Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Reading Update I: Featuring My Favorite Uncle by Marshall Thornton

My summer reading is going well, although it has taken me in a different direction than expected. I usually read contemporary romance during the summer, but this year I hit the list of great new LGBT releases I posted earlier in June and ran with those first! I've already reviewed a few of them: A Shiny Tin Star by Jon Wilson, Wingmen by Ensan Case, Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas, and Now and Yesterday by Stephen Greco. But, I also read The Filly by Mark R. Probst, and My Favorite Uncle by Marshall Thornton. So far, the books live up to the title of my post. There are two A reads in there, a couple of B+'s, and some pretty strong B's!

I need to clarify that My Favorite Uncle by Marshall Thornton (Wilde City Press, 2014) is a combination of gay comedic romantic fiction, instead of a straight up gay fiction story. It has a happy ending.

Take a single gay uncle used to privacy with little to no social life or contact with his closest family, throw in the unexpected arrival of a runaway nephew who on his 18th birthday signed himself out of a "gay rehabilitation" clinic where his religious parents sent him after finding him having gay sex, and there are going to be problems. Martin Dixon doesn't know anything about teenagers, he just wants peace and privacy, but going against his better judgment attempts to provide the kid with guidance. Carter wanted his uncle to be a buddy, not some old guy lecturing him about safety and a code of conduct. After feeling repressed by parents and environment, Carter ignores Martin's advice and goes wild on cruising escapades. They butt heads until each comes to the conclusion that if only the other had a boyfriend, all would be resolved. That's when the fun begins and real conflicts arise.

I first wrote some quick impressions for My Favorite Uncle at Goodreads immediately after finishing the book:
"I really liked this book and sincerely enjoyed the combination of humor and depth Thornton uses to engage the reader in this familial, generational tale of personal discovery and rediscovery."
I would like to add that Thornton has a knack for reeling the reader in with his characters' narrative, which becomes evident in this book soon after beginning the first chapter. Thornton utilizes two points of view that of the uncle and nephew, so the reader gains a full picture of events from both perspectives. Humorous scenes are driven by misunderstandings due to the generation gap between Uncle Martin and Carter as well as by the different lifestyles they've lead. However with the deeper, sensitive issues and resulting heartbreaking moments Thornton weaves with the humor, this novel becomes more than a cute comedic read. As Martin helps Carter navigate new waters, his own personal lifestyle comes into question and character growth (and I don’t just mean for the young nephew) becomes key to this novel’s successful conclusion. A B+ read for me, My Favorite Uncle by Marshall Thornton is a recommended read.

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Reading: Within this grouping of LGBT reads, I began reading Let Me See It: Stories by James McGruder but had to put it aside to read my TBR book of the month. It is a slow going type of read, but I hope to pick it up again and finish it before long because I have other books to get to. I'm in the process of finishing up The Full Ride: Bottom Boys Get Play by Gavin Atlas, I already have Little Reef by Michael Carroll in my Kindle, and there are some August releases that I don't want to miss.

Additionally, I began reading from my Summer Wish List: SFF/UF list and will be posting an update on those books soon, as well as on contemporary romances, rereads, and July 'must reads.'

Sunday, July 20, 2014

June 2014: Recap, Favorite Reads, Updates

I'm late posting my recap for the month of June, but it was a necessary evil as I had to play a bit of catch-up first with reviews and such before posting it. I found some great reads in the otherwise busy, stressful month of June. It was good kind of stress with lots of work as I readied myself for an extended holiday week during the first week of July, and our sweet Cami's eighth grade graduation in the middle of it all. My daughter Vanessa was a happy, proud mom! We were all happy and proud! Kids grow too fast, don't they?

Going back to books, I hit my summer reading list and managed to read a few romances by favorite authors, mysteries, and a series of LGBT books on my list of "must" reads.

Total Books Read in June:  11
Contemporary Romance: 1
Historical Romance: 1
Paranormal Romance: 1
Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Speculative Fiction/Horror): 1
Mystery (Contemporary Western): 1
LGBT: 6 (Fiction: 1, Historical Fiction/Romance: 1, Romantic Fiction: 1, YA Western Romance: 1, MM Romance: 2)

Top Reads of the Month:


My June top reads fall under vastly different categories, yet all three have something in common. Beautifully written and executed, these are books with memorable characters and journeys too riveting to put down.

