I think this post is actually due last Sunday but because I was so excited to share the news about short story writing, it gets pushed back. But I’m sure we’re all used to my whims now if you’ve been following me and isn’t a casual passer-by. If you are, this is a series I run recurring every 3 months which isn’t book reviews, just quick and dirty summaries on what I think about the books that I’ve read recently.
So let’s get down to the substance by recapping all the books that will be reviewed. Books will be grouped by category since I picked up few short story collections and gaming books. They include:
Standalone novels and series
- Moby Dick
- Shadows Trilogy by Jon Sprunk
- A Dead man’s Ransom by Ellis Peters
- Hope to Die by James Patterson
- Days of the Deer by Lilliana Bodoc
- Shadows and Stronghold by Elizabeth Chadwick
Short story collections
- A Dreadful Murder & other criminally compulsive tales by Minette Walters
- Harvest Moon by Mercedes Lackey, Michelle Sagara and Cameron Haley
- Tortall and other lands: a collection of tales by Tamora Pierce
- Destiny quest: The Legion of Shadow by Micahel Ward
- A Million Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton
- Being Elizabeth Benett: create your own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster
- Cavern of the Snow Witch by Ian Livingstone
Here’s what I thought about each of them:
- Moby Dick: I only got to the second chapter and I did not get motivation to pick it up again. I knew it was a classic but didn’t realise it was so classic as to remind me a little of Charles Dickens. I felt like it doesn’t chime with me in vocab or in the ‘worldview’ that underlies the story.
- Shadow’s Trilogy: I thought it was a two-book series when I picked up (Shadow’s son and Shadow’s Lure). But later I found out it’s actually a trilogy. Anyway, I decided to stop reading a little into book 2. How shall I describe it? Well, I was okay with it enough that I continued into book 2 but I think the main issue I have with this series is that I don’t like the writing style of the author nor the basic setup of the story. Essentially, the main character is an assassin with morals and he ends up helping the daughter of his would-be victim that he didn’t kill. While reading book 1, in the back of my mind I keep getting the feel that I’m reading a trope from video games (Assassin’s Creed, never played but see ads on buses a few times). In fact, the book feels a bit like a video game transposed into a book- having fast-paceish action, a worn plot and no prose or maybe no prose that I like.
- A Dead man’s Ransom: Pretty good as I remembered it. And then it’s hard not to compare it against the Sister Fidelma series by Peter Tremayne. All I want to say is that I like both. I can personally empathise with Sister Fidelma more but Brother Cadfael is like a fatherly figure and I like a fair bit too. And some of Ellis Peters’ prose regarding what Brother Cadfael’s ‘psychological profile’ of other characters are just sublime
- Hope to Die: JP’s certainly got a unique style of his own, what with the switching between first person perspective for his protagonist and third person for all other characters in different chapters. The other thing of him that’s different to most other novels that I’m used to is that he writes really short snappy chapters. In a thriller/mystery, I think that’s an overall plus since it ensures a fast pace. I think I will add him to my list of comfort writers from now on.
- Days of the Deer: it’s a translated work from Spanish. I might be biased against translated works in general (ever since I read Pride of Prejudice in high/secondary school in Australia and finally has a basis of comparison against the kid’s version of a translated-into-Chinese version of P&P) or it might be that I read this directly after James Patterson above. The first chapter didn’t really draw me and since I’ve got a long queue of books from my local library during this time, I’ve decided to skip this.
- Shadows and Strongholds: It’s a bit of historical fiction/romance but it’s not whimpering/head-over-heals romance that I have an abhorrence against. In fact, when I first picked up, I didn’t realise it was a romance since the backcover blurb advertised it as a coming-of-age story. Well, it wasn’t far off since foremost it is about the protagonist, a boy with a self-confidence issue coming to age and growing into a man. The plot of him finding the ‘perfect match’ for him, a childhood play-mate who’s a spirited lass and sometimes too prone to jumping to conclusions, is secondary to his own growing up plot but at the same time, it’s really the two of them together I think that really draws one into the story. Another author added to my comfort reading list- I think she does good work with characters that I’m trying to improve on for my own work.
Short story collections
- A Dreadful Murder…: 3 short stories, 2 of which are based on true murders. The author said in the foreword that each of the three are written in different styles and that’s the ‘selling point’ of this book. I like the first the best, followed by the last, but I don’t like the second one at all.
- Harvest Moon: again, a collection of 3 stories. The first unpacks a lot of character within the length of a short story because it’s mainly based on Greek mythology. There are some bits that I like about it and some bits that I don’t. Overall, it’s an okay story. Second I like the best, a story about how a thief(?) from the poor quarter gets recruited into the fantasy equivalent of a police force and grows into her new role in the midst of a serial children murder case. Third is really an urban fantasy about a gangster evading a death curse with the Angel of Death to implement the curse and I like it the least. Probable reason being that I don’t really like urban fantasy all that much in general.
- Tortall…: Since I’m pretty read up on Tamora Pierce, this is the favourite of the three short story collections that I read in this period for the pure reason that I’m fairly familiar with her Tortall setting. I also like how she’s included two related stories within this single volume (starring same two characters and adventures one after the other).
In case anyone’s wondering, these are books where you play as a given character like a RPG. You can’t read them in a linear way. Passages are numbered with random length ranging from a couple lines to a few pages. You start from whichever passage denoted by a number Foreword or Intro tells you to flip to and go from there. At the end of each passage, there are a few alternative instructions telling you where to flip to next. And, you usually need a dice to roll which can affect what ending you can get.
- Shadow of the Legions: the way it proceeds with a quest system feels quite PC gamish, especially calling to mind the Diablo series, but it provides a fairly good fantasy adventure
- A Million Little Mistakes: The basic setup is that you’ve just won a million dollars worth of lottery and what would happen to your life from that point on. I don’t really like the way that sometimes the character are forced into doing things that just aren’t me and in this book, you can a very short plot arc most of the time. But the author did tell you at the start to mark the page you were on last so that you can always return to it and make an alternative choice. But what really makes this book unique is that the author tells me that in this book “If you aim to do good it might not always give you a good ending and the same is true vice versa, just like real life.” Something to that effect. At first, I was thrown by the very short plot arcs and this thing of the character doing things just not me. But there’s something about this book that keeps on compelling me to continue searching for an alternative ending that I like. And I did eventually. It’s an ending where the character is well contended and I’m well contended. Most importantly, I think this book is trying to send a message that “go with your heart, that’s the sure thing to give you a good ending.”
- Lizzy Bennett: I don’t like this book at all. The setup tells to keep track of all these stuff (which a normal gaming book does- equipment listing and character sheet are the 2 musts) but they don’t really come in play in terms of affecting your ending. Okay, the only thing that affects your ending is Lizzy’s intelligence score but even the author says you can fib it since the ending just goes two ways based on a threshold. But what really gets me is that the author’s asking us to play as Lizzy and she doesn’t like Lizzy herself, it seems. She’s downright patronizing towards Lizzy, therefore towards the reader.
- Cavern of the Snow Witch: The author is one of the two who wrote a whole bunch of these books and I think his name (along with another guy he usually co-authors with) is a brand name in this genre. It’s an okay storyline but probably is, I think there’s only one positive ending out of this and there’s only the single path to get to that positive ending. So that makes the whole book a little linear. It’s a long time since I’ve read him and his co-authors though and I can’t remember whether that has always been their trademark.
Okay, that’s it for December’s Book Discoveries. Stay tuned for the April re-run of this series.