in these confusions
I keep on looking for my own solutions
But that ain't you, that ain’t you no

My enemies weren't the ones I had fought
My liberties weren't the freedoms I had sought
What I learned weren't the lessons I'd been taught
I found out the day I lost myself was
The day that I found God

Where is God out in the darkness?
Cause the voices in my head ain't talking honest
They're saying maybe you made us then forgot us
But that ain't you, that ain’t you no

And all I know is that I still don't know a lot
I don't know how it ends I'm in the middle of this plot
Yeah and I found grace for the man that I am not
Yeah, I found out the day I lost myself
Yeah, I found out the day I lost myself
Yeah, I found out
The day I lost myself was the day that I found God

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

#bookreview: The Girl and the Ghost | Hanna Alkaf

The Girl and the GhostThe Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't quite know how to review this book.

On one hand, I enjoyed it--it is unabashedly Malaysian, it plays deeply on feelings of friendship and betrayal, loss and grief--yet, on the other hand, I put it down after the first half to go do something and I had no real desire to pick it up again to finish it off. And I really don't know why.

It's not the creepy/horror factor. However horrible or terrible the original creatures are (and are hinted to be), Pink doesn't stray too far from being just mischievous. Suraya's grandmother and the Pawang are people of power and who do nasty, evil things, but it's not described much in the book; it's MG, after all.

Maybe it's just because it's MG and I haven't read an MG book for a long time?

(It could just be my current reading mood; it probably IS just my current reading mood.)

Whatever it was, Suraya is the loner who finds a friend in the pelesit her grandmother bequeathed her. Then Jing comes into her life, and with this talkative new girl full of Star Wars references, a rift opens between Suraya and Pink. A story of friendship and bonds, light and dark, set against the backdrop of a Malaysian kampung and small-town life. Slight shades of Gaiman's The Graveyard Book towards the end, plus a super-touching ending.

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Monday, 2 November 2020

#musicmonday: The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum | Derek Webb

Cycling through the old CDs.

Yes, CDs.

--

I don't want the Father, you know I want a vending machine

I don't want the Son, you know I want a jury of peers

I don't want the Spirit, you know I want the kick drum

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

#bookreview: A Castle Sealed | Sharon Rose

A Castle Sealed (Castle in the Wilde #0.5)A Castle Sealed by Sharon Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an amusing old-style novella of Lord Tristan hearing about a mysterious secret castle and then digressing to find it, despite the stories of terrible beasts and adventurers who never return. There's an odd formality to the writing style, which works most of the time.

The story is so heavily focused on Tristan's adventures, that the two chapters featuring Beth felt a little shoehorned in. I suppose it's important to find out who she is and why it matters, but I think the novella could have been fine on its own without ever introducing her.

But seeing as this is a prequel novella leading on to the main course... it does pique your interest!

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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Wednesday, 9 September 2020

#bookreview: Chosen | T. Sae-Low

Chosen (Prophecy Rock #2)Chosen by T. Sae-Low
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Chosen picks up where Genesis ends: the two Chosen (or Candidates) must further hone their powers and prove their worth to their respective nations.

Sae-Low takes you back into the fantastic where gods and monsters still walk the earth. Is the Black truly evil? Or is he just misunderstood? Do the Ancients really want what’s good for humankind, or are they playing by their own obscure rules? The Vicedonians and the Renzai fight for land and dominance, using difference of beliefs as an excuse—but what if there’s something more—something bigger—that hides behind the name of religion? And in the midst of it all, a new enemy arises.

I didn’t find Chosen as exciting as Genesis—I guess there’s only so much outa you can take before it hits a maximum enjoyment level. However, there’s a lot of character development in this one. Sae-Low obviously believes in the “throw them in the deep end” school of learning, if the way things unfold are any indication. Magical monsters, dark shadows, strange illnesses, mystical seers, dragons, and hidden treasures all make an appearance to force them to grow and change.

This is actually where the Vicedonian empire grows so much more interesting. Renzai already kind of stands for “good”—Raden’s growth is really more about how he gains super moves, retrieves his magic weapon, and learns to trust in The One. But the fracturing Vicedonia is filled with conflict—between father and son, between brothers, within the council itself, and between “trueborn” Vicedonian people and the conquered Gokstads that have been absorbed into the empire. Mebbe I just like the colonised rising up against their colonial masters, eh.

