Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin
After all the raving about it this past year, I was really looking forward to this one. Honestly, though, I just couldn’t get into it. I loved the world that Lin created – the steampunk elements are so perfectly entwined with the Chinese society of the time, that I could easily believe it’s all true. I would definitely be interested in reading more books like this, with steampunk elements that are not based solely in England or the US.
Soling is an interesting character, and while I’m not sure that I would say she grows as a character throughout the story, she does come to understand those around her more. She’s incredibly brave – in a time and place where women could not travel alone, she is willing to do so for her family. She faces real danger, difficult decisions, and moments where she has to figure out who she can really trust. It’s fascinating. She just falls kinda flat – even though she’s on this incredibly emotional journey, reaching back into her less-than-happy past, worrying about her family (you know, whether they have enough food, whether they are alive, the basics), but I never really felt any sense of urgency from her. She talks a good talk, but it was a bit of a blank slate, especially from a first-person point of view. I enjoyed her relationship with Chang-Wei – while I did find him to be, at times, overbearing, it fits with the cultural history, and we get to see her stand up for herself (and against him) in different situations. I think their relationship definitely evolved from where it began (well, where it began in the book – there is also some history there that I’m trying not to go into because spoilers).
I think the thing for me, though, was that it just didn’t keep my interest going. There was something….off about the pacing that had me putting it down regularly. It took me the better part of three months to read as a result. The writing is good, the characters are good, the world-building is great, but still, nope. I think that there was just too much going on – we have the Opium War, a Western invasion, and rebellion breaking out, and each piece touched the story. Now, that’s great, that the author obviously made the effort and did her historical homework, but it just….yeah. I don’t know. Not bad, but it just wasn’t for me. Grade: C-.
The Errant Prince by Sasha L. Miller
This one is a short m/m story (and I mean short – it’s at about 40K words), and while I wanted more in that world and with the characters, it still felt like a full story. That’s something I really appreciate – it doesn’t feel like a book 2.5 in a series, or half a story, but like a complete piece. It seems to be one of those things difficult to achieve for a lot of writers.
I really liked the addition of a trans character – Myron has binding on his chest, and there’s a mention of how he told his parents that he was their son, not their daughter. It was more a passing conversation, and not really a big deal, which was pretty great. Overall, I would love for this to become a series, and would happily read more – I love fantasy stories like this. Grade: A-.
Closed Eyes by Jerry Bomhan
Okay, I really wanted to like this. Like, really. And it isn’t bad. The writing is actually pretty good, the Japanese culture seems well handled from what I know, and the characters seemed interesting. I think for me, though, I had trouble connecting emotionally to either character, and so I just couldn’t really get into it. I really enjoyed the kick-ass heroine we have in Ryo – she’s strong and determined, and her relationship with Kei is really quite beautiful. While I wasn’t as much a fan of Kei, she is definitely a product of her time and station. I liked how their strengths and weaknesses were perfectly complementary – and Kei’s moment of realization is probably the most stirring moment of the story.
I also have to take a moment to praise Uzo, the villain of the piece. Except he’s not completely a villain. But he really also kinda is. I loved how his character was handled, and how he’s definitely not a good person, he is working with the ends justifying the means. It gives him more depth, to see the reasoning behind his actions, and his reasoning actually kinda makes sense. I mean, I don’t condone the things he’s done, but I understand why he did them. I love that.
Though I may not have been able to get into the romance, the fight scenes were absolutely fabulous. The author keeps the tension up throughout the story, using the natural highs and lows of the plot to propel things along – it was really well done. I also really enjoyed the physical world he describes – everything feels quite real. It’s a bit rushed, but there’s just so much going on. Overall, I thought it worked pretty well. Grade: B-.
The third book in Stella Riley’s series of Georgian romances, The Player tells the story of a young man who was forced into exile in order to avoid scandal. Thrown out of his home and country with little more than the clothes on his back, Adrian Devereux spent ten years in France living on his wits and continually re-inventing himself. But unforeseen circumstances mean he must return to England, which will mean confronting society, gossip – and the man ultimately responsible for ruining Adrian’s life.
Ms Riley’s heroes are always utterly captivating – attractive, witty, intelligent and ruthless when necessary but with a vulnerable streak that only those closest to them ever see; and Adrian is no exception. He’s spent so long pretending to be someone else that he has almost forgotten how to be himself – in fact, he’s forgotten who “he” actually is, having decided that when it comes to emotions, it’s far less bother to act them than to feel them. It’s not until he meets his heroine, Caroline, that he starts to rediscover the man he’s meant to be. The Player is a delightful book, with a strong storyline, a well-written, tender romance and a cast of well-developed supporting characters. Grade: A.
Part-Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates is the first full-length novel in the new Copper Ridge contemporary series by the prolific Ms. Yates. (I read the entry novella, Shoulda Been a Cowboy, and found it worse than unremarkable. If it hadn’t been a novella, it would have been a DNF for me.) I decided to give Part-Time Cowboy a go, however, because I am quite fond of another of Ms. Yates’s contemporary series, the Silver Creek books. (Book Two of that series, Untouched, was one of my favorite books of 2013.)
Part-Time Cowboy was better than–and is it must me or is this an awful title?–Shoulda Been a Cowboy but it still left me wanting. This is a bad girl returns home and falls for hot good guy lawman tale. And that’s pretty much it. If you’ve ever read this story, this book has nothing new to offer you. The heroine Sadie isn’t really a bad girl–she had her reasons for her misspent youth and is now walks the good girl path. The rote hero Eli has an outsized dick to match his outsized Sadie-inspired libido and the best parts of this book are all the sexy times Eli and Sadie get up to… despite the fact that they just know they aren’t meant for true love. I did like the Eli’s extremely surly brother Connor quite a bit and will, despite having found the first book and a half of the Copper Ridge series uninspiring, read his book Brokedown Cowboy when it comes out in June. Grade: C.