Book Review: “Caitlyn (Book Two) A Stain on the Soul” by Elizabeth Davies

After thoroughly enjoying the refreshingly well-written Caitlyn (Book One) Three Bloody Pieces by Elizabeth Davies, I eagerly jumped into the next one. I really admire Davies’ writing skill; every sentence sings, making it a smooth and brilliantly fun journey.

*This article contains minor spoilers

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“Resigned to another lifetime of being a witch’s familiar, Caitlyn has found a degree of peace in her role as the Duke of Normandy’s protector and spy.

But that peace is shattered when she returns to her native land only to come face-to-face with her past, and fall in love with a man who she desperately hopes will become her future.”

Caitlyn has been bound to Arlette for years and feels like a mother to Arlette’s son, William, who covets the English crown. I was excited when I realised that this character is actually the real William the Conqueror! Elizabeth Davies has cleverly woven real events with the magical, providing explanations that work for real-life events.

I continue to admire and sympathise with Caitlyn as she is forced to stay with her mistress and help her get her son on the throne by committing vile acts she doesn’t want to do. At first, I was taken aback by the fact that so many years had gone by; Caitlyn never got revenge for the attack on her kingdom and was never known to be of royal blood over those decades. This wasn’t a typical story of getting’s one justice and living happily ever after; Caitlyn did what she does best and just got on with things, keeping her chin up, through a life she never could have foreseen.

I liked this book a lot. Davies’ skillful writing makes the story twist and turn in ways you don’t expect. I admit I wasn’t completely sold on her falling in love so easily; it seemed she locked eyes with a handsome stranger, tumbled with him a few times, and then they were suddenly madly in love with each other, all for it to be for nothing when William made his excuses for her to leave. I am also not a fan of detailed sex scenes (though this is personal preference). It’s for these reasons I give the book four stars.

Even though I wasn’t sure about some parts of the story midway, the book did not falter. Caitlyn was sensible with her relationship, accepting that it couldn’t ever turn into anything more serious because of the magic hold on her. When you finally think that she is free of the witch controlling her life and her being, the story comes to a thrilling finish with a twist I didn’t see coming. I’m very thirsty for the next story, so keep your eyes peeled for a review of the final installment of this awesome trilogy!

4stars

Get A Stain on the Soul on Amazon US
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I Met My Brother From a Different Timeline (Short Story)

I think I met my brother from a different timeline. I was hanging out at a cafe in Tokyo, near where I live. I like to study or write there sometimes. My brothers, Colin (23) and Ryan (17) have talked for ages about coming but they haven’t got round to it yet. So imagine my surprise when Colin walks into the cafe.

Of course, I was super surprised and yelled for him to come over. He responded when I shouted his name and he came to sit in front of me. I asked what he was doing here and he looked at me, confused, saying he was getting coffee.

“Sorry, but how do I know you?” he asked.

Now my little brother teased me a lot growing up. He calmed down as he got older, but all through our teen years I was the butt of every joke, he pretended he thought I smelled bad, pretty typical dumb sibling stuff. But this Colin was polite and shy, as though I was a total stranger. I asked him again why he was in Japan and why he hadn’t told me, and he just acted like he had no idea who I was.

It was definitely him, from his hair to his long fingers to the mole on his cheek. And Colin was his name.

“I’m your sister, dude! Why are you acting so dumb?” I asked, almost losing my temper. This idiotic joke was getting old and I was upset he hadn’t told me he was coming all this way. He blinked and said he didn’t have a sister. Well, not anymore. His sister died when he was a baby.

His sister had the same name as me.

I felt weird, like nothing was real. For a moment I just sat and stared at him in utter disbelief. It couldn’t be a prank. My brother isn’t that good an actor. He was nervous and twitchy, the kind of behaviour of someone who’s a bit freaked out, and who could blame him? Some random woman was claiming to be his sister.