Anyways, still a fun read though the war is far from over!

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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Wednesday, 2 September 2020

#bookreview: Green World Gray | Marianne Modica

Green World GrayGreen World Gray by Marianne Modica
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How much history depends on one person? And how much of our future depends on our actions today?

Will and Halia Horace discover that every time Mom goes into the closet and exits in some kind of spaced-out bliss, she’s time-travelling to the past. But why? And how? Between Mom’s teary-eyed insistence on keeping their baby stuff and Dad’s drive to clear out the junk in the basement, it’s a mystery they have to solve to keep their family from falling apart. But that’s just the beginning. Faced with alternative futures that range from great to okay to really bad, Will and Hal have to figure out how to fix their family—especially when it’s their mom’s environmental work (or lack of it) that influences the future and there’s someone in the time stream who’s trying really hard to prevent it.

Green World Gray takes you on an exciting time-travel adventure filled with both fancy tech and sinister people. It explores the concept of watershed, where certain events or periods mark a turning point in a situation. Modica also emphasises that everyone is a watershed—we don’t know what things we do may influence the future. Even if we don’t become famous, it could be the small things we do that influence someone else, causing a ripple effect of change in our society.

I especially love the dynamics between the siblings. Thirteen-year-old Will is awkward, socially distant, and only cares about science—but he loves his family enough to do the things he dislikes in order to help both his mother and sister. Fifteen-year-old Halia doesn’t always understand Will, but when she’s faced with the opportunity to just forget about time-travel and live her life normally, she doesn’t. Because Will is now miserable—and the only time he was really happy and engaged was when he had access to the tech in the future. And it’s this willingness to sacrifice for each other’s happiness that really makes the difference.

Green World Gray is an excellent story on family, love, and working together to build a better world.

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

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Wednesday, 26 August 2020

#bookreview: The Skylark's Sacrifice | JM Frey

The Skylark's Sacrifice (The Skylark Saga, #2)The Skylark's Sacrifice by J.M. Frey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW. If you started reading Skylark’s Song, you HAVE to read Skylark’s Sacrifice right to its heart-wrenching ending. I mean, I don’t see how you can stop.

Robin Arianhod is free. She can’t return home, but she’s doing what she can to bring the Klonn down by sabotaging their supplies and causing chaos from within their own borders. Her enigmatic captor is dead… or is he? Robin nearly gets captured, Coyote nearly dies saving her, and so she bolts to the only safe refuge she can think of—with the Klonn rebellion. With them, the tables are turned—her captor becomes her prisoner, and the Skylark gains new meaning.

Skylark’s Sacrifice is a twisting kaleidoscope of shifting loyalties, cultural clashes, and unexpected yet inevitable revelations. All the symbolism that Frey has layered in from the start of Skylark’s Song gains additional weight and unexpected importance. There’s so much that Robin (and the reader) has missed because she isn’t Klonnish, and so much that Rosa and the Coyote cannot understand because they are not Sealie. Yet as they work towards the same goal—to end the war—they need to start trusting each other.

Threaded through the story, and yet integral to it, The Skylark and the Coyote’s fraught courtship reads like a bittersweet fairy tale; they battle both the world around them and each other, always second guessing the other’s actions, and their true motives. Does Coyote truly love her? Or does he only want WINGS? Does the Skylark truly love him? Or is she just trying to use him to end the war so she can go home? Which one must give up their cultural identity and beliefs or can they find a gentle balance between the two?

But most of all, does falling in love with the enemy mean you are a traitor to your self and country?
Skylark’s Sacrifice delivers a sharp emotional punch. You gotta steel yourself for this one.

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

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Wednesday, 19 August 2020

#bookreview: The Skylark's Song | JM Frey

The Skylark's Song (The Skylark Saga, #1)The Skylark's Song by J.M. Frey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I dunno. It took a while to actually get into this. It felt like the first three chapters were such a slog to get into. Is it because it’s steampunk? Is it because of the exposition? Is it because of the voice? I don’t know! It kinda bugged me a bit because I really wanted to like this book like super a lot because hey, it’s JM Frey. Lol (Sorry, I know I have biases). Maybe my head just wasn’t in the right place at the beginning, when it takes off, it takes off.

