Moonlake’s TBR List for 2021

For the year of 2021, I’m slightly ratcheting my reading goals back up to 12. Taking out my Broadening Horizon Reads, that leaves me with 5 spots for fantasy and 5 for mystery which I will alternate between Agatha Christie and Laurie R. King. 

The remaining 7 spots will be occupied by:

  • The Twilight of Gods by Scott Oden: I meant to read this last year but my local library did not stock it when I searched for it and so it got pushed to the side but I still intend to follow Griminir’s adventures. 
  • Either The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang or Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay for my Oriental fantasy read of 2021: I liked River of Stars a fair bit previously but the blurb of Under Heaven does not draw me that much. So I’m actually leaning towards the Poppy War 
  • Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier: I’m a bit taken with the Blackthorn and Grimm trilogy ever since I read Dreamer’s Pool last year. I went on to read book 2 and this is book 3. It serves as a good light reading for me. 
  • The Buried giant by Kazuo Ishiguro: Someone reckoned this to me as research for my WIP but not sure
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams: this was to be one of my Broadening Horizon Reads (BHRs) but apparently The Help is not literary fiction as I thought it is but historical fiction and so I need something else for my 2nd BHR. 
  • The Help- I’m reading this because one of the books I read last year on writing novels devoted an entire chapter to dissecting this novel structurally. So I decided to read the novel, do my own dissection and then go back and read the relevant chapter in order to further my own understanding of the 3 Act structure. 
  • The Cloud Atlas: I’ve been curious about this book ever since I first heard about it through the Outlining course with UBC on edX and apparently this is sci-fi which I’ve never read before

As per usual, I’m completely whimsical but checking my goodreads account with my TBR list for last year, I did end up reading 4 fantasy exactly and the exact 2 BHR I said I would read. So that’s not that far off :cheesy grin:. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- December 2020

The Hollow by Agatha Christie 

It started off quite unlike any other Christie story- each of the opening chapters read almost like a character portraiture but in an interesting way. But overall, it’s up to normal Christie standards. Hard to say that I really liked this story above any other of hers but it’s not a bad specimen of Christie’s work.

Riviera Gold by Laurie R. King 

After a long absence (like 10+ years), I finally found this series again but it seems like the charm had partially worn off for me. I mean, I still think it’s a solid detective mystery and it still reminds me a lot of the original Sherlock Holmes except that we’ve now got a new strong female detective Mary Russell in the mix. But perhaps I’ve just almost forgotten all about Mary. Nevertheless, she still comes across as a competent and worthy partner to Holmes. 

Nemeton by Christopher Lee

I had my eye on this project back when it was running for Inkshares- I was intrigued by the underlying world and then left it collecting cobwebs on my Kindle bookshelf due to my aversion for Kindle reading. As of the time of writing, I’ve just started it. Expect a fuller report in the March re-run of this serial post for next year. 

Broadening Horizon Reads-2020

I’ve skipped a year but my Broadening Horizon Reads are back. This year, I’ve picked a psychic thriller and a military fiction. Below are summaries of my main take-away from each of them:

Desecration by J.F. Penn 

I’ve reviewed this earlier. As a writer, I’m sure what I’ve taken away from it other than that each chapter is really about a single event. Since this is still a detective mystery, it works charmingly because it makes you feel that each chapter, you are alongside the protagonist uncovering a new clue to the mystery. As to why I even mention this as being noteworthy since most contemporary fiction share this, it’s because that’s not how I used to structure my chapters and I’ve talked all about this in a previous post. 

Operation:Jaguar by Lyman Rate

I’ve learnt some key lessons or rather have some key lessons confirmed for me through this book. In particular, it showed me the downside of the omniscient perspective and the importance of scene design. Actually, in a broad perspective, the lessons can be distilled into a single point- be conscious of your choices as a writer. 

I will be continuing my Broadening Horizon Reads in 2021. In all possibility, my BHR for next year will be the Help (literary fiction) and Watership Down (fantasy with animal protagonists). 

Moonlake’s Personal Collection

Today, I thought I will showcase my meagre personal collection of fantasy novels. This means I’ve truncated all the non-fantasy books out of my collection which isn’t much: two copies of Sherlock Holmes (a full collection and a volume 1 which I bought on an overseas trip to read in the hotel) and Taiko. 