Even more weirdly, when I was about three or four I ran around with a pen in my mouth. A dumb thing to do, but I was a toddler. I fell over and the pen went into my throat. My mum took me to the hospital at the time and I was put on a drip and everything turned out fine.

According to this version of Colin, his sister hadn’t made it.

I told him everything about himself, where he was born, where he’d grown up, the shows we liked when we were little. I told him our parents had just moved to Corsica, because they did a couple of months ago. He stopped me and said that his parents (our parents?) were still in Scotland. So it looked like that was different, too.

We talked for what felt like hours. I could tell he couldn’t really believe what was going on. I couldn’t either. This man was identical to my little brother, right down to the awkwardly grown hair on his chin and the way his sharp elbows sat on the table. It wasn’t Colin, but it was.

It was even stranger when he told me our stepdad was completely fine. In my timeline, he’s been ill, very ill, which is part of the reason they moved to the sunnier Corsica. According to this Colin, he never fell and hurt his head which had ultimately led to brain damage.

Colin got up to go to the bathroom and never came back. I waited for ages, then went to look for him. The cubicle was empty. He was gone. I guess he went back to his timeline. I imagine him sometimes, coming back to our table in the cafe and finding me gone as well. Sometimes I wonder if his memory of the encounter was wiped, or if he ever thinks about the time he met his sister who, in another timeline, was still alive.

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A Hidden Gem in Kanagawa: Tamagawa Daishi Temple

Back in my tour guide days, I used to dread hearing the words “hidden gem.” Tourists claim to want to see unknown places that no one knows about, but if tourists went there, they wouldn’t be hidden. I know some of the popular places in Tokyo, but I wasn’t aware of many places that “no one knows about.”

However, today a friend took me to a temple in Futago-Tamagawa. Futago-Tamagawa, much like other places in Kanagawa Prefecture, has undergone a lot of development in recent years. Young people often visit for shopping and dining. But there is more to the area than department stores and restaurants.

After walking for around fifteen minutes after a delicious Korean lunch near the station, we reached a small temple called Tamagawa Daishi. Now, it didn’t look like much from the outside…

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But what made this very old temple special was that it was much, much bigger once you ventured underground.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the inside, but here is an account of what we found.

After offering a five-yen coin, ringing the gong, and saying a quick prayer, we ventured inside. The temple was stuffed full of old treasures: ancient gongs, statues of various Buddhist gods blackened by time, and solid gold bells and things I didn’t recognise. Incense burned and the smell of wood filled the air.

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It cost 100 yen to go down into the underground. We signed our names, put on the provided slippers, and headed down there.

“Last time I was here, we got into trouble for screaming,” my friend told me. “The monk had to tell us off.”

Apparently, it was so dark down there they got freaked out and started shrieking. She wasn’t kidding; it was pitch-black and we had to walk slowly, hands sliding along the wall. I’m not sure what the point of a dark tunnel in a Japanese temple is, but it might give you the feeling of walking into another world.

After several minutes of feeling our way along in the dark, we reached this amazing underground room. Again, taking photographs was prohibited and I wasn’t about to disrespect the rules, but there was a long corridor full of the 88 monks of the temple from back then. Some of them had unlit candles or other treasures placed before them.

There were also statues of angels, one enormous stone statue of the monk who built the temple, and various models of the gods of fire. At one point, we came across a god who helped take unborn deceased children to the afterlife. A month ago I had a miscarriage, but instead of being upsetting, the statue of a god with smaller cherubs clinging to his robes filled me with wonder (though I did feel my eyes burning.)

My friend said later that she had forgotten about my misfortune when she had invited me, and apologised profusely. I told her it was fine; I had wanted to visit a temple with these statues anyway, so in a way, it was beautiful, if a little heartbreaking.

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Fortunately, we were allowed to take pictures outside.

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Then we headed to Musashi-Nakahara to see a small farm of pansies. The pansy is the symbol of Nakahara Ward and is popular to buy around December. Some of the arrangements in the picture below were being sold for 30,000 yen (About £206 GBP or $265 USD)!

