September 2017 Reads

Wow, I think I made a reading record last month. 6 books! I’m notorious for being a slow reader, but I don’t know what I happened… I blew through 4 large books and 2 smaller ones.

7908762Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

This book got me out of my reading slump. It’s about a noble girl who lived most of her life in exile, until her father died and she was brought back to court life. As someone who is an elemental mage, she holds a lot of power and soon she finds herself embroiled in intrigue.

I love how character-centric this was. Even though much of the plot isn’t action-oriented, I was always wondering what’s going to happen to Zoe next. Zoe was a likeable character, though I think for a character-oriented book, it kind of lacked a character arc. I don’t think Zoe became a better person in any way, even though people warned her that her power might harm others. She was always reckless with it, and there was a distinct lack of repercussions after her destructiveness in the climax. If anything, her self-assuredness and her time away from court enabled her to not care about things some people have to just to survive in a place crawling with intrigue. And then she shames them for caring. I mean, they weren’t very nice people either, so maybe they deserve it, but this is definitely one of “those” books where an outsider girl is not like those “other” girls, you know what I mean?

Also, one of the plot twists that I was afraid of happening happened in the last 5 pages of the book, which was… erm, a let down. So overall, I enjoyed this book lots except for a few parts, and thank it very much for pulling me out of my reading slump.

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Brown Skin, White Minds by E.J.R. David

This is another research book I read to help me with my original project. It’s a highly recommended item for Filipino research, but I didn’t pick it up for the longest time because my focus is on precolonial Philippines, whereas this looks at postcolonial. Anyway, here’s my review from Goodreads:

I decided to pick up this book because I thought that although my project is on precolonial peoples, my audience is not. It’s important for me to know what issues are relevant in today’s postcolonial society, so that I can at least be sensitive about it in my project.

This book gave me a lot of reassurance that my experience is not by any means a singularity. Apparently they’re very prevalent. I think this is where the book shines: it shows psychological studies on colonial mentality and also paves a way on how to deal with it. I especially liked the chapter where the empirical studies were shown. Unfortunately there was a chapter or two on theoretical postulation that I think would have benefited greatly from some empirical data; as it is, those chapters had a lot of “may cause” or “might influence” wordings that don’t have a lot of data to back the theories. This book also frequently reads like a school paper, which might be understandable, seeing that the author is a scholar. But the wordings tend to be repetitive and paragraphs seem to say the same things over and over. I think the author was overly cautious that something might be taken out of context.

18270942Why We Fail by Victor Lombardi

Okay, this one is for school. We were asked to review a business book, and this was one of the few books that caught my interest in the pre-selected list.

This book looks at products that failed due to terrible user experience. Overall, I found the book to be quite bloggish. Each of the case studies was interesting in and of itself, but I was expecting a little more from a book compilation. I was hoping for some cohesive and unified lesson that could be applied to the next business venture, but there wasn’t really anything like that. Some things that caused the failure of one product would be the cause of success for another. So it doesn’t really leave you with any kind of applicable knowledge. The only thing I liked was the suggestion of using the scientific method.

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The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

I rarely ever read romance, and this is one of the few times that I did. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

This is one of the rare times I make a foray into the romance genre. While I’ve read a few romance books before, I’ve mostly stayed away for two, perhaps petty, reasons. A) I don’t like large age gaps, which seems to be the staple of the genre, and B) to say that I dislike rakes is a gross understatement. I picked up this book because miraculously it has neither. I actually saw the book recommended on a Tumblr post about romance unicorns.

And what a book it was! I can only compare to the handful of romance books I’ve read previously, but this one is a lot more nuanced and complex than the others. Now don’t get me wrong. I love escapism and brain candy as much as any other person — my favourite genre does happen to be fantasy, after all. But there are only so many impossibilities that an illusion can uphold before the entire thing loses its magic, even moreso when it’s not supposed to be fantasy.

This book has so many threads in it that were all equally fascinating. Even the romance seemed to take a step back to other themes like family, wealth and ambition. The story of Minnie’s past was honestly so unique and creative, now I’m wanting an adventure book based on a twelve-year-old prodigy.

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Ah, I love fantasy books like this! I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now but I’ve just been swarmed with books on my TBR.

Kell Maresh is an Antari, a person who can travel between different worlds. One day he was framed to smuggle in a powerful object into his world. Piggybacking on his travels is petty thief Lila Bard. Together, they try to prevent the destruction that the smuggled object will cause.

This is a fun adventure book, and I love the two main protagonists. I’m still not too keen on the perfect prince, but we’ll see if I get to know him better in the following books. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that it was too short! Good thing there’s 2 more books in the series, which I’m looking forward to reading.

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Ah, this is one of those books that everybody has been talking about but I wasn’t really interested in picking up until two of my friends told me it is really good. Needless to say it deserves all the hype it got, because man, this is a stellar example of great fantasy writing.

