Chinese (Oriental) Fantasy year

Besides my Broadening Horizon reads and others that took my whims, I’ve dubbed this year my Chinese (Oriental) Fantasy year. In short, this year I am going to read up on all the key Chinese fantasy novels there are (those I’ve identified anyway). I might or might not branch into Japanese fantasy, hence the bracket around Oriental.

Why? Because I am sussing out competition in my chosen sub-genre of Chinese fantasy which is entirely self-named but that doesn’t mean there aren’t already books (mostly from the historical fiction genre) that are based on the same or similar general setting.

So far, I’ve put down the following novels to read for this year:

Chinese:  

  • Under Heaven and River of Stars by Guy Gabriel Kay
  • Dandelion Dynasty by Ken Liu
  • The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox ‘trilogy’ by Barry Hughart
  • Cradle series by Will Wright
  • Dragon Songs Saga by JC Kang

Japanese:

  • Tales of the Otori trilogy by Liam Hearn
  • Ascendant trilogy by K. Arsenault Rivera
  • The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

I doubt I will get through them all. But then I am going to not stick with each series till the end like I usually do (well, it’s not like I haven’t ditched series before but it’s a rarity since I almost exclusively pick books based on back cover blurbs).

Moonlake’s Book Discovery- Dec 2018

I was going to do another book discovery back in Oct but then I decided I wanted to save it for end of the year so that I can do book discoveries in Mar, Jun etc. as opposed to odd months like this year. It appeals to my sense for order.

Anyway, below is what I read from Aug to Dec this year.  I went back to my main staple of fantasy but I also engaged in a bunch of light reading due to my Oct holiday (which both precluded me from reading in Oct and brought in a light-reading Sept when I cleared away some of my Kindle stack)

Soldier’s Son trilogy by Robin Hobb

This is the first series of Hobb that I’ve read and it really impressed me. Not so much that I have become a die-hard fan of her as I am of LOTR or Feist’s Midkemian world but I do think Hobb is a high-calibre fantasy writer. In particular, I think this series showcases her skills in the following ways: 1) she shows me how small actions (sometimes miniscule) by a weak character and a well-told story can hold reader interest (or mine anyway); 2) I think she presents war in a different slant that I’m used to seeing in epic fantasy and I think her take on it. Overall, I recommend this to connoisseurs of epic fantasy who want to experience something a little different from LOTR vibed epic fantasy (I still love them but I do want variety once in a while).

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I talked about this book last week and overall, I like it (even though chicklit isn’t my usual genre and I have no intention of making it my usual nor following this series further). Still, I think it’s a book with substance while at the same time being very approachable in language and funny at times (I’m a serious-minded gal and often humour is lost on me, especially the type in this book. But I did think bits of it were funny in a hilarious way).

Night of the Lightbringer by Peter Tremayne

I was a bit distracted by the content touched on in this book- the aspect to do with Christianity (I do not have a religion myself). I mean that in a good way- it enlightens me about certain aspects of it in an academic sense, even though I also have a sneaking suspicion that I might have enjoyed the book more otherwise.

As for the book itself as a historical mystery, I think I like it well enough (or at least as well as most of the others from this series for which I’m a long-time follower. A couple are better but I this one isn’t subpar, just right on par, I think. Sometimes when I follow a long series, it does wear off on me and I find it hard to distinguish between when it’s the fault of the author’s execution or just the novelty starting to wear off). One complaint, however, is that the final reveal of the ‘Boss’ borders on being anti-climatic. In particular, that mars the fact that I was eagerly awaiting the last chapter for the reveal of the culprit before the ‘Boss’

Masque by W.R. Gingell

Beauty & Beast in a cozy murder mystery (well, it’s not technically cozy but the murder mystery somehow takes second place to fantasy so I personally felt it’s on the cozy side, I guess) is how I would describe this book in summary form. Overall, I found it a pleasant light read but other than that, I have nothing much to add. Recommended for fans of B&B.