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All in all, it was a great day and very different from what I usually do. If you’re in the area, Tamagawa Daishi is worth a visit for the vast array of authentic treasures that are hundreds of years old. It’s a little surreal to be in an underground temple surrounded by priceless artifacts from temple worship.

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Caitlyn (Book One) Three Bloody Pieces” by Elizabeth Davies

Although I adore new worlds borne from the imagination of fantasy writers – they push the boundaries of their fictional universe, creating a new history, races, and cultures that we can explore and discover – I also have a soft spot for historical fiction. Exploring the story of characters that live in the real world gives them a sense of wonder and magic. If I read a story that is set in our world a few hundred years ago, we know that our ancestors lived in a similar world, facing the challenges and obstacles the character does.

I recently came across a historical fantasy called Three Bloody Pieces. It is the first of the Caitlyn trilogy, written by Welsh paranormal author Elizabeth Davies. Always eager for something new to read, I delved straight into this novel after enjoying the free sample.

Three_3bloodypieces_e_Cover“A dead king, a queen who is more than she seems, and a witch who uses the dark arts to entrap her. Queen, widow, beggar – Lady Caitlyn is all three, and now she can add murderer to the list. When death and treachery propels her south to Normandy, to seek sanctuary with the exiled Prince Alfred, visions of a woman with ancient eyes travel with her. Herleva is a woman filled with ambition and greed. A woman who intends to be more than a commoner. A woman who gets what she wants by whatever means possible, even if she has to practice the dark arts to achieve her goals. A woman who is a witch. Caitlyn finds herself caught up in a magic which changes her very being. A magic which produces a king to change the lives of every man, woman, and child in England.”

Davies’ writing style was authentic and vivid. I followed the story at her comfortable pace, finding it easy to imagine the scenes around me. Sometimes you come across books that focus so much on the description that they lose you on the way. This didn’t happen with Three Bloody Pieces. There was enough description to conjure images of the characters and surroundings without overwhelming us with unneeded “fluff.”

We are thrown into the action from the very first page. Lady Caitlyn has lost everything: her kingdom, her husband, and the victory she’d expected in their battle. Her husband is lying dead at her feet, the approach of enemy soldiers heavy on her shoulders. With barely enough time to bury King Rhain before they have to flee, Caitlyn must set her grief aside and focus on survival. A queen by birth and also by marriage, she is in danger from her husband’s enemies and forced to leave her unfortunate people behind to fend for themselves.

This novel kept me on my toes. Every time I thought I’d be able to guess what was coming, the story went in an entirely new direction. This gave it an incredible lack of predictability which, to me, is very important.

I also really liked Caitlyn’s character. She was brave and could get on with things even when a weaker person would have crumbled. I suppose that by entering an arranged marriage at a young age, she had accepted what fate had in store for her and had even grown to care for her husband; this situation must have prepared her for a life of adapting to her situation even if it were terrible. Caitlyn was certainly pushed to her limit several times, but she never despaired.

The first part of the novel was like a gritty fantasy adventure. Caitlyn was getting strange visions of a terrifying, unknown woman who cut up dead bodies and performed strange rituals with them. Caitlyn and her temporary protectors fled from her homeland in Wales and to a nearby lord who might be able to help her.

I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more of a build-up between two very important scenes, but that might be personal preference. The overall mood of the book changed halfway through with a strange twist. If you’ll look at the other reviews on Amazon, you’ll see I’m not alone in thinking this twist was a little weird. I actually almost stopped reading, but I was invested in Caitlyn’s life and was curious as to what would happen next.

As well as being brave and adapting to her unfortunate new lifestyle, Caitlyn remained an empathetic, caring person. She also had a great amount of sass that had me laughing aloud sometimes. This added realism to her character – she wasn’t just a noble queen with a brave attitude, but quite down-to-earth, relatable, and funny with her sarcasm and comebacks, especially the ones she thought to herself as she held her tongue. We’ve all done that before! I can’t list most of my favourite quotes without giving away spoilers, but one of the funniest was “She looked as though the last contact she’d had with water was at her own Christening.”

