Saturday 30 July 2022

#bookspotlight: The Keeper by D.L. Gardner

I "met" DL Gardner over on the Noblebright Alliance Discord Server and she mentioned that she has a Kickstarter going on for her new book, The Keeper! I haven't actually read the series, but it looks really cool. You can also get the earlier four books on one of the pledge tiers, or as add-ons. 

Here are the details! 


New technology. Stolen magic. The future invades the past like a thunderstorm wrecking havoc on a quiet farm

Just when things have quieted down in the kingdom of Prasa Potama and everyone is living happily ever after in their respective lands, invaders from another country, and seemingly another time in the future, steal the one thing that means life to the natives of Cho Nisi Island.

Their magic.

The ancient magic on the island of Cho Nisi is stolen, its tradition destroyed, and its protective shield ruined. But the destruction doesn't end with the broken drumbeats, nor the groan of the elders. King Barin is confronted with a vengeful adversary and a new enemy whose weapons far outmaneuver his army's bows and arrows, swords, and catapults. What have these strangers from the north come for, and will they battle for ownership of not only the kingdom's future but also its past?

The Keeper, book 5 in the Sword of Cho Nisi series, is a fast-paced tale of monarchs and ladies - wizards and dragons - and even a teenage boy who join forces against the miscreants and their machines, to fight for the beloved tradition of the elders.

Back The Keeper on Kickstarter!


With a passion for a good wholesome story, D.L. Gardner (Dianne Lynn Gardner) dives into the adult and young adult fantasy genres. She is both a best-selling author and an award-winning illustrator who lives in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Dianne loves a book that ignites the imagination, strengthens friendships, spurs courage, and applauds honor. Though she targets her stories for young adults, her books are enjoyed by all ages.

Website | Bookshop

Wednesday 27 July 2022

#bookreview: The Monk Prince | Golda Mowe

The Monk PrinceThe Monk Prince by Golda Mowe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been sitting on this review, mostly because I do not know how to write it. I was rather ambivalent about Golda Mowe's first novel, Iban Dream, which was published by Monsoon Books. (I do not like most of Monsoon Books' list, so make of that what you will.) But I did quite like The Nanobots and Other Stories, so I figured I would give this one a try since it was published by Penguin SEA.

Ok look. Just because a book is published by Penguin Random House SEA doesn't mean it's good. I'm beginning to side-eye Penguin SEA and their poor editing quality (all outsourced!), strange cover decisions, and stupid pricing. I probably wouldn't be as annoyed with this book if it had cost the usual RM50 (-ish) for imported books instead of a whopping RM75. I'm not half as mad that I didn't quite like another local book I really should be reviewing because that only cost like RM20 (-ish. Can't remember what I paid for shipping). Printing in Singapore expensive kut.

ANYWAY. Back to the book itself.

The Monk Prince is an epic royal saga set in the Malay Archipelago in the 600s. Parantapa, raised by Buddhist monks to non-violence, is thrust abruptly into the middle of family drama when King Wayulo's spies finally find him after twenty years of searching. Not only does he have to adjust from a life of abstinence to one of plenty, he also finds himself an unwilling contender for the throne when King Wayulo discovers that his firstborn, Prince Alak Tegoh, isn't actually his biological son - meaning that Parantapa also has to give up his life of non-violence and learn to protect himself and his people. Across the sea, King Wayulo's brother-in-law, King Jayagapor, is looking to expand his political influence and increase his lands - and creating a war to put his nephew on Wayulo's throne looks like the perfect way to do it.

Filled with murder, betrayal, spies, and sea battles, The Monk Prince should have made for an enthralling read. However, the writing style creates an awkward distance between the reader and the story, leaving me feeling like I'm an observer from afar, rather than being able to immerse myself in the story world. In a way, it feels like actors merely reading lines instead of acting out and emoting the scenes. I suppose this is a preference rather than a fault.

There's also a slight feeling of disjointedness between scenes, as if the transitions are not quite right. This was especially obvious in later chapters when the scenes flip between POVs and the timeline becomes fuzzy. Does this next scene happen after the earlier one? Or are they overlapping? Why are we suddenly head-hopping so much?

For a book published by a major publishing house, it felt like the prose could have been polished much more. It starts off well, sags and drags a little in the middle, then picks up again with a lot of drama and action towards the end. There were also a few rather obvious typos, but well, typos happen. What irked me the most (maybe because I have struggled with this before) is the inconsistency in the titles & terms used. Within the same paragraph, Mowe switches between princess and puteri for Ming Zhu and between raja and king for Wayulo. Sometimes Megabintang is Queen, sometimes she is Rani. Gunawan is Commander in one line, then Panglima in the next. I think I fault the editor for this one.

As I said at the start, experience tells me that I may not really like Mowe's writing style, and The Monk Prince seems to confirm that. The story itself is solid, reminiscent of Udayasankar's Three. Despite my ambivalence as a whole, I do think that this is a book worth investing your time in especially if you do like historical fiction a whole lot more than I do.