1)  The Girl with All The Gifts by M.R. Carey: A
2)  Wingmen by Ensan Case: A
3)  Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath: A-

All three B+ reads were greatly enjoyed by me. I'm addicted to Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire contemporary western mystery series (both the book and TV series), and a long time fan of Nalini Singh's Psy/Changeling series, neither installment disappointed. I'm also a fan of gay fiction short story anthologies, and in June I read a great one! (See note and information below)

4)  Any Other Name (Walt Longmire #10) by Craig Johnson: B+
5)  Shield of Winter (Psy/Changeling #13) by Nalini Singh: B+
6)  With: New Gay Fiction ed. by Jameson Currier: B+
A note on Jameson Currier's With: New Gay Fiction: I did not review the whole anthology, instead I highlighted three short stories, however, the book contains 16 short stories in total. It took me a while to finish this anthology because I read each story between other books. As a final assessment I will say this, the editor chose the right stories and writers for this anthology, and each story is definitely worth reading. As a bonus, I found a few new-to-me authors whose works I will be reading. Below, I'm including the book summary and list of contributors.

With: New Gay Fiction, edited by Jameson Currier, features sixteen authors writing on relationships with men: gay men with their friends, lovers, partners, husbands, dates, tricks, boyfriends, hustlers, idols, teachers, mentors, fathers, brothers, family, teams, co-workers, relatives, and strangers.

Contributors include David Bergman, Michael Carroll, Lewis DeSimone, Jack Fritscher, Ronald M. Gauthier, Michael Graves, Shaun Levin, Dan López, Jeff Mann, Vincent Meis, Matthew A. Merendo, Joel A. Nichols, David Pratt, Tom Schabarum, Stefen Styrsky, and William Sterling Walker.
The B grouping of books read in June were all solid, as in "you can be assured, these are very good reads." Again, these are very different reads even though two are in the LGBT category. Now and Yesterday is adult gay fiction with a multi-layered plot that invites deep thought, while The Filly is a young adult western romance enjoyable for its beautiful writing, fantastic western atmosphere and a great journey. And let's not forget No Sunshine When She's Gone, a light and breezy contemporary romance that is perfection as a beach or poolside read.

7)  Now and Yesterday by Stephen Greco: B
8)  The Filly by Mark R. Probst: B (Upcoming Review)
9)  No Sunshine When She's Gone (Barefoot William #3) by Kate Angell: B

The two reads that fall under C grades in June are from the MM Romance category and both are from favorite authors. These are both good M/M romances with Sam and Aaron by L.B. Gregg a bit more enjoyable for me than Everything I Know by Josh Lanyon. I don't have anything negative to say about these stories, except that neither book really stood out for me when compared to previous works published by these great authors.

10) Sam and Aaron (Men of Smithfield #5) by L.B. Gregg: C+
11) Everything I Know by Josh Lanyon: C

That is it for June 2014. I'm already deep into my July 'summer' reading list and trying to do a better job of keeping up with reads and reviews!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Now and Yesterday by Stephen Greco

I love books that explore generational differences through intimate relationships and the effects those differences may or may not have on the individuals. Stephen Greco's Now and Yesterday in-depth exploration of aging and the evolution of relationships through queer history from the 70's gay revolution to current times, partly met my personal expectations of this of novel.

Through Peter's character, Greco focuses the romance aspect of his novel on struggles faced by survivors of an aging boomer generation of gay men who lost its vast majority to the AIDS epidemic, limiting choices to those looking for a meaningful relationship to a much-reduced group of contemporaries or men from a much younger generation. Additionally, because Peter's portrayal is largely anchored to the past, it affords Greco the opportunity to incorporate 70's post Stonewall queer liberation details and its resulting history through the same character.