Even though the aforementioned twist was hard to swallow, the book redeemed itself. I watched Caitlyn and the challenges she had to face, some keeping me at the edge of my seat. Three Bloody Pieces was so charming and well-written that I couldn’t help but buy the others of the trilogy right away. I won’t be forgetting this story in a hurry and I’m eager to read the next.

I want to give Three Bloody Pieces four and a half stars, but unfortunately, that’s not possible. Therefore, I’ll be giving it four stars on this blog and five stars on Amazon and Goodreads.

4stars

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8 Tips For Making a Daily To-Do List That Will Change Your Life

We’ve all been there: you have a list of things to do in your head, but really all you want to do is play video games/nap/see your friends/curl up on the couch with a book. “I’ll do it later,” you think, and suddenly it’s 10pm, the day is over, and you’re left with nothing to show for your day except guilt and regret.

Hashtag relatable, amirite?

I was like that, too. On my days off, I would promise myself I’d get to writing or planning out my next novel, only to spend the next seven hours playing Dragon Age or Horizon Zero Dawn. Although I love games and it’s completely fine to spend your day gaming every now and then, it started to become a bad habit, and the deeper you are into a bad habit, the harder it is to get yourself out.

When we moved to Musashi-Kosugi, it felt like a fresh start in a fresh new apartment. However, I don’t believe that moving somewhere new really got me organised. What did sort me out was something ancient and extremely simple, yet more effective than I ever could have imagined: the to-do list.

Do it. Do it right now. Open Google Docs in another tab. Label it with tomorrow’s date (or today’s date if it’s still early while you’re reading this) and write a list of things you need to do. Done right, it can help you be more productive than you could ever have guessed.

Here are some tips on your to-do list and how to stick to it.

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1. Make it Realistic

There’s no use sticking eight hours’ worth of solid work onto your list. Start off slow – maybe add one or two things such as “pick up the children from school” and “write 500 words of new book.” Even things you were planning to do anyway should be on there.

Adding too much to your list can just make you feel more overwhelmed than ever, and you’ll end up getting none of it done at all.

2. Add Easy Things for Momentum

I always start my to-do list with two things: “make coffee” and “kiss my husband.” Both of these things are easy and part of my morning routine. When you already have two items on your list ticked, it’s much easier to get started on the next. At the time of writing this article, I’ve already finished the first two things, getting me mentally ready for the third (which was writing this).

3. Prioritise

You might have an enormous amount of things to do: housework, personal projects, freelance projects, things you simply can’t put off, and things you could probably put off for another week. Think about what needs to be done now.

For instance, do you have a paper that has a deadline? Get that done before working on your personal project.

4. Start Early

On days where I’m not working at my day job, I try to start the things on the list at or before 9:00am. That way, by lunchtime I have already finished three or four things on the list.

Starting early, when possible, also gives you the evening to do whatever you want, completely guilt-free. You’ll feel much better when you’ve had a productive day. You may even feel motivated to do more work, but be sure to take a rest, too. Playing Dying Light in the evening is way more enjoyable after a day of getting stuff done.

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5. Be Specific

Adding things like “work on new book” or “practise guitar” is all well and good, but be sure to have concrete goals. Add exactly what you want to get done that day. For example, when working on a proofreading project, I’ll aim to edit 25 pages as one task, which will usually take an hour or so. That way, when the 25 pages are up, the task is ‘finished’ and I can rest for a bit.

Some people may rather put time instead of tasks (for example, “proofread for one hour”), but I personally think tasks are more important. You can easily get distracted by your phone, making tea, or whatever else, and the hour can waste away rather than being a time slot of solid work.

