September 2018 Reads

I didn’t do very well this month! I thought I was going to be on a roll, considering the momentum I built up in August, but events from real life interfered quite a bit.

I only finished one book this month.

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It’s no secret that Megan Whalen Turner is one of my favourite authors, so it’s actually surprising that it took me so long to read this book. Instead of Three Wishes is an anthology of short stories. Other than the Queen’s Thief series, this is the only other publication that MWT has. I’m not used to reading something from her that isn’t about Queen’s Thief, so I wondered how well I would get into it.

I shouldn’t have worried at all! Megan Whalen Turner is such an impressive writer that she can write about anything and still grab my attention! The thing about her writing is that it has such a compelling voice; it really pulls you in. She never gets in the way of her own story.

Each story in this anthology has a different flavour, a different atmosphere. The Baker King is probably the most similar to her Queen’s Thief series. I found the story about the selkie really haunting for some reason, as well as the one about the ghosts who were reading (didn’t expect that certain ending from MWT). Oh, and I really like The Nightmare as well. It’s about a bully named Kevin who becomes cursed with nightmares where he sees the events of his day from the perspective of people he interacted with, and he feels their emotions towards him. It’s a really different kind of story from the ones that are popular today, where most of the time protagonists achieve their character arcs by finally deciding they don’t care about what people think (alternatively, stories like Nosedive from Black Mirror show negative character arcs by demonstrating what happens when you continue to care about what people think). I think it’s refreshing to find a story that sends a message that sometimes taking into account other people’s opinions of you can make you a better person.

Anyway, if there’s anything I learned from reading this book, it’s that I will read whatever Megan Whalen Turner writes.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

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I know it might come as a surprise to many people when I confess that this is the first time I’m reading Harry Potter. HP is such a staple in children’s fantasy, which is one of my favourite genres (probably the most). But the way circumstances would have it, I only picked up the series a couple of weeks ago.

I’ll keep this review brief, because I think everyone by now is familiar with the series.

Needless to say, I enjoyed it. It was a lot more whimsical that I thought it would be. I did see 6 out of 8 movies, and I had the impression the books would be as dark and mysterious as the movies made the story seem to be. But I think it’s a lot more like Diana Wynne Jones’s books than anything. It’s got a very endearing quality to it, and I’m not surprised at all why so many people fell in love with the book.

I found the characters to be slightly different in the book than they were in the movies. I felt as if the movie got one dimension of their characterization right, but the book gave such great nuances that the movies didn’t have time to show off. Harry, for example, was a lot sassier than he was in the movies. Ron was a lot funnier, although I do remember Rupert Grint making me laugh hysterically when I watched the films as a kid. Hermione was so intense; she was really milking the smarty-pants stereotype so hard, I couldn’t even find her annoying for it. And Neville! Whoa, I was surprised how much screen time Neville got. He was always that outlying character in the movies, but here, the gang really seemed more like a quad than a trio. I have a feeling I’m going to really love Neville even more in the following books.

Overall, I feel like I understood the story better now. As a kid, I never quite knew what was going on — only that there were things going on with Harry and he needed to fix them, hehe.

Gap Books

I saw this today over at Shannon Hale’s twitter:

Please read the entire thread! It touches upon some important issues I feel strongly about in the children and YA publishing industry.

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: Somebody’s Getting Axed

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Well, I think I’m realizing more and more how isolating an endeavour writing can be. Considering how many times I’ve fallen into writing angst in the past several months, I think it’s safe to say that I’m far from the image of the highly energetic, happy-go-lucky writer that I imagined myself to be while working on a fun, light-hearted adventure story. Clearly, I’m not have as much fun as my characters, that’s for sure.

And it seems as if several of them won’t be having fun any longer either.

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Writing Woes: Killing Characters and Resurrection

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To kill or not to kill?

