Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

Happy Thursday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Jenny Colgan's latest, The Cafe by the Sea.

Sooooo I'm still reading this one. It happens, life catches up to you sometimes. So I have to do what I only occasionally do and rely on the official synopsis rather than crafting my own. Sorry!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up -- and she hasn't looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It's a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious... and hopeleslly in love with her boss.

But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she's suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers -- all strapping, loud and seemingly incapable of basic housework -- and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking -- and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.

But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes -- and work out exactly where her future lies...

Jenny Colgan's writing is absolutely perfect for anyone looking for a lighthearted and gooey read. Perfect for summer beach reading or poolside reading or, as is my case, backyard hammock reading. Her prose sweeps you away sending you right along with Flora as she returns to Mure. 

Don't be mistaken, though, The Cafe by the Sea does get into some deep themes. And yet, under Colgan's deft hand, it never overwhelms the reader to the point of bringing down the read. Instead, it remains a heartfelt feel good tale. 

And did I mention there's food? I mean, of course there would be in a book about a cafe! Colgan is kind enough to even include a handful of recipes, too. (I know because  I checked!)

If you haven't treated yourself to one of Jenny Colgan's books yet, I highly suggest you run out and do so now. You can't go wrong with any one of her reads!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Jenny Colgan and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

And for my second tour post of the day, I'm part of the TLC blog tour for Spencer Quinn's newest release, The Right Side. This one does come with a tour wide giveaway, so be sure to read through to the end for the Rafflecopter!

LeAnne was close to the end of her tour when she was injured on duty. Now she has trouble keeping things straight, trouble dealing with what happened, and a patch where her right eye - her better eye - used to be. Then her roommate, Marci, dies and LeAnne decides it's time to take off. 

She buys a car and heads west, eventually making her way to Washington State where she discovers Marci's daughter has disappeared. With the help of an uninvited dog, LeAnne becomes determined to find Marci's daughter. For a hardened and experienced soldier, it shouldn't be too difficult. But that's where Marci is gravely mistaken. 

The Right Side definitely wasn't what I was expecting. It was a bit of a slow build in the beginning, with the narrative alternating between Marci's memories and present day. Fortunately, Marci is a compelling character with an equally compelling story.

She's angry, understandably so. And maybe even more so that she realizes or understands. It becomes clear, shortly after starting the book, that Marci's injuries are more broad than even she knows. A conversation she isn't supposed to hear reveals that she has shrapnel in her brain that the surgeons were unable to remove. And she forgets this fact shortly after learning it.

It's a bit of an aha moment in the reading, pieces of Marci's situation begin to fall into place more readily once that bit of information is revealed.

I'd never read Quinn prior to this but I have to say I really enjoyed this one. I feel like that was going to be a given considering two of my favorite authors, Harlan Coben and Stephen King, gave the book their own nods of approval. Still, I was pleasantly surprised The Right Side. If you're looking for a thriller that really does go much deeper than the usual fare, this is definitely one for you!

As I mentioned above, there is a tour wide giveaway on this one.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Spencer Quinn and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like Chet the Dog (from Spencer's other series) on Facebook and follow him on Twitter (Chet's happy to talk about The Right Side!)

And for a book club guide, head on over to the publisher's official page for the book here

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts + a Giveaway

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on two TLC blog tours - first up, Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts!

Elena Alvarez is at a crossroads. With a new college degree in hand, her life should be an open road spread out before her. But Elena has just found out that she's pregnant and she's not at all sure what to do. So the arrival of a letter from her grandmother is perfectly timed. Not only is a trip to her grandmother's remote cabin the perfect quiet place to think and plan her next step, the letter comes with the promise of a job. Not a career, more a favor in helping a local family - a widower with two young children in need of a nanny, someone who can stay with the kids so he can keep his job as a trucker. 

While Elena isn't driven by altruism, she is driven in part by guilt. As she works out how to decide which path in life to take, Elena will be forced to face her past, the possibilities of her future, and a guilt she's carried with her since she was a child.

I have been so looking forward to sharing this book with you. That should have been clear back in February when I featured it in a Pre Pub Book Buzz post. And as I mentioned there, Margo is a client at the agency where I work, though she's not one of mine. (If she was, I'd definitely still be singing her praises!)

This is a book with so much heart and emotion. It's a book that gets inside you, mind and soul, and does not let go. It's a book that stays with you long after you've finished reading!

Elena got to me immediately. She judges herself, holds onto guilt that's been with her since she was a child, thanks to a deadly accident. And I felt for her because of that - a mistake, an accident, bad as it was, was still an accident and to hold onto that her entire life made me immediately empathize with her, adding an emotional weight to the story that stayed with me through, and beyond, the final pages.  That guilt impacts every part of her life, from her relationship with her parents to the new decision she needs to make about being a parent herself and what to do with her life.

And it's that guilt, ultimately, that she needs to work through.

