2021 books retrospective

With the year coming to an end, I’ll look back at some of the books I’ve read, as well as on my own writing process.

Re-publishing struggle

At the end of 2020, I got into J.C. Kang’s series. Unfortunately, I didn’t know he planned to re-publish the series with new covers and extra scenes. So, after reading book three in the main series at the end of 2020, I saw I couldn’t buy book four until April 2021. A small thing for a reader – but I guess this may be a major hiccup for the author – after all, this may cost you readers that would otherwise stick with your books. Since Kang’s universe has a lot of side-pieces, I delved into those, of which I found the collection of short stories focused on the half-elf Jie the most entertaining. That said, the whole universe had gained my attention in the realistic approach to the existence of… adult business… in a fantasy setting. All with inspiration from Geisha stories and The Art of War.

Favorite quotes from the series:

“Aren’t you worried about tensions between the Mafia and the Signores affecting business?” While Sameer’s glare bore into her, the women laughed. The redhead winked. “Nothing loosens a man’s belt faster tonight than fear of death tomorrow.”

Jie used the moment of shock to slip out of their circle, close to Shrimp. She wiggled her fingers at him. “Your clothes.  Give them to me.” (note: this reminded me of the Terminator, for obvious reasons)

“Despite the well-organized ministries and official bureaucracy, the nation was paralyzed unless someone at the top gave those first orders. Now, that person was a baby boy.”

A gift

In between J.C. Kang’s side pieces, I also got to read K.M. Allan‘s book. I follow her blog pretty much since the start of my blogging days, and her writing tips helped me a lot (thanks, if you’re reading these lines) so when she was ending her newsletter in late 2020 and offered a free copy as a farewell, I took up that offer to see her writing in practice.

Despite the fact that I’m not into horror/mystery – which I would guess her book is – it has gripped me more than I expected. Which made it one of the year’s pleasant surprises.

This also proves that running a successful and engaging newsletter is quite a tough goal and she has my respect for trying.

A Sci-Fi detour

I always make one or two forays into Sci-Fi so it’s not fantasy all year round for me. That said, I tend to have lower goals and expectations for those books and tend to see action-packed books that promise a lot of fun even at the cost of their literary quality. Marie Andreas’ trilogy did that quite well – a fun, fast-paced sci-fi romp that (by some comments on Goodreads) may be a mix of all sorts of SF tropes but brought me what I wanted. If you wonder what the series is like, one of the first sentences gives you an idea: “Vas was a simple sort of mercenary. All she wanted in life was her ship, her crew, and a good fight.”

Some of the other quotes I liked – a government acting like a cheap tech support employee: “Captain Tor Dain, this is in response to your recent message about the events on Lantaria. Rest assured the Commonwealth is aware of the situation and has it under control. You are encouraged to forget about the last engagement and go about your business. Thank you for your concern.”

Or the fact that some of Vas’ crew had talents outside of fighting: “He carefully soothed her entire back, and then started in on her neck, deftly separating out the muscles and relaxing them one by one. Why the hell was this man a merc? He could make fifty times what he made in a year doing just this, even more if he added sex.”

And the fact that even future problems can be solved with a 1945’s solution: “At first she just thought they were horrific fighters, and then she realized they were poisoning themselves with some sort of capsule embedded inside their cheek, as they were overwhelmed. She recognized the distinctive bite, grimace, and crumble to the ground maneuver from other campaigns.”

Chronology issues

I had an eye on Michael G. Manning’s universe for a while and decided to start with the book that’s chronologically the first. That turned out to be an issue, as it’s written as a prequel. Not only does this mean spoilers throughout the book (as readers of the first-by-publication series know what happened), this also leads to some narrative issues. The inserts from the narrator (someone from the chronologically-later series) were sometimes found disruptive and trying to force an opinion which, I guess, matches how the character was perceived years later.

On top of that, I also found it didn’t explain character motivation well enough, especially in the early part. The pacing was great, enough that I continued past the sample and pushed through the whole book (even though I was tempted to just DNF it after the sample) but I won’t continue with the series and maybe not with the universe as a whole.

Favorite quote: The sky was pregnant, heavy clouds swelling with rain that wanted only the right impulse to send a rushing deluge of precipitation down on the great trees that waited below. A great day to be a tree, not so great to be a man.

PoV issues

I finished the year by reading the first four books of R.K, Lander’s series (5 out of 6 books published as of now). The book seemed to be right into my literary tastes – I could easily relate to the main characters and the plot caught my attention as well. The pacing seems great, too. The only problem is that there are issues with point of view – after being used as a reader (and often nudged to it as a writer) to PoV that stays in only one head per scene, it was a shock to read a book with so rampant head-hopping. I think this book has maybe completely convinced me why head-hopping is an issue, something I can’t see well enough in my own drafts when I know the characters inside out.

Favorite quote – one that shows the difference between the Silvan and the Alpine elves.

It would certainly be very different to the Silvan celebrations and festivals he had experienced in Lan Taria. They were held outdoors, under the trees, to the beat of heavy drums, under colourful lights that dripped from the boughs. There was dancing and roasting meats, circles of story-tellers and trysting in the shadows. Here in Tar’eastór, it was pomp and opulence, courtly dances to the soft rhythm of stringed instruments and educated voices. It was rich and it was proper, while in the Forest it was wild and tribal.

My own writing

My December progress will be a topic for its separate post – here, I’ll look at the year as a whole. In October 2020, I self-published my debut in Kindle format. In May 2021, I self-published it in paperback. Aside from formatting the paperback, the beginning of 2021 had seen me to the first beta feedback and the first round of edits. Then things slowed down. I had some surface look at book three when I was done with setting up the paperback and only returned to working on book two later in the year.

During summer, I had some vague ideas for a future project as well as bonus scenes for my main project and some backstory ideas I may eventually use. Only with the approach of autumn, I had another beta reader look at my story.

If you’ve been reading my posts lately, you know how it ended up – the individual plot threads are okay, but their interaction is lacking, and that issue had me stuck for a while. I’ve overcome this and am working on fixing those problems, though it may take a bit of time before I see some specific results (more on it soon-ish in the December monthly update). It had only shown that writing is an unending challenge to make my story better.

My favorite snippet from the draft of book two:

“Thank you,” he [Tyr’eshal] told Shianna.

She leaned against him and gave him a weak hug. “You wanted me as your cover in battle. That’s what you’ll have. For as long as there’s blood in my veins, air in my lungs, and arrows in my quiver, I’ll stand behind you and shoot anyone foolish to oppose you.”

“Even Raltash?”

“Especially him.”

Tyr’eshal laughed. “You’re stubborn enough to be one of the Eternal Defenders.”

Before I wrap this up… something I don’t do often, so I hope you’ll bear with it: peddling my own work. My debut book, Eternal Defenders, is down to $0.99 on Amazon US and GBP 0.99 on Amazon UK for Kindle Ebook until the end of December 28th, so if you’d like to give it a try, here’s your chance. And my promise that I won’t repeat any attempt to sell my book on this blog for at least half a year 🙂

Now, to finally close things: I hope you’ve had a lot of fun with books this year – I guess the lockdowns gave it a chance. Feel free to share what your favorite books were and/or what challenges you’ve faced in your writing. And, finally, wishing you a lot of fun with books in 2022.

Until next time…

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