Wednesday 29 March 2023

#bookreview: Prophetess of Arden | L.A. Thornhill

Prophetess of Arden (The King and Prophet Chronicles)Prophetess of Arden by L.A. Thornhill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars rounded up to 5!

Reminiscent of CS Lewis' Narnia series, Thornhill has created a fantastic portal fantasy, where Beckah enters Renatus, a pre-flood, pre-redemption world inhabited by the descendants of Abel. There, she's tasked by Yeshua to be the Voice of Adonai, the prophet that would help restore the Kingdom and lead the Ardenians back to God.

But the one person she is supposed to help the most, the Hand of Adonai, aka the annoying(ly handsome) Prince Seth Hal-Titus, doesn't trust her. She looks too much like the enemy, and sounds like she's crazy.

If there's one thing that Thornhill excels at, it's in building the relationships between her characters. It's always nice to see how they develop and grow around each other - and also grow to like each other despite their spats *ahem*.

The world itself is fantastic, with both wonderful things like raqia and healing clay and terrible things like blood lilies and shades. Beckah's journey of discovery is one that's shared with the reader, as Seth, Hadassah, Judah and Beckah make their way across the country back to South Arden.

One of the things that annoyed me about reading the prequel (The Lost Descendants) was how obvious the Christian parallels were. But this book sets it up perfectly: (view spoiler)

Prophetess of Arden works as a Christian fantasy, at times drawing from Biblical stories and yet setting up its own rules and history. This can only be done because it isn't Earth, thereby avoiding accusations of heresy should the book's faith and theology differ from common interpretations of the Bible (though the more conservative would say fantasy itself and speculation of other worlds is heresy, lol). Yet, it's also Earthlike enough that it could be some form of medieval fantasy if you squint.

The book clearly sets up for the next one in the series, which I'm totally looking forward to! If you haven't read any of this series at all, I'd actually recommend reading this one first before going back to the prequel, because the prequel actually makes so much more sense AFTER you've read this.

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 22 March 2023

#bookreview: Nameless (Morningstar: Destiny Trilogy #1) | AC Williams

Nameless (Morningstar: Destiny Trilogy #1)Nameless by A.C. Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nameless is space opera, a perfect read for someone like me who just wants the far-flung worlds and fancy tech without having to understand how a spaceship (or all that tech) works. At any rate, I picked this one up mostly to support a fellow Realmie (not that I recall ever meeting her; we just hang out in the same conference/socmed spaces) and didn't go in with much in the way of expectations.

Xander doesn't know who she is. Rescued from a derelict spaceship, all she possesses is a coat with the name she's adopted, faint memories of things that no one else seems to know about, and a strange sense of right and wrong that's at odds with everyone she's met so far. Yet, as she journeys to discover who she is and pieces together her odd dreams and fragmented memories, she may soon discover that she doesn't like who she was and where she came from.

Nameless isn't super blatantly Christian fiction - while it's clean in a sense (there are no graphic sex scenes or real-world swearing), it deals with a broken, fallen world that is upfront about its brokenness. There's blood and gore, innuendos and attempted rape... and whilst Xander is innocent, naive, and lucky enough to be able to protect herself from unwanted attentions, the setup in this story world is such that all this is commonplace, and Xander may well be the only exception - other than the people of Sanctum, whom everybody hates because they are all hypocrites.

I think what I like about it most is that it's an exploration of what it means to be a good person in bad situations, of what it means to make the best of things when you've already messed up your life, and of how one can still hold on to personal convictions when everyone else says that you are weird and wrong.

I'm curious as to where it's heading and look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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This is March's goal for the 2023 Booktempter's TBR Reduction Challenge. The stretch goal is to finish the rest of the series by year end... which is doable as there are only 2 other books! Haha. I was trying to finish them in March as well, but I think that won't happen since I have an ARC and 2 review copies to finish in the next few weeks. 

Saturday 11 March 2023

#review: Fresh 14.0 | ZXC Theatre Troupe

Okay so I did this thing (again) where I went to see a show without knowing anything about it except that my friend wrote a script in English, but it was going to be performed in Hokkien with surtitles. 


It was actually this:

I dunno what all the other words say, I only know Fresh 14.0 hahaha. And I'm too lazy to google translate. So anyway, the first 3 plays were in Mandarin (probably) and only the last (Heng Yeh's) was in Hokkien, and apparently my half-past-six Hokkien is better than my non-existent Mandarin, who knew! (I knew) But anyway, the surtitles were much better written and felt more complete than the ones during A Complete Woman.

