What I’ve Been Reading

I could have skipped this update and rolled the books into my yearly list of Favourite Things, but there are seven books on this list and they’re all titles I want to talk about and recommend now. I have a hard enough time choosing just a handful at the end of the year as it is. 😉

Dinner at Jack’s31849349 by Rick R. Reed

What I love most about Rick Reed’s books is that they’re love stories. The romance never feels rushed for the sake of getting to the good stuff. More, we get time to get to know the characters—who they are, who they want to be. Who they will be together. Another aspect of Rick’s books I really enjoy is the feeling he is sharing a part of his life with us. Either someone he once knew or someplace he’s been. There’s a sense of reality to most of his stories and, whether my observations are true or not, I feel I get to know the author a little better with each read. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

Review: Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

Gunpowder Alchemy (The Gunpowder Chronicles, #1)

During the first Opium War, China suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the British Royal Navy. The treaty that followed led to rebellion uprising against an already unpopular regime. In her novel Gunpowder Alchemy, Jeannie Lin reimagines this period of 1842, introducing steampunk elements. She hasn’t altered history (just yet). The Qing Navy is still outclassed by the British, but in her world, it’s engine against engine, gunpowder against steam. She also delves inside the revolution that follows, suggesting that had the emperor, nor indeed many of his subjects, not been averse to modernising his navy, the outcome of the conflict might have been very different.

Since her father’s execution for treason, Jin Soling and her family have lived in exile and poverty, her meagre earnings supplemented by the slow liquidation of the few treasures they have left. The last of these is a puzzle box left to her by her father. When Soling attempts to sell this final piece, however, she is captured and transported to a distant city where she meets with a crown prince. Eight years after her father’s death, the prince is interested in his inventions, the gunpowder engine in particular.

In exchange for a promise that her family name will be restored, Soling agrees to seek out one of her father’s former colleagues, Yang Hanzhu, another engineer who may hold the key to technology that could revolutionise the Chinese fleet. She remembers the man fondly as uncle, but is warned against him by someone she never expected to meet, Chen Chang-wei, the man she was betrothed to at the age of eight. Their betrothal was dissolved after her father’s execution, but a connection persists between the two regardless.

Not sure who to trust, Soling prepares to do the only thing that makes sense, take care of her family. This task will take her through war-torn territory, thrust her between loyalty and sacrifice and pit her against rebel armies.

Gunpowder Alchemy is well researched and the character of Soling is engaging. She’s not the plucky heroine I expected from the cover copy, however. She does stand up for herself and what she believes in, but so often her actions are dictated by the ebb and tide of the plot rather than her own gumption. She flows with the story too easily. Given the historical setting, that is somewhat understandable, but it does give the book a very episodic feel as Soling rolls from one bad situation to another.

The plot also feels rather episodic as the focus shifts from Soling redeeming her family name to the rebellion. The sub-plot regarding the possible poisoning of the opium being smuggled into China is left hanging. The steampunk elements also felt very ad hoc. There were plenty of machines and contrived tools, but none bar the gunpowder engine were essential to the plot and even that secret did little to turn the tide in this book. The title of the sequel, Clockwork Samurai, promises more steampunk inventions and a hope that they will feature more prominently.

Where Gunpowder Alchemy does shine is in the historical detail. Jeannie Lin is known for this and so it comes as no surprise. In particular, the scenes between Chen and his British friend, Dean Burton, expose and exploit cultural differences to good effect. The romance between Soling and Chen flutters shyly. The growing closeness between them is constrained by the social mores of their time, showcasing the author’s research and restraint. More would have been unrealistic.

Written for SFCrowsnest.

Reading Challenge Update (January)

I’ve started out strongly, reading two of the books from my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list. I also linked several reviews to the 2015 Sci-Fi Experience. In fact, I read twenty-six books over all. Most of them fell into some sort of romance category, but I also read a lot of historicals.

Generally, I follow my whims when it comes to picking up the next book and I rarely read the same genre one right after the other. I often don’t pick up a sequel for months. In January I made three exceptions. I read Riptide’s Bluewater Bay series back to back, Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series one after the other, and six historical titles. Blame Bernard Cornwell. The Archer’s Tale put me in the mood!

On to the reviews. For the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge, I read:

The Archer's Tale (The Grail Quest, #1)The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly, I can’t imagine giving a Bernard Cornwell novel any less than five stars. I always get so caught up in his stories and characters. The way he writes the battlefield is mesmerising. Add to that the thread of his own story, the characters who live and breath as if they’re a part of history, itself, and these are the sort of books I cannot put down. This is how we should teach kids history.

Previously, I’ve read Agincourt, which I could not put down. The book consumed my weekend, much as The Archer’s Tale did. Both feature an unassuming hero who is so far from perfect, it’s a wonder they survive until the end. Both detail real battles–and when I say detail, I mean every, gory and gruesome shred. That’s what makes such good reading, though. You feel as if you’re witnessing history as it happens, that you are truly a part of the story. It’s amazing. And even if you know the outcome of a particular battle, the retelling is just as thrilling. Bernard Cornwell makes it so.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)Hounded by Kevin Hearne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a lot of fun. I giggled several times. The plot isn’t complicated, which is just as well as there is so much else going on. A lot of lore to catch up on and many connections to keep straight. But Atticus is an endearing and patient guide to his world. Loved Oberon and his (present) obsession with Genghis Khan.

I’m not sure I’d read on right away as Urban Fantasy is not one of my favoured genres. I tend to get lost in the mythology of such endeavours, particularly when the author cross pollinates. But I’d heard good things about this one and had decided it needed to be read.

 

What’s up next? Currently, I’m reading Spherical Harmonic by Catherine Asaro. So far, it’s as good as I expected it to be. At some point, I’m going to catch up to the second half of the Saga of the Skolian Empire and bump into the books I’ve already read. Then I will be sad. Then I might write a fan letter to Ms. Asaro asking for more.

A note on Spherical Harmonic for fellow blogger, Carl V. Anderson, the cover art looked familiar, stylistically. I checked inside and discovered that it was, indeed, painted by John Harris. It’s a fantastic image, and I might not have recognized the artist if not for his repeated praise of Harris’ work.

For the 2015 Sci-Fi Experience, I logged five reviews:

Undercity by Catherine Asaro

The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

It’s been a busy month!

Next up for my science fiction reading, I plan to participate in The Definitive 1950s SF Reading Challenge hosted by Worlds Without End. I haven’t picked my books yet. I’ll save that for another post.

Until then, happy reading!