Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- September 2016

I didn’t read much between the last Book Discovery post and this one because first I was engaged with the epub and now I am contemplating a slow transition towards being a FT writer on my own. So fiction has been pushed out of the way as you can see below.

Third Girl by Agatha Christie
As per usual, I was tricked and I must say I’m one of the ones who like being tricked by a mystery and that’s part of the reason why I personally think Christie mysteries are purer than contemporary mystery. While they tend to be more character driven than Christie’s, I at least feel that the flatness in some of the plots I’ve encountered goes directly counter to what I really enjoy about a mystery. Then again, that’s just me.

The Courage to Be Creative: How to Believe in Yourself, Your Dreams and Ideas, and Your Creative Career Path by Doreen Virtue
Absolutely what I need if my doubts ever kick in about being a writer, highly inspirational despite the fact that I don’t have any spiritual beliefs and have a need to translate all the author’s references to divineness into something else but that doesn’t harm the value I took out from this book. I gave this 5 stars on Amazon ultimately because this book made me realise that I actually have far more courage than I gave myself credit for.

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron
I’m yet to test all the advice contained here but they speak of common sense to me and I think the overall book has good utility value. I didn’t get this book entertaining notions that it would contain ground breaking advice so I wasn’t disillusioned as one review I read on Amazon seemed to indicate the reader was. Also, I think I share with Rachel a tendency towards planning as opposed to winging it (but I do some winging in my writing, it’s just that I never actually start writing one word on MS word without some planning first no matter how rudimentary) so some of her approach are already part of my own modus operandi but I did pick up procedures that seem more safe-proof against dead corners.

Write The Fight Right by Alan Baxter
This is actually a reference given to me by my friend Darcy Conroy when I was going insane with the revision of the fight scene in Thread part 2 that was published in issue 2 of Excursions. I flipped through it quickly and I think it’s actually more useful for empty-handed combat which wasn’t what I needed but I still took away some useful things about writing fight scenes from this book. Plus, it’s a quick read, contains a list of important points aka cheat sheets at the end and contains an example written by the author.

Angels Astrology 101: Discover the Angles connected with your Birth Chart by Doreen Virtue
I flipped through this and took down descriptions for myself, family and friends on an idle night. It seems pretty interesting to compare what this books says about particular people and my own perception of them. I bought this from Amazon Kindle thinking that it could potentially be useful for characterisation and I think it will be when I’m stuck which I often am for making up characters.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- June 2016

Due to my involvement with the ePub, I had mainly been reading short stories or Agatha Christie mysteries.

Short story collections

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip

I like her prose which belongs to the flowing school, what others potentially call verbose. I’m generally a fan of such a style and that’s the main reason I’m such a die-hard fan of Tolkien. Btw, to me, Tolkien is not verbose, it could be lengthy, yes, but the words are well spent because they convey very evocative images of the atmosphere. But then again, that’s just my personal opinion.

A couple of the stories contain elements of female-centred romance at their core which I’m not such a fan of despite my own gender. I love fantasy because of the opportunities they provide me to get immersed in awesome lore and otherworldly culture. In particular, epic fantasy is my one true love because I have a bit of a philosophical bending and I love to read about human truisms reflected in the action of characters in an epic fantasy. But overall I still the writing style of the author. It’s a pity, though, that I won’t be able to read more of her work since my local library doesn’t stock any of her standalone novels or series.

 

Prickle Moon by Juliet Marilllier

Not that I can pinpoint exactly why but the writing style of the author doesn’t really captivate me in a general sense. There are a few stories among the 14 here that I like but mostly I’m quite indifferent to most in this collection.

 

Hall of the Lost Footsteps by Sara Douglas

What makes an impact on me from this short story collection isn’t any story included in it but rather a piece include from this deceased author’s blog entry titled “The Silence of the Dying”. I would highly recommend that people look it up just to get a very relevant perspective on how our society is get shaped into.

 

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

I like this translated work mainly cos it stars the separate adventures of a single protagonist and thereby I get to read up on a bunch of related stories. This is probably more my idiosyncrasy as a reader cos I tend to enjoy longer works that allows me greater immersion into one setting.

 

Elric of Melnibone and Other Short stories by Michael Moorcock

At first, I feel a little weird about this book because in one of the short standalone story early on, the author keep putting in all these side-line notes to his illustrator or whoever that he gets from his background as a comic writer that continuously pull me out of the moment. But I really like the novella in here. In particular, I like the setting very much. The main character Elric I’m okay with it in the sense that I think he has interesting dynamics but I’m not crazy about him.