While Elena is the main character and it's her arc that we follow, she's not the only character I fell in love with. Her grandmother, who offers her so much support, the children she takes care of and their widowed father, even the aunt she never knew, whose story we learn as the book progresses, and the mother of the children she cares for... Each and every one of them adds layer after wonderful layer of emotion and detail to Catts's debut.

And now for the giveaway. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 10. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Margo Catts and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

I admitted in my review of Ezekiel Boone's The Hatching that I really don't like spiders. I mean, who does!? But I'm also a sucker for a book that's going to creep me out, so of course I've continued with Boone's killer spider series.

Skitter picks up right where The Hatching left off.

The first wave of spiders is gone but everyone knows it can't be over. Egg sacks are being found the world over and while most are dry and chalky to the touch, dormant for all intents and purposes, some are definitely ready to hatch. What's more, a number of survivors of the initial spider attack now appear to be vectors for new spider hatchings. As the survivors brace for the inevitable next wave, researchers search desperately for anything that can help defend the remaining population from what's to come. 

Like The Hatching, Skitter is a fun and fast-paced read. And like The Hatching there are again way too many characters and too little attention to detail to make it much more than a surface fun read. A popcorn read, if you will.

If you're looking for great character development or deep plot, you won't really get that in this series. Sure, there are a handful of returning faces and yes, we do get a bit more detail on them. Overall, though, the story bounces from one character to another too quick to really give the reader a chance to get to know any of them. Each new chapter, some less than even a page in length, is a glimpse into one more facet of the horror of the tale, but it's a glimpse and nothing more.

I'd say more of the focus on the series is the gross out creep factor. Which is fine for a take your mind off everything read. And I'm not going to turn my nose up at that at this point in time. Take my mind off everything reading is kind of what I'm looking for these days.

Consider this series palate cleansing, icky and skin crawling amusement, and you'll do just fine!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

New Releases 6/27/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallin

Unsub by Meg Gardiner

The Waking Land by Callie Bates

Extinction Edge by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

The Windfall by Diksha Basu

The Child by Fiona Barton

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Soul of the World by David Mealing

Flashmob by Christopher Farnsworth

The Birdwatcher by Willam Shaw

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Midnight Jewel by Richelle Mead

Reign of Serpents by Eleanor Herman

Now I Rise by Kiersten White

New on DVD:
The Belko Experiment
Absolutely Anything
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
T2: Trainspotting

Friday, June 23, 2017

Soulmates by Jessica Grose + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Jessica Grose's latest, Soulmates. 

Dana has moved on in the two years since her husband left her. She works hard and the law firm has noticed. She's also in great shape. But when she spies a headline and her ex's picture on the from page of the New York Post, she realizes she hasn't moved on quite as well as she thought. Ethan and the yoga instructor he left Dana for have been found in a cave. Or rather their bodies have. And now Dana is determined to find out what happened. In order to do so, though, it means traveling to New Mexico and spending time with the very group that Ethan abandoned everything for. A group that, for Dana and most outsiders, seems to be some sort of cult. But Dana knows that if she's ever to understand what led to Ethan's death, she'll have to convince these people that she belongs and believes - something the cynical lawyer admits is going to be difficult. 

I have to say that I really appreciated Grose's humor and snark in this latest. I, too, have what I think is a healthy skepticism for any kind of cultish mentality and that's exactly what the group Ethan joins seems to share. At least at the outset. In reality it's kind of worse than she expects.

In spite of all the signs that she shouldn't get involved, not least of which is some time spent with Ethan's father before heading off to the "yoga retreat," Dana throws herself into her investigation. And it's not just the truth behind Ethan's death that Dana is searching for, it's what happened to their marriage as well. How the man she thought she knew so well could become someone so different. Someone who would leave her so easily.

I'll try not to be spoilery, but I have thoughts about the ending. Thoughts I've been dying to mull over with someone!

The end of Soulmates was not at all what I expected. I kind of saw it coming, but it still wasn't what I expected. And I wasn't sure how I felt about it either. It's definitely an ending that I think a lot of readers will probably not be so keen on, but after much thought I've decided that I kind of loved it. Again, it wasn't where I expected the story to go, but it was the kind of ending that sticks with you. And I found I stewed over it. Until I decided it worked. I'll admit a younger me would have hated it thought :)

And now for the giveaway. If you want to win your very own copy of Soulmates, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 10. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Jessica Grose and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Giveaway: Cyber World: Tales of Humanity's Tomorrow ed by Jason Heller & Joshua Viola

In honor of today's #SFFPit, which I'm watching closely and liking wildly even as I try to work through some queries and manuscripts, I'm giving away a copy of Hex Publishing's Cyber World anthology!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation. Cyber World presents diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow, as told by some of today’s most gripping science fiction visionaries.
Hex is a fantastic press doing a lot of really cool things, including an upcoming anthology for the Ghost Town Writers Retreat I'll be taking part in.

Cyber World itself has been getting a lot of attention - much deserved considering the lineup of contributing authors - and was recently nominated for a Colorado Book Award.

