Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Sheena Kamal's debut, The Lost Ones.

Fifteen years ago, Nora put her daughter up for adoption. Now, that daughter has gone missing and her biological parents have contacted Nora for help. 

But at first, Nora doesn't realize that's what's going on. As an employee at a private investigator's office with a keen sense of when someone is lying, Nora is a bit of an expert at tracking down missing people. And so when a man reaches out to her about his runaway daughter, that's what Nora thinks it is - a standard job tracking down a missing teen. When she realizes it's much more complicated than that, that she's being manipulated and brought into something she wants no involvement in, she immediately refuses. 

And yet, the pull or connection to this child that was hers by birth is too much to resist. But this girl isn't just any runaway. She's part of something much larger. Something that will force Nora to face the pain and secrets of her own past. 

Sheena Kamal's debut is a solid thriller with an irresistibly appealing heroine.

Nora has issues. Big issues. But when we first meet her, she's simply a cautious investigator willing to bend the rules a bit to get what she wants. The more we come to know her though, the more we realize there's so much more to her. She's a survivor, eking out an existence that allows her to live basically off the grid. She squats in her employer's basement, clothes herself in a way that almost demands that people ignore her, and she avoids thinking about her own past as much as humanly possible.

But this case forces her to change some of that. It forces her to revisit things she's been actively avoiding for all these years. And it forces her to begin to reveal some of the truth of her life to those around her.

Interestingly, the story took a twist that I definitely wasn't expecting. Not only is this book about Nora and her daughter, Bonnie, but it's also about Canada's treatment of its own indigenous people and environmental issues as well.

To say the rabbit hole that becomes Nora's investigation is intriguing is putting it lightly. The Lost Ones is excellent!

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

For more on Sheena Kamal and her work you can visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Bring Her Home by David Bell

It's summer and I'm craving dark and chilling reads! I mean, I crave those year round, but something about summer time in particular makes me want them even more. And David Bell has become a name that's synonymous with chilling thrillers.

Summer and her best friend Hayley were on their way to Hayley's house when they both disappeared. Two days later, the girls have been found, but only one of them has survived. Both girls have been beaten to the point that they aren't readily identifiable based on looks alone. But Summer was wearing her jacket and carrying her ID, which means her dad Bill has the relief of knowing his daughter is still alive. Unfortunately she isn't out of the woods as she's been unconscious and unable to tell authorities what happened to them since being found. And Bill is going mad sitting on the sidelines. How can he protect his daughter when he can't even be sure what or where the danger is?

Bell's latest, like all of his others, is an intense and quick read. Even at over 400 pages, it just begged to be read in one sitting. I, of course, complied.

From the start, I really enjoyed all the questions set up by the plot. First and foremost concerning Bill himself and whether or not he can be trusted. He's not very likable. But you have to give him the benefit of the doubt considering his situation. And yet, there's a niggling feeling that he's hiding something or maybe just not being quite straightforward.

Then there's the question of the girls and what they were up to. Where were they going? It turns out Summer and her father have a strained relationship, thanks in no small part to the fact that Summer's mother died a little over a year and a half prior to when the story takes place. As both are dealing with their grief, they find solace and tension equally together. And Summer's disappearance coincides almost exactly with her mother's birthday, an anniversary that Bill knows was hanging heavy over them both.

The book has twists galore, and more than a few of them are easily predicted. But in spite of that, Bring Her Home was still a perfect afternoon escape!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Betrayal at Iga by Susan Spann

So, as I mentioned earlier, today is Betrayal at Iga day here on the blog! As part of my stop on the TLC blog tour for Susan Spann's latest Hiro Hattori mystery, we kicked things off with a post from Susan herself on the arduous task of researching food for the series :) And now, a review of the book in question!

Hiro and Father Mateo have been summoned to Hiro's clan home in Iga. They are to host a contingent from another assassin clan, the Koga, in hopes of negotiating a treaty banding the two clans together. But when one of the emissaries dies in the midst of their welcome feast, it seems peace talks are definitely off.

As tempers flare and threats fly, Hattori Hanzō offers up the investigative skills of his cousin and the priest in hopes of settling concerns that the Iga clan is responsible. The Koga clan agrees, but with stipulations that put Father Mateo in even more danger than the already tense situation warrants. With just three days to solve the murder, Hiro and Father Mateo are already under ample pressure. And for Hiro it means more than just another investigation - this time his honor is at risk, his own family stands accused, and the man he is duty bound to protect could become a target to boot. 

So Hiro's in a bit of a pickle in this one - more so than usual. His duty is to protect Father Mateo and the murder of a shinobi in the Koga clan, on the grounds of his own clan and family, is a big deal. The death is determined to be the result of poisoning and Hiro's own mother and grandmother each had a hand in meal preparation. Plus there's the fact that eyes immediately tun to Hiro's cousin, Hattori Hanzō - because nothing happens in Iga without his knowledge.

So yeah, while Hiro and Father Mateo are definitely the most capable of unraveling the surprising lack of clues and revealing who the real killer is and what the motive was, involvement means a lot of risk for the two.

But it's not like they have any choice. Again, there's the whole duty thing - and the head of the Iga clan determines that Hiro's duty can be spent both in protecting Father Mateo AND in solving this delicate case. Hiro would potentially beg to differ, especially as their own lives come closer and closer to danger with each passing hour!