Peter, a man of a "certain age," considers himself forward-thinking with a focus on the now and outlook toward the future. He uses that outlook and innate insight to maintain a successful career as an advertising executive. But musings about aging and the past are triggered by loneliness after he befriends Will, a young bartender for whom he develops a strong attraction that turns to love. It takes Peter a long time to get unstuck while he processes the past to make a grab for the future.

An AIDS survivor and widower, Greco's Peter is aging well and financially successful. In reality, Peter became a victim of grief after the loss of his partner Harold in 1989, and a man who gave up his dreams and settled -- first for a career in advertising and later into a ten year relationship with the wrong man. He struggles with these issues throughout the novel, both the settling and abandonment of dreams, which Greco uses to incorporate (the loss and restoration) of guidance as a theme. A theme explored simultaneously through Peter's past and Will's uncertainty about his future.

Greco portrays the 28 year old Will as a young, beautiful, rudderless man whose search for a future becomes a riddle he can't seem to solve, but who harbors a desire for a "true connection" that keeps bringing him back to Peter.
"So what's the big play now that you're an honest man, Will? A career, a relationship? A family?"
"I don't know, I don't know! I never had to know these things. I don't know how to know them."
In Greco's novel, Will represents a generalized view of a younger generation of gay men who seem lost and looking for success in a New York City where what you do = who you are. This view is clearly stated in a conversation between Peter's friend Jonathan and Will:
"Forgive me for saying so, but your generation is fucked," he said. "And I don't mean in a good way."
"I know," said Will.
"Completely overprotected and underchallenged."
"I know."
"And you've amused yourselves to death. No wonder all of you sit around watching vampire and zombie stories."
Will is not portrayed as a man without a thought otherwise Peter would not be attracted to him. He is interested in a stable relationship and queer history (although sometimes I thought that was his only attraction to Peter), and he succeeds in making a living as a magazine journalist, but he is ambivalent about everything. What makes him an "interesting" man? Why does he seem to have the upper hand in the relationship? The fact that he is young and beautiful? Is he really emotionally invested? Greco's characterization of Will eluded me and unfortunately I never saw him as more than a beautiful, if lucky, young man. Peter's insecurities about the age difference are understandable, yet he has so much more to offer including emotional involvement, leaving questions as to an emotional imbalance in this romantic relationship.

Tightly intertwined with these threads, Greco includes the story of Peter's friend and contemporary Jonathan, another widower and AIDS survivor sadly diagnosed with prostate cancer. Jonathan's vibrant personality, views of life, and witty dialogue, are uplifting and add life to this story. The intimate friendship and love between Jonathan and Peter provide the much needed connection with the reader that is missing from Peter's relationship with Will. I love Greco's characterization of Jonathan, a filmmaker who regardless of mourning his man to the end, unlike Peter, grabbed life by the balls and didn't let go until it was all done. I was particularly riveted by sections featuring Jonathan's film interview with a closeted poet who decides to come out in his 80's.

Greco's novel touched a few unexpected chords. I love the frankness and truth that comes across through his character's musings on aging, as well as how tightly he weaves in the impact, cost and effect of recent queer history. On the other hand, I found the proffered views about the younger generation of gay men to be somewhat bogged down by retro thinking and a tendency toward generalization in their portrayals. Regardless, Now and Yesterday is unquestionably a beautiful piece of writing infused with nostalgia and multiple layers that deserve a reader's time to properly dissect and process.

Category: LGBT/Contemporary Fiction/Romance
Publisher/Release Date: Kensington Publishers/May 27, 2014
Grade: B


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

TBR Review: The Iron King (Iron Fey #1) by Julie Kagawa

July's theme for Wendy's TBR Challenge is Lovely Rita -- Past RITA Winners or Nominees.

Young Adult romance is not my usual cup of tea. So why did I choose this book when I have many others to choose from in my stack of books? I was surprised to see it on the list of RITA winners under Young Adult "Romance," and the fantasy aspects of the book appealed to me. Besides, The Iron King was a gift from Nath during her 2011 RWA visit to NYC and it has been lingering in my TBR pile too long.