Here's the full TOC:

Foreword by Richard Kadrey
Introduction by Joshua Viola
Serenade by Isabel Yap
The Mighty Phin by Nisi Shawl
Reactions by Mario Acevedo
The Bees of Kiribati by Warren Hammond
The Rest Between Two Notes by Cat Rambo
The Singularity is in Your Hair by Matthew Kressel
Panic City by Madeline Ashby
The Faithful Soldier, Prompted by Saladin Ahmed
You Bones Will Not Be Unknown by Alyssa Wong
Staunch by Paul Graham Raven
Other People's Thoughts by Chinelo Onwualu
WYSIOMG by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
We Will Take Care of Our Own by Angie Hodapp
A Song Transmuted by Sarah Pinsker
It's Only Words by Keith Ferrell
Small Offerings by Paolo Bacigalupi
Darkout by E. Lily You
Visible Damage by Stephen Graham Jones
The Ibex on the Day of Extinction by Minister Faust
How Nothing Happens by Darin Bradley
Afterword by Jason Heller

And not only does the book feature that fantastic lineup, it also comes with a soundtrack! Oh, yeah. And it's signed by a few of those people, too!

To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 3. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

PB Giveaway: The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

Today's giveaway is a paperback copy of Kara Thomas's fantastic The Darkest Corners.

If you haven't read this one yet, here's a bit about it from Goodreads:

There are secrets around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about what happened there that last summer.
She and her childhood best friend Callie never talked about what they saw. Not before the trial. And certainly not after.

But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette--to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie's dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.

Only the closer Tessa gets to what really happened, the closer she gets to a killer--and this time, it won't be so easy to run away.

You can also check out my review from last April, if you're so inclined :)

I love this book and absolutely can't wait to dig into Thomas's upcoming thriller, Little Monsters, which will hit shelves next month. 

If you like dark YA, Thomas needs to be on your list. And even if you don't particularly gravitate to YA, she should still be on your list!

To enter to win a copy of this one, simply fill out the Rafflecopter before Monday, July 3. Open US only. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

PB Release + Giveaway: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Good morning, readers! I'm taking a few days off from reviewing this week to focus on agenting stuff (#SFFPit!!!) and I thought this would be a great opportunity to clean off my shelves a bit and give some great books away!

Today marks the paperback release of Paulette Jiles's highly acclaimed and National Book Award nominated News of the World. If you haven't read the book, here's a little bit about it from Goodreads:

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

You can also check out my review from last fall, here.

If you happen to be in the Denver area, now is a great time to grab a copy of this one. BookBar has chosen it as their monthly Book Social title! You can find out more about that event - and RSVP if you're interested - here.

And now for the giveaway! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 3. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Q&A with Bob Proehl + a Giveaway

Readers, I'm looking for some great escapism fiction with a healthy does of pop culture fun, and Bob Proehl's A Hundred Thousand Worlds, brand spanking new out in paperback, sounds like the perfect fit for that!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Valerie Torrey took her son, Alex, and fled Los Angeles six years ago--leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way.

As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twentysomething illustrator to a brilliant corporate comics writer stuggling with her industry's old-school ways to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined.

A knowing and affectionate portrait of the geeky pleasures of fandom, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is also a tribute to the fierce and complicated love between a mother and son--and to the way the stories we create come to shape us

Thanks to the publisher, I get to give away one of these beauties, and I have a fun Q&A with the author to share too!

A Conversation with Bob Proehl, author of A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS: A Novel

Q: Your novel A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS follows several characters across the country attending a series of comic book conventions. When and why did you become a comic fan?

A: When Superman died. I was a big baseball card collector before that (which makes me sound a thousand years old), and there was all this hype about how much the issue where Supes died was going to be worth. But by the time I got my dad to take me to the comic book store, the first print was sold out and I was stuck with l think a fourth printing. Since it wasn’t worth anything, I figured I might as well read it. Not only did Supes die, but it set up a whole other story that would continue the next week.

It was the serial nature of it that pulled me in at first, and the epic scope. These huge stories that would go on and on, week after week. We lived in the suburbs, so I would either bike into Buffalo on the weekends, or give my dad a list on Wednesday to pick up on his way home from work. It was the ritual of it too. Growing up in the suburbs, you need ways to mark time. Wednesdays were new comics days. They still are.

Q: What inspired you to write about the relationship between a mother and son?

A: The setting for this book grew out of my own interests, but the story grew out of having a kid in my life. I was a new stepdad to a (then) eight year old when I sketched out the initial the idea for the book. At that time, the friendship between Brett and Alex was going to be more central and the relationship between Val and Alex was secondary and drew a lot on my wife and my stepson. But this book got put on the backburner for a while, and by the time I got down to writing it, my relationship with my stepson had changed pretty drastically. I was reckoning with what it meant to be a parent, and figuring out the kind of parent I wanted to be. So in addition to a sort of closely observed relationship, the dynamics between Val and Alex started to include my thoughts and anxieties about raising a kid. About how you function as an adult with drives and desires, and also as a parent, and the way those two things are constantly pulling at one another. Parent-child love is such a sanctified thing, it becomes tough to talk about in any complicated way, and I really wanted to explore all the currents that move back and forth within that bond, that trouble it and ultimately strengthen it.