6. Allow Time to Rest… But Not Too Much

Allow small breaks, but stick to them. If a break is fifteen minutes, make it fifteen minutes. You may find your motivation is high after completing tasks on your list, though, so feel free to power through if you want to! I’ve found that ticking tasks from my lists just makes me feel more motivated to start with the next one.

Never feel guilty for taking a break, though. Sometimes your mind needs a short break to refuel. Just be sure that your break doesn’t accidentally turn into three hours of nothing.

7. Add Variety

Dedicating a day to your main hobby, task, or skill development is all well and good, but you’re going to burn out quickly if you just have “work on thesis for eight hours” on your list. Here is a quick example list for a student working on her dissertation.

  • Have breakfast
  • Take a shower and get dressed
  • Write 300 words of dissertation
  • Vacuum room
  • Plan second half of essay
  • Call Mum
  • Email lecturer about deadline

etc, etc, etc.

Breaking up your list into various kinds of bitesize tasks makes it a lot less overwhelming. You also get a lot more done in your day. It’s surprising how much can be achieved in less than twelve hours.

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8. Make Your List the Night Before

Don’t wait until morning to make the list for that day! Before you go to bed, make a clear, easy-to-follow list for the following day, complete with easy tasks like eating meals and showering. That way, when you wake up, you can get started with task 1 with a clear mind.

You may be surprised at how much you can get done with a simple to-do list. In the time I’ve been making a daily list, I’ve completed writing assignments that I’d kept putting off, planned out previously difficult details of a book I’m writing, and proofread a huge chunk of a novel for a client. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a list-less life, and you shouldn’t, either.

So what are you waiting for? I want to see your to-do list for tomorrow! Get cracking!

Peach Coca-Cola in Japan: Gross or Great?

I’d heard a bit about peach cola floating around in Japan. It’s just one of the many experimental flavours of drinks and the like that pop up now and then in the country. You’ll see crazy varieties of crisps, chocolate, alcohol, and soft drinks. I saw a bottle of peach cola in Daiso and grabbed a bottle.

Peach is quite a common flavour. You can get peace juice, peach soda, peach alcoholic drinks. What would peach cola be like?

I usually don’t drink cola unless it has whiskey in it, but I took a swig. At first it just tastes like regular cola, but the peach flavour comes afterward, at the top of your mouth. There is also a peachy aftertaste mixing with the usual slightly acidic sensation of coke.

I personally don’t think it’s that special. If you’re old enough to drink, you can get very similar peachy flavours with better drinks, such as peach horoyoi (3% alcohol). Though I suppose if you’re a huge fan of cola, it might be worth a try.

Basically, it tastes pretty much how you’d expect. Quite tasty, but nothing groundbreaking.

Yakiniku (Korean Barbecue) in Japan

It’s the weekend, and a national holiday on Monday! I’m getting geared up to spend the next three days killing dragons, hunting monsters, and reading books. Not necessarily in that order.

We had yakiniku for dinner, which is the local word for Korean barbecue. You get a grill at your table and order stuff to put on the fire. The meat is all cut thinly so that it cooks after just a minute or so.

Restaurants usually offer a tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) course, but you generally don’t need it. The tabehoudai was around 3,400 yen but they had a set for two people for just 2,500 yen and it was more than enough.

They also had nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) set, but you could only get it if you already ordered the tabehoudai. Therefore, we got just one bottle of sake and then ordered soft drinks to make our own mixed drinks. Forbidden? No. Cheeky? Maybe.

The set was ginormous, have a look. Please forgive the vertical shot though; I am not a clever man.

We also got a big bowl of rice, some sausages, and some kimchi, which is spicy Korean cabbage and one of my favourite foods ever. I remember going mental when I saw kimchi featured in an episode of QI.

It’s pretty much a meat lover’s dream. We had grilled kalbi beef and sausages and rice and kimchi and onion and carrot and pumpkin until we were full to burst. I also had juice with too much sake in and left the restaurant a little merry.