I'm still annoyed at the price, though.

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Saturday 16 July 2022

#review: Ignite Solo Performance Festival 2022 - Week 1

I guess FB ads do work. 

Ch'ng saw an ad on Facebook yesterday and so we ended up catching the first night of the Ignite Solo Performance Festival Week 1 at iBOX Theatre. Two performances, A Complete Woman and Kenapa Tak Tukar Nama, form Week 1's offering. Week 2 will be at Jetty 35, featuring Hujan Pagi and 11:11 A Tribute to Loving (V3).

Two questions immediately came up:

1) Where on earth is this theatre, why is the address in some office complex?

2) Got subtitles or not? 

First time at this space!

iBOX theatre is on the second floor of Sunny Point Complex and was relatively easy to find because a) they had the poster above right by the lift telling you where to go, and b) you can actually see the theatre itself on your right the moment the lift doors open. It's pretty small, black box style, and fits about 50 pax. (We counted 6 rows of 7 chairs in the main seating area, there were a few more chairs in front of the sound desk. They could probably add more in a pinch, but I don't know if there are still any SOP limitations.)

And yes, they have subtitles. They have all the subtitles. 

A Complete Woman

This monologue, written and acted by Suzanne (directed by Chee Sek Thim), explores the lifecycle of a woman from marriage and pregnancy to the birth of a daughter, coming full circle to the woman writing a letter to her eighteen-year-old daughter who is about to get married. 

It's a very heavy monologue, though it starts off somewhat light, talking about the blessings of getting married and being pregnant, and how everyone is happy for you. It also explores the different taboos and practices around pregnancy - and this was just between two different Chinese dialect groups (in this case Cantonese vs Teochew), proving that there really is no Chinese monoculture, even in Malaysia. Some of these points - including the part where she was stuck in GH and couldn't understand the nurses speaking in Malay - could have been funny, but presented as it was (by a woman who seemed to feel trapped in her marriage), it felt more like a panicked cry for help. 

Where it turns dark is when she talks about not being prepared - how the child was an accident in a moment of passion and how she desperately wanted an abortion because she was not ready for marriage and children. There's also a reference to her mother staying in an abusive marriage because that is her home and she will not let it go. It felt like a distorted point of pride for her at being able to "keep the family together", implying that the current rate of divorces show that these modern women are not tough or dignified enough to hold their marriages together.

At the end of it all, the daughter (and the audience) is burdened by the question: are you ready? Are you ready for the way that marriage will change you? Do you realise that getting married is not just being in love, but also having to adapt to and change for the family you are marrying into? Is your identity strong enough for that? Can you hold on to yourself through the pressures your in-laws will put you through, and emerge the other side still complete and whole? Does marriage make you complete or are you already complete before marriage?

This was the one I worried about because it's... Chinese theatre and I am a banana hahaha. A Complete Woman was mostly in Mandarin, with some Cantonese, Teochew, and Malay. There were English subtitles, but these were not very well done - ignoring grammatical mistakes, there were parts where the translation didn't quite make sense. In fact, there was this whole section that either wasn't translated or the projector got stuck, because the words didn't change.

Performance-wise, it was a good show, though I probably didn't get the full experience, being distracted by reading and figuring out the subtitles. But as I said, it was also very heavy-hitting, ramping up pretty quick and staying there for quite a while, so you get an overwhelming hit of raw desperation and not many other emotions. Maybe if you could understand the actual dialogue it would hit you differently. 

Kenapa tak tukar nama?

Hoe Mei Ying wants to get married to her boyfriend Zahari - and they've already gotten tickets for their honeymoon at 70% off during the Matta fair! The only problem is that she needs her new IC after her conversion to Islam, but JPN is delaying the process because she refuses to change her name. 

Yiky Chew's performance was brilliant. As a solo performer, she switches between different roles seamlessly, but also leaving the audience with no doubt as to which character she is playing at any point. I especially loved her portrayal of Puan Fatimah, the woman at JPN who interviews Mei Ying to try to convince her to change her name to a Malay one even though it's not required by law. 

Despite the hilarity of the situation and the way Chew played it up for laughs, it is also a very poignant piece. Zahari points out that no matter what happens, no matter her name, it's still just the two of them, in love. Mei Ying's parents panic (What? When did he propose?) and point out all the difficulties she might face, from being unable to eat pork anymore to whether her body might be snatched by the authorities in case of death. Mei Ying describes the goosebumps she had during the conversion ceremony and how surreal it felt. 

But Mei Ying's declaration of why she wants to keep her birth name is the one that resonates the most: the connection to her forefathers and the generations before her by the surname she bears, the love with which her grandparents had picked out her given name even if it is a very common name. And while she may change her religion and marry into another culture, these connections with her past, her race and ethnicity itself do not change. So why should she change her name? Why must she meMelayukan herself? (Muka masih Cina lol)

Kenapa Tak Tukar Nama? is primarily in English & Malay, though the section with Mei Ying's parents had some Chinese. There were subtitles throughout in both English & Chinese. I only looked at them at the points where they were speaking Chinese, so I have no major thoughts about them.


