Wednesday 24 March 2021

#bookreview: Slow Brewing Tea | Randy Loubier

Slow Brewing TeaSlow Brewing Tea by Randy Loubier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

80% of why I picked this up was the title; the other 20% was because well, it did sound intriguing.
To be honest, when I started reading, I wavered between "I hope he does it well" and "how terrible can this get?"

Loubier does quite well in the beginning. Itsuki's teachings start off mysterious and enticing, wrapped in Japanese sayings and Taoist words (I don't know how accurate this is) - though if you've been a long time Christian, it's obvious that it has a Christian source, no matter what other trappings are added to it. There's a tension in Isaiah's search for God - his reactions and anger come from a place of truth. I'm sure many who have been hurt by the church can relate.

As you proceed through the story, however, and Itsuki's teaching gets clearer and more explicit, the narrative itself starts to get just a little too preachy - especially during, you know, the expected conversion scene. (Is this a spoiler? It can't be a spoiler - it's key to every Christian fiction.) I suppose, as a pastor, Loubier didn't quite manage to stop from sermonising just a little. It IS, however, a story about coming to faith - so it's not anything unexpected or anything that might blindside you.

I suppose if you like a little dose of apologetics with your fiction, this is the sort of thing that you'll like. I think it will appeal more to those who are already Christians or people who are struggling with faith & the church. It was just a tad to slow (lol) and on-the-nose for me to truly enjoy it.

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

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Wednesday 17 March 2021

#bookreview: Future Perfect | Felicia Yap

Future PerfectFuture Perfect by Felicia Yap
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On 8 June 2030, iPredict informs Police Commissioner Christian Verger that he has a 99.74% chance of dying tomorrow. A model was blown up at Alexander King's fashion show in New York City yesterday, the same show that's going to be at Old Billingsgate tonight - and he has to find the killer in time to make sure it doesn't happen again. Of course, this just has to happen on the day his fiancee leaves him.

Yap keeps you guessing with each new revelation that comes to light. Three different people tell three different stories of the same event. Viola's program, CriminalX, is spitting out results that don't make sense. Everyone has secrets to hide - but are they secrets worth killing for? Will Christian be able to pull the answers - and himself- together in time to prevent another death from happening? Is he even looking in the right place? Is this a helpful clue? Or is this another misdirection?

Future Perfect is not just a crime thriller, though. Yap explores the impact of technology on our lives, taking trends in tech and pushing it forward ten years to a plausible future. Alexa not only manages the household, it also directs Christian's & Viola's lives even when they don't want it to. Predictions of the future become self-fulfilling when the tech themselves make it happen because it was predicted. Only people who have something to hide use cash. And maybe, just maybe, software can be programmed to be creative enough to create art, denying the need for humanity's creative eye and spark.

With a deft hand, Yap brings you through a harrowing day as told from four main perspectives: Verger, his fiancee Viola, the designer Alexander King, and an unnamed person from the past whose story may be the key to unravelling this dense web of lies. And haunting them all is the spectre of another dead model, the same one Xander is dedicating his show to.

Future Perfect is just... perfect.

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

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Monday 15 March 2021

#musicmonday: So Afraid | Bebo Norman

That's not what you said
It's all in my head
And I throw my anger at you instead
So don't give up on me
I want to believe
That you'll never leave me

But I am so afraid
That I'll find myself alone
Looking for a saviour, looking for a home
I am so afraid
That I'll find myself alone
Deep into the ages, deep into the foam
I am so afraid
That I'll find myself alone
Looking for a saviour, looking for a home

So don't leave me here alone
Don't leave me here alone

Sunday 14 March 2021

On Publishing: How do you do it?

I met up with a secondary school classmate last Sunday for high tea. Meeting up was great, the high tea was so-so (real British high tea has spoilt me, sigh). 

We talked about various things, but one of the things that came up, as it tends to do nowadays, was the question "how do you do it?" in relation to the confidence of getting your work out there, and self-publishing - or at least that's how I've been thinking about it this past week. 

And the answer is... 

I don't. 

I don't have confidence.

I just do it because I am tired of waiting, and tired of begging, and dammit it's time, and THIS THING IS GOING OUT SCREAMING AND YELLING. 

And then I hide in my room because I'm 100% sure that everyone will hate it, but it's out there, and it's DONE. And I just want it done

Is it the best reason to self-publish?

Probably not. 

But this thing is as ready as it will ever be. 

Absolution series banner
Click image for more info! 

Oh God, grant me the confidence of the mediocre white man.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

#bookreview: Songs of Insurrection | JC Kang

Songs of Insurrection (The Dragon Songs Saga #1)Songs of Insurrection by J.C. Kang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Princess Wang Kaiya is just a pawn. The foreign (and very handsome) Prince Hardeep Vaswani wants her to wield her new-found magic to save his beloved country, Ankira. Her father needs to marry her off to the right noble to stabilise Cathay and his grip on the throne. What can a sixteen-year-old still learning to use her powers do in the face of such confusing politics and constantly-shifting allegiances? Are her powers even real?

I'd put this at something like a 3.5, honestly, because there are some bits that I liked quite a lot, but others that I didn't so much.

Kaiya is young and female in a very misogynistic culture, which also means she is underestimated once she learns of her magic and starts standing up for what is right. She's well-educated, but very inexperienced and awkward, making her the underdog in this story. You come to root for her despite her very stupid decisions because of the strength of her convictions and good intentions. I'm not quite a fan of this instalove or puppy crush thing she has on Hardeep, though I suppose it's... understandable? Maybe? (Mark this down as I'm-too-old-for-this-shit) Personally, my verdict is that she's stupid, but not Too Stupid To Live. Part of this is also the third person POV, I think, which gives a more balanced perspective to her actions and reasoning plus also makes it pretty clear when she's blatantly being manipulated without her realising it.

The politics of Cathay are complex. There's the Mandate of Heaven to think of, repercussions of Hellstorm if the Emperor were to renege on an agreement sworn on the imperial plaque. The neighbouring countries of Madura and Ankira are fighting in the South, rebellion fermenting in the North, and the Tianzi needs to balance all of that while keeping the hereditary Lords happy. Which means compromise. And bribes. And marrying off the princess for political gain. There's a bureaucracy to appease and the military to pacify. All of which makes for pretty dense politics for Kaiya to navigate without proper training.

No, actually, I think Kaiya's part of the politics were easier to read than what Zheng Tien and Yan Jie, agents of the Black Lotus Clan, start uncovering. There's so much underhanded dealing (Bribes! Murder! Betrayal! Weird business deals!) that I got a little cross-eyed and skimmed a little (Sorry, bad reading habit). I think there was a point where some goods were substituted for other goods and if you trace these goods you'll find out who was rebelling and who was betraying who and then I couldn't remember what goods were from what province so I just moved on.

Some content warnings might be necessary, I suppose.
- One of Kaiya's suitors is known to torture women, and there is a brief scene of sorts. (Not graphic, but a little unsettling.)
- The concept/typology of the Bovyan might offend some Christians, though they're mentioned only very briefly in the story itself. (It was a "lol, what?" moment for me)
- The misogyny and racism of the culture are never directly addressed. Some offhand statements which come across as insulting, while true to the culture/worldbuilding, are not dealt with/addressed within the story.

Still, it was overall quite an interesting read.

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

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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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