Q: Superhero characters are a massive cultural commodity, are more people reading comics thanks to big box office releases? If no, is there anything cultural fans of these characters could benefit from by reading the comic books?

A: I don’t think there’s as much crossover as there could be from superheroes in the movies and on TV to reading comics. It can be daunting to get started on reading superhero comics, not to mention confusing. In comics, as I’m writing this, Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman, Superman can’t fly, Thor is a woman, and Supergirl doesn’t even have a monthly comic book. So in the rare instance someone might walk out of the movie theater and into their local comic book shop, you might not see anything that matches what you saw on screen. Not to mention the fact that comics have a visual and formal language all their own that can be somewhat opaque on a first reading.

But there are so many good places to start, whether it’s with superhero comics from the Big Two, or the amazing depth and breadth of creator-owned stuff that’s out there right now, or manga, which I don’t really know the first thing about but a lot of it looks super cool. And in a weird way, the fact that the economic stakes of comics are lower means that the creative stakes can be much higher. The sheer level of imagination in comic books is pretty staggering. Finding an “in”, or finding the right book for you, can be tough, but a good bookseller, or comic book store employee, or geeky friend, should be able to listen to what you’re interested in and point you towards something you’ll adore. Or, seriously, ask me. I have loads of opinions. Loads.

Q: San Diego Comic Con, and its offshoots, are a huge part of our entertainment culture with hundreds of thousands of fans making the pilgrimage every year to see their favorite artists, actors, writers; dress up as their favorite characters and generally geek out with their fellow fans. A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS offers readers a glimpse into this fascinating subculture. Why do you think cons have grown so rapidly over the past decade? What do these gatherings offer that is so special, and why did you choose to make the cons the backdrop of your novel?

A: I’ve always been interested in subcultures and intentional, affinity-based communities. There is something so wonderful about being in a room where people are excited about something. I’m talking about dance parties, or sports bars when the game is on, or Trek conventions, or boat shows. People go through so much of their time on autopilot, and then there’s this one thing that they completely geek out over, and it’s like a current running through them all the sudden. It’s amazing to see, and to be near, even if you don’t necessarily share that same enthusiasm, you know what it’s like to have a thing that you geek out over.

Cons of course are even more dear to my heart because comics happen to be that thing for me. Okay, one of my that things. I grew up reading comics alone in my room, and then in my dorm room, and then in my apartment. I’ve never had that many friends who were into comics. So when I first started going to conventions, the idea that everybody else was into the same thing, and that I could talk about comics without trying to be “cool”, was pretty amazing. To have a space like that is really special. It’s funny, I used to think it was becoming less important to have safe spaces to geek out because the world as a whole has gotten so much geekier, that “the kids nowadays” didn’t need that as much as I might have when I was a kid. But I think it’s actually more important, and that being a kid is tougher than I had it, in ways I can’t even imagine, and how great it must be to catch a bus to New York City ComicCon and walk into the Javitz Center and just see your people everywhere. How everyone who picks on you back home for being boldly yourself must seem so small in that moment.

As far as the boom in cons over the past ten years, I think part of it is economics, and particularly the economics of other geeky cultural endeavors that cons include. A rise in the overall level of geekiness within the culture. But it’s also more and more fans who want to meet up, who feel like this is a key component of being a fan. Am I being a total dork to say it’s kind of a post-internet thing? That people who grew up with message boards and online fan communities as a given are now over that, and what that ends up looking like is actualized physical versions of those communities. Instead of posting on a board about Doctor Who or Steven Universe, you look forward to a con all year, and you suit up and go.

Q: In A HUNDRED THOUSAND WORLDS you write so many great voices that could be found at any comic book convention, illustrators, writers, fans, female cos players hired to walk around convention floors. At times geek subcultures; i.e. comic fans and gamers, have been traditionally classified as xenophobic, racist, and misogynist. How, if at all, are these groups changing in regards to race, and gender?

A: I think any time a traditionally (white) male cultural space is “threatened,” you get this awful backlash, and one of the wonderful perks of the internet is that now we all get to watch as this happens. And it is ugly. In a sense, comics hasn’t seen the worst of it yet (there’s been no GamerGate, nothing equivalent to the Rabid Puppies). But yes, it is an industry that has particular problems with harassment, lack of diversity, and a general “get the hell off my lawn” from a certain demographic within the fandom, and within the industry itself.

Here’s the thing. These efforts to bar the gates? To keep people out? They never work. If you’re the guy standing at the clubhouse door in your Batman tee-shirt saying “No girls allowed”, you’re going to be on the wrong side of history. And soon. From a mercenary point of view, that attitude is going to lose out because this is an industry devoted to making money, and they’re not going to leave huge demographics of potential customers standing out in the cold. Surprisingly, I think the industry is just now starting to wake up to that. They’re still working with ideas about marketing and gender that don’t apply anymore.