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined…

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth—that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

2011 RITA Winner for Young Adult Romance
The Iron King is a young adult fantasy with romance elements. The characters are based on Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the setting is the Nevernever or Faeryland. Meghan Chase's whole life changes on her sixteenth birthday when her brother Ethan is kidnapped and a changeling takes his place. Her life-long friend Robbie (or Robin Goodfellow/Puck) gives her a potion to help her see through glamour and escorts her to the Nevernever to search for Ethan where the real adventure begins.

There, Meghan discovers that she is King Oberon's half-breed daughter and that as his only child she can easily become a pawn in an ongoing war between her father's Summer Court and Queen Mab's Winter Court. But Meghan doesn't care and will do anything to take her brother home. When she discovers Ethan has been taken by an unknown evil in Faeryland, Meghan strikes dangerous bargains with anyone willing to help, including self-serving Grimalkin, a Cait Sith (or fey cat), a haggish Oracle, and Queen Mab's youngest son, the gorgeous but icy Winter Prince, Ash.

The Iron King has the ingredients to make a young adult fantasy a success: adventurous young characters with a rebellious streak, a beautiful magical setting filled with danger, tough challenges to overcome, friendships, loyalty, angst, and love. But besides all that, what really makes this fantasy stand out is Kagawa's successful incorporation of contemporary technology to the plot as part of the magical elements.

This is a young adult book, so if you look at the romance from a young adult's perspective, I'm sure that Meghan's crush on the beautiful, dark haired Winter Prince and his admiration for her also makes this aspect of the book a success. There is a beautiful scene at a ball where they dance and a mutual attraction is evident. Later, throughout their dangerous journey the attraction grows and Meghan and Ash forge a forbidden bond. However, there is no happy ever after in The Iron King (this is a series), and that being the case, I have to question whether this particular book qualifies as a romance.

Favorite Character: Grimalkin
This self-serving cat has enough personality to make up for Ash's constant gloom and grumpiness, Puck's overprotective streak, and Meghan's rashness. The cat's characterization is memorable and reminds me of those old fairy tale creatures that take unaware heroes through the wrong path just to teach them a lesson or two.

I enjoyed The Iron King. It's a light fantasy, solid and appropriate for young adults with the beginning of what promises to be an adorable young adult romance. I am saving the book for my nieces and will probably purchase the whole series for them. I know they will love it!

Category: Young Adult Fantasy/Romance
Series: Iron Fey
Publisher/Release Date: Harlequin Teen/February 1, 2010
Grade: B

Visit Julie Kagawa here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Last Policeman Trilogy: World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters


World of Trouble is the conclusion, and the most personal and passionate installment, of Ben H. Winters' pre-apocalyptic mystery trilogy The Last Policeman.

"And I won't let go and I can't let go
I won't let go and I can't let go
I won't let go and I can't let go no more"
---Bob Dylan, "Solid Rock"

There are fourteen days left before Maia, the asteroid known as 2011GV₁, collides with Earth on October 3rd. Chaos and fear rein as some people panic, losing control, while others brace for the worst and hope for the best. Some are barricaded in basements or holes in the ground, last minute suicides abound, and yet others kill and hoard goods in order to survive whatever may come. Money is worthless, but water, food, gasoline, and guns, are priceless.

Detective Hank Palace gave up the relative safety of Police House in Massachusetts to search for his sister Nico. Hank last saw her in July after she saved his life. He can't forgive himself for letting her go with a dangerously radical group and not keeping his promise to keep her safe. Hank's search takes him on a road trip to a deserted police station in Ohio where he finds evidence of a brutal crime and Nico's presence. As the countdown to October 3rd begins, it leaves him little time and desperate to solve one last, very personal, case.

The focus and attention to detail makes World of Trouble an outstanding mystery read. I don't want to spoil the mystery by summarizing the entire story, but I will give you this much, World of Trouble is not a stand alone and it is imperative that Countdown City be read beforehand as details from that novel become key to Hank's search for Nico and to solving a final case filled with twists and unexpected turns. However, as in the first two books of this trilogy, Hank Palace's character is the real draw.