Both plays worked well together thematically, with their emphasis on marriage and its impact on a woman - whether through cultural norms or the inner workings of bureaucracy. One thing that stood out was the fact that both these pieces were biographical - it's not fiction or conjecture, not a simple "what if". A Complete Woman was written from Suzanne's own experiences; Kenapa Tak Tukar Nama? was developed by Chew and Syafiq Syazim (the director) based on the experiences of a friend as told to them by that friend and their family members.

There was a Q&A session after the two plays, which is not something I've ever seen done in English theatre. I don't know if it's a common thing in Chinese theatre? 


If you have no plans for today, do catch their performances at 3pm and 8pm. It's worth the RM40!

Pretty sure you should be able to walk in because the theatre was less than half full on Friday. Though if you want to check and reserve tickets, you can contact them at:

FB专页 / Facebook Page: Triple I Production House

电话号码 / Phone No.: +604 – 296 4353

WhatsApp: +6011-2070 6550

Wednesday 13 July 2022

#bookreview: The Dragon's Promise | Elizabeth Lim

The Dragon's Promise (Six Crimson Cranes, #2)The Dragon's Promise by Elizabeth Lim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dragon's Promise picks up right after Six Crimson Cranes, so this review may have a few spoilers for that one.

Where the first book is solidly a retelling, this one ventures into its own path. Shiori has promised to return the dragon's pearl, so she sets off with Kiki and Seryu into the dragon's realm to do just that. But the dragon's pearl is a finicky thing, and its owner is not where, or even who, Shiori expects it to be. At the same time, Bandur is gaining power - and is angling to become the Demon King who will release the demons from the holy mountain and destroy Kiata (obviously by killing Shiori). So cue another adventure to return the pearl, save Kiata, and destroy the demons. And get married to Takkan.

I ended up liking The Dragon's Promise more than Six Crimson Cranes and it's not because I dislike retellings. I do love a good retelling, and I have done some myself. But where SCC just felt flat to me (I still don't get why everyone was raving about it), what I really loved about TDP was this parallel journey of discovery and redemption. As Shiori journeys to return the pearl, she uncovers the truth behind who her stepmother was and her motivations in setting up all that she did in SCC.

What I really hated about TDP was Shiori, because MY GOD DID SHE REGRESS. As I said immediately after reading the book:

COVID read #2: The Dragon's Promise - 4.5/5 stars. Super absorbing read but omg Shiori is SO annoying in this one. I liked her better with the bowl over her head.

— Anna Tan (@natzers) June 26, 2022

So if you do read Six Crimson Cranes, it's really gotta be for this one. Which is mostly villain stepmother redemption, if you ask me.

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

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Wednesday 6 July 2022

#bookreview: Six Crimson Cranes | Elizabeth Lim

Six Crimson Cranes (Six Crimson Cranes, #1)Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I originally picked this book up because I saw it at Hin Market and remembered that everyone had been raving about it. I think it was all that raving that made me expect a little too much of it. At any rate, I will also put a disclaimer that I also read this while sick, so may be a little more irate than usual.

Here's my first impression:

COVID read #1: Six Crimson Cranes - 4/5 stars. I liked it, but I don't think it was worth how much it's been hyped up, prob because it has been overhyped. I think it was also jarring to have this lush Chinese setting and going but wait, I read this tale in a different mythology

— Anna Tan (@natzers) June 25, 2022

Six Crimson Cranes is an East Asian (I have been told that the names are more Japanese than Chinese, so idk, East Asian it shall be) retelling of an old European fairy tale--the plot seems closer to the German The Six Swans than what originally pinged my radar (the Irish Children of Lir), but if anyone's counting, it's definitely of that typology. Evil stepmother turns Shiori's six brothers into birds (cranes in this case) and curses Shiori and casts her out of the castle. The curse is two-fold. First, there's a magical bowl on her head so that no one can recognise who she is and second, if she talks or makes any sounds, her brothers will die.

Lim adds dragons and demons into this magical fairytale - not only is magic outlawed in Kiata, it's entirely gone because Shiori's ancestors sealed it into the holy mountain in order to bind the demons, guarded by priestesses. Except...Shiori has magic. And so does her stepmother. So. Holy war it is.

Six Crimson Cranes is Shiori's coming of age story, of how she changes from being pretty much a spoilt princess into someone of strength and honour through the hardships of her curse. It's also a love story, where she falls in love with the very place (and person) she once declared barbaric. She learns to look beyond outward appearances, to read unspoken words, to give second chances, and most of all, to put her people above herself as a true princess of the land.

It's overall an entertaining read, though I wouldn't rave about it. As you can tell, it hasn't made a big enough impression on me to actually...remember enough to write an in-depth review.

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