Wednesday, 3 March 2021

#bookreview: The Second Bell | Gabriela Houston

The Second BellThe Second Bell by Gabriela Houston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Salka is a striga who has spent all her life suppressing her second heart, which, if given any power, would turn her into an evil monster. It's their way of life, and the only way to keep their community safe. But when Salka is sent away, it comes down to a matter of survival: continue starving the monster and die or finally tap into her striga nature and live.

The Second Bell is a story of choices - not just the choices Salka has to make, but how the choices of others in their community have direct and lingering impact on her life. As Salka is forced into increasingly limited and difficult choices, she needs to decide if she will continue living within the boundaries of the community that has sheltered her so far, or if she should strike out and make a new way for herself.

This brings us to the question of nature versus nurture. In the striga village, the conventional wisdom is to starve the second heart, the source of both power and evil; yet the most experienced at - and legalistic about - starving their second heart turn out to be those whose choices cause the most harm to others. Are all strigas evil just because they have a second heart? Or is it what they do with the power that they are born with that makes them dark? What if Salka's experience is something totally different? And what if there was a way to tap on to that power and still remain good?

What is the balance between personal responsibility for your actions and the sinful nature of a person?

The story starts off well - Chapter 1 draws you into the history of Heyne Town, Salka's birth, and the stigma around strigas, then jumps 19 years into the future in Chapter 2 to see Salka all grown up. However, Chapters 3 - 6 hits you with a choppy series of POVs that read like a series of short stories that are somewhat related to the plot but not quite. Houston seems to hit her stride around Chapter 7 - whilst we still get multiple points of view, they start to flow together in a cohesive narrative to its heart-wrenching end.

Overall, The Second Bell is an enchanting and thoughtful read.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Angry Robot via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2021

#bookreview: You Knew the Price | Susan Kaye Quinn

You Knew the PriceYou Knew the Price by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Regional Director Zuri Hill-Gray has it all - yet nothing feels right after the death of her twin sister. Then power engineer Lucia Ramirez comes stumbling into her life, bringing with her a threat to the power grid that puts her job - and last shred of identity - on the line.

Is it weird to say that You Knew the Price feels strangely prescient? I doubt Quinn could have predicted the power shortages in Texas right at the time she's launching the book, but time is just weird nowadays anyway! The main difference is, the power shortages in the book are done on purpose for nefarious reasons instead of being a result of poor planning through climate change.

Still, the overall premise for the Nothing is Promised series is a timely and relevant one: pandemics, climate change, and the price society has to pay collectively to fix things. Where Quinn focuses very much on found family in When You Had Power, it's the community gathering support each other - whether they're colleagues or unknown protesters - that comes to the fore here. As much as Zuri is able to rely on the support of her close-knit family, she also needs to step up and face the very real evil of people bent on power. And she can't do it alone.

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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Wednesday, 17 February 2021

#bookreview: What's the Tea with Gen Z

What's The Tea With Gen ZWhat's The Tea With Gen Z by G.Z. Manuel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What's the Tea with Gen Z is a guidebook to understanding Gen Z, written by communication students from IACT College, Gen Z-ers themselves. It's a huge effort - the book is filled with lots of information, from research and surveys, as well as personal anecdotes.

Content-wise, I'd give them an A (or 5 stars) for effort. The book covers everything from who the Gen Z are and how they grew up to what they're currently facing in the Covid-19 pandemic. It sometimes feels like the majority of the statistical information quoted has an implicit White USA bias. In a way, this makes sense because of how global the world is and what kind of information is readily available on the Internet (as well as the limits of college students carrying out surveys during MCO - this begs the question, who are they surveying?). At some points, the question "is that really true here?" kept coming up while reading, so I'd have appreciated a little bit of analysis on how this translates to the Gen Z in Malaysia. Is it absolutely the same, or would there be variation due to culture? Is there a difference in the way the same global events are perceived & reacted to by Gen Z in White/Western surveys vs the average Malaysian youth? Or is this generation truly so global that cultural backgrounds don't play as big a role as they used to?

On a more personal interest level, a lot of what was said that defined this generation was technology. Yet everything mentioned seemed very urban English-speaking middle-class - what about B40 without the same level of access to tech & the Internet? What about those whose primary language is Malay or Chinese or Tamil? Do they also fit in the demographic, or are they some sort of subculture within Gen Z? [Other side thought - do these generational analyses only apply to the English-speaking world? How does language change generational experiences?]

On a more or editorial level, the book would have benefited from tighter editorial control. If I understand the format correctly, each chapter is written by a different team of 3 students. This has resulted in varying levels of readability. There are some chapters that are a breeze to read and others that are filled with grammatical mistakes and extremely confusing sentences. Some seem to go a little more in-depth into why things are the way things are, others seem just to summarise and present whatever they found or are just extremely anecdotal.

Overall, What's the Tea With Gen Z is an informative read, though it could have benefited from more thoroughly thought out analysis. It contains a lot of information, but what it lacks is a strong narrative that pulls all this into a cohesive whole. However, as these are communications students and not researchers or analysts, I suppose I'll give them a pass on that.