Robin Arianhod dances the sky with the Coyote despite all the factors against her: that she’s poor, female, and a Sealie. She knows she isn’t supposed to be there—but she’s fought her way through and she’s a survivor. She’s not going to let any Benne take her dreams away, now that she’s got it. But then the unexpected happens, and now the Klonn have her.

Frey delves into difficult themes in this duology, though it’s all very prettily packaged into an exciting adventure of one Sealie woman defeating the odds (and maybe falling in love). As much as wealthy white men try to tell the rest of the world that anyone can make it through hard work and grit, there are many factors that can keep a person down, no matter how hard they try. Wealth is one of them, and how its distributed. Education is another—and how much access someone has to it, which is usually due to wealth and opportunity. Talking about opportunity, that comes down to what is and isn’t open to you depending on where you come from (ethnicity), what you believe in (religion), or how much money you have to bribe your way in (oh look, wealth again). And luck, of course. Being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right people—not just knowing, but having them like you as a person and not just as a token.

Aaaaannnywaaayyyy, Skylark’s Song is a fascinating dance of culture clashes, subterfuge and sabotage. There’s layer upon layer of meaning hidden between the lines, whether it’s marriage lines and honey, gliders and religious songs, or hairpins and chess. And then there is the hum of quiet respect, the buzz of distrust, and the tender pulses of new love. And the awful, awful question. Would you betray your country for love? Or would you betray your love for your country?

And how do you know if that love is real?

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

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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

#bookreview: Genesis | T. Sae-Low

Genesis (Prophecy Rock #1)Genesis by T. Sae-Low
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My cousin used to have this phrase to describe overly-fantastical, utterly unbelievable shows: “outa”*. Stories like Ultraman vs Godzilla, or involved some monk (probably drunk) flying from tree to tree and defeating a hundred soldiers with kungfu. So outa this story. Genesis fits into that mould—so fantastically outa and yet ridiculously fun as well. (Fireballs, anyone?)

Eos is torn apart by war. The gods have left and all that is left to guide them is an obscure prophecy inscribed on Prophecy Rock. The Renzai believe that the One is sending a saviour to bring unity and peace to Eos. The Vicedonians believe the Creator will choose a Candidate to restore mankind. Both sides search for the magical person endowed with the powers of the Ancients who will bring the war to a decisive end.

In most stories, there’s a clear good kingdom and bad kingdom, which the author is trying to get you to root for. Here, there’s no telling, as yet; Sae-Low shows you both sides of the story, with both kingdoms committing atrocities and also doing good for their citizens. If the protagonists are anything to go by though, I tend to be more sympathetic to Raden, a Renzai soldier orphaned at a young age, who’s driven by his promise to protect his sister Kimi. Prince Aric, spoilt second prince of the Vicedonian kingdom, is impulsive, bratty, and exasperating.

A question that would probably come up is “is this Wuxia?” To which I will answer, I don’t know, because I don’t follow Wuxia enough to be able to tell. It does have distinct East Asian influences, with sages who live forever (sorta), Moon Goddess mythology… and a lot of hand-thrown fireballs. (I keep thinking of Street Fighter lol)

* This is an approximation of how it sounds. It probably is some kind of Chinese phrase but since my Cina knowledge = 0, I cannot tell you what the word actually is or what the correct character/pinyin is. Lol.

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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Monday, 10 August 2020

#musicmonday: Never Going Back to OK | The Afters



Because I never felt this chorus so much before lol

We're never going back to OK
We're never going back to easy
We're never going back to the way it was
We're never going back to OK

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

#bookreview: Flirting With Darkness | Ben Courson

Flirting With DarknessFlirting With Darkness by Ben Courson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ben Courson starts by telling us why he wrote this book: because there are twice as many suicides than murders in the United States, because we are not called to live with depression but to defeat it, because he has walked this road before and wants to share the hope he has found.

