Wednesday 29 May 2024

Book review: The Light Between Us | Elaine Chiew

The Light Between UsThe Light Between Us by Elaine Chiew

As books go, I went in to this warily because I tend not to like WW2 (and adjacent) stories. But I also wanted to read this to support a SEA writer! So ok la #cubatry.

Excellent points:
I loved the writing and the language, the fluidity of moving between English and Malay and Chinese (of various dialects). I felt that it represented us so well. I am pretty much a banana, so I skimmed some of the Chinese phrases (note: I didn't realise there was a glossary at the end until I finished, since I was reading a digital arc), but I felt that Chiew was deft enough in her writing that you could pick up on what it was supposed to mean.

The only confusion I had was probably because of my own muddled language proficiency, where koon sah is apparently a TYPE of old Chinese dressing? I always thought it just meant pyjamas (i.e. koon = sleep, sah = clothes) HAHHAHAH. Also, Tangki as the Chinese (can't recall which dialect) term for the medium being possessed just kept me thinking of the Malay word "tangki", which is like a water tank, but that also makes sense because it's like a vessel kan. LOL

Content warning:
Slight implication of incest because of extended familial relationships, even though they're not blood related.

The setting and plot:
Yeah okay, so one of the reasons I figured I might give it a try is because there is a dual timeline of Charlie in the current day somehow reaching across the past to connect with Tian Wei in the 1920s. Which, I mean, is a cool concept. I liked it in Agnes Ong's Skyping Back in Time. But here...

So everything for Charlie is happening in the span of a few days, and at the longest stretch, maybe a month? But it's happening for Tian Wei over months and years (there's some fancy mathematical theory for this) which... I guess as a reader, I wasn't convinced their rather sporadic letters were enough for them to fall in love. It felt like first one or two letters were like hello who are you what's going on, then bam, oh the numerical-stars-are-aligned instalove.

And then there's a pretty long jump in time for Tian Wei, which (ugh) brings him to the 1940s and WW2, which YEAH. no. But this is a me thing, and also why I haven't read any TTE books (#sorrynotsorry).

Verdict:
If you're a historical fiction fan, especially around SEA WW2 stories, you'll probably love this! If you're a camera & photography nerd, you'll probably also love this! If you bangga Singapura and Malaysia (because come on, they were the same country back in those days) and you love codemixing, you'll also love this!

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

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Tuesday 28 May 2024

Cover reveal: Daisy Dunlap and the Cartoon Carnival | C.O. Bonham

Today, I have the privilege of sharing the cover reveal for C.O. Bonham's new book, Daisy Dunlap and the Cartoon Carnival. What makes it extra extra exciting is the fact that the cover designer is also my friend! 


Find the truth. Save the family legacy. Don't get eaten by the giant cartoon spider.

Reeling from the loss of her mother, twelve-year-old Daisy comforts herself with the cartoons and carnival run by her family's animation studio.

When an anonymous source accuses Grandpa of stealing his most famous character, the impish Tom Greenthumb, their family's reputation and business are on the line. The only thing that can clear their name? A mysterious sketch book hidden somewhere within the Cartoon Carnival.

Sneaking into the theme park at night, Daisy uncovers her family's greatest secret. Their cartoon creations are aliveand some of them are deadly.

PREORDER

Add to Goodreads

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About the author:

C.O. Bonham is the pen name for a commonly misspelled first name. She loves stories of all kinds, but really likes the ones that are weird, and outside the norm. A certified book geek, when she isn’t writing stories of her own she is busy reading stories by others. A homeschool graduate with a degree in creative writing, her goal is to create stories that make people think, feel, and have fun.

Her debut novel, Runaway Lyrics, a steampunk fantasy retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, released in 2021.

Website | Facebook group | Facebook page | Amazon page | Goodreads | Instagram

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About the artist:

Chew Yuin-Y is an artist and an educator. Her recent notable projects include the brand identities for Malaysian swing jazz band The Frankie Sixes and the KLSwing Fest lindy hop international community event in 2023. She was also a contributing illustrator to the 2020 Penang-based anthology “Home Groan” and has exhibited at Lukis Tulis Malaysia 2019, a community art festival at Jaya One.

While she primarily produces digital work, she also uses other traditional media such as watercolours and ink. She believes art should be both pleasing to the eye and mind, and endeavours to infuse elegance and harmony into her work. Among her artistic influences are American mid-century modern graphic styles, Nyonya batik, the bold simple ink paintings of China and the patterns of Japan.