Kaz and his band of thieves are hired to retrieve a prisoner from one of the toughest prisons for a hefty price. However, everyone’s got baggage, and they just might kill each other. Heh. Bad plot summary, because the plot itself is too smart for a summary.

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August Artwork

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After writing every day during Camp NaNoWriMo in July, I really took the time to focus on art in August. Considering that it usually takes me 2 weeks to make a complete artwork, I think having finished four is good turnout for me. It’s a mix of fanart for The Queen’s Thief series as well as my original project.

Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi

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Okay, I am so excited to review this book. This is the sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, which is also the the basis of the anime, Seirei no Moribito. I read the book and I watched the anime back in 2015, and I fell completely in love with both. I got distracted since then, which was why it took me so long to pick this book up even though I bought both books at the same time. I really regret it, because… you guys… this book is beyond amazing!

Overview

After the events of Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa decides to return to her homeland of Kanbal, from which she and her foster-father were forced to escape due to a cruel conspiracy by the late King Rogsam. She wishes to find closure from her past and believes that returning to her homeland to find it is the best idea. However, upon her return, she finds herself once again entangled in another conspiracy, possibly still a continuation of the one that had led to her flee in the first place.

Rating: 5/5

My Thoughts

Oh my gosh, you guys. I really want to applaud this book for not shying away from really tough situations. I’m not talking about X-rated, cover-your-eyes type of situations, but complicated themes like death, revenge, shame and honour. I know that these themes already often occur in books that are geared for older audiences, but it seems that because they occur so often, they are rarely relegated sufficient thought and exploration. However in this book, you really get to see how these themes affect a person’s humanity.

What I love about this book first and foremost is the clever political intrigue. There was political intrigue in the first book as well, but this took it to an entire level altogether. Everyone was so smart, and you can feel the motivations of the characters, even those who had been corrupted by the first conspiracy.

The second thing I love about this book is the emotions. It might use simple, middle-grade level vocabulary to communicate, but oh man, that does not at all prevent the emotions from coming through. I was sitting on the train yesterday to work and trying not to cry during the climax because of that heart-breaking plot twist.

Ah yes, the plot twist. The plot twist that was foreshadowed from the very first chapter and yet I still completely MISSED until I was reading it. I could feel my heart stop. And I just want to bawl my eyes out. Oh Balsa. Poor, poor Balsa and poor, poor Jiguro.

Just like in the first book, the magic in this book does not really follow a system. It’s based on tradition and what “experts” in the magic tell you, and you must take it at face value. As someone who loves magic systems, this kind of magic is a little underwhelming, but you can tell that the story isn’t *about* the magic. It’s about the people who are just trying to make the best of their circumstances, and if those circumstances happen to deal with magic, so be it.

This book follows the same bittersweet ending that the first book did. Balsa may have accomplished her goal, but sometimes she needs to leave good friends behind and go on to a different adventure. She is such a lonesome soul, I really want to know if she can find a place she can comfortably call home.

The only thing I really, really missed in this book was Tanda, her friend from the first book. Tanda was my favourite in the first book. However, that said, it was very heartwarming to see Balsa think of Tanda whenever she needed hope and warmth. It broke my heart when she thought of visiting him as a spirit in case she dies. I just… these two just need to get together already!

Writing Woes: My Bad Habits as a Fanfiction Writer

It’s July! That means it’s Camp NaNoWriMo! So far, I’ve been lucky to find the time to write so that I am, on average, hitting my word and plot goals. This month I plan to finish off the first draft to my novel, and I’m trying to do that in around 50,000 words.

The first two times that I participated in NaNoWriMo (the official one last November, and the camp version in April), I tried to employ the techniques I used as a fanfiction writer to churn out enough words and get my story moving. As you know, I have been writing fanfiction for 13 years, so I thought that if I had been able to write for that long, then I must have been doing something right.

I don’t think I was wrong in assuming that. But I think I was wrong in thinking that all the techniques I used to spin out story after story would apply to original fiction. Comparing how much better I’m doing in my third NaNoWriMo than the first two, I think I’ve sorted out which habits I used for fanfiction that aren’t translating very well to my original story.

1. Show, Don’t Tell

Yup, you read that right. This is such a common advice for making your story better all the time, but I find that this isn’t the case for me. At least, it isn’t the case right now in my first draft.

I know why people duke out this advice frequently. I’ve read my fair share of books that just aren’t immersive. The best reading experience is when you feel, as a reader, that you’re part of the world you’re reading. To give this experience, writers must “show, not tell.”

The catch with this advice is that, IMHO, you really should not be showing all the time. This is a technique that I used as a fanfiction writer so that I could churn out those 15,000 word chapters that are so popular in fandoms. The more words you write, the more material your readers can engage in. That’s what they like. And fanfiction chapters are no big commitment to readers; they’ll gobble the stuff up at midnight, and wait (impatiently or patiently) for the next chapter.