With the imminent destruction of the world at their doorstep, to most friends and the people Hank encounters throughout his investigation, he appears as nothing more than a quixotic character wasting his time. But we all know that Hank cares deeply, and that gathering information, getting the answers, and solving the mystery, also allow him to process fear, grief, loses, brief periods of joy and an acceptance that serves as a respite from the chaos surrounding him.

Winters achieves this marvelous characterization by personalizing Hank's cases throughout the trilogy and tightly weaving them with his well established pre-apocalyptic world building. In a World of Trouble, Winters combines the tight timeline with Hank's strict methodology and his emotional investment in the case to build and maintain a thrum of tension felt throughout the whole installment.

How far would you go to protect a loved one? And how would you choose to spend your last days on Earth? The answers to those questions represent the final central theme for World of Trouble through Hank's search for his sister, and as the end approaches, through his experiences with other characters, and to the fantastic end of this trilogy.

The Last Policeman trilogy is an excellent fusion of science fiction and mystery. Its effectiveness is derived from Ben H. Winters' creation of a pseudo contemporary setting that gives the overall story arc plausibility, and a central character that comes to symbolize human civilization by asking the tough questions even at the end of times. Highly recommended.

Category: Science Fiction/Mystery
Series: The Last Policeman
Publisher/Release Date: Quirk Books/July 15, 2014
Source: ARC Quirk Books
Grade: A-

Trilogy:
The Last Policeman, #1
Countdown City, #2
World of Trouble, #3

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas

Butcher's Road is an atmospheric mystery thriller with supernatural elements, set in the violent 1932 gangster-ruled streets of Chicago and the spiritual world of a rainy New Orleans.

The story revolves around Butch Cardinal whose lifetime decisions led him from success on the wrestling mats to working as enforcer and errand boy for a Chicago Irish mobster. Unfortunately for Butch, he is sent to pick up a package from an Impellitari henchman and ends up smack in the middle of a hit. Butch escapes with the package and is framed for the murder, becoming a haunted man and the target of Italian Chicago mob-boss Marco Impellitari, dirty Chicago cops, a psychopath hit man, and the Alchemi, a secret organization of powerful magicians who collect, utilize, and protect arcane artifacts composed of "thinking" steel. With help from friend and ex-coach Rory Sullivan, Butch flees to New Orleans where he discovers that the ugly necklace in the package is an old mythical relic, and unexpectedly finds refuge in the arms of ex-wrestler and club owner Hollis Rossington.

Butcher's Road has been described as a "blend of gangster noir and supernatural horror." I agree. The story is dark. Lee Thomas incorporates the deep sense of hopelessness permeating the 1930's into plot, characterization, and atmosphere. His Chicago gangsters are unsophisticated, non-charismatic and resort to bloody violence without a second thought, and neither gangsters nor cops are glamorized in this novel. This is best exemplified by Thomas's characterization of Detective Curt Conrad whose portrayal as a physically and personally repulsive self-serving man without an iota of scruples symbolizes the police department's corruption in all its glory. Contrasting heavily is Thomas’s subtle characterization of Detective Lennon as an ambivalent man whose bouts of conscience make him a no-less self-serving or corrupt cop.

The supernatural aspects of the story are well established. Serving as an introduction to this theme, Thomas utilizes Butch's search for the truth surrounding the object he unwittingly possesses, leading to the discovery of magical objects and personal mystical powers, while further expanding on this theme with more explicit, if somewhat obscure, revelations through the Alchemi's hot pursuit and eventual contact with Butch.

While the occult plays a key, central role throughout and to end of this thriller, for me, it is Thomas' masterful portrayal of the incremental escalation and eventual loss of control of psychopathic killer Paul Rabin that provides the real horror. Rabin's role begins with a whisper in what seems like an innocuous scene, slowly progressing with coldly executed blood-letting, and escalating until all that is left are the amped-up internal screams of an out-of-control killer and the horror-filled vicious scenes he leaves behind.