Yuin-Y is from Penang and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur.

Instagram | linktr.ee

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PREORDER

Add to Goodreads

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Book review: Wishing on a Supervillain | HL Burke (and a kickstarter)

Wishing on a Supervillain (Superhero Romance Project Book 4)Wishing on a Supervillain by H.L. Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do you do when the first wish you're asked to grant in your brand new Superhero wish-granting project is a wish to meet a Supervillain? What would your boss even say? Nixie decides to do it anyway. Or try to. It all depends on whether Switch will agree to take time off from villaining to help her grant a sick kid's wish.

Wishing on a Supervillain is a fun read with unexpectedly touching moments. It's part of the Romance series, so it's pretty obvious that they're going to fall for each other. But it's a very clean romance - nothing beyond a kiss - mostly because Nixie is such a goody-two-shoes church girl from a sheltered family that... this is her first everything. If Burke hadn't explicitly stated she's in her early twenties (22?), I would put her at a very naive 19 or so (I mean, she's working as a superheroine, she's probably not under-18).

Choice - and the lack of good ones - feels like a core theme in this story. Why did Switch go down the road of villainy? Why does Oliver choose to meet a supervillain when he could have his pick of superheroes to meet? Why does Nixie keep giving Switch second chances when her boss, Vibes, is adamant that villains never change? Can villains change?

Also, the name Vibes is a Choice.

All in all, a great read.

View all my reviews

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I MOSTLY posted this today (instead of the other book I read) because Burke has a kickstarter for Tales from the SVR Universe: Superhero Anthology and I figured that I'd boost that at the same time! 

Back H.L. Burke's new DOSA Anthology


Wednesday 24 April 2024

Book review: Queen of None | Natania Barron

Queen of None (Queens of Fury Book 1)Queen of None by Natania Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been a while since I've read any Arthurian legends. I picked this up because the author's name sounded somewhat familiar - it seems I've stumbled across some of her Twitter threads on medieval clothes (?) or something of that sort. Besides, I'd never heard of Anna Pendragon before.

Queen of None is the story of the powerless women in King Arthur's court. They seem to have titles, prestige, and honour, but their lives are orchestrated and ordered by the men around them. In Anna's case, her brother King Arthur and his advisor, Merlin. It is a powerlessness that the men around them do not - and sometimes cannot - understand. For them, there is always a choice, always a decision they can make and unmake to shape their destinies. Anna's eldest, Gawain, keeps failing to grasp this lesson.

Where the legends of Arthur that I recall reading/watching make out Merlin to be a benevolent sage, the Merlin here is much darker. There is a menacing tone to his watching and meddling, the idea that he is evil in his machinations.

Anna Pendragon herself has a tragic life - because Arthur listens to Merlin over the happiness of his own sister. Arthur tries to make amends, but it is always too little, too late. I do not like the Arthur in this; then again, I do not think I am meant to like him. It is not his story.

No, this is the story of Anna finding her hidden strength, discovering the magic that runs through her mother's blood, and uncovering the battle between her mother's line and Merlin that has scattered her half-sisters and her aunts and twisted prophecies to their own ends. And in this, with her prophecy to be forgotten, Anna finds the chance to change history - if she can manage to make the magic work for her.

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

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Wednesday 3 April 2024

Book Review: Court of Wanderers | Rin Chupeco

Court of Wanderers (Silver Under Nightfall, #2)Court of Wanderers by Rin Chupeco


Had a rocky start because I couldn't remember how Silver Under Nightfall ended (And then couldn't find where that ARC (i think it was an ARC anyway? It was definitely an ebook, but it wasn't in my Kindle) went so I couldn't re-read the last few chapters to catch up on events).

So yes, Court of Wanderers throws you in the deep end, on the assumption that you'll remember what happened in the earlier book. Like it just starts in the middle of a scene and I'm like, who, what? Anyway, I just went off the vibes that I could remember from my previous review, except...the mood seems to have changed quite a bit.

But also, disclaimer upfront like for the first book (if you're following my reviews for clean-ish content): There are a lot of sexy times in this book (and not the fade-to-black kind), so if that is not for you, this book is not for you. Like really, really not. Also, since this is book 2 (and thus not a spoiler anymore), the main characters are in a polyamorous relationship with uh, kinky undertones. Which is also normalised in vampire Court etiquette.