Life for a Life by Andy Peloquin

The only reason I read this was due to my light-reading Sept. Otherwise, I’m not much of a short story reader and a short story really has to be above the average for me to like it. In terms of this short story, write-up is solid and pace is quick but otherwise it’s just an average story.

I also read 3 non-fiction this year, 2 of which having to do with being a writer. But I didn’t find any of them great so I decided to focus on fiction here. Till next time.

What I learnt from my Broadening Horizon Reads- 2018

Photo by Mian Rizwan on Pexels.com

My Broadening Horizon Reads this year are a YA vampire/werewolf fantasy and a chick lit. Both are genres I tend to stay away from and both are written in first person (the latter is more of coincidence than design though). Below are summaries of my main take-away from each of them:

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

I think what it showed me as a writer is the power of the voice. It comes in two-folds: 1) it showed me one way of using voice creatively to go outside of conventions for a multiple narrative story; 2) it showed me how voice is a double-edged blade and that for novels which hinge on voice like I think this book does, reader empathy is 100% whether they bond with the voice (or not as in my case).

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Again, I think voice is an important part of this book. And while I found the heroine bimbotic for most of the book, I think what the voice in this book scores well on is that it does draw the readers into the heroine’s world. I also think the interspersion of letters and diary entries between chapters is a neat trick in strengthening a special aspect of the heroine or subverting/adding layers of depth to the heroine.

Above all, I think what I learnt from this exercise is to be more adventurous and go outside stereotypical impressions of specific genres once in a while. In both these novels, I found that they were better or rather I like them better than I had originally expected to (well, this is certainly true of Silence Fallen. I felt a bit misled by the back blurb for Mini Shopaholic for most of the book but then the ending did leave me sated and I actually prefer Mini Shopaholic relative to Silence Fallen). Sure, I wouldn’t like to do so all the time because I just like what I like but I am definitely convinced of the merit of introducing more variety to my reading ‘menu’.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- July 2018

photography of a smiling woman

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
So I’m not that much of a YA reader and I don’t tend to read urban fantasy at all but I picked up this book to do structural analysis for a writing course. I also consider this book as one of my Broadening Horizon reads this year. That aside, it’s not as horrible as I thought it could be but neither am I charmed. The pace is quick and the plot contains some twists but other than that, I’m not really taken with it. The heroine is okay but I can develop no bonds to her. I did note that the author suggested that the books be read in order and perhaps my problem of bonding is an artifact of me just picking up a Mercy book so late in the ordering of the series. However, I also think that the problem of this book lies in that Mercy the protagonist hasn’t grown one bit by the end of this book and in a way that made me feel like there is no point in me having read this book.

X by Sue Grafton
So I was really fond of Kinsey up till R maybe? And then it felt like Kinsey had fallen flat. But halfway through this book, I was like “Kinsey old girl, you finally came back!” And that’s what really excited me about this book.

I know the ending to this book is controversial (as a writer myself, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to write such an ending for technical reasons). All I can say that it worked for me and that’s solely because I am very fond of Kinsey.

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
I think this is the most complex story of the Alphabet series so far (which is ending in the next book!), with three parallel plots. To be honest, during a particular point, I thought one of the plot lines occurring in the past was redundant and felt bored but my perception was completely overturned only a few chapters later. So kudos to Grafton for embarking on this ambitious project and for it turning out so well.

1st to Die by James Patterson
So I came to this from the Women’s Murder Club hidden object games (which I liked) and Alex Cross. I like the concept of a women’s murder club before I even venture into this series but this story’s written in a sub-par way in my books. So we just get the page-turning, fast-pace that is Patterson’s wont for the case itself but the problem is that this story is much more complex that that and when all the other elements are in a hit-and-miss state, I seriously cannot say that this story is written solidly.