The meat of this book is in the second part, where Courson shares the various tools and practices that have helped him in defeating depression. I went into this a little skeptically because it started off rather Christian-counsellor (pray and read your Bible and everything will be okay). I’m not saying that God can’t heal, but I’m also wary because God doesn’t always heal. In fact, Courson does address this:
“Well-meaning people might tell you that the solution to your problem is right there in the Bible, but I’m here to say that it’s more complicated than that. So-called biblical counselors may be able to provide some relief to people with mild cases of depression, but when you are in psychological pain, you’ll need more than a spiritual Band-Aid.
And that’s perfectly okay.”
There’s a level-headed mix of faith and science in his eleven “weapons”. There is both very Christian-y stuff (dive deep into Scripture, hold on to heaven, letting God love on you) as well as medical stuff (exercise, stop wallowing in social media, go for therapy, take medication). He also goes for the slightly bizarre—having crazy adventures with your friends!

Part 3 is where things get a little disjointed. It felt like Courson had a bunch of thoughts and slapped them into a chapter each, jumping all over the place. I understand what he’s getting at though: If the Creator of this amazing universe knows the stars by name yet still loves and calls you by name, you should accept that He wants the best for you!

Courson circles back to a few central thoughts throughout the book—that God loves and cares for you, and a proper understanding of God’s love, who He really is (in spite of religion, despite Christianity), and what He wants for you will help you defeat depression. I’m slightly wary of the reshaping-consciousness-by-telling-yourself-truths thing (which feels a little positive-confession to me), but overall, the message is clear: we need to learn how to rest in God and accept his grace, whether that means you pray for healing or you head to the doctor’s, or both.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 29 July 2020

#bookreview: The Space Between Worlds | Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between WorldsThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cara has a job not many can hold--traversing through different Earths in the multiverse--because most of her other selves are already dead. But technological advancements may mean Cara's job is invalidated--and her latest pull reveals unexpected events. What starts off as a simple multiverse-travelling story turns dark and complex when Cara uncovers dangerous truths.

The Space Between Worlds is perfect for casual sci-fi readers, those who prefer their sci-fi on the space opera/soft end of the spectrum and don't want to worry about the actual tech or How It All Works. Johnson doesn't actually explain how it works, just that it does, also providing a mythological response to this science: the traversers assigning the name "Nyame" to the pressure felt and dangers of traversing. It does segue more into myth at the end, so I'd say this is more science-fantasy than anything else.

Overall, the novel deals with the theme of rich vs poor, haves vs have-nots, and the way they impact each other individually and collectively. Cara is a Have-Not, only given this chance because of this unique quality of hers (still being alive on Earth 0); her Watcher, Dell, is a Have, born into money and Wiley City citizenship. There's a brutality that exists in the spaces outside the city, one that Cara cannot help that carry as part of her, affecting the way she reacts to people--especially Dell.

Dell, whom she is hopelessly in love with, but is sure does not love her back. A very strange kind of romance/non-romance exists between them, where it's increasingly obvious to the reader what Cara just cannot see (accept might be a better word).

Overall, The Space Between Worlds is fascinating with a slow-building intensity.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Space Between Worlds releases on Aug 4. Preorder now (affiliate link)

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

#bookreview: Lead Like a Woman | Deborah Smith Pegues

Lead Like a Woman: Gain Confidence, Navigate Obstacles, Empower OthersLead Like a Woman: Gain Confidence, Navigate Obstacles, Empower Others by Deborah Smith Pegues
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lead Like A Woman is divided into two parts: 'Inherent Traits to Embrace and Manage' and 'Counterproductive Tendencies to Let Go'.

The entire book works on a generalising of "female traits and tendencies", whether it is a natural or taught one--this is helpful in some areas, not so helpful in others. Still, any book that addresses gender stereotypes will have to make generalisations. It's up to the reader to filter through which ones are applicable to their individual personality/makeup.

Deborah Smith Pegues brings a wealth of knowledge to the conversation, explaining how to utilise your natural strengths and tendencies in the workplace, whilst being aware of and working around your weaknesses. I especially liked the way she highlighted and challenged the way certain traits (nurturing, intuition, vulnerability) are seen as a liability--and demonstrated with examples how they can be utilised to bring positive impact to the workplace.

As a Christian book, each chapter quotes various scriptures and Pegues is also open about how her faith has impacted the way she does things and how she relies on God in many situations that arise.

The only disgruntlement I have is the fact that in some of the "tendencies to let go" the advice is still working around or catering to men's expectations in the workplace. That said, until the world really changes, it's the best you can do if you want to get ahead.