Some general notes on the overall experience first. I know this show isn't catered to bananas like me, but... these would probably also help the Chinese theatre-goers, I feel. 

(1) The thing with programme booklets (and why we have them, even if it's a one-page A5 flyer) is that it helps the audience understand the background or premise of the play(s), even before the show starts. I suppose there has been copious stuff posted on their facebook page (which I didn't know existed until now that I'm writing this and stealing their pics), but none of it was at the venue, that I saw at least. ETA: I found a QR code on the FB page but it doesn't want to open on my phone. Also, all of that is in Chinese, which brings me to...

(2) There should also have been a little more general translation for the technical type things as well, especially all the really, really long announcements before the show, between the plays, and after the whole event. With the existence of English surtitles - the ushers even tell you where to sit/where the surtitles will be projected - you're basically inviting a multilingual crowd so there's an expectation that other things should be translated as well. Beginning with the usual "we're about to start, turn off your phones, no recording" etc which can be just the usual pictograms on the screen. 

Right. So the four plays. 

Bathroom was the first play. And this is where context is important because... when it first started, I thought it meant that was where the scene was taking place (obvious, there was a bathtub there). Adding a few lines for as playwright, director, & actors' names (which I think was what they were announcing) would have clarified that a bit. 

Anyway, remember: no programme booklet, no foreknowledge of what on earth is happening. A woman struggling with depression is in the bathroom, where she can be free to be herself. She's talking to another woman about the past, bringing up memories that don't quite match up sometimes. I could never figure out who they were to each other. Were they friends? Sisters? Is she talking to herself and this is a split personality of sorts? Was it like the happy side of the person talking to the sad side? Is it her past talking to her present?

It was all very metaphorical, a long search for something amidst multiple internal breakdowns and external crises. What was the significance of the white balls and the one random blue one she was looking for but not really looking for? Was she cutting? Was she committing suicide? I dunno. Nothing was obviously explained in the dialogue itself, and nothing in the scene clued me in. 

The second play, I don't eat meat with bones, started off well. Three people and a dog get lost in a cave. They start off optimistic (don't worry! my boyfriend will find us soon!) but when their supplies run out after 3 days, they have to start making difficult decisions. Will the vegetarian let the others eat her dog in exchange for a packet of dried mangoes? Will the young man who's afraid of choking on bones finally eat meat that has bones? And when that too is gone, do they just lie down and die or do they start sacrificing each other for their own survival?

The Dad figure (idk the character's name or the actor's name lol) stood out in showing his slow descent into madness, his obsession with survival to get back to his wife and son at the expense of everyone else. And yet he's still The Dad, taking care of the others and trying to get them to eat. There was a rather amusing discussion of reincarnation (if you will reincarnate as a chicken if you eat chicken, does that mean you need to eat humans to be reborn as a human?!) and holding on to your principles in times of crisis. What would you do if your survival depended on it? 

I'm not sure if the playwright/director meant it to be a funny show. I mean, it's an absurd situation and people laugh at dark things, but some of the humour felt a little displaced alongside the horror of the scene. I also felt rather ambivalent about the ending, which didn't quite make sense to me. Honestly, I felt that the play could have ended about half a scene earlier and it would have been much stronger for it. 

Ok, I'm not sure what the actual name of this play is. It sounded really lyrical on the screen something about the fog and the heart and the ocean? But Google translates it as The Dark Ocean, I Am Alone (which ????? lol). I guess I'll just call it Ocean??

The theme for Ocean is rather similar to Bathroom: facing the past, dealing with depression. The protagonist is sitting looking out at the sea, where he finds peace. At first, he cannot see the three others, who are very clearly representations of himself from different times in his life. And when he finally sees them, he doesn't recognise who they are, finding fault with how they live their lives. But soon he has to face up to reality, to remember amidst the crippling fog, and learn to let go of the past in order to move forward in life. 

The only thing that threw me off a little, was that there was this fog horn going at intervals and I kept thinking that the boat would crash into them and kills them or something. HAHAHA. But the ending felt rather hopeful with him burying his past in the sea! Side note: I do hope that their feet are okay because I could see leftover detritus from the earlier play on the floor... and that looked painful. 

This was overall very beautifully done, with amazing choreography. Even though the actors cycled through various characters in presenting the past to the protagonist, it was always very clear what was going on. And the dance at the end! So good!

