Recent Reading: Science Fiction

I’ve been a steady reader of science fiction for decades, since the days when the “Age of Wonder” could be defined as Twelve, and most of the writers and readers were male. That has changed, happily, and these days science fiction is no longer a male bastion. It has, in fact, expanded to include science fiction romance and/or romantic science fiction, and these two books could tip into either of those categories.

Gunpowder AlchemyJeannie Lin’s Gunpowder Alchemy, the story of Jin Soling, once the daughter of privilege, now struggling to care for her eight-year-old brother and opium-addicted mother, takes place in an alternate China in 1850. The coastal ports of the Empire are full of Westerners with their steam-driven ships airships and weapons, while Chinese technology is powered by gunpowder.

Soling’s two-day journey to the provincial capital, where she hopes to sell the last treasure left by her engineer father, goes horribly awry, sending her on weeks-long journeys to the port cities and the open sea, and to meetings with Westerners and one-time colleagues of her disgraced father, including Chen Chang-wei, the man to whom she was promised at the age of ten. The betrothal was dissolved long ago, but Soling and Chang-wei become friends, and perhaps more, as he helps her find her way back to her family in the face of pirates and rebels. The background of Western invasion, the opium trade, and rebellion within the Empire is very much a part of Soling’s story, as is her independence as an apprentice physician.

Gunpowder Alchemy is a departure from Jeannie Lin’s historical romance novels set in 9th century Tang China, and an enjoyable twist on the steampunk genre. A brief excerpt of Soling’s next adventure, Clockwork Samurai, is included. I’ll definitely be watching for it.

Echo 8, by Sharon Lynn Fisher, is set in a near-future version of Seattle, not quite ours but very close. Tess Caufield is a parapsychologist with Seattle Psi, Ross McGinnis is an FBI agent assigned as her Echo 8bodyguard, and Jake Parker is a captive Echo, a person displaced from an alternate Earth nearly destroyed by a asteroid. The FBI is involved because the Echoes, not all of them captive, are dangerous, energy vampires needing to feed on native humans to survive.

As Tess and Ross delve deeper into the mysterious appearances—and disappearances—of the Echoes and their victims, the dangers mount on both personal and wider levels, while some of the Echoes hit shockingly close to home. Fisher draws a vivid picture of Tess’ Seattle and the parallel ruined Earth, and had me rooting for her characters.

I can also recommend Fisher’s previous books, Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy; all three are completely different stand alone science fiction romance novels.

Waiting on My Kindle

I’ve been pretty good about not buying more paper books lately. Given that I only manage to read about one paper book a week, I’m already four or five years behind. I haven’t been as restrained with my Kindle downloads. The combination of low price and instant availability is often too much to resist, and many of my friends publish electronically these days. I can’t keep up with all of them, either. I can barely keep up with my own writing.

So I have a few unread books waiting on my Kindle. Oh, who do I think I’m kidding? I have dozens of unread books on my Kindle, so many I don’t even know what’s there. (The Kindle app on my computer is great for that, by the way. I can see all the covers spread across my computer monitor any time I’m brave enough to look.)

Of course it doesn’t help that I get daily emails from BookBub and Amazon Daily Deals. At least once or twice a week Auntie Mamesomething pops up that I can’t resist. This morning it was Patrick Dennis’ hilarious Auntie Mame. I have a paperback copy of Auntie Mame on one of the high shelves in the living room (along with most of Dennis’ other books). It’s so old that the spine is brittle, the pages yellow, and the original price was 95 cents. I’d be afraid to try to read it again. Now I can read it on my Kindle.

A day or two ago I downloaded Petticoat Detective, by Margaret Brownley. I read many of Brownley’s books back in the 90s, light-hearted American historical romances. Then she dropped out of the game for awhile, resurfacing in recent years with an inspirational publishing house. Her latest release, about a female Pinkerton agent working undercover in a brothel, looks like fun.

Southern Comforts, by Nan Dixon, is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading ever since I read the first few chapters as a contest judge a few years ago. On the other hand, Ghostly Paws, by Leighann Dobbs, is a mystery with paranormal elements, by an author I’ve never read, but her ad on BookBub was too tempting to resist.