But more importantly than that, those people you’re trying to keep out are not asking your permission. They love these characters as much as you do, and they are not waiting for you to say it’s okay to play with them. They will beat down the doors to get in, and they will be the ones writing these characters with new voices, drawing them from new perspectives, and basically pumping lifeblood into geek culture. I feel terrible for the fans and creators that have to suffer the petty vindictiveness of a waning minority of relics in comics right now. But I also believe it’s a transitional phase that will pass, and comics will be better and more interesting for it.

Q: Readers will immediately fall in love with the character of nine-year-old Alex. Was it challenging to write from his perspective?

A: It was tough. I had the advantage of a real-life nine-year-old in the house for some of the time I was writing. There is a kind of magical thinking that is specific to kids that age. Nine is a hinge point where kid logic has all this accumulated material to work with, but it hasn’t yet been replaced by the kind of sociopathic logic of teenagers. So on one hand, you want to avoid writing a kid who’s cutesy or precious, but on the other, there are modes of thinking that you can’t access from that voice. In the early drafts, Alex was too perfect. He was cheerful and precocious, and I was really trying my best to keep him safe. Which is a good way to parent, but not a great way to write. Alex’s voice didn’t fully click for me until I allowed myself to put him in situations where he’d get angry or depressed. Once I let that get out, I had a better sense of who he was, and how much he was keeping in check all the time. People often talk about kids in terms of full-bore honesty and candor, and they miss that kids are incredibly savvy in their emotional thinking and responses, and that they’re juggling these really outsized emotions.

Q: What can we learn from reading superheroes?

A: We can learn the power of “To be continued.” If there’s a basic power all superheroes share, it’s a resilience, and in a sense we go into a comic with the confidence that whatever happens, the superhero is going to come out on top. When you think about the cliffhanger in serial storytelling, there’s a central mistake people make. The reader doesn’t close the comic thinking “Oh my gosh, is Spider-Man going to get out of this?” They think, “How is Spider-Man going to get out of this?” and that kind of thinking churns in the reader’s head till the next issue. This problem is going to get solved, so how does it get solved? A superhero’s not allowed to look at seemingly insurmountable odds and throw up their hands and give up. If they do that, the story stops. But the story is perpetually “to be continued.” I think that’s an important thing to understand about life, the ongoingness of it, its state of constant motion. To look at a problem and say, “I’m going to get through this, I just need to figure out how.”

Q: Do you have any favorite comic book writers/illustrators?

A: Too many to name.

For writers, Grant Morrison, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Warren Ellis, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, Rick Remender, Matt Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis. For artists: Mike Mignola, Cliff Chiang, Fiona Staples, J.H. Williams III, Mike Allred, Chris Bachalo, Carla Speed McNeill. I’m making this list away from my bookshelves, so I’m sure I’m overlooking a dozen folks.

Q: Describe your ideal reader.

A: To steal blatantly from Dan Savage, I think the ideal reader would be good, giving, and game. Someone who reads attentively and with a generous mind. And who’s willing to try something that isn’t necessarily in their usual wheelhouse. I think the locked-down genre borders, to the extent they still exist, are boring and stifling, to both readers and authors. Anyone who picks this book up needs to be willing to tolerate a little geeking-out. But I tried as much as possible to make it a book that is less of a collection of in-jokes that reward people with deep genre knowledge, and more of a book about how exciting it is to geek out about anything. So I’m hoping for readers who won’t look at this book and pull back because it’s about comics and they don’t read comics. It’s only about that a little bit, and if a reader’s willing to give it a try, I think there’s a lot more there for them to find.

Q: What is your favorite classic video game?

A: Super Mario Brothers 2. Magical root vegetables and a frog who eats your dreams? Sold.

Q: Favorite childhood comic book?

A: Superman, during his mullet period.

Q: If you could have any superpower what would it be?

A: Superspeed. Or self-duplication. Or time stopping powers. God, those are all basically productivity-related. I am so lame.

Image courtesy of Heather Ainsworth

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BOB PROEHL grew up in Buffalo, New York, where his local comics shop was Queen City Bookstore. He has worked as a bookseller and programming director for Buffalo Street Books, a DJ, a record store owner, and a bartender. He has written for the 33⅓ book series and worked as a columnist and reviewer for the arts and culture site PopMatters.com. Proehl currently lives in Ithaca, New York with his wife, stepson, and daughter.

Big thanks to the publisher for providing the Q&A and for the giveaway opportunity!

And now for the giveaway: To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 3. Open US only and no PO boxes please. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent.

Cora Seaborne always strained beneath the weight and responsibility of marriage. Her husband was not a nice man and the constraints of society on women of her status were not exactly to her taste. And so, when she finds herself widowed, she also finds herself free. 