Anyway, there is a very large overlap between my personal collection and Moonlake’s Top Picks. But for the sake of completeness, I will list them out one by one:

  • The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
  • The Lord of Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
  • The Riftwar Saga (Magician, Silverthorn, A Darkness at Sethanon) by Raymond E. Feist
  • The Serpentwar Saga (Shadow of a Dark Queen, Rise of a Merchant Prince, Rage of a Demon King) by Raymond E. Feist- note that there is a 4th book to this series, Shards of a Broken Crown. I intentionally did not buy it because I felt it functions more like a tag-on book, adds nothing to the whole series, but extends it out with a bunch of ‘new’ characters. 
  • Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist
  • The King’s Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist
  • The first trilogy of Demonwars (The Demon Awakens, The Demon Spirit, The Demon Apostle) by R.A. Salvatore 
  • The Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore 
  • A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden
  • Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb

And that’s all for today. I will stick with short and sweet for now until I ease myself back into the routine of blogging. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- September 2020

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marrillier

I’m not disappointed with the second book in this standalone series and is very glad to find out the backstory to Grim. Overall, a satisfying read for me, with the same blend of magic, intrigue and compelling character background as book 1. I have book 3 on my to-read list.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

I think it’s a solid work (and closely follow the historical events and main characters, at least in terms of archetype) but I think because I’m a Chinese and know of the historical context a bit better than potentially other readers, I have slightly different expectations of the book which turns out to be met. The main one was that I expected the book to somehow have both Kuni and Mata as main characters and focus on the conflict between the two. This was further complicated by the fact that my sympathy seemed entirely taken up with Mata at first (perhaps that’s because I never really liked the charming rogue archetype that’s Kuni and I was reading another novel at the same where Xiang Yu, the historical inspiration behind Mata, was the main character). That got corrected some way past the opening chapters. But then towards the end I still feel like I want a more nuanced Mata (that departs from the historical archetype) to make things harder for Kuni.

The other thing is that I feel like Kuni is a bit of a ‘weak’ main character in that he is often pushed into certain key events in the story by sidecasts. Perhaps this is an artifact of the story being an epic (which does tend to make sidecasts strong, something I’m used to) but I think I don’t really enjoy keeping track of the changes in all the key characters in this story so much. Perhaps, this is again due to me knowing the actual history and so it’s like reading a book crisscrossed with spoilers for me. Still, I do enjoy some of the historical bending in this story and I think they are what keeps the story engaging for me.

Serial Reader

Perhaps it comes with the genres I read but I mostly read series, something you probably all know if you’ve read my Moonlake’s Book Tastes series. 

So why do I lean that way? Foremost are two factors: I like familiarity and I like immersion. In some ways, the two are linked. While familiarity is more to do with risk avoidance and comfort loving, it also allows greater immersion into the same setting or the same set of characters. 

I also have a particular quirk in terms of series length. I can read up to n books of the same mystery series (given that they are all standalones essentially, just different cases with the same detective) or standalone fantasy series but my norm is usually just 5 books for a single cohesive fantasy series (i.e. all books in the series need to be read in order to form a single story). At the same time, I can read multiple interconnected fantasy series based on the same world. For example, I had read Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia series all the way from Riftwar to Darkwar which is like about 15 books in total. I’ve also read most of R.A Salvatore’s Drizzt series even though I keep describing his writing in that series as mediocre. I’ve just grown fond of Drizzt as a character and I read about him for comfort. 

And that’s it for today. Feel free to drop a comment if you want to share your little reading quirks for a series. 

Fantasy Pet Peeve

For all that I love fantasy, I have a single pet peeve with it: all wars eventually trace back to Gods. 

First, for the sake of putting things in context, let me recap in rough chronological order my foray into fantasy (back in those days, nobody cared about subgenres as far as I’m concerned and it was probably only a few years that I started specifying subgenres. Before that, I’ve just been telling people that I read fantasy. Full stop.). 

My first ever fantasy series was the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I really liked it and from that point on, fantasy became my main staple for reading. After that came David Eddings, Terry Brookes (I only read the original Shannara series, I think, not all of them. I couldn’t really remember my impression of him. I think I neither loved it nor hated it.), Raymond E. Feist…. And then I found the Hobbit and LOTR (actually I don’t know I read Feist first or Tolkien first but both are among my 5-stars. I prefer Tolkien if I have to strictly choose but that’s personal taste.). Forgotten Realms came a long way after that. 

Regarding my pet peeve, I think half of the books I recounted in the last paragraph have wars that trace back to Gods. To be honest, I don’t think it became my pet peeve until it emerged into the books by Raymond E. Feist (pretty late at that, after the 4th or 5th series, I can’t remember anymore. But my recommendation is really that only Riftwar and Serpentwar Saga are top-notch. And then the standalones Prince of the Blood, the King’s Buccaneer and perhaps Honoured Enemy) that previously had only wars driven by mortals. All of a sudden, I felt like I wanted to roll my eyes. Why couldn’t mortals have their own wars driven by greed and whatever mortal concerns? Why do wars have to be ultimately driven by immortals? Those were my thoughts. 