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

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Thursday, 16 July 2020

#bookreview: Creatures of Near Kingdoms | Zedeck Siew, Sharon Chin

Creatures of Near KingdomsCreatures of Near Kingdoms by Zedeck Siew
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Creatures of Near Kingdoms is a beautifully illustrated bestiary of Malaysian flora and fauna. Each one-page description is accompanied by a full-page illustration or lino print.

It's whimsical. And fantastic. And witty.

And occasionally confusing if you're trying too hard to figure out The Point.

It's best read in short bursts. Take it as a collection of microfiction, if you will.

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---

I'm lagging behind in my reviews because... idk. I'm playing catchup with work stuff that I can't delay because I'm clearing up my schedule. So the book reviews are the first to go.

Anyways, thought I might as well post this to make up for yesterday's missed post, even if it's not in the current review schedule (which is messed up).

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

#bookreview: The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia

The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast AsiaThe Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia by Jaymee Goh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I suppose if I like half of an anthology, the anthology is a good one. I've been trying to find a way to review this more critically, but it just seems that I can't.

I suppose the dissonance comes from several things, the first of which primarily stems from the lack of steam in this version of steampunk. There's a quite a bit folklore/magic, sometimes used in combination with the technology; where it seems to grate (or at least confuse) are the bits where it seems to be substituted for the gears and clockwork. Either that or I'm not quite getting what they're trying to say.

The second is really a follow-on thought that a lot of SEAsian folklore tends towards horror and the macabre, which isn't what I enjoy reading. So whilst I enjoyed some of them, they turned out a little darker than I expected.

The stories almost all focus on a colonial past, on that space where history could have probably gone either way. This, I suppose, is already defined in the Introduction:
It was, and still is, imperative that we have volumes dedicated to our own voices, projects not of postcolonial melancholia, but decolonial determination. Our psyches cry for justice for lost names, lost stories, lost histories, all lost to globalized, systemic racism, lost to imperial dreams imposed upon us for too long. In the absence of time machines to recover them, we turn to re-creating, and creating anew. Thus, we use steampunk to have that conversation with our histories, our hearts and dreams.
I suppose i should end this updated review with some of the stories I enjoyed.

- The Last Aswang, Alessa Hinlo
-The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso, Kate Osias
-Working Woman, Olivia Ho
-On the Consequence of Sound, Timothy Dimacali
-Spider Here, Robert Liow

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Wednesday, 17 June 2020

#bookreview: Daclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent | D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Book 1: NascentDaclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent by D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Nascent follows the three Manstead siblings and their dealings with angels and demons across the world (and out of it). First, there's Max, the genius, estranged, eldest child, an avowed atheist who is found wanting. Then there's Mark, the middle child who becomes one of the first Nascent-capable, Augmented Intelligence humans but is ambivalent in his faith. Finally, Meghan, the baby of the family, is the bleeding heart Christian who puts off university for missions work.

Part of the description is spot on--'Frank Peretti (This Present Darkness) meets C.S. Lewis (The Space Trilogy), "sci-fi-turns-spiritual" drama' fits this first novel well. On this count of premise and concept, it delivers. Like Peretti's work, angels and demons are physically present and active in the world--they inhabit other dimensions of the universe, but interact with humans via a fifth dimension that intersects with our world at various points. Cliffson then layers this with a Singularity-type concept of merging tech and DNA which turned out to be very intriguing, as well as disturbing. Cliffson presents it with all the related moral ambiguity, starting out with enhanced humans and ending with spiritual and ethical dilemmas of using (or misusing) such tech. (What, then, is a soul?)

Unfortunately, "heart-pounding" and "breathless" is the farthest away from this book that you can get. The entire novel is made up of infodumps interspersed with flashbacks, and a little bit of current action. This makes it super hard to get through and, honestly, a little difficult to understand. If you're not already a science geek (I'm not), you'll probably get very turned around halfway as to what on earth the dimensional and genetic stuff is actually supposed to do or mean. I can't actually decide whether this book was a little too hard-science for my taste (I've been known to skip technical descriptions in hard sci-fi books but still enjoy the story) or whether it really wasn't that technical, but just the way it was written made it confusing (it's not exactly handwaviumish enough to count as space opera-type soft sci-fi).