Mostly, the other 3 women besides Lindsay feel flat and I even have trouble bonding with Lindsay given that one key action she did just felt like a dumb move to me. Some of the chapters that aren’t about the case but about character and relationships are complete window dressing and leave me feeling awkward about their sub-parness. I’m also underwhelmed by the fact that the prologue of the book started off with a hook and then the concluding chapters and the epilogue acted like a major anti-climax to the hook in the prologue. In fact, I just feel like the last few chapters and the epilogue is basically all needless theatrics that Patterson was forced to put in to justify the hook he put into the prologue for lack of a better approach. I think I’m going to stick with the Alex Cross series instead of this.

Now, what have you all been reading? Let me know in the comments.

Moonlake’s Broadening Horizon Reads

sunset ship boat sea
This is a new commitment that I came up with this year, in hopes of advancing my writer’s craft. Specifically, it involves reserving 2 of my annual 20 reading slots for: 1) a book completely outside my usual genres of fantasy, mystery, historical fiction and any possible combos of the 3; 2) a book within my usual genres but with elements outside my usual taste.

As of writing, I’ve already done both this year but I will save them for July and Oct Book Discoveries. In this post, I want to showcase my tentative list for my Broadening Horizon Reads (BHRs) for the next 4 years:

Outside usual genre:

  • Literary fiction: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell/Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien
  • Military fiction: Operation: Jaguar by Lyman Rate
  • Sci-fi: Leviathan wakes by James S. A. Corey
  • Horror: Stephen King’s Carrie/The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Within usual genre but outside usual taste:

  • Religious thriller: Desecration by J.F. Penn (religious thriller) [I downloaded this as a permafree a while ago from visiting her Creative Penn website with lots of helpful resources for writers and I got curious about her fiction but I have an aversion to ebook reading so it’s been sitting on my PC collecting dust. Now, I finally have a valid reason to bring it back up to see sunlight]
  • Psychological thriller: Tana French [A friend recommended her as his favourite author, I will just randomly pick a title since I never read mysteries in order. Never harmed my understanding since they are mostly standalones]
  • YA translated work: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón [I assumed this is fantasy but after googling it, I’m not sure but the same friend who recommended Tana French recommended this. I tend to not enjoy YA relative to adult even though I do read Tamora Pierce. I have a feeling I’m almost done with her, though, except for her Beka Cooper series which I’ve read book 2. I liked it so I think I will go back and read the whole series. But my local library doesn’t have a physical copy, only epubs, so it’s been pushed back way down on my reading list]
  • Fantasy/adventure/classic starring animal protagonists: Watership Down by Richard Adams [ditto above on how I came by it]

Keep throwing me suggestions if you like and come back next week for my July Book Discoveries.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- April 2018 (2)

fashion woman girl women

Other than the 2 books in the first half of this post, it was really another Christie splurge…

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie
So apparently I had read it before and then picked it up again from my local library and I think it’s okay, I didn’t particularly like it but there’s nothing to majorly hate about it either. Reading over others’ reviews, it seems like the ending was the issue for most, For me personally, I did find the ending somewhat jarring but in retrospect I think it’s still a proper ending to this story meant to end it on a hopeful note. So I’m giving it a solid 3 stars.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
The premise of this book- that death could occur via supernatural means- drew me right in. Of course, I knew that the real modus operandi wouldn’t be supernatural means but all the way till the very end, I was (again) fooled by Christie and as always, I’m very pleased to be fooled by Christie.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie
I think this book wins hands-down as the book by Christie with a most relatable beginning. Previously I had noticed sometimes descriptions from Christie’s times that are no longer relevant nowadays but the beginning of this book makes me experience the complete reversal- the continual relevance of one’s fear in the dentist’s chair. That amuses me.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
This book has the requisite Christie twist right at the end but I’m not particularly drawn to it- I think it’s because I don’t think that twist that clever nor do I bond to any of the characters. It’s still a decent Christie piece though. And oh, it works as a nice counterpoint to Christmas in its title.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- April 2018 (1)