With her newfound freedom, she decides it's time to get back to her passion: science and discovery. Reports of new fossils found in Essex lead her to the town of Colchester where she's told the legend of the Essex serpent. That serpent of myth, it's rumored, has returned and has been wreaking havoc in a village called Aldwinter - a village where Cora finds she coincidentally has a common acquaintance. After gaining an introduction to the local vicar, William Ransome, Cora travels to Aldwinter in search of evidence of the serpent. Ransome, too, is in search of evidence - evidence the serpent is nothing more than the imaginings of a congregation turning away from faith. Prepared from the start to dislike one another to no end, the two find friendship in one another instead. And as they seek answers, they also find solace in their new bond. 

Readers, The Essex Serpent is undoubtedly the book I have to recommend most highly out of all of my recent reads! It is a brilliant tale, one that's woven in such a way as to be both dense and infectiously readable. Sarah Perry's prose is gorgeous and literary and utterly fabulous!

Cora Seaborne did not have a happy marriage. But it's the only relationship she's ever known. For her, the death of her husband means a chance to live the life she couldn't as a wife - to explore, to give up corsets, to not worry about what others think about her.

William Ransome has never shaken in his faith. Probably a good thing considering he's a vicar! But his village has lately become rampant with rumors of a terribly winged serpent. For him, the legend is nothing more than an excuse that takes parishioners away from the faith they should be turning to in times of need.

Together, and with a host of others, these two characters drive a story that's tinged with satisfyingly gothic undertones. But while the story would seem to be centered on that of the serpent, it is in fact a story of friendship and discovering one's own self.

As I mentioned above, The Essex Serpent is a bit of a dense read. And yet, it's undeniably a page turner as well. It's the kind of story that moves stealthily (I can't resist the snake comparison), grabbing hold almost without the reader noticing, and slowly submerging you within its pages.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Sarah Perry and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mormama by Kit Reed

Dell has no memory of who he is or where he comes from. But he thinks the note bearing the address of an aged mansion in Jacksonville could be a clue. The house is home to three old women - sisters named Ivy, Iris, and Rose - and, more recently, their niece Lane and her son Theo. Oh, and Mormama. 

A ghost, or not a ghost, a spirit trapped in the house for centuries, Mormama has watched generations fall prey to the mansion and the evil within. Men and boys in particular are in danger here, and she's taken to warning both Theo and the illicitly squatting Dell, though neither seems quite inclined to take her seriously. Even when the aunts themselves start to let things slip, none of the house's newcomers understands quite what it all means. But Mormama knows. She knows all too well. 

This is a supremely weird book, which is perhaps why I was able to read it while sick as a dog. Yes, sick again. 2017 has definitely not been great in that regard.

So we have multiple narrators in this one: Dell, who is suffering from amnesia and believes the crumbling mansion is his salvation; Theo, twelve and spunky, and more than happy to keep secret the fact that Dell is hiding out in the basement; Ivy, the elderly, wheelchair-bound aunt; Lane, don't call me Elaine, who also thought she'd find her fortune in Jacksonville; Mormama, one more mama than they needed; and then the occasional early twentieth century journal outtakes. Whew, that's a lot of narrators.

Setting and characters were wins here. The crumbling mansion in Florida sitting on what was once the most affluent street in the up and coming city was perfect for a haunted house story. Theo ventures out into the neighborhood a few times, commenting on the shady figures hanging out on the street and the convenience store with nothing convenient unless you want dusty candy bars. This paired with Lane's situation give the story a heavy sense of desperation and even malaise on top of the underlying sinister feel. And there is a great atmosphere built in Mormama.

Reed does a wonderful job giving each of her characters a voice of their own too, which is kind of an accomplishment considering how many there are.

But, and maybe this is because there were so many narrators, the story became muddled quite early on. I was never clear, for example, if the repetition on the part of Mormama was due to her beginning to fade or simply error on part of the author. And there was a lot of repetition. There were also a lot of questions that remained completely unanswered!

I was drawn to this one by the promise of a creepy read but I found what kept me reading was curiosity more than anything else. Yes, I liked the characters and I was invested in the story, but ultimately I didn't think it paid off nor was there a truly satisfactory explanation about the happenings in the house. Mormama could have been fantastic and horrific, instead it was more of an entertaining oddity.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

New Releases 6/13/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Lockdown by Laurie R. King

A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass

Cormorant Run by Lility Saintcrow

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

The Save Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

The Map That Leads to You by J.P. Moninger

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Tom Clancy's Point of Contact by Mike Maden

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

All the Secrets We Keep by Megan Hart

The Beach at Painter's Cove by Shelley Noble

The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault

Midnight at the Electric by Jody Lynn Anderson

Roar by Cora Carmack

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

New on DVD:
Table 19
John Wick Chapter 2

Friday, June 9, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar

"Constant Readers" have come to know and love Stephen King's world well, and while Castle Rock is just one of the places he's created, it's one that's definitely stuck with us. Likely because of its total destruction in Needful Things - that kind of makes an impression!

Gwendy's Button Box marks a welcome return to the disastrously fated town.

Gwendy is just a girl when she meets the man in the black bowler hat. He tells her she's special; he's been watching her and he has a task only she can handle. He gives her a box, showing her a lever that will give her the most satisfying chocolates she's ever tasted and another that will give her rare silver dollars. But it's the buttons that are important - and worth caution. Buttons that cause destruction and havoc. Buttons that Gwendy isn't sure she'll ever have the courage to try. But she knows if the box and it's terrible buttons fall into the wrong hands, it could mean the end of everything.