Okay, that sounds super creepy, I know. But I’m talking about writing stories, so *whew*, no worries about that.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for happy endings. There are many books, movies and shows I’ve refused to watch, because people told me that some major character would die, and that they would have sad endings. And here comes the dilemma. How do I balance my taste as a reader with the need that, as an author, I also want to write something meaningful and effective?

Okay, I want to unpack that a little bit, because it’s clear that I’m making some assumptions. I do believe that a story can still be powerful even though nobody dies. At least, nobody I like dies. I know that. I’ve read and seen many books or shows where that was true. For example, Spirited Away. (The MC does lose her memories though, and that’s another can of worms.)

However, at the same time, as a writer one of the most common advice I’ve seen is that you have to deal with the topic of death. So in a way, death still has to be present in your story. Death increases the stakes at risk in the conflict. Death, ironically, gets people thinking about life. I think one show/manga that handled this so effectively is Fullmetal Alchemist. There, people I cared about died. And it was to the beat of the most important lesson in the series: that you can’t gain anything without sacrificing something in return.

I’ve seen so many times from book or show reviews that people not dying cheapens the message of the story. On the other hand, I’ve also seen reviews were people were annoyed at certain character deaths, claiming they were for shock value.

In my story, I am hopping back and forth between killing a major character or not. The sap in me wants to keep her alive, but I’m afraid I would just be resorting to a cheap cop-out. On the other hand, if I kill her off, I get this bitter taste in my mouth, as if it doesn’t feel right. And I do get that whisper in my head, “Leng, maybe you’re just way too attached to this character! That’s why you don’t want to kill her when you really should!”

But should I, really? How do I know?

Personally, I would rather err on the side of the cheap, because I’m not a fan of just killing characters for the sake of the gasps. But I still want to know if in the process of sparing my character, am I actually undermining some of the messages in my story?

That brings me to the next point: resurrection. I could kill her, but in the spirit of my favourite childhood anime, Dragon Ball, I could bring her back to life. And no, I don’t mean I’m actually collecting all seven dragon balls. I could pull one of those twists where it seems like she died, but she didn’t. Or that she almost died but there’s a recourse that can save her.

I’ve been a member of multiple reading communities for many years, and apparently this twist is not a popular one. A lot of people hate it, and I’m going here, “Why?” Because I love it! (Come on, at least let’s admit that it’s a better trope than the love triangle, please?) To be clear, I love it in the context where one of my favourites die, of course. I couldn’t care less if someone I don’t like dies. However, here are some of the reasons why some people are not fond of this trope: a) they already grieved the character, and they feel cheated for having been forced to grieve when there was no point; and b) it’s usually pulled in a way when only one character gets a second chance, and thus elevates said character above any other who sacrificed their lives in the story.

I find a) surprising, because personally I don’t grieve a character until I’m absolutely sure there’s no chance of them coming back, and that usually means finishing the book or the series. (I was still half-convinced that Finnick would turn out to have lived at the end of Mockingjay, for example. And even then, I’ve constructed an AU of their world where Finnick actually lived, so there.) So I was actually surprised to find that readers begin grieving and burying their faves without reaching the end. But I guess we all handle death scenes differently.

And for b), I do actually agree with this. If I do end up bringing my character back to life (if I do end up deciding to kill her), it will be in such a way that she’s no more special than the others who got killed in the same way she did.

I haven’t formed any concrete opinions about this yet. I’m mostly leaning towards bringing her close to death then pulling her back, but we’ll see.

What do you guys think? Are these twists something you particularly like or hate? Or it depends on the story and how the twist is pulled off?

 

 

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.

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Leng’s 2016 Book Awards

Alrighty, it’s that time of year again! It’s time to give Imaginary Awards to books I have read in the previous year, as my tradition. I’ve been doing this since 2011 over at my LiveJournal. But I shall continue on the tradition here.

Beware: this post has spoilers in it!


Now for this year’s candidates, here’s a neat image provided by Goodreads of all the books I’ve read this year. Since I only give out awards to fiction books, I’ve faded out the non-fiction ones.

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