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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

View all my reviews

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.