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.

Recent Reading

Half Price Books is having a holiday weekend sale, and so far I’ve managed to not set foot in the place, although I did download two books to my Kindle this morning. Meanwhile, I’m trying to catch up on reading and reviewing books. Here are a few I’ve liked recently: nonfiction, science fiction, mystery and, of course, romance.

I brought Queen of Your Own Life, by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, home from the recent RWA conference in San Antonio. Ratzlaff was one of the featured speakers at the conference, speaking on author platforms and online resources, but this book is not about that. The subtitle is The Grown-Up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve. It’s a short, easy read, but it includes some thought-provoking insights from its two authors on problems most women will identify with: self esteem, defending boundaries, and female friendship. Definitely worth reading.

Sharon Lynn Fisher’s first novel, Ghost Planet, was a colony planet story with a twist. The Ophelia Prophecy is The Ophelia Prophecycompletely different, set on Earth after humanity has nearly been destroyed by the results of genetic engineering gone wildly out of control. The world is now controlled by the Manti, the largely (but not always) humanoid results of those experiments. The heroine, Asha, is a member of the isolated human community of Sanctuary, until the day she wakes up along the lake shore near a Manti male called Pax. Neither of them remembers how they came to be there, and both of them have to protect and to unravel. Their travels in Pax’s sentient scout ship, complicated by Pax’s much more mantis-like sister Iris, lead them first to another pocket of humanity and then to the Manti capital in Granada, torn by factions within the Manti. The Ophelia Prophecy is an exciting story as well as a complicated look at uncontrolled biological experimentation run amok, with a romance for good measure.

Double Whammy, by Gretchen Archer, is a very funny and very entertaining mystery, first in a series featuring Davis Way, ex-cop from Pine Apple, Alabama (where her dad is the police Double Whammychief and her twice-ex husband’s family lives). In serious need of a new job, Davis signs on with a Biloxi casino, little suspecting why she’s really been hired. Assigned to seemingly random jobs (and disguises) around the casino, Davis eventually figures out what the real problem is, with the aid of a seemingly disinterested cab driver. In the meantime, Davis falls in love with the absentee owner of her sub-let condo while avoiding another entanglement with her worthless twice-ex husband. Davis, who just might be Stephanie Plum’s distant cousin, returns in Double Dip and Double Strike, and I plan to add those to my Kindle. (I was offered a copy of Double Whammy to review—which was extremely flattering—but I already had it on my Kindle. So far I have enjoyed all the Henery Press cozy mysteries I’ve read.)

For pure romance, I recommend Terri Osburn’s Meant To Be, the first in in her Anchor Island series. When Beth Chandler, on her way to visit her fiance’s family on Anchor Island, has a Meant To Bepanic attack on the ferry (she has a serious water phobia), she has no idea the man who comes to her rescue is her fiance’s brother. Or that first impressions will lead to deep attraction. But how can a self-respecting girl like Beth switch brothers? Even worse, on a small island where everyone knows each other? The story is full of wonderful characters and a charming setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The next Anchor Island romance, Up to the Challenge, is waiting on the ever-expanding invisible To Be Read shelf on my Kindle, and I just downloaded the third, Home To Stay.

 

Welcome, 2013!

The weather has been grey today, the temperature dropping from a morning high of 57 degrees.  I went out to get my newspaper at 8:30 and haven’t been out the door since.  I spent a chunk of the morning (after reading the paper and watching an old Perry Mason episode) dithering over all the Productive Tasks I thought I should accomplish on my day off.  I have lists of them, on my computer monitor, on scraps of paper, in my head.  Pieces I need to write, tasks for my RWA chapter, sections of the house to clean and declutter, and so on.  I’m not very good at relaxing.

I finally convinced myself that this was a Day Off, for heaven’s sake, and I settled on the couch with Nutmeg the cat, a Mysteries in the Museum marathon running on the background TV, and Janet Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen.  Stephanie Plum’s insane adventures kept me entertained all afternoon, as she and Lula tracked down a few bad guys, blew up a few cars, and made me laugh out loud more than once.

I haven’t had (or given myself) too many chances to sit down and read a book for a while.  I used to read a hundred or more books a year easily, but it’s harder to do that when you work full time at a paying job and take up writing as your other job.  Doesn’t leave a lot of time, and it’s way too easy to fall asleep over even a good book late at night.

This year I read 39 books.  Yes, I keep a list (you mean not everyone does?).  Ten romances (six on paper, four on Kindle), ranging from Regency (Cheryl Bolen) to steampunk (Zoe Archer), paranormal (Darynda Jones) to inspirational (Deeanne Gist), mostly contemporary settings.  I would read more romance–I have stacks of them To Be Read–if I wasn’t writing romance myself.  I suppose I’m afraid of seepage.  And, of course, if I had more time, because I love other genres, too.

I read nine mystery novels (only one on Kindle) this year, mostly on the humorous end, by Diane Kelly, Elaine Viets, Joan Hess, Susan M. Boyer, and Spencer Quinn, with Marcia Muller on the more serious side and Margaret Maron in the middle.   I only read five science fiction novels (one on Kindle), although it’s not easy to draw a line–Zoe Archer’s romance titles are also science fiction, and Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet is also a romance.

I also read four uncategorized mainstream novels, two on Kindle and two on paper, and eleven non-fiction books (six on Kindle, five on paper).  Of the non-fiction, four were on writing topics and three on social media.  The others included a gorgeously illustrated book on all things steampunk and a massive (but fascinating) biography of Queen Elizabeth II.

Here on my blog, WordPress tells me, I published 81 posts in 2012, with 91 pictures.  I had 21,000 page views (I stand amazed!) by visitors from 96 countries (most of them from the US, with significant numbers from Canada, the UK and Australia).  My most-read posts all concern the TV show Hell on Wheels;  that was hardly my goal when I began blogging, but I do find the show fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the next season.

On the writing front, I’m afraid I’ve been more involved in RWA activities than in actual writing.  I’ve served as president of the West Houston chapter (that’s a chunk of the To Do list on my computer monitor right there), been a finalist in the Golden Heart contest for the second year in a row, and traveled to the RWA national conference in Anaheim.  I’ve written columns and articles for my chapters’ newsletters.  I’ve done quite a bit of editing/revising/polishing, begun a new novel, and I’m learning to use Scrivener.

So, in short, I always have two or three bookmarks in play, even if I don’t get through the books as fast as I used to.  I’m building my “Internet platform,” but only as fast as I enjoy doing so.  And I’m pretty much always planning, plotting, or writing something.  I hope to continue all of this through 2013.  Maybe I’ll even manage to clean the rest of the house and hire someone to do something about my yard.  And remodel the bathrooms.  Maybe.

Happy New Year 2013

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