Gwendy's task is a heavy one. She is, as mentioned, just a child when the box is given to her. And though the man doesn't explicitly explain the power of the box and it's buttons, Gwendy surmises it pretty quickly on her own.

She does test one of the buttons, too, and the experience is one that weighs on her for the rest of her life.

So what would you do? If you held massive power in your hands and could decide the fate of a person, a town, a country, or even the world?

Gwendy's Button Box is a standalone, set mostly in the late 70s (so prior to Leland Guant). The question Gwendy faces is a heavy one, but the book is overall a pretty light and quick read. As I said, a welcome return to Castle Rock that likely holds a bit more appeal thanks to nostalgia, but I have no complaints. I thought it was dark and deliciously fun!

Novels set in Castle Rock

The Dead Zone
The Dark Half
Needful Things

Shorts and Novellas set in Castle Rock:

"The Body" (Different Seasons)
"Uncle Otto's Truck" (Skeleton Crew)
"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" (Skeleton Crew)
The Sun Dog (Four Past Midnight)
"It Grows on You" (Nightmares & Dreamscapes)
"Premium Harmony" (Bazaar of Bad Dreams)
Gwendy's Button Box

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Whole Way Home by Sarah Creech + a Giveaway

When I was a teen, one of my favorite movies was a movie called The Thing Called Love. It starred Samantha Mathis, Sandra Bullock, River Phoenix, and Dermot Mulroney, all trying to make it in the country music scene. At the time, I had little to no interest in country music at all, so that really wasn't my motivation for watching it or the reason I enjoyed it. It was the story, the characters, and the actors that did it for me.

The same can somewhat be said for Sarah Creech's latest, The Whole Way Home.

Jo Lover has made a name for herself as a brilliant young performer in the country industry. A singer known for her big, classic sound, she's made no bones about the fact that she finds the current trend of male driven pop-country focused on trucks and beer distasteful, to say the least. In fact, it's the kind of country music her old band and ex, J. D. Gunn and the the Empty Shells, are known for. 

And then her label signs J. D., pushing the two of them to perform together. 

Jo knows it's a great opportunity, but she's taken great pains to put her past far behind her. She's moved on, she's engaged, she's on the brink of hitting it big. Now, faced with J. D., the secrets she's tried so hard to keep hidden, threaten to ruin everything she's worked for. 

Jo is a big character with lots of heart. She's true to her roots, supporting businesses and artists from the area she comes from, but she wants to keep her past in the past. And it's not just reuniting with J. D. that threatens all of that. A stubborn reporter who rubs Jo the wrong way from the start, is digging into things she definitely doesn't want the public to know.

There are hints about this throughout. First, the way Jo handles questions about her hometown and childhood. Second, how easily she's ruffled by the reporter in the first place. And it is a bit predictable, to be honest, but I found I didn't care. This is what great characters can do - draw you into a story that becomes more than it's tropes.

And while this is, at heart, a bit of a romance, I have to note that the story is bigger than that. Bigger than Jo and J. D. and their past. Bigger even than the revelation about Jo's past. The story is also one of Nashville, the music industry (country in particular, yes), and the hurdles faced by those chasing their dreams. Creech doesn't cower from pointing out the prejudices of the industry, using Jo to illustrate its feelings about women and Alan of the Flyby Boys to illustrate the industry's racism as well. Nor does is she afraid to tackle the tension between old country and new country as a running theme.

I have a bit more appreciation for country music these days than I did as a teen. Bluegrass in particular. But as I inferred above, you don't have to have any interest in country music to fall in love with Creech's latest. And yet, a little country knowledge does add to the richness of the story as a whole.

And if you are a country fan, there's a great Spotify playlist to listen to as you read!

And now for the giveaway! I've got a finished copy to offer up to one of you today. To throw your name in the hat, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, June 26. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Party by Robyn Harding

It's Hannah's sweet sixteen, but rather than a massive and expensive to do, Jeff and Kim Sanders have agreed to a small get together of girls sleeping over at their house. Kim is very clear about the rules - no booze, no drugs, and no boys - but Hannah has always been a good girl. The same can be said about her two best friends. But Kim knows one of the other attendees can be a bit wild and the fourth girl is a complete unknown. 

Hannah has only just been accepted into the popular crowd at school and she doesn't want anything to ruin that. But when things get out of control and one of her friends ends up in the hospital, she's forced to look closely at the choices she's made. 

Gossip and judgement run rife in their community in the weeks after the party and Jeff, Kim, and Hannah find themselves at the center. As the pressure and scrutiny become more intense, the whole family begins to buckle. Secrets and lies are revealed and everyone has chosen sides. 

The first thing I have to say about The Party is that not one of the characters is likable or sympathetic. And I think that's the point. Each of them - Kim, Jeff, and Hannah - are self motivated and self absorbed. And it's clear from the very start as Kim kicks off the tale.