There's little in the way of organic character development. You're presented with a character doing something or facing an epiphany of sorts, and then there's a backstory infodump to tell you why the character is struggling with that (or not) and then it all moves along. The dialogue is often stilted and relies on a lot of repetition, which goes something like this:
A says, "such-and-such revelation."
Random confusion/flashback/infodump, including maybe a side-track from the conversation.
B replies, "Wait, so you mean such-and-such?"
A (or someone else in the scene) confirms it, often by repeating it.
It's very exhausting to read.

Being... Christian fiction, it does cover quite explicitly Christian faith issues plus conversion stories. This may be a plus or minus point depending on your own personal views. There's the usual appearance of Christian "relics", though not quite the holy grail.

Reading this would really be more for Cliffson's take on the Singularity, genetics, and multiple dimensions--plus the coming apocalypse--in an alternate world where faith really is by seeing. Though I guess if you really like very exposition-y books you may like this one.

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

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Monday, 15 June 2020

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

#bookreview: Strange Ways | Gray Williams

Strange WaysStrange Ways by Gray Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strange Ways is a story of guilt and grief, and how you deal with them in an unjust world. It's about personal choices and political choices and taking the higher ground... or not... in a dark, gritty London full of illegal magic.

In some ways, Strange Ways can be read metaphorically. Amidst the Coleman family drama is the underlying question of justice for the oppressed; in this case, magic users. Karina Khurana appears in The End of the Line, but I don't remember much about her there. Here, she's much more central to the story--her political fight to legalise magic forms one of the core themes of this thriller.
'The slightest slip from me, just a frown or a clipped comment, and they analysed it. They picked it apart like it was evidence of something. I couldn't be tired or harassed or angry. Every time I let them get to me, I fed them just what they needed to point and say "there, that's her true nature, that's what they're all like."
... I tried so hard. I played by every rule. I talked, never argued. I debated but never shouted...'
In her fight for magic users' rights, Karina ends up having to act as a sort of "model minority" (model politician?), living under the scrutiny of the nation to prove that magic users are not inherently evil; magic can and is being used for good. As fiction, it's easy to skim over. Magic isn't real, after all. But there's always truth to fiction.

In our current living dystopia, the tension is real: when the laws (written or unwritten, constitutional or societal) are unjust and violence erupts (no matter who starts it or how it starts), where do you draw the line between continuing to claim the moral high ground (you must never give them grounds to accuse you) and retaliating to protect yourself (staying alive vs being a martyr)? Where's that turning point that says now it's okay for you to fight back, not just in words but in action? And once violence has started, who stops it? What's the best way to fight for a right? Do you keep playing by the rules? When do you throw the rules away and agitate for new ones?

In the midst of these charged times, these are especially important and pertinent questions. Violence isn't the answer, but sometimes violence can bring you to an answer. How this looks like in real life is what everyone needs to decide for themselves.

Williams explores this in how Amanda, Karina, Michaela and Steph react to the situations they find themselves in. There's no clear-cut right or wrong; like life, such decisions are messy and ambiguous--and often full of compromise. There's a divide between how the older generation react versus how the younger ones do. Yet the clearest chasm comes in Karina's accusation:
'You were willing to kill for what's important to you. Well, I'm willing to die for what's important to me.'
I'm probably overthinking this thriller, but that's what books are for. At any rate, I liked Strange Ways so much better than The End of the Line mostly because it's dealing solely with magic, and not the demonic aspect that was the core of the first book. Or so I tell myself.

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

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Wednesday, 3 June 2020

#bookreview: Tales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the World

Tales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the WorldTales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the World by Csenge Virág Zalka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're interested in how folk and fairy tales differ--or are the same!--around the world this is a good place to start.

The 55 tales are arranged around various superhuman powers, including shape-shifting, control of the elements, superstrength and mind-reading. Besides the tales themselves, Csenge provides some background to the stories and where they come from, as well as variants on the stories or similar stories from around the world. Being a storyteller, Csenge also includes the age the stories are appropriate for, plus adds in snippets of her experience telling these stories.