business coffee cup data

I clearly had enough of just light reading so I changed it up a little by branching out to a new sub-genre: historical fantasy. This coincided with my decision to join a historical fantasy book club on FB.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
This wasn’t that engaging a read in that there’s no urge for me to binge read it (in fact I haven’t been reading it in one go on a day-to-day basis but the pacing certainly picks up towards the end) but I’m intrigued by the characters enough to stick to the end (which I didn’t get 100% not that it bothered me that much). I think the author has written a solid story overall (despite the fact that the actual genre isn’t really to my taste- it’s really more straight historical fiction rather than historical fantasy as I was led to believe it is and it’s really very literary fic in nature) but I’ve certainly read worse debut novels than this. Not that keen to follow the sequel to this though.

A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden
In essence, what the author has done was taking Tolkien’s orcs as inspiration, adopting them for his own while retaining that lore-rich feel of Tolkien’s so while I have no fascination with Orcs in general, I’m sucked in by glimpses of the Old Way that we saw throughout this book. This is an anti-hero story, a story of vengeance (which I have to say doesn’t appear on my usual diet) so I don’t expect to root for Grimnir and I don’t, not really. However, I prefer him vastly to Etain at the start (who annoyed me cos she had established this blindfold for herself due to her faith and wouldn’t acknowledge the Old Ways that she saw right in front of her eyes but luckily that changed with the character development) and certainly by the end of the book, I’ve grown comfortable with Grimnir.

To be honest, this book has a chance at 5 stars from me except that the underlying premise of this book is about the start of the downfall of the Old Ways and that’s what I love about fantasy so I wasn’t as immersed in this book as I could have been if I was to read a book before such a downfall (but that would have been another story, I know). For this same reason, I’m a bit apprehensive of picking up book 2 of the Grimnir series since I expect that the downfall of the Old Ways will happen in earnest there. I’ve since been reassured by the author that book 2 is actually about the rally of the Old Ways and so I’m eagerly awaiting its release which is very soon- it’s on pre-orders when I last looked at it. My current plan is to read the whole trilogy and then decide if I want to acquire it for my personal collection which is reserved for books that I would at least award a Goodreads 4 stars to.

Anyway, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book despite the fact that I don’t have a personal fondness for orcs and that I’m really just a fantasy reader and I have no personal knowledge to appreciate the historical element in this book (but from what I heard from the historical fantasy book club, the history elements are great too).

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- January 2018 (2)

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

This is one of the so-so books in my opinion from Christie. I don’t think it’s badly written per se but there’s just nothing to make it memorable for me.

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

This book has all the necessary suspense attached to a case with a limited number of suspects (only the passengers within a specific compartment) and I’ve enjoyed its delivery. But I wasn’t particularly engaged with the woman who Poirot recruited as his ‘side-kick’ so overall, I didn’t think this made it into my ‘preferred read’ from Christie.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

As I was reading this book, I kept getting the deja vu and then I realised that I had actually read it before. This is one of the books that I really enjoyed upon the first read and I still like it upon the second reading.

Private Royals by James Patterson

I finished it but reading this put me off further book shots by JP. It’s just all page-turner without any characterisation and since I haven’t read any of the full novels from the series, all the characters are just cardboard cut-outs to me.

Reapers of Souls and Magic – A Rohrlands Saga by R.E. Fisher

I reviewed this for an ARC and my full review is here.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Prachett

I picked up this series thinking that it would be similar to Robert Aspirin’s MYTH series- light reading, full of humour. Unfortunately, this first book in the series is not actually a full novel but rather a collection of two short stories. As someone who most definitely prefers novel reading as opposed to short story, this really threw me. In addition, while I liked the idea that the whole universe is carried on the back of a giant turtle, I just didn’t really think the inept wizard that’s the protagonist all that humorous and all in all I don’t think I will be reading more of the series.