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Wednesday, 10 February 2021

#bookreview: The Long, Long Afternoon | Inga Vesper

The Long, Long Afternoon: The most atmospheric and compelling debut novel of the yearThe Long, Long Afternoon: The most atmospheric and compelling debut novel of the year by Inga Vesper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven't sat down and finished a whole book in one sitting recently, mostly because I've been reading (or trying to anyway) thick SFF works that are a gazillion pages long or something like that. But I picked up this wonderful mystery and finished in one go.

Sunnylakes, California is the picture-perfect rich, white American neighbourhood - until Joyce Haney disappears, leaving behind a bloody kitchen. The only ones who might know anything are little Barbara Haney and the help, Ruby Wright. But who's going to listen to them, a little girl and a black woman? Disgraced Detective Mick Blanke, apparently, since he has nothing else to lose.

Vesper paints a vivid picture of Joyce Haney and the darkness that lurks behind her picture-perfect life. But as much as it is about solving the crime, The Long, Long Afternoon is also about Ruby Wright, her dreams and ambitions, and all the things that stand in her way as a black woman in the fifties.

I'm not a huge fan of shifting POVs, but Vesper does it well, mostly shifting between Ruby and Mick, but also dropping in little snippets of Joyce's voice at apt moments.

In conclusion, The Long, Long Afternoon is a perfect Sunday afternoon read. I really enjoyed it.

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Saturday, 6 February 2021

#coverreveal: Refined by HL Burke (@hlburkewriter)

Refined: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project Book 4, the final book in the SVR series by H. L. Burke releases March 5th 2021!

The book is on a special pre-order sale from February 4th through 14th, available for only 99 cents. This book is the endgame of the Marvelous superhero series, featuring adventure, humor, and a whole lot of heart.

Are you ready to save the day?


It’s hard to be a hero when crime is in your DNA.

Now a full-time hero with a beloved wife and treasured daughter, former supervillain Fade is certain nothing could take him down a dark path again. However, a mystery from his past lies in wait, a mystery tied to a part of his life he’d rather forget.

When DNA evidence reveals that Fade’s biological father is the elusive and enigmatic assassin known only as Syphon, Fade wants nothing to do with that mess.

Unfortunately, Fade can’t shake the target this newly discovered connection puts on him—and the backs of his friends and family.

Fade's only chance to fix things is taking down Syphon himself.

But Fade’s long-absent father has his own plans for their reunion.

Plans that could cost Fade everything he’s fought and bled to create.


About H. L. Burke

H. L. Burke has written more books than she can count—because she's written a lot of books, not just because she can't count very high.

Easily distracted by shinies, she has published in many sub-genres including fantasy romance, Steampunk, and superhero, and always creates story worlds with snark, feels, and wonder.

Married to her high school crush, she spends her time writing, spoiling her cat, and supervising her two supervillains in training (aka her precocious daughters).

An Oregon native, she wilts without trees and doesn't mind the rain. She is a fan of delicious flavor, a follower of the Light, and a believer in happily ever after.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2021

#bookreview: Reaper of Souls | Rena Barron

Reaper of Souls (Kingdom of Souls, #2)Reaper of Souls by Rena Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arrah has magic now, the only one who does. She's the last witchdoctor. She carries the voices of the chieftains and the burden of the murdered tribes. But what if some of them survived? She needs to visit the tribal lands, to try to find them - in hopes that they can help stop the Demon King's impending return. Add politics into that mix, with the acting Almighty One doing all he can to stay in power, and you have a mind-blowing fantasy epic.

Okay, I jumped into this one without rereading the Kingdom of Souls, which may or may not have been a good idea because I don't quite remember anything that happened in the first book except that I liked it (oops). I did reread my review, so that helped a little! This was probably the reason why I floundered a little in the beginning, trying to remember who was who and who did what! I kept thinking, 'there's something more to this, isn't there?' but couldn't remember what.

Reaper of Souls is a story of love and sacrifice, both the sacrifices made for the sake of love, and the love that is sacrificed for the sake of others. Arrah and Rudjek face terrible choices, but so too did the gods themselves. And it is this past immortal drama, full of secrets and stark choices, that has landed all of them in this current predicament.

But oh God (gods?) - and this is really the good part - even with my slow, struggling start, each layer builds on each other, with each fresh revelation, each new twist tying together into this really inevitable ending. Barron keeps you guessing at some parts (ha, and I guessed wrong a couple of times), but she leads you so well that when you reach the end, you can only react in both awe and horror.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Note to self: It's a good idea to reread these first two books before Untitled

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Monday, 11 January 2021

#musicmonday: A King and a Kingdom | Derek Webb

Who's your brother, who's your sister
You just walked passed him
I think you missed her
As we're all migrating to the place where our father lives
'Cause we married in to a family of immigrants

My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It's to a king & a kingdom

There are two great lies that I've heard:
"The day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die"
And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It's to a king & a kingdom

But nothing unifies like a common enemy
And we've got one, sure as hell
But he may be living in your house
He may be raising up your kids
He may be sleeping with your wife
Oh no, he may not look like you think