Gunpowder Alchemy is a steampunk novel set in China, by Jeannie Lin, an author whose China-set historical romances I have Gunpowder Alchemyread and enjoyed. This is something different for Lin, and I’m looking forward to reading it. In recent weeks I’ve also added a couple of paranormal romances (Lorenda Christensen’s Til Dragons Do Us Part and Anna Richland’s First To Burn) and a mystery that I first read long ago (and saw dramatized recently on PBS), Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party.

My Kindle app tells me that I have 263 titles on my Kindle, and I’ve only read a fraction of them. I’ll never catch up, but I’ll never run out of reading material, either.

A Visit to the Book Store

Every once in a while I remind myself that if we book buyers don’t buy at least some of our books at the remaining brick and mortar book stores, we have only ourselves to blame if those stores disappear.  So yesterday I drove over to the local Barnes & Noble, looking for two books in particular, but open to browsing.  And I didn’t even have a gift card.

The up side of book store shopping is good old instant gratification.  Yes, that’s always available on your e-reader, but if you want a physical book, even Amazon will make you wait a few days.

The down side, in a strange way, is the aforementioned browsing.  When I look for something on line, I usually know what I’m looking for, at least within limits.  When I wander through the aisles at B&N, I’m haunted by the knowledge that I’d really like to read about half of what I see, in spite of all those running feet of unread books waiting at home.  Cozy mysteries, which I love, seem to be taking over the racks, with backgrounds involving cooking, knitting, quilting, jewelry, witchcraft, and heaven knows what else.  They all sound like fun, and I will never get to most of them.

So I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed in a brick and mortar book store, and some times I go in with metaphorical blinkers on, protecting me from temptation.

Bad MonkeyThe first book that caught my eye as I walked in was Bad Monkey, the latest novel by Carl Hiaasen.  I’ve read all of Hiaasen’s hilariously wild novels, and I couldn’t pass this one up.  Even after reading the flap, I have no idea what part the titular monkey plays in the story, and I don’t care.  Perhaps because I lived in South Florida, where all Hiaasen’s tales are set, I have an extra appreciation for the ambiance, even though I haven’t been back in many years.

Then I went looking for the books I’d actually come in for.  The first was The Lotus Palace, by Jeannie Lin, who has proved The Lotus Palacethat there is in fact a market for romances set in ninth century China.  I’ve read several of her short novels and novellas set in that era and enjoyed them all.  The Lotus Palace is a longer book dealing with the courtesan culture of the Tang Dynasty, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Sound and the FurryNext on my list was The Sound and the Furry, Spencer Quinn’s latest installment in the adventures of Chet and Bernie Little, detectives extraordinaire.  Chet, who narrates the stories, is a dog who flunked out of police K9 training (“something about a cat,” as he vaguely recalls), and Quinn just nails his fuzzy, easily distracted, and totally loyal point of view.  I have all the previous Chet and Bernie mysteries on my shelf, and I was delighted to find this one (its official release date is still two days away).  The earlier stories have been set in an unnamed valley in the desert west (Bernie worries a lot about water conservation), but this time the team is headed for New Orleans.

I don’t read as much science fiction as I once did (but then I don’t seem to have time to read as much of anything as I used Mistto), but I let myself wander down those aisles, too, and there I spotted a novel by Susan Krinnard.  I read several of Krinnard’s futuristic romances when I was first introduced to the subgenre, but that was quite a few years ago.  The novel I picked up on Saturday, Mist, is about a Valkyrie trying to live a normal life in contemporary San Francisco.  I’m betting the Fates won’t allow that.

I know, I know, I didn’t need four more books for the TBR shelf, not after that long evening I spent reorganizing the embarrassingly large collection I already have.  But need doesn’t really come into the equation with books, does it?  At least I spread them out: a romance, a mystery, and a science fiction/fantasy.  I have no idea how to categorize, or even describe, Carl Hiaasen, but I recommend his books wholeheartedly.

Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords

is a romance set in Tang Dynasty (eighth century) China.  I first became familiar with the title when the manuscript reached the finals of numerous RWA-sponsored contests; Butterfly Swords won the Golden Heart for Historical Romance in 2009.  I never judged it myself, but I heard that it was very good indeed.  I was impressed that Jeannie had done so well with a manuscript set in a time period that conventional wisdom said would never sell, and that she had followed her instincts and her heart, writing the stories that she wanted to write.

Conventional wisdom was wrong, and Butterfly Swords sold to Harlequin Historical and was published in 2010.  When I went to the RWA National Conference in New York in June 2011, I hadn’t read the book, or even seen a copy, but in the Goody Room I picked up a simple promotional pamphlet for Jeannie’s second novel, The Dragon and the Pearl.  Those few pages were enough to tell me I had missed an author I really wanted to read.  By then I had a Kindle, so when I got home I downloaded Butterfly Swords and the accompanying novella, The Taming of Mei Lin.  

I’ve recently finished reading Butterfly Swords, and it is every bit as good as I expected.  The story of Ai Li, sword-wielding runaway bride, and Ryam, the wandering barbarian soldier who comes to her aid, is both passionate and exciting, and full of fascinating descriptions of life under the Tang Dynasty.  Ai Li and Ryam’s travels take them to the highest levels of society and the farthest reaches of the Empire and, of course, to a happy ending.  If you have a Kindle, read the story of Mei Lin, Ai Li’s grandmother, first.

I have The Dragon and the Pearl waiting on my Kindle (along with its accompanying novella, The Lady’s Scandalous Night), and I’m looking forward to see how Jeannie turns Li Tao, the villain of Butterfly Swords, into the hero of this book.  And I’m delighted that she has several more Tang Dynasty novels on the way.  I’m definitely a fan.

Visit Jeannie’s author page at Amazon for her books, and her web site/blog at JeannieLin.com.

A true book junkie, I came home from RWA

with eleven free books stuffed in my suitcase, and several interesting titles on a mental list.  (Packing tip: paperbacks fit quite nicely in the spaces between, and on either side of, the handle channels of a wheeled suitcase.)  There were half a dozen books in the tote bags we were handed at registration, more on the chairs at various events.  I left a few behind, and I carefully avoided the free booksignings put on by many of the attending publishers.  But I saw a  lot of women scurrying around with cartons and shipping their books home with the Fedex people who had set up shop on the sixth floor.

You might think all those freebies would slow my book shopping for a while, although if you’ve stopped by to read my blog you probably know better.  Sure enough, I’ve bought a few paper books and added some to my Kindle in the few days I’ve been home.

Paper books:  The day after I got home, on my way to the grocery store, I found myself at Half-Price Books, looking for a few titles I had run across at the conference.  I didn’t find any of the novels, but when I checked the shelves where they stash the books on writing, I found a copy of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, a book on screen writing that quite a few novelists swear by.  Then a few days later, responding to the featured selections at the Rhapsody Book Club, I found myself ordering three more books:  Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum adventure, and two books by Darynda Jones, First Grave on the Right, which won the 2009 Golden Heart for paranormal romance, and a good many other contests, before it was published, and Second Grave on the Left, due out next month.

Kindle:  The 2009 Golden Heart for historical romance went to Jeannie Lin  for Butterfly Swords, set in Tang  Dynasty China.  I knew of the manuscript from its considerable contest success, and admired the author’s tenacity in writing about a setting so far from the romance norm.  At the conference I read a short preview of Jeannie’s next book, and was very impressed.  So I downloaded Butterfly Swords and a companion short story, The Taming of Mei Lin, to my Kindle, and I’m sure I’ll be watching for her next release in the fall.

World War II is another out-of-the-standard-box period for genre romance, but my friend Cheryl Bolen, best known for her Regency period novels, has written one, It Had To Be You.  Cheryl has just re-issued it, the only one of her novels I didn’t have.  Now it’s on my Kindle, ready to read.

Also new on my Kindle, Got High Concept? by one of my favorite workshop presenters, Lori Wilde.  Lori gave a workshop on this topic at the conference last week, and when she mentioned that an expanded version was available as an e-book, it immediately went on my list.  If you have a chance to attend any of Lori’s writing workshops, jump on it.  She’s terrific.

My name is Kay, and I’m a hopeless bookaholic.