So to beef up my chapters, I used to show everything. A character walking up the stairs? Yup, I’ll show how he took one step and the next, and I’ll probably describe what kind of internal conflict is prancing to the beat of those steps. I once read a fanfiction that described someone slipping and falling in so much detail, that it took more time for me to read the passage than for the character to fall.

While I think this is excusable in fanfiction, in the first draft of my original story I realized that it’s holding me back. When I need to advance the plot in the grand scheme of my story, does it really matter what the characters are eating for breakfast and how they’re eating it and what they think about it? Do I really need to spend a page describing said breakfast? Because really, that’s what showing means. Showing is supposed to bring the readers along for the ride, and how can readers be immersed in the experience of breakfast if I don’t describe it?

The thing about writing that I’m discovering rather quickly is that not everything is important. If something is not going to make a very big impact in your book, or it’s not going to advance the plot or the characterization in some way, it’s probably best if you keep it out. Hence, it’s totally okay to just say, “Bob and Bill had breakfast, and then drove away.”

Because this is an advcie that I see everywhere, I’m still trying to get used to the idea that I can just “tell.” But for the first draft, I know that I can always plump up my scenes later after I’ve established what exactly is important or not.

2. Resort to Introspection

I love, love, love introspective fanfictions. All those times we’ve wondered what a character was actually thinking in a particular scene? Or perhaps I’m reading an AU and I want to see how their mind works in this new world? I’m game! Introspection is one of my indulgent guilty-pleasures.

So naturally when I write, I tend to resort to introspective scenes quite often. I do it primarily to fill up my word count in a show-y kind of way (as I mentioned above), but I also do it to open the characters’ minds up to the readers. My one-shots are usually full of introspection; my multi-chaptered fanfictions that have overarching plots have less introspection, but they are still noticeably there.

And here’s why I think too many introspective passages won’t work so well in original fiction: you want to leave some of those inner dialogue up to the reader. There’s a reason why I’m attracted to introspective fanfiction, and it’s because I didn’t get them in the canon material. But depending on what kind of story you’re writing, the main job of the canon material is to tell that story effectively in a limited number of space; the thing is, you’re not always going to have the luxury of giving a blow-by-blow account of what your character is thinking, and chances are, there are more important parts to the story you should be writing instead. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am primarily geared towards character-driven stories moreso than plot-driven ones. All I’m saying is that we don’t always need to be in their minds all the time. Sometimes, it’s sufficient to just see through their eyes.

That said, I totally understand that there are novels out there whose primary job is to get us into a character’s head. Mrs Dalloway, anyone? But considering that I’m writing a children’s fantasy adventure story, there are other things that I might need to be developing.

(Late reminder, but from now on, when I say “story,” assume I’m talking about genre fiction at the very least, or more specifically, fantasy fiction.)

3. Write 10,000 word chapters

As a natural result of the first two, my stories tend to have extremely long chapters. Each of my fanfiction chapters have at least 3 scenes in it, whereas a typical chapter in a real book probably deals with only one scene at a time (not all, but mostly).

I realized how much this held me back in writing my original story, because I wouldn’t feel comfortable ending a chapter within, say, 1000 words even though I’ve already written what needed to happen in that scene. And I’d go, “How can I make this longer?” And so I would resort to #1 and #2. That meant I was spending time not advancing the story in any meaningful way. Ironically, because I was so used to padding my chapters with #1 and #2, I didn’t think about writing more effective scenes in their places. I would feel “stuck” on a chapter, because that other scene that would advance the plot obviously belonged to the next chapter, and I would keep postponing it. Terrible habit.

4. Take Weeks To Write a Chapter

And this definitely follows from the first three. As a fanfiction writer, I set my goal for finishing each chapter within two weeks. For 10,000 words this seemed reasonable, especially because I’m a commuter and I work full-time. But sometimes, even when nothing is happening in a chapter, I would wait out those two weeks and try to churn something.

It took me a while to convince myself that I absolutely don’t need to spend two weeks on a chapter. I could write whatever I can today, and if tomorrow I feel like there’s nothing left in a chapter to work on, I could move on.


Well, when I started this last week, I think I had more example of bad habits on my mind. Now that I am finishing up, I realize I can’t think of anymore. So why don’t I take some advice from myself, and it this post right here? =)

2017 May Reads

Alright, in an effort to liven up this blog from my incessant writing woes posts, I’m going to take a moment to talk about some of the books I’ve read this month so far. I think if I read really quickly, I might be able to read one more book before the month is up.

27833542 Story Genius by Lisa Cron

I’ve been having a lot of difficulty writing the first draft of my story, mostly because I had a hard time really writing from any of my characters’ perspectives. This book was recommended to me in response to that.