Thomas portrays Butch as an honest man who never learns to play the "game" and whose harsh life lessons, beginning with an abusive father and ending with a fixed match that led to his present situation, taught him not to expect a fair fight. The odds are against Butch's survival and he becomes resigned to losing, but what I love most about him is his refusal to go down without a fight. His relationship with Hollis is unexpected, specifically because Butch is initially shocked by proof of Hollis's sexuality and tells him so with frankness. However while hiding at Hollis's home, Butch remembers past experiences that trigger a growing sexual attraction for Hollis, a giving man he already likes and respects. Eventually Butch makes the first move, beginning what becomes a peaceful, joyful period for both men.

Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas has a relentless quick-pace with the few moments of allowed reprieve filled with relevant information used to drive the story forward. It is an exciting thriller -- darkly violent and bloody -- that offers highly effective contrasts between warm and horrifyingly chilling moments and a surprising twist at the end. Highly recommended.

Category: LGBT - Spec Fic/Mystery Thriller
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/May 1, 2014 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: A-

Other recommended reads by Lee Thomas:
The German
Torn

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: No Sunshine When She's Gone (Barefoot Williams #3) by Kate Angell

The Barefoot Williams contemporary romance series by Kate Angell is made up of summer goodness -- romance, sunshine on the beach, and life on a boardwalk that feels like an eternal fair. These books, without failure, whisk me away to a better place.

Jillian and her childhood friend Carrie work for the Richmond Rogues baseball organization. They came to Barefoot Williams for a year to work with the construction company building a new spring training facility and to prepare the public relations groundwork. The construction company owned by Aidan Cates and successfully managed with the aid of friend and construction supervisor Mike Burke. Jillian moves into Shaye's docked boathouse for the duration of her stay at Barefoot Williams and Aidan provides Carrie with the penthouse at a luxury apartment complex.

Jillian and Aidan first meet on the boardwalk when she is mistaken for a fortuneteller, leading to a cute pursuit by Aidan, flirtatious meetings and fun misunderstandings, and a quick attraction between the two. Aidan is confident, down-to-earth, warm and known to family and friends for his kindness. Jillian has some of the same qualities, plus she is tough and extremely protective of family and friends. She is also accustomed to telling white lies and reticent when it comes to commitment. They become friends and lovers with Aidan falling deeply in love while childhood baggage presents a conflict for Jillian.

In the meantime, Carrie and Mike also become embroiled with each other. Their relationship begins on a hostile note when Mike crosses the line by making personal sarcastic remarks to Carrie. Carrie is a sweet giving person and sees something in the abrasive man, choosing to ignore her friend Jillie's warnings to stay away from him. Both Mike and Carrie have gone through life-changing situations, but whereas Carrie made the best of it, Mike became an angry, bitter man. The last thing Mike expects when he pushes his way into Carrie's life is to find a passionate woman capable of healing his wounded soul.

I enjoyed the central romance. Jillian has issues to work out, but she is a delightful woman whose romance with the hunky Aidan is fun and emotionally satisfying because he falls for her completely. And who can resist that? Not Jillian. And, I love the secondary romance between Carrie and Mike. It has depth of character, intimacy, and passion, and a great couple that deserves a happy ending. Ms. Angell weaves both romances tightly which made both romances stand out. For example: the Carrie/Mike relationship and their individual histories are revealed through their personal points of view as well as through Aidan and Jillie as their close friends.

I previously enjoyed Ms. Angell's Barefoot Williams series because of the fantastic summer atmosphere. However when it comes to the romance, I often complained about the lack of focus on the central couples because of Angell's tendency to include multiple secondary romances. In No Sunshine When She's Gone, her style finally worked for me. This is a recommended as a fun summer/beach read.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Barefoot Williams
Publisher/Release Date: Kensington Books/April 29, 2014
Grade: B

Series:
No Tan Lines #1
No Strings Attached #2
No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service (Novella in He's the One Anthology)
No Sunshine When She's Gone #3

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer Wish List: SFF/ UF / Contemporary Fiction

There are so many books I would love to read this summer! Some I've already pre-ordered, others are already in my possession, but I always keep a list of books in my "wish list." Of those, I usually end up reading at least half throughout any given year. From that list, I've chosen the ten SF/F, UF, and contemporary fiction books that I'm most likely to read from the July and August 2014 releases.