Court of Wanderers as a whole feels a lot darker, and much more political. There's a lot of backstory being covered, and secrets being revealed, and a lot of talking heads going on about politics. And betrayal. And chunks and chunks of dialogue about what happened in the past, which should have worked, except that sometimes by the end of each paragraph I'd already forgotten who was talking to who. ACTUALLY, I think I have to note that a major part of the plot and everything that happens in this one is because of...backstory. Which maybe should have come up a bit more in the first book? Or maybe should be a book on its own so that this one would flow much better? idk

I loved the inclusion of Filipino mythology, the idea that there are various strands of vampires and that one of them, stemming from the First, had left the First Court and established their own colony in the Whispering Isles. Peacefully with the humans. Until the colonialists brought war, of course.

You can't avoid that bit of anti/post/whatever-colonialism.

But anyway, I loved Remy's exploration of his mother's heritage, and what that means to him after being brought up denying it.

There's less science in this one. Also I think less rompy sex, but more sad? emotional? omg-you-almost-died events. Just a lot more politics and politics. And twists because of secrets and manipulations. Have I mentioned politics? A side thought is that maybe this would also have worked better as two books instead of one, even though I have no idea how they'd do that. But it would make it feel less dense, in a way.

Overall, this is an interesting read if you want to finish the series.

Note: I received a digital review copy from S&S/Saga Press via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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HAPPY RELEASE DAY! 

Court of Wanderers released on 2 April. Get your copy on Amazon now. I also suggest getting Silver Under Nightfall first, so you're not completely lost. (Affiliate links)

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Read my review of Silver Under Nightfall here.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Book Review: In Defence of Doubt | Val Webb

In Defence of DoubtIn Defence of Doubt by Val Webb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everything you hear from the modern church seems so cut-and-dried. This Truth is the absolute, the Bible is the literal answer to everything; you have to believe in every word it says, or you are not a true Christian. But is that really true?

Val Webb reveals a long history of doubt in the church and how that has moved the understanding of faith and belief-as well as church practices, norms, and culture-forward in many different ways. It's important to note that the protestant church, in its current form, would not be in existence without the many saints who moved in and worked through their doubt and stood up against the church of their day to bring fresh revelation and revival. There are no easy solutions.

Reading In Defence of Doubt is liberating. It gives you freedom to address the doubts and questions that you have about God, faith, and the church even as you discover that this is nothing new. Noted (notable?) Christians over the centuries have struggled over these same questions, and having them being downplayed, glossed over, or left unaddressed is a disservice to everyone.

My only concern (and a wavering one at that) is the last chapter on Interfaith Dialogue. In one sense, I agree with everything she says, but as a whole... I don't know. Maybe I'm not there yet. There are many things in the preceding chapters that, if I read this when I was younger, I would have utterly rejected. So maybe in the future I might end up agreeing with Webb's stance fully, or maybe I'll end up shelving it as one of the things that's not really important to me in the grand scheme of things.

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Wednesday 13 March 2024

Book Review: Say Hello to My Little Friend | Jennine CapĆ³ Crucet

Say Hello to My Little FriendSay Hello to My Little Friend by Jennine Capo Crucet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd put this at about 3.5 stars, to balance out personal enjoyment and more writing/research needs.

Right. So I picked this up from Edelweiss because I've been looking at ways different people write about their own experiences and places in fiction. Call it semi-research. The description sounded interesting enough, so why not?

Personally, I kind of got a little bored midway through because Izzy is dumb (Though, if he isn't, where's the story?) and Lolita... well, the orca never gets anywhere. It meanders a lot in a way that doesn't really interest me; it's not a plot or type of book I'd normally be raring to read. The ending was weird (what's with the letter? lol), but what caught me was the bit before the end. The resolution for Izzy's search for his past, the repressed memories, the way it all unfolds. Also, it's very magical realism in the sense that you never quite know what's real or not at some places.

But as a study in voice and in not pandering to monolithic, imagined white reader, I love it. I may not understand all the Spanish (?) that punctuates the narrative and the dialogue, but it holds the attention, it captures me, it makes me want to know more. Though I'll do without the iguanas and alligators.

In conclusion, if you're Cuban-American this might resonate with you more. Or, I guess, if you live in Miami.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Purchase on Amazon (affiliate link) 

Friday 9 February 2024

Hair the Dragon

In conjunction with the year of the dragon and Chinese New Year, here's a short story I wrote and performed at the Butterworth Fringe Fest with Readings@Tanjong last year. 