 

Crossroads and other Tales of Valdemar edited by Mercedes Lackey

A little surprisingly, I find that overall I enjoy this short story collection which I originally felt was leaning too much on the YA side and plus I previously read another of Mercedes’ work in a short story collection containing three pieces by three different authors and I don’t particularly enjoy her writing style nor despise it. But I find that the pieces actually included aren’t too childish for my taste at all and as is my wont, I really like inter-related stories whether through the same characters or the same setting. I won’t say any particular story is spectacularly written but there are a few that I think are solid pieces of work.

 

Novels

It’s been an Agatha Christie period for me since I want to do light reading only. And I realised after I got back into her work that really I think I wronged her a little when previously I wrote about her in Moonlake’s Reading Tastes and that’s because back then, I haven’t read her for a while and really forgotten about how she’s like as an author. But really, I think she deserves to be known as the Queen of Crime because her books are plot-centric and I personally feel that plot-centric mysteries are the ‘pure type of mysteries’ that I really enjoy as opposed to work by newer authors that are character driven. That’s my own reader taste but there it is.

 

I read the following books by her (or based upon her work):

Poirot Investigates

This is a collection of a bunch of cases starring Poirot. Pretty good light reading.

 

Unexpected Guest

This is a novelisation of her theatrical play so technically it’s not by her. But the author didn’t do a bad work in my opinion. I didn’t like the end as being too melodramatic and suddenly turning in the direction of a love drama but I can see that it would potentially have great impact in the theatre. After all, that’s what the story was originally written for.

 

Death on the Nile

Her classic big surprise at the end got me and I’m the type of reader who is glad of such a thing. Not one of her work that I really admire but not bad. Plus it taught me a little trick of how to bring in pitch into dialogue.

 

They came to Baghdad

I rather like her description of Baghdad and I actually got a good picture in my head of how it was like in her era though that is partly attributable to the fact that I’m Chinese. Plot-wise, had a few pleasant surprises for me but it’s another one of hers that I sorta liked but don’t really love.

 

Incomplete Reading

Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin

A short story collection based on the theme of warriors but spanning across genres. I tend to like the stories contained in this volume a fair bit compared to all the others I had actually finished above. I actually find two female authors that I would rather like to follow, Robin Hobb being one. I didn’t finish it but I will re-borrow from my local library at a later point in time.

 

The Inheritance by Megan Lindholm & Robin Hobb

I only got to the Megan stories and didn’t really enjoy them. They are still solid pieces of work but still don’t speak to me as a reader. Didn’t get to the Hobb stories and so another tagged for re-borrowing.

 

The Mistborn #1 by Brandon Sanderson

I got high recommendation for this series from multiple sources but apparently I don’t really like Brandon’s writing style. Or actually, I should say I don’t really like his writing style for the main text, I rather enjoyed the snippets he put before the start of his Chapter to do with world lore. I only got to Chapter 8 or thereabouts and really, I felt like I was reading a new form of spy thriller/fantasy. Then again, I’ve been addicted to Mainland Chinese TV drama of spy thrillers and maybe I was just seeing everything from a spy thriller lens.

Overall, not sure whether I will re-read this but might if I become desperate of having a fantasy series to read.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- December 2015

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

 

Gaming/plot-your-own books

  • 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:

Standalones:

  • 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).

 

Gaming books

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.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- May 2015

I’m going out tomorrow so posting in advance again. As I promised, this will be about the books I’ve read in the last 3 months and what I thought about them. For my new followers, I don’t do book reviews per se because I’m not really objective as a reader of books in general. I can appreciate good writing but as a rule, a book either chimes with me on a personal level or it doesn’t so my bookish posts are what I call “quick and dirty summaries of my thoughts on series, standalone books and authors”.

The actual books that would be covered in this post include:

  • The boy with the porcelain blade by Den Patrick
  • Giant Thief by David Tallerman
  • The Tower and Knife trilogy by Marzarkis Williams
  • The Murder of Roger Ackryod by Agatha Christie
  • The Enchanted by Rene Denfield

Here’s what I thought about each of them:

  • The boy with the porcelain blade- to be honest, I’m sort of indifferent about it on a personal level. It is an okay read in general and it’s the first book of a series but I don’t think I’m too keen to follow the actual series, preferring to be done with the book as a standalone. That, however, is not to say that Den Patrick’s writing style is bad. Even though the story is only set in a castle, I don’t feel the underlying world being ‘constricted’ in any sense (which is what I hate in a fantasy story). Also, I do feel that it is interesting that he had decided to tell the story in alternating chapters that go between the present and the past. As for the effect of this storytelling method… well, I can only say that I personally feel that it has been a hit-and-miss. At some points, I feel that it worked really well, the chapter that delved into the past added an extra layer of depth when put together with the previous chapter on what’s happening in the present. At other times, I could see no clear link between the two consecutive chapters on different timelines so then the chapter on the past becomes a kind of annoying obstacle to the sequences of events unfolding in the present that you want to follow. So overall, I would really prefer that the chapters on the past are put in sparingly rather than the current alternate chapter structure. The story itself features some detailed scenes of swordplay, a few mysteries as the plot progresses, light brushes of politics at intervals and a kind of dark gothic feel.
  • Giant Thief-  A good light read for me, quite fast-paced, starring a typical rogue (a thief) as the protagonist and his adventures after stealing a giant to earn his freedom from forceful conscription into the army
  • Tower and Knife- it has been an interesting read for me since it is my first-time exposure to the ‘grim fantasy’ niche. It definitely tells a layered story in that in each book of the series, the protagonists face a different enemy but the underlying source of the threat (pattern magic) remains the same and in each book, some extra layer(s) of truth about this underlying threat is revealed. Such layering also happens at the level of individual character actions. All in all, I quite like such a layered story telling approach. Also, I feel that each book of this series can be read as a standalone as in each book, new character perspectives are presented which is something new to me and I find that quite interesting. Of course, I prefer to read the trilogy all together as I did because of the layering and in general I’m just more used to fantasy trilogies that “hang together”. But as I’ve alluded to before, I always need periods of “light reading” after a good fantasy series that I really sink into. While this series is definitely not light reading in terms of content, this relatively standalone nature of the books in this series is good for any fantasy readers who doesn’t feel like being drawn into an actual trilogy/quartet/quintet etc.
  • Murder of R.A- a quite unique twist in terms of the culprit and by quite unique, I mean that I think I’ve read another book of hers where she did the same thing. This copy at my local library includes a foreword and afterword by Laura Thompson who is a biographer of Christie and in my opinion, reading them in addition to the actual story not only gives you more insights into Christie as a person and her conceptualisation of the book but is an enjoyable experience in and of itself.
  • The Enchanted- I forgot about it when I did my post on unusual reads. I actually didn’t pick this book on my own but because I joined a book club and it was designated as the book of the month. The story is set at a death cell prison, with the narrator being a death-row prisoner observing about the blossoming love between a ‘fallen priest” as he calls him who works at the prison and a lady who works to help death-row prisoners get a kind of re-assessment (or get clear) before they are due to be executed (I don’t know the actual technical term for it, this is what it roughly is in my own words). There’s some beautiful prose in this book but more, I like the fact that it tells of a lot of disturbing events but doesn’t tell it in a very sentimental way that gives the readers emotional baggage.

I have the following books currently borrowed but haven’t started to read yet:

  • The Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
  • A Dreadful Murder by Minette Walters

Going forward, I have the following books marked on my reading list, not in any particular order (all of them available at my local library):

  • The Noble Warriors trilogy by William Nicholson (YA)
  • The Desert of Souls by Howard A. Jones (historical fantasy mystery)
  • People of the Weeping Eye by Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear (historical fantasy)
  • Shadow’s Son and Shadow’s Lure by Jon Spurk
  • Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan historical fantasy mystery)
  • Keith McCarthy mystery books

I have scrapped both the Imriel trilogy by Carey Jacqueline and Ian Irvine’s trilogy off my reading list, the former because only book 2 is accessible to me and the latter because my fellow Strolenati told me that the it was no good (he said that Ian Irvine doesn’t seem like a bad writer but it looked like he was writing according to trend, resulting in the creation of one-dimensionality on a grand scale). I’m contemplation about the Mistborn trilogy from Brandon Sanderson because somehow my local library only has the first book of the trilogy in English but instead has the full trilogy in Chinese. While Chinese is my mother language, I never has a thing for translated books (I read some of the world classics in childhood which includes Pride and Prejudice and reading it again in English as part of high school literature analysis really drove home to me how much loss occurs in translations). On the other hand, I have read multiple positive reviews about the series so now I’m of two minds on it.

That’s all for books for May. Stay tuned for the recurrence of this post on the first Monday of August.

P.S. This is the second long-read that I’ve written and I’m still surprised by it.