JULY 8, 2014

Landline by Rainbow Rowell (Fiction/SFF, St. Martin’s Press)
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her. Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. Georgie doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally ruined everything. Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, exactly. She feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts. Is that what she’s supposed to do? Would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

JULY 10, 2014

Land of Love and Drowning: A Novel by Tiphanie Yanique (Fantasy, Riverhead)
In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.

Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, this is a novel of love and magic set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. The story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love. Following the Bradshaw family through sixty years of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, love affairs, curses, magical gifts, loyalties, births, deaths, and triumphs.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch (SF/Mystery, Putnam Adult)
A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash. Survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past. Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive, a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh. Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold.When he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene, the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he’s convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive, his cycle of grief is shattered. Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

JULY 15, 2014

World of Trouble: The Last Policeman III by Ben H Winters (SF/Mystery, Quirk Books)

Critically acclaimed author Ben H. Winters delivers this explosive final installment in the Edgar Award winning Last Policeman series.

With the doomsday asteroid looming, Detective Hank Palace has found sanctuary in the woods of New England, secure in a well-stocked safe house with other onetime members of the Concord police force. But with time ticking away before the asteroid makes landfall, Hank’s safety is only relative, and his only relative—his sister Nico—isn’t safe.

Soon, it’s clear that there’s more than one earth-shattering revelation on the horizon, and it’s up to Hank to solve the puzzle before time runs out . . . for everyone.

JULY 22, 2014

Dissonance (Dissonance #1) by Erica O’Rourke (SF/F/Romantic Thriller, Simon & Schuster)
Delancy Sullivan has always known there’s more to reality than what people see. Every time someone makes a choice, a new, parallel world branches off from the existing one. As a Walker, someone who can navigate between these worlds, Del’s job is to keep all of the dimensions in harmony. Del can hear the dissonant frequency that each world emits as clear as a bell. When a training session in an off-key world goes horribly wrong, she is forbidden from Walking by the Council. She secretly starts to investigate these other worlds. Something strange is connecting them and it’s not just her random encounters with echo versions of the guy she likes, Simon Lane.

As she begins to fall for the Echo Simons in each world, she draws closer to a truth that the Council of Walkers is trying to hide, a secret that threatens the fate of the entire multiverse.

JULY 29, 2014

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (Literary Fiction, Random House)
“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.
The Buried Life by Carrie Patel (SF/F/Murder Mystery, Angry Robots)

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies.

When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

Jack Strong: A Story of Life after Life by Walter Mosley (SF/F - Open Road Media)
In a Las Vegas hotel room, a man awakes to confront his destiny

Dreaming, Jack hears voices: a frightened child in a hospital, a woman cheating on her husband, a death-row inmate. When he wakes, the voices recede, but they do not vanish. He is in a luxurious hotel room on the Vegas strip, and his body is covered in scars. Jack Strong is a patchwork man, his flesh melded together from dozens of men and women, and his mind is the same way. Countless lifetimes are contained within him: people whose time was cut short, and who see their place in Jack as a chance to make things right.

On behalf of one of them, Jack reignites a feud with corrupt casino bosses. Drawing on the skills of another, he beats the life out of two bodyguards. Jack fights for control as he lurches from impulse to impulse, certain that somewhere within him exists a soul. The answers may lie with whomever is tailing him in a sleek black car—if Jack can somehow confront him.

AUGUST 5, 2014

Downfall: A Cal Leandros Novel by Rob Thurman (Urban Fantasy, Roc)
I let it go—all of it. Everything I’d been saving up all my life, building and growing inside me, too much to hold in one half-human body. It pushed and fought to be free with a force that turned me into a bomb with a timer vibrating on zero. I was free.

But so was everything I’d fought so hard not to be....