At points, the notes imply that Csenge has rewritten some of the stories, including merging several variants into a single story, or editing it down into a shorter version. I'd guess that she has also translated some of these from the original languages into English. As such, quite a few of the collected stories centre around Europe, with a focus on Hungary, but there's also a wide enough selection of stories from parts of Asia... including one from Malaysia!

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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

#bookreview: Seen. Known. Loved: 5 Truths About God and Your Love Language | Gary Chapman, R York Moore

Seen. Known. Loved.: 5 Truths About God and Your Love LanguageSeen. Known. Loved.: 5 Truths About God and Your Love Language by Gary Chapman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I dunno. It's a really, really short book? 95-ish pages--at least based on the contents page of this e-ARC. My Kindle says its 51 minutes long (at my average reading speed), so more like a booklet.

Seen. Known. Loved: 5 Truths About God and Your Love Language rides on Chapman's earlier 5 Love Languages book(s), relating each love language to an expression of God's love. Although he (they?) explains a little bit about the five love languages in the first chapter, passing familiarity with the concept helps. I've never read any of those earlier books, but they're referenced enough in popular culture that I kinda know what they are. There's also a website quiz to discover your love languages that they refer you to.

Seeing that this rides on a whole series of books, I don't know that it presents anything new, other than that they tie it back to how you can receive and relate to God's love in each of the five love languages. While Chapman and York do quite well relating the five love languages back to God's love, I think the Physical Touch analogies kinda fail a little.

Overall, the book probably works more as a devotional or study group discussion to, uh, "unpack" the truths. Each chapter starts with a narrative, explaining the relevant love language with both generic (secular) stories and Christian ones (either current or from the Bible). The chapter closes with a "Refocus" section that directs you back to the God stuff and has either reflection questions or action items. On the other hand, coming from an angle of one who has been in church all her life, it reads rather evangelistic at points. Browsed again; based on the number of "if you have never", this book seems targetted at non-believers, or as church people would say, pre-believers.

Conclusion: this book is probably for people who already LOVE the 5 Love Languages brand and want to know how to relate it more to their lives or people who are trying to figure out this "God's love" thing.

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

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Friday, 22 May 2020

Teenage keepsakes: a strange badge of honour

During the saga of the Strange Smell that turned out to be a Dead Rat Under The Staircase (a story I have not yet told and may probably never bother to tell), my mother cleared out all the stuff that had piled up in the storage area under the stairs. Most of this stuff is junk: old stationery, various wires from various appliances (and eras), decorative knick-knacks--the kind of stuff that you keep "just in case" and then find out that you'll never use again.

And then there was my woodwork project from school.



Well, then.

I remember hating this. Kemahiran Hidup (KH; Living Skills) was like the Worst Class Ever after Art and PJ (sports). Mostly because I'm terrible at working with my hands. And the problem with that is I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, and when something Just Won't Work I get this terrible urge to Destroy Everything In Sight (also why I hate art class).

So anyway, KH had like several components and you have to do a project for each one of them in Form 3 (Grade 9? idk the year you turn 15). Sewing was okay, I think (at least, I don't remember having any meltdowns, and I also don't even know what happened to that project) and Electronics was terrible (everything I soldered probably came out the next day lol but it wasn't as frustrating in general), but Woodwork was...

This is what I learnt:

  1. I cannot saw straight (I can't even cut paper in a straight line with scissors so...)
  2. I do not have the strength to saw through thick pieces of wood (I relied on help from the teacher and some classmates to actually cut through some of those chunks lol)
  3. I cannot hammer straight either (this also relates to strength, plus being generally bad at angles)
  4. Using sandpaper is slightly therapeutic, but also boring, and I have no patience 
  5. I know I'm bad at art, but this also translates into not being able to shellac in nice, flat layers, leaving weird streaks and clumps.
  6. I will never ever do woodwork again. 
If I'd found this ten years ago, I'd probably agree and junk it, but right now, it feels like a souvenir of my past--a hard-earned accomplishment made of my Blood and Sweat and Tears (there probably was blood). Right now, it feels like a badge of honour, if only because if it survived 20 years without falling apart, I probably did a better job of hammering than I thought I did.

Also, I probably did all the fancy stencil work to earn more marks for making it pretty because I was obviously going to lose a lot for the way the nails were bent and the joints aren't actually flush or even.