And that’s it for January. Next week will be April discoveries so stay tuned.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- January 2018 (1)

Bad girl me had left this series by the way-side for too long! But, to be honest, I haven’t been reading as much so I possibly could in the past, since reading does compete with my writing time. And I’ve also been doing more of what I consider light reading too. But that’s enough preamble, I will leave you to the meat.

Taken by the Wind by Ellen Hart
Not quite the mystery that I’m used to, more like a drama that concentrates on relationships as opposed to a fast-paced detective story that I thought it is from the back-cover blurb.I finished it but I can’t say that I really like it and I’m not adding this author to my comfort author list.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
For me, this book delivers the typical Christie- a plot twist right at the end that satisfies my needs. Other than that, though, it doesn’t have anything over other works of her.

Death Masks by Ed Greenwood
This book is my revisit of the Forgotten Realms after substantial absence so I like it okay in reconnecting me with some of the characters I’m familiar and fond with. At the same time, I also feel that the new developments going on in the Realm- weakening of magic and all that, is going to take away my continual interest in this setting since I definitely prefer high magic fantasy to low.

Death on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
I loved the ending to this book and I saw the movie last year though I prefer the book much better (I always tend to do that but the movie was just too slow, making me want to fall asleep constantly except that I bought a cold cola to drink). Anyway, back to the book. I loved the ending specifically because I felt like it gave an additional layer of depth to Poirot that made him human. In the other books, Poirot’s basically just a detective trope with few character quirks but we never really got into touch with the ‘human side’ of him. Well, no longer so after I read this book.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
I think this is one of my preferred books from Christie. I like the heroine (I don’t love her but at least I appreciate her adventurous spirit) so I enjoyed reading about the set of events centring around in this book. I also think the opening is fairly enticing.

Advanced Reading Review- Reapers of Soul and Magic

I’m doing something new, which is signing up to be an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) reader for a debut novel which has already gone live at Amazon . Here’s a picture of the front and back covers.
reaperscover
Below is my actual review which is already up on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m not big on stars since I don’t think they capture the entirety of opinion on a book and neither Amazon nor Goodreads have a star system that accounts for 0.5 increments that I’m used to assessing things on when dealing with a 5 point scale. So I’m just going to omit them entirely on my blog. If you really want a summary of my opinion on this book, here it is below in bold which is also the title/subject line of my review on Amazon
A complex book with fresh concepts but some issues with characterisation and pacing, an overall like
Note: I was given a free copy of this book by Between the Lines Publishing in exchange for a honest review.
Overall Impression and Distinguishing Features
This debut novel sets up a good person (Tetra as alluded to on the back cover) and a bad person (Lavalor) together as they work to achieve their goals. I think this is a relatively fresh concept in fantasy. Similarly, while the central plot involves a prophesy, this novel shows most of the key actors in this prophesy taking actions out of self interest as opposed to fulfilling some kind of preordained destiny according to the prophesy. Somewhat to my surprise, it also sprinkles in elements of alternate history (although it’s speculation on future Earth history rather than looking to our past) and soft science fiction. I’m not a fan of either but I rather like the speculative history parts of this book for throwing perspective on society systems in a non-intrusive way.
What I like:
The fresh concept of a good ‘guy’ and bad guy working ‘together’ to achieve separate goals is the main attraction of this novel to me. In addition, I appreciate good dialogue, humour and reflections of morals and values that are elements that I’ve always loved in fantasy and have enjoyed in this novel.
What I dislike:
This novel goes off to a relatively slow start, which may partly be due to the descriptive details sometimes getting a tad too much. I also have an issue of bonding with any specific character among a main cast of 5 separated via 3, sometimes 4 parallel plot streams.
Other comments and Final words:
This is a complex novel. While I think aspects to do with character interactions between Tetra and Lavalor, our main good ‘guy’ and bad guy respectively, can be improved upon (currently it feels a tad rushed), I recognise that the author has handled most of the complexity in switching between different perspective and plotlines and other aspects well. I wish the author the best in his future endeavours and hope to see him grow continually.