To be honest, I think why this happened was because why I was drawn to Feist in the first place was his motivation for the Riftwar that differed from the normal good/evil struggle. So to have it emerge later that actually wars ultimately could be traced back to Gods took away that appeal for me. And the other reason could be that his series had also lost a lot of the original appeals for me by the time the ‘new reveal’ happened. As wont to happen for a multi-series based on a single setting, you no longer can read about many of the side characters that you were once very attached to. So all in all, I decided to say farewell to Feist, who still remained as one of my 5-stars with his previous works. 

Now, how about all of you? What are some of your pet peeves with fantasy?

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- June 2020

Desecration by J.F Penn

I think it’s a solid work, with a clipping pace and it’s a nice plot-driven detective mystery which is always to my preference. The book delves into a very dark theme but that’s okay, I can handle it.

A murder was announced by Christie Agatha

As a Christie Agatha mystery, I think it’s a solid work. That means short chapters, a clipping pace and a classical plot with a twist. And I think that’s enough said. 

Terrier by Tamora Pierce

I read Bloodhound first and liked it and always meant to read the rest of the series and that’s how I came to pick this up- book 1 of the Beka Cooper series. I’m not disappointed with Beka (somehow I only like about half of Pierce’s main characters, Beka happens to be one of them) and the diary structure works fine with the book.

Taken by the Flood by Christie Agatha

I’m a bit dumbfounded as I’m writing this because now my impression of this book is completely taken up by how apt this book is titled- the original quote from which the title is taken is explained in the story (quite naturally) and that’s all I could think of now. But overall I liked the story. 

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu 

I am still reading this right now. This is my second go at it- when I read it last year, the Japanese sounding character names made me jump out of the story and I could not quite get into the main character for the series (my interest lay in the other key characters). I think to sum it up, I felt alienated, as a Chinese who knew about the rough historical details on which this book was based, reading it. 

This time I started by skipping over the first couple chapters that I’ve read before and I think I’m fine. I still get bored for about 1 chapter early on where the events in the novel completely coincided with real history with only a minor spin on it to suit the story. But I think the story grew on me as it unfolds. You will get to hear more about the book in my Sept book discovery.

Sidecast Fascination

Personally, I have got a fascination with sidecast, sometimes even more than the main characters. This is true whether I’m reading/writing a book or watching a TV series. But I will focus on books for this post since I exclusively watch Chinese TV (used to be Hong Kong TV cos that’s where I came from, now mainland Chinese because HK TV had become so crap, rant for another day) even though I live in Australia. 

Now, in terms of my sidecast fascination, I’ve realised that it seems to be predominantly with particular characters archetypes as opposed to specific characters (well, occasionally I like a few that doesn’t fall into the pattern below due to the writer’s skills, I presume). They are, in order of preference:

  1. grumpy female mentor figures (what I come to call auntly): Examples include Aunt Pol (Polgara) from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean and Rosethorn from the Circle Universe setting of Tamora Pierce. For my own work, I had an aunt/mentor figure that I was particularly fond of for that Genghis Khan novel that I abandoned. 
  2. The charming rogue trope: to be honest, I don’t like to read stories where the charming rogue is the protagonist. I don’t think I had ever really bonded to any rogue protagonist ever. But I definitely remember liking a couple of this well-used trope in fantasy, most notably Jimmy the Hand from the Riftwar and Serpentwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist and Silk from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malleorean. For my own writing, I haven’t yet written a story featuring such a sidecast yet. 
  3. The quirky character: I like them as protagonists as well as sidecasts. I might be remiss but the only example I could remember is Nakor from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar, Serpentwar etc. 

Now, what about everyone else? Who are the most fascinating sidecasts you’ve read to date? Let me know in comments. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- March 2020

I’ve been slacking off in reading published books due partially to the ease of phone reading on the train but also due to some weird conflict between fantasy reading and writing that’s unique to me. Besides the completed reads, I also tried to read The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu but decided I would have a second try this year. I also did not finish the Dragonbone Chair and the associated trilogy as I had intended. I don’t yet have plans to have another go at it in the immediate term. But I do think it’s worth returning to eventually. 

Anyway, below is what I’ve read between July 2019 to now:

Death at the Wychebourne Follies by Amy Myers

I didn’t guess the culprit so that’s good. Otherwise, a little on the cozy side which is not really my thing but overall, solid work.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

This is my 2nd Battle and I still like it a fair bit, not as well as I like my first but it’s still got an interesting lead and I didn’t guess the ending which is always what I’m looking for.

Dreamers’ Pool by Juliet Marrilier 

I almost thought I picked up the wrong genre (romantic fantasy or fantasy romance) again. But actually, while it is a fantasy where romance figures heavily into the main plot, I am relieved and pleasantly surprised that it went beyond that. In fact, this is the ‘perfect’ book of light reading for me featuring magic and mystery and a strong female main character that I can relate to.