Anyways, it will look nice on my shelf and actually has a use!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

#bookreview: Feathertide | Beth Cartwright

FeathertideFeathertide by Beth Cartwright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marea was born with feathers and raised as a secret. When she turns eighteen, she sets out on a journey to find her father--only to find that it's also a journey of discovering and accepting herself.

Feathertide is a slow burn. A very, very slow burn. So slow in fact that the middle gets a bit boring, but the beginning and the end make up for it. They make up for almost everything. The trick, I think, is to read it all in one sitting. Once you stop somewhere, it's difficult to pick it up again.

There's nothing terribly new or exciting about Feathertide, honestly. It's a classic story of self-discovery, a coming-of-age without the excitement of knights and swords and kingdoms to wrest, just one of waiting and listening and asking questions. Marea sets out on her journey intent on finding the place where her parents met, hoping to find clues as to who her father is and why he left--and there she stays.

It's this unnatural stillness and lack of action that drags the story down--yet, it's this undefined longing and yearning that makes the story what it is. You really aren't picking up Feathertide for an exciting or twisty plot, you're picking it up for its beautiful prose and the raw emotions they draw from you. Cartwright captures the strong emotions and needs we all share no matter who we are--love and desire, belonging and acceptance, safety and shelter--and embodies it in Marea, the secret girl with feathers who doesn't know who she is or where she belongs. And as you journey with her, you hope that you too can find what you're looking for.

Feathertide is not for the restless; it's a book for quiet, for yearnings you cannot quite put into words, for those who need to just be for a little while.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House UK, Cornerstone via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 18 May 2020

#musicmonday: The Curse of the Faithful | Justin McRoberts



But the curse of the faithful
Is watching the ones they love go away.

I’m here. I’m always here



I’m here
I’m always here
I’m here because I choose to be
Despite all that’s been done to me
I don’t have much left that I could lose
So I’m here
And I’ll be here tomorrow, too.


(I've forgotten
Just how sweet Your
Mercies are Lord)

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

#bookreview: Sorrowfish | Anne C. Miles

Sorrowfish (The Call of the Lorica, #1)Sorrowfish by Anne C. Miles

Where do I start with this?

Let's start with the star-rating. There is no star rating here because I do not know how to star it, but also inline with my updated rating system. For Amazon, I think I'll settle for a 3.5, pushing towards a 4. (Okay, I went to read through the guidelines for the review programme I got this book from, and realised I had to put a star for this on Goodreads as well. So that's now starred there too.)

It's really hard to define why.

Sorrowfish is an intriguing merged-worlds kind of story, where Sara Moore in Kentucky has waking dreams of a magical world and Dane in Canard is visited by a Fae. There are shades of Ted Dekker's The Complete Circle Series, where both worlds affect each other and Sara is the key to the overlap with her creative gifts.

I love the rich mythology Miles has created, with the World Tree and the Storm King, the Song and the dewin, the Fae and their bonding, gnomes and deemlings, the ties to earth and creative acts. It's all very beautiful and symbolic. Even the title, Sorrowfish takes on great meaning as you journey with Sara, Dane, and Trystan.

But to get there... Where some books have a great start and then let you down with a mediocre ending, Sorrowfish muddles through the beginning until you want to yell at it and then speeds up to a tense middle and an impressive ending. It's an awkward mix between just too slow to keep your attention and yet just too much that it's all so confusing. It's only somewhere midway when the various arcs really begin to overlap that things start to fall into place. But it's not quite an easy oh, that's what she means ding of understanding, more of a pfft, maybe I need to go and read the beginning again to figure this out... which is not quite a reaction I really like as a reader.
Maybe it's because it tries to follow three arcs at once and the correlation isn't really apparent until much later. There's just a little too much going on.

Writing-wise, there's just this odd thing about the sentence structures that makes me feel like everything is a tiny bit stilted. It's not anything really jarring or noticeable, more of an unsettled feeling while reading. I don't even know how to describe it. This is probably just me being nitpicky though (or still slightly in editor mode).
(Stupid aside: Miles uses "dan" in a name sort of like "son of", but "dan" in Malay is "and", so my bilingual brain keeps interpreting that as TWO PEOPLE.)

Overall, I think Sorrowfish is worth a read if you can get through the slightly confusing start.

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

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