Brothers Cal and Niko Leandros know trouble when they see it—and then proceed to wipe the floor with it. But now it seems their whole world is falling to pieces. Cal’s nightmarish monster side is growing ever stronger, changing Cal physically as well as mentally. Which is exactly what Grimm—Cal’s savage doppelgänger—wants. And when a covert supernatural organization decides that it’s time to put Cal down before he threatens pretty much everything else in existence, the brothers find themselves in a fight they actually might lose. But the dark temptations Cal has denied all his life may prove to be exactly what can save them.

Even if he must fall forever…
AUGUST 12, 2014

The House We Grew Up In: A Novel by Lisa Jewell (Contemporary Fiction, Atria Books)
“Clever, intelligent…wonderful” (Jojo Moyes, New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You).

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children’s lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they’ve never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

"Melanie was new herself, once, but that's hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don't stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they're gone.

Now she's ten years old, and she has skin like a princess in a fairy tale; skin as white as snow. So she knows that when she grows up she'll be beautiful, with princes falling over themselves to climb her tower and rescue her."
I first read the extended free version sample(10 chapters) of The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey in May and was absolutely taken in by the author's fresh approach to what are basically the makings of an old horror tale. I had such a positive response to the short version that I actually became anxious to read the entire novel. The novel lived up to my expectations. There are different reasons behind that:

1) The relationship between the two main characters.
The growing attachment between ten-year-old Melanie and her teacher Ms. Justineau is central to the story. Although Melanie is confused as to whom or what she is, her IQ is also off the charts, and she is strong-willed and tenaciously protective of Ms. Justineau, just as Ms. Justineau is protective of Melanie. Yet, I believe that what makes this very tense, fast-paced action, horror thriller a particularly effective read is the heavy contrast between the unexpected poignancy that stems from Melanie's unconditional love for her teacher, and the dangerous situations and dark revelations unfolding around her.

In the beginning, Melanie thinks she's a normal little girl. She lives in a cell, just like the other children, and is only allowed out when Sergeant and his men strap her on a wheelchair and take her to eat or to classes for the day. Her best days are Ms. Justineau days! Until one chaotic day everything changes, and every day is a Ms. Justineau day. Helen Justineau knows what Melanie is and why she's in that cell, and although she's part of a team and understands the dangers that go with her position, she disregards warnings and dangers and comes to see Melanie as 'just a child.’ Protecting Melanie, helping her navigate dangers inside and outside the compound where they both live, becomes her mission.

2) World-building:
The Girl With All the Gifts is a post apocalyptic piece set in the UK, however, it is clear that years earlier the Breakdown was a global event that devastated civilization when the majority humans were infected by the “hungry” pathogen. There are pockets of isolated humans restricted to living in small towns and a few cities such as Beacon, and “Junkers,” gangs of humans who go about freely throughout the countryside and cities looting for hardware and goods in order to survive. But communication is down to the old basics and no one really knows who or what is left out there.

The basis for the world-building may sound familiar, however, Carey’s book strikes me as distinctive in that he doesn’t take unnecessary shortcuts. Carey uses science by incorporating biological details that explain how the hungry pathogen derived from Cordyceps works and evolves, adding scientific methodology used to study mutations, as the logical steps to arrive at the beginning point of the story, and later to its logical conclusion. He does so without sacrificing high level tension by weaving those excellent details with the fast-paced action and horror aspects found in the novel.

3) Secondary Characters:
Speaking of horror, I was more horrified by a human character's actions than the natural reaction of the infected "hungries." The ‘human monster’ is a familiar character whose motivations are usually portrayed as black and white because, no matter the consequences, they are always able to rationalize their actions. Although the ‘moral’ question is sometimes introduced, as was the case here, for the ‘human monster’ the conclusion is almost always the same: the end justifies the means. However, there's also a redemptive quality to another central secondary character that turned out to be an unexpected bonus.

Melanie is a child and as such she dreams of princes rescuing her from her tower. Her little life turns out to be much different from how she imagined it would be once she gets out of her cell and discovers the reality of her world. But like Pandora's box when it is opened, once brilliant, courageous Melanie emerges, good or bad, the world will never be same.

“Growing up and growing old. Playing. Exploring. Like Pooh and Piglet. And then like the Famous Five. And then like Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both.

But you have to open it to find that out.”