If you visit Japan, definitely be sure to try out “yakiniku.” It’s one of the best not-Japanese-but-kind-of-Japanese styles of eating you don’t want to miss 😀

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Angst” by David J. Pedersen

Day 39

I’ve just finished reading a fantasy novel called Angst, written by David J. Pedersen.

“When Angst turned 40, he knew it was over. Angst had longed to be a knight of Unsel, to make his mark in history, to be remembered for heroic deeds and wondrous acts. He grew up knowing he was destined for something great, but now it is too late. Not only is 40 far too old to become a knight, Angst is one of the few able to wield “the magics”.”

Most protagonists in fantasy novels are young and gifted, destined from birth to be the hero and saviour of the story – often not relatable at all. One of the first things that draws readers to David Pedersen’s Angst is the fact that the main character is the exact opposite of this stereotype.

Angst is the perfect name for this character: he is unsatisfied with his life, a gift that should have been cherished makes him an outcast, and he spends his life in skull-numbing boredom. After turning forty, he believes his dreams of becoming a knight, and subsequent hero, are over. That is until he draws a sword that has been unmovable for as long as anyone can remember. It just might be up to Angst to get to the bottom of the problems plaguing Unsel… once his back stops hurting.

Angst is just an adorable character. Pedersen cleverly captures the mid-life crisis, urge to become something bigger and better, and the fearless, cheeky flirting of a forty-year-old. It was really interesting how these elements fit nicely into a fantasy story.

The story itself was incredibly creative and I’ll have a hard time forgetting many different aspects of the world of Ehrde, including places, beasts, and the concept of the Vex’kvette. I found that I was carrying the book around with me so I could read it on the train and during my lunch breaks.

There were a few things I wasn’t sure about. Something we find out about Heather, Angst’s wife, could have been foreshadowed, along with several other things. I also couldn’t bring myself to like the character Rose, although that is personal preference because I’ve heard she’s a very popular character. Nevertheless, this was a fun story to read and I look forward to reading the next one! I give this book four stars out of five.

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Tokyo’s Blue Winter Sky

Day 38

I haven’t written anything in a few days because work has been really busy. Plus I spent most of last night playing Dragon Age Inquisition.

I was walking to work today when I noticed how beautifully blue the sky was. Winter here is dry and clear, with great views of Mt. Fuji. Even when the skyscrapers tower around you, you still see the perfect blue of the sky if you look up.

A downside of a dry winter is that the country is prone to fires, although with modern heating systems and architecture and the like, it’s becoming less of a problem. It’s also easy to get dehydrated and chapped skin in this season.

Still, when I think about the dark, windy, rainy weather of winter back home, this blue blue blue sky isn’t so bad 😉

Japanese “Purikura”

Day 35

Today I went to Ikebukuro with some friends. We were supposed to be going to some kind of museum exhibition, but as the queue ran down the stairs all the way from the seventh floor down to the second, we gave up on the idea. People here don’t mind lining up hours for something if it’s popular, but none of us had the patience. Instead we ate salad and pizza, yum yum.

Edward really really wanted to do purikura. Purukira, a shortened version of the term “print club,” is a photo booth that adds exaggerated airbrushing to your pictures. You can also add writing, pictures, backgrounds, and stickers to make your photos unique.

It’s against the rules in some purikura places to go in if you’re just one guy or a group of guys. We got some funny stares when I walked behind my three British male friends, who are all taller than the junior high school girls occupying the room.

It’s just 400 yen for a purikura, so 100 yen each. You go inside and have to pose quickly because a picture is taken every couple of seconds. It was really fun, and the boys look so pretty!

If you’d like to try purikura, just go to any arcade in Japan. Just remember that if you’re a group of men, you won’t be able to do it, unfortunately. Maybe they had problems with strange guys peeking in the past. Some tourist attractions like Tokyo Tower also have a purikura booth, sometimes with themed backgrounds and stickers. They’re great for couples or groups of friends.