HAIR THE DRAGON

They say that the tunnels under George Town are where the dragons used to live. I don’t know about that. It’s 2023, for God’s sake. What dragons? Have you ever seen a dragon? They’ve probably been hounded—or hunted—to extinction by now. It’s not like we’ve seen any in recent decades. Centuries, even. The stories still stick around, though. 

Like the one my uncle’s uncle’s uncle once told my uncle’s uncle, who told my uncle who told me about this dragon that he used to know. Yeah, but unlike the song, it wasn’t a breakup. It wasn’t even a romance. More like a…threat?

Anyway, back in ye olden days, we used to have wells. There’s one at Kuan Im Teng—The Goddess of Mercy Temple—if you want to know what a well looks like, though no one uses it anymore. It’s like this deep hole that’s all dried up and probably filled with rubbish, but that’s where people used to get fresh water and stuff in the past, no kidding. They didn’t twisty-turny or pushy-pully, yay clean water! You had to work for it by going out to the garden, to the well, and pull up a bucket of water on a chain. Then boil it or something so you don’t die. The water, not the bucket. You reuse the bucket. 

If I lived back then, I would have lots of muscles. Or I would be dead of dehydration. Probably dead.   


So, there’s this network of wells, and obviously they’re connected by tunnels, all the way from Fort Cornwallis through to Masjid Kapitan Keling. Or not so obviously because they’re hidden underground. I haven’t seen them myself and I don’t plan to. I don’t think half of them are even accessible now, so I really don’t think we have dragons living in Penang anymore. Where would they even stay? 

Source: https://atap.org.my/maps/ 

I’ve been trying to imagine this, but the best I can come up with is like the underground sewer network, which eww, why would a dragon live there? Aren’t they supposed to be majestic creatures of death and destruction and all that? 

But lots of the old stories say that dragons like caves, so I suppose this was maybe what they were used to. I dunno, I thought they’d hoard enough money to buy themselves a mansion or two. Maybe dragons are just weird that way.

This dragon that my uncle’s uncle’s uncle used to know was called Hair. Not because he had a lot of hair—dragons don’t have hair, they have scales. I definitely have the intonation wrong, but it’s something like the Hokkien word for prawn? Ha, He, Heh, Her, Haaaaiiir. ANYWAY. It probably means something else and may not even be Hokkien so who knows what his name is actually supposed to be? Hair is easier to say for a banana like me. 

Right. Back to the story. 

Hair is an ancient dragon, because all dragons are ancient, and my uncle’s uncle’s uncle was ancient, so everyone I’m talking about is very old right now and mostly dead. Except the dragon, because dragons don’t die, and my uncle, because well, he’s only seventy-ish. He still has a strong heart and he’d be here telling you this story except he doesn’t speak much English and he says his legs get tired, but I know that’s a lie because he always goes for these long walks to the apartment on the next road to see his mistress. (Who he thinks we know nothing about.) Now, if there were tunnels in Butterworth, I’m sure he’d be all for using them so that no one could follow him to her place.

I wonder where I can find that info...

I met Hair once. Or at least, I think it was him. My uncle wasn’t really clear in the introduction, but I think my Chinese was passable enough to understand that he said, “This is Hair the Dragon,” instead of “This is Prawn the Loan Shark.” Which is what I hate about Chinese languages, you know? Everything could be another word if you say it wrong and it should be so pretty and witty and poetic but really it’s not. Plus, I can’t really tell the difference between Mandarin and Hokkien and Cantonese and whatever else. So, who knows what my uncle really said?

The guy I met is now a Facebook friend, which is kind of cool, assuming I met the dragon and not the loan shark. If they even are the same person. He looked like a human, which is a thing I’m told dragons can do. Maybe you should prod your neighbour and see if they’re really human. They could be a dragon in disguise. 

Anyway, next year is the year of the dragon, which is Hair’s year. He hates it, apparently, and says it’s supposed to be mine. Because Rats and Dragons get along or something like that. Don’t ask me the specifics, it’s not like I believe in it anyway, but I believe in knowing stuff. Knowing stuff is always helpful. Maybe that’s why Hair likes me. I know a lot of stuff. 

But you’d think that you’d like your own year, right? I thought so too, because I always thought that if it was your year, they would favour you, right? Your greatest cable, right there. Boom! Direct connection to the gods or whatever. But he told me that having the same year as your zodiac animal was actually bad because then you would clash with them. The only way to resolve that is by signing a “peace treaty” with your “zodiac animal general”. Which is stupid. Like, we’re Chinese, we’re buddies, right? We’re Penangites, we’re buddies, right? So if you’re both dragons, you should be buddies, right? 