Kim and Jeff have a strained marriage. Jeff had an incident that Kim holds over his head and that judgement from his wife has forced Jeff to focus his energy elsewhere. Running, biking, working out... all of it's an excuse to stay away from Kim and their home.

But Jeff's no better. He makes terrible decisions, as becomes clear as the story continues.

Hannah is a little easier to empathize with simply by being a teen. Most people likely recall what it's like trying to fit in and much of her story revolves, at least in the beginning, around keeping her boyfriend happy. But again, as the story continues, the reader hopes time and again that she'll make the right choice.

I know this is meant to appeal to readers of Liane Moriarty, and it may for some readers. For me, however, the draw was simply in finding out the truth about what happened at the party itself. I wasn't emotionally invested in any of these characters. In fact, it was almost a sick sense of voyeurism watching them tear their family and lives further apart. It was certainly page turning, but not all that amusing in the end.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Releases 6/6/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Owl Always Hunts at Night by Samuel Bjork

Touch by Courtney Maum

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

The Party by Robyn Harding

The Whole Way Home by Sarah Creech

You'll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron

Cast the First Stone by James W. Ziskin

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Crown of Stars by Sophie Jaff

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

The Weight of Night by Christine Carbo

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Secrets of Southern Girls by Haley Harrigan

Wildman by J.C. Geiger

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

New on DVD:
A Cure for Wellness
A United Kingdom
Voice From the Stone
Beauty and the Beast

Pre Pub Book Buzz: The Genius Plague by David Walton

Sorry, folks! I was out at BEA last week mingling with editors and other industry folks and was pretty well exhausted when I got back. So today you're getting my usual weekend posts!

Anywho, this particular pre pub titles is one that I had a chance to talk to the editor and publicist about. The Genius Plague is getting pretty rave reviews in house and is definitely one I'm looking forward to as a result. Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

What if the pandemic you thought would kill you made you more intelligent instead? In the Amazon jungle, a disease is spreading. To those who survive, it grants enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. But the miracle may be the sinister survival mechanism of a fungal organism, manipulating the infected into serving it. 

Paul Johns, a mycologist, is convinced the fungal host is the next stage of human evolution, while his brother Neil, an analyst at the NSA, is committed to its destruction. Is the human race the master in this symbiotic relationship, or are we becoming the pawns of a subtly dominating and utterly alien intelligence?

The publicist sort of compared this one to Michael Crichton! It's not due out until October, but Walton has a pretty big backlist you can dive into while you're waiting (including the duology Superposition and Supersymmetry). 

The Genius Plague is out October 17 from Pyr. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

David is awkward and doesn't really like his fellow classmates. But Kit is one of the nice ones, so he doesn't mind when she sits at his lunch table. In fact, it's a pretty big deal for him. For Kit, it's an attempt to get away from the noise and the pity and the looks everyone else has been giving her since her father died. A chance to sit in peace and not have to worry about what to say or what will be said next.

David figures it's a one off. But then it happens again. And again after that. And soon the two find themselves becoming closer than either could ever have imagined. But do opposites really attract? Can David and Kit become friends? And if so, can that friendship survive all of their differences?

Julie Buxbaum's latest YA release is incredibly sweet and charming. It's the perfect example of the truth that no one sees you quite like you see yourself.

For example, to David Kit is the most beautiful girl in school. But Kit describes herself as a little too heavy and a little less glamorous than the girls she considers the prettiest in school - including David's older sister.

And to Kit, David may be a bit socially awkward, but she actually finds him quite cute. Even in spite of, or possibly even because of, the fact that her fellow classmates basically shun him. She recognizes something in him that no one but his own family has taken the time to see.

Of course David has already fallen for Kit a little bit. He copes in school by creating a list of those he can trust and those he can't and Kit's actions throughout their years in school together have landed her on the trust list. Which is more than most of the kids in school have going for them as far as David is concerned.

I love how full of life both David and Kit are here. David is, as he states, on the Autism Spectrum. But he's also just himself. And Kit not only accepts that, but likes him for it.

Kit is grieving, suffering greatly in the wake of the loss of her father. David's bluntness and honesty, and time to heal from her loss, turns out to be exactly what she needs. The fact that David expects nothing from her gives her the chance to get close to someone in a way she can't with her friends or even her mother.

The relationships between Kit and David and their families were also quite well drawn. I loved the bond between David and his sister, and the way that it becomes clear David is growing as a character and beginning to see things through the eyes of those around him where she's concerned first. Kit and her mother have a complicated relationship, which only becomes more clear as the story progresses. There too, I thought Buxbaum did a wonderful job of illustrating just how loss in general (because her story is much more than just the loss of her father) wears at a family.

What to Say Next is a touching read that brought me close to tears a few times. (It reminded me a bit of all of the things I loved in Joshilyn Jackson's Someone Else's Love Story!)

What to Say Next doesn't hit shelves until next month, but it's definitely one you'll want to grab as soon as it hits shelves July 11!