And finally, the play I was actually there to see: 163288. (Eh, why no fancy pic with all the cast for this one?)

I was impressed with Ocean, but I can definitely say this was my favourite (not cronyism). It was hilarious and also very thought-provoking, exploring friendship and money, and how the latter can make or break the former. Even when both friends are adamant that they will help each other out no matter what since they're practically family

Two friends are looking for a tree stump which has a spirit that can grant wishes... for a price. But when the price turns out to be a hand, will either of them be willing to give up a hand (or mutilate the other) to get the winning numbers for the lottery? (do you want to give up a hand to the spirit or give up a kidney to the loan shark?)

And so starts a hilarious argument over whether one needs to pay back loans between friends, whose need for money is greater, whether brothers with cancer are burdens, and what they would do with FIFTY BILLION RINGGIT.


There's another run of the show tomorrow (12/3) at 3pm. More info on ZXC Theater Troupe's page!

Wednesday 8 March 2023

#bookreview: Yet You Cry When It Hurts (Nothing is Promised #4) | Susan Kaye Quinn

Yet You Cry When It HurtsYet You Cry When It Hurts by Susan Kaye Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quinn's imagined future is one where the world has finally gotten its act together in the midst of devastating crises. Cooperation is the word of the day, whether voluntary or involuntary, and everyone is working together for the good of all humanity, no matter race, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender. Equality of a sort has been reached, if only because without it, your country is not going to survive the next pandemic or power crisis.

And of course the ones who are trying to upset that balance and buy their way back into the old world order are... mediocre white men with no qualifications who think they should hold the power.

Anyway, remember when I said, When You Had Power was a low-stakes, fuzzy, found-family story? The stakes have been upped with each successive book in the series, culminating in this final book that's all about high-level manoeuvring, international power plays, alpha male posturing, and attempted murders.

Whilst characters in the earlier three books do play their part in this one, they're mostly off in the background, doing supporting-type stuff. Yet You Cry When It Hurts focuses on a set of new characters, mostly Nitara Desai, Director of the IEC's Office of Multilateral Funds and International Agreements and Matti, her best friend and co-conspirator in everything. And the day Nitara discovers that there's a crazy new unlimited energy source being sold privately to the highest bidders is also the day she finds out that her Matti is getting someone else.

Yet You Cry When It Hurts is a story of resilience, trust, and standing up for what's right, not what's most beneficial to you at the cost of everyone else. It's also about community and the power of cooperation and collaboration, and understanding that you don't have to do everything 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 1 March 2023

#bookreview: Exhalation | Ted Chiang; The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends | Peter Berresford Ellis

ExhalationExhalation by Ted Chiang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't deny that Exhalation is a compelling, thoughtful read. There are many things to think about, to delve into, in these nine stories. And all of them are varied enough that each truly feels like a fresh thought.

And yet at the same time, for some weird reason, they didn't feel quite memorable to me. I reached the story notes and went... wait, what was that story about again? And nothing in the title or in the notes clued me in.

So I dunno. I liked it well enough, but it wasn't quite a 5-star.

And that's 9 stories for the #2023TBRchallenge.

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I'm gonna count "On a Ghost's Whim" by Katharina Gerlach for the #2023TBRchallenge, just to up the numbers a bit haha. This is a bonus short story from Gerlach's recent Kickstarter. It was a fun short read, and I got to vote for stuff that went into the story, ha! 


The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and LegendsThe Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


But yay! I mean, there were 37 stories over 612 pages so I think that's justified, seeing that I also read a bunch of other stuff throughout the year.

This is a great read if you want a look at Celtic myths and legends as a huge overview. It covers Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. Some of them were familiar, some of them not, but there's the overarching fairy tale tropes that remain true throughout. The earlier ones, especially Ireland, Isle of Man, and Scotland seem to deal more with origin myths and fairy creatures, while the latter deal a bit more with the Great Invasion of the Christians.

Stories read for the #2023TBRchallenge:
- 29 Jowan Chy-an-Horth
- 30 Nos Calan Gwaf
- 31 An Lys-an-Gwrys
- 32 The Destruction of Ker- Ys
- 33 N'oun Doare
- 34 The Anaon
- 35 Koadalan
- 36 The King of Bro Arc'hant
- 37 Prinsez-a-Sterenn

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Total of 9+1+9 = 19 stories for the #2023TBRchallenge!