The problem, I was told, was that whilst Hair is a dragon, he’s not one of the dragons of the zodiac. There are five elements in the cycle, like earth, fire, wind, water, heart, by your powers—no, that’s Captain Planet. This makes me feel old, but I don’t think anyone remembers who Captain Planet is anymore. The shiny white guy with green hair? That anti-pollution campaign cartoon? Oh well. 

The five, um, Chinese elements, which I don’t remember, means there are five different dragon generals, and Hair isn’t one of them so I suppose that puts him in opposition with all of them. Unless I’m getting this wrong and all this applies only to humans and not to dragons. 


All that aside, Hair used to live in the tunnels under George Town for whatever reason. I’m actually still not convinced there are tunnels. Or that dragons lived there. Though I was told that if you visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion—you know, that light green building where they filmed The Little Nyonya—there’s another well leading to a tunnel right there. I remember visiting once, but I can’t for the life of me remember if I saw a well. But they might have filled it in and covered it up because, well, tourists. You don’t want things falling in that might awaken something scarier than a dragon. 

SOOOOOOO...

They say the tunnels of George Town were used for other nefarious reasons in those days, besides potentially housing dragons which are not Balrogs. One of those reasons was to smuggle drugs like opium and other, um, illegal items, like guns and weapons. There was a gang war going on, after all. And a war against the British. I could be getting all the years wrong, so don't quote me on this, but anyway, another place where you’re supposed to be able to find a dragon—or THE dragon—in the tunnel network is at the Cheah Clock Tower, which was built to summon a dragon to save Penang from the Big Bad Mat Salleh. I guess it didn’t work because it's now called the Queen Victoria Memorial something or other.

So, the supposed tunnels somewhere under George Town is where my uncle’s uncle’s uncle met Hair, because dragons were honourable creatures who very much did not like smuggling going on in their homes, even if those homes were smelly old tunnels. I mean, I would be upset too, if someone were to use my house as their gang’s hideout and potentially get me into trouble. And obviously, my uncle’s uncle’s uncle was one of those involved in the smuggling. 

It was kind of how my family made their money back in ye olden days. It’s not like all the stuff they smuggled was bad, just controlled, kind of like if you bring chewing gum to Singapore now. Smuggling things like spices and tea to evade taxes was quite A Thing back then because He Who controls the Spice controls the Universe… It really was just that the British wanted to own all the things and didn’t want anyone else to have the money. And my family wanted to get in on that money, at least, until Hair frightened the living daylights out of this ancestor of mine so much so that he avoided the tunnels from then on and went back on the straight and narrow for pretty much the rest of his life. 

I’d like to say that my uncle’s uncle’s uncle never saw Hair ever again, but that’s not the truth. Hair kind of stuck around and checked in on him every once in a while to make sure he didn’t go back to smuggling things in tunnels, which is why, I guess, this story kept getting passed down through the generations. Plus, the story goes, after meeting Hair one too many times, the whole family just up and left George Town and moved to Butterworth. 

Actually, I should ask Hair whether he really lived in the tunnels of George Town or if all that was just a stupid story my uncle’s uncle’s uncle told my uncle’s uncle to entertain him, who in turn told my uncle, who in turn told me because I like knowing things and maybe I’m just gullible like that. I guess I’ll message him when I get home. He’ll probably laugh himself silly and say that everything my uncle’s uncle’s uncle said was a lie. 

He’s probably Prawn the Loan Shark anyway.

That's all, folks!

Originally written for and performed at:


Wednesday 24 January 2024

#bookreview: Renegade Skyfarer | RJ Metcalf - and a #writing update

Renegade Skyfarer (The Stones of Terrene Chronicles Book 1)Renegade Skyfarer by R.J. Metcalf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I... kind of regret putting this off for so long, because I really, really, really enjoyed this book! But the plus side of putting it off so long is... I supposed I can now just get all the other 3 (4?) books in this series and binge them at a go.

View all my reviews

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I've apparently read 3 books already this year, but written 0 reviews (well, now a very short 1), mostly because I have been busy trying to write. "Trying" being the operative word here, because I'm not being as prolific as I would like. 

I'm trying to finish off edits on the Tea Novel so I can get that sent out.

But I'm also working on another novel that I want to finish drafting before CNY so... 

whelp.

Probably need to be a leeeeetle bit more consistent in sitting down and working on it!



Tea update: currently still obsessed with Empress Grey, alternating with ChaTraMue Red label.