I think the most valuable lesson I learned in this book is how every story that captivates readers sufficiently is ultimately a character-driven story. I’ve read many writing books before, and some of them distinguish between “plot-driven” and “character-driven” stories. In Story Genius, Lisa Cron explains why any kind of meaningful story is actually character-driven, no matter if the plot has tons of exciting things going on.

I know, it’s not a ground-breaking concept. Even in my own reading experience, I tend to gravitate towards books where I sympathized with characters the most. And I think her explanation brings home why this is so: an event in a story (in other words, the actual plot) has very little meaning unless the character gives us a context in which to make sense of that event. So really, even your most plot-driven story, if it’s good, is actually anchored by the protagonist.

Other than that, I feel like this book doesn’t offer anything else that is truly unique that sets it apart from other writing books. I think if you’ve read other writing books before, the bulk of the book after the first several chapters would feel achingly familiar. I’ve also seen other reviewers point out that they would have liked to see actual neuroscience explored in this book. I have to agree that the title and subtitle give off a more scientific vibe than what I got. Most of the time, the author would only say things like, “it’s brain science!” or “our brains are wired to look for this and that.” Now, while that was sufficient for me, because all I wanted was to learn writing techniques, I can understand why others might be frustrated about it.

The Queen’s Thief Books 4 & 5 by Megan Whalen Turner

It’s difficult for me to review these books, because there’s just so much to say. I feel like I’m not going to say anything that haven’t been said before, which is unfortunate, because this series is my absolute favourite, and I feel as if I should be able to say something more personal about it. But I can’t, not succinctly anyway.

In A Conspiracy of Kings, we follow Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, as he is sold into slavery by rebels. This book is my 2nd most frequently reread book in the entire series (yes, even more so than The Queen of Attolia, which I know is the favourite of many many fans of the series). But there’s something about Sophos’s character that just calls to me. I mean, Eugenides is impressive and amazing and I love reading about his tricks and cleverness. But Sophos feels so much more human in comparison, and more relatable in that aspect. His earnestness and even his naivety made me root for him throughout his entire journey. And I feel that because he doesn’t begin as this awe-inspiring figure in the same way Eugenides had always been, Sophos’s character arc then becomes more pronounced. The climax of this book is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, and I almost keeled over seeing how Sophos maneuvered the difficulties of his situation.

Thick As Thieves is the much awaited fifth book of the Queen’s Thief series. Similar to the two previous books, we have a brand new protagonist in this book: Kamet. Many people would remember Kamet from his little stint in The Queen of Attolia as the slave and secretary of the antagonist, Nahuseresh. Thick as Thieves follow Kamet’s adventure as his life as a slave is turned upside-down when he finds himself fleeing for his life from the Mede Empire. This book echoes The Thief moreso than the other three books in narration style and the types of plot twists present in the story. Much of the book is about the adventure, and there is very little political intrigue, unlike in QoA, KoA and ACoK. Since this is just my first time reading this book (and I’m sure that like the other books in the series, this one can only get better in rereads), I have to say I’m a little underwhelmed by Kamet as a protagonist. I think I say this, because I read TaT almost as soon as I finished ACoK. And like I said above, Sophos is so, so dear to my heart, and Kamet just had very big shoes to fill. I found myself reading more for the sake of Kamet’s companion (I believe it’s a spoiler if I reveal who it is), than I did for Kamet’s sake. That said, I believe that eventually I’d warm up to Kamet like I did to Costis in KoA.

2017 Jan – Apr Books Read So Far

Ahh, well, I guess my plan of getting back into writing book reviews in the new year sort of fell through. That’s okay though, here’s a combined post of everything I’ve read so far.

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The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
This one is a reread. The Queen’s Thief series is my favourite book series ever, but the last time I read this book was a few years ago. Because of the new installment in the series next month, I’ve joined the read-along over at Sounis.

The Thief of Eddis is captured by the Queen of Attolia when he was spying for his queen. After suffering a cruel punishment, Eugenides struggles with his identity amidst the onslaught of war and the possibility of… uhm, I don’t want to spoil it for you guys. This is a terrible overview of the plot, but each book in the Queen’s Thief series in general is difficult to summarize, because of the risk of revealing crucial plot twists.

Since my last reread, I’ve forgotten much of the intricacies of the plot. That’s why it’s probably not much of a shock that I found myself reacting to Attolia in much the same way I initially reacted to her. I hated her at first, and then by the end of the book, I just wanted to cuddle her up. I think it’s a testament to Turner’s amazing writing skills that I could undergo this transformation as a reader, not just once, but twice.

The Reader by Traci Chee
I reviewed this book in this other blog post.

Continue reading “2017 Jan – Apr Books Read So Far”