As always, Spann's careful attention to detail makes this a truly delightful series. The historical facts are fascinating and worked into the plot organically - Father Mateo as an outsider makes for the perfect vehicle for explaining any potentially complicated or confusing aspect of the nuances and rules of the culture in 16th century Japan as well as the roles and norms of those within the shinobi clans. And the relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo is wonderful!

Betrayal at Iga is the fifth Hiro Hattori/shinobi mystery but can very easily be read as a stand alone or introduction to the series. There are a few references to past investigations and, in particular, to the way things were left in The Ninja's Daughter, but it's nothing so detailed as to either take away from the reading of those or give away any of their major twists. If you'd like to start from the beginning, here's the series list in order:

Claws of the Cat 
Blade of the Samurai
Flask of the Drunken Master
The Ninja's Daughter
Betrayal at Iga

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

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

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

Guest Post by Susan Spann + a Giveaway

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm super excited to welcome Susan to the blog as part of today's stop on the TLC tour for her latest, Betrayal at Iga. (There is a giveaway here, so be sure to read through to enter.)

Before I hand things over to Susan, here's a bit about the fifth entry in the fabulous Shinobi series, from Goodreads:

Autumn, 1565: After fleeing Kyoto, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo take refuge with Hiro s ninja clan in the mountains of Iga province. But when an ambassador from the rival Koga clan is murdered during peace negotiations, Hiro and Father Mateo must find the killer in time to prevent a war between the ninja clans.

With every suspect a trained assassin, and the evidence incriminating not only Hiro s commander, the infamous ninja Hattori Hanz, but also Hiro s mother and his former lover, the detectives must struggle to find the truth in a village where deceit is a cultivated art. As tensions rise, the killer strikes again, and Hiro finds himself forced to choose between his family and his honor.

And now, over to Susan!

Ninja Eats: Researching the Tastes of Medieval Japan 

mushroom soba
My newest Hiro Hattori novel, Betrayal at Iga, opens with a feast that goes horribly wrong. Although the sudden and unexpected death of a ninja ambassador is the focus of the scene, I faced a bigger—but admittedly more enjoyable—challenge writing about the food. 

Cuisine has always been an important part of Japanese culture. Since long before the medieval period, Japanese people have considered food a form of art—on a level with poetry, flower arranging, painting, and even the arts of swordsmanship and combat. Every region of Japan has culinary specialties, and many cities have specialized versions of regional dishes, too. 

Some foods are enjoyed throughout Japan—noodle dishes like ramen and udon are good examples—but even these ubiquitous favorites have often-dramatic regional variations. In some places, udon is eaten cold while in other places the noodles are served hot, in broth. The type of broth also varies regionally, from fish and seaweed dashi to pork-based soup and even curry. 

curry udon
Japanese menus also follow the seasons, with certain dishes appearing only at certain times of year. In Kyoto, chefs who prepare traditional kaiseki cuisine recognize twenty-four annual “seasons” instead of the four we normally see in the West. Some chefs even subdivide the 24 seasons into 72—each of which controls the ingredients and dishes to be served. 

For this reason, I try to travel in Japan at the times of year when my books take place as well as in the places where I set each mystery novel. Although the food has changed somewhat as modern transportation has expanded the range of available ingredients, many Japanese regional dishes have changed very little since the medieval era, which makes researching the food for my novels a delicious part of my travels in Japan. 

vegetable sashimi
I do face one unusual challenge when researching Japanese cuisine: I’m allergic to fish, which means that in some cases I have to use my sense of smell and my imagination to fill the gaps between the versions of dishes I can eat and the ones my characters enjoy. My ninja detective, Hiro, has a passionate love of udon served in dashi, topped with finely chopped onions and freshly grilled fish. Readers often ask if the dish is a favorite of mine as well, and are surprised to hear I’ve never actually eaten it. In reality, my son is the one who loves to eat Hiro’s favorite dish—the version I prefer is curry udon topped with tempura mochi—pounded rice cakes, fried to a crispy golden brown. 

I spend a lot of time researching Japanese food, and try to ensure the dishes that appear in my novels are accurate for the season and location in which they appear. Little details give life to the story, and I love that my novels let me share the exquisite and often exotic tastes of medieval Japan.

About the author: Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

Huge thanks to Susan for being on the blog today - now I need to go hunt down some noodles!

And now for the giveaway: to enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, July 31. Open US only and no PO boxes please. 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check back here in a bit for my Betrayal at Iga review post!

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dark Saturday by Nicci French

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm super excited to be part of the TLC blog tour for Nicci French's latest Frieda Klein release, Dark Saturday!

I'm going to defer to the Goodreads copy here, due to lack of time and care regarding possible spoilers (in other words, I'm in a pinch and don't want to give anything away about this one!):

Thirteen years ago eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the brutal murder of her family. It was an open and shut case and Hannah's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.

When psychotherapist Frieda Klein is asked to meet Hannah and give her assessment of her she reluctantly agrees. What she finds horrifies her. Hannah has become a tragic figure, old before her time. And Frieda is haunted by the thought that Hannah might be as much of a victim as her family; that something wasn't right all those years ago.

And as Hannah's case takes hold of her, Frieda soon begins to realise that she's up against someone who'll go to any lengths to protect themselves . . .

I've been a longtime fan of this series! Each new outing sees our heroine becoming embroiled in a new case that extends well beyond the boundaries of her office walls. And each new outing is as good, if not even better, than the last!

Part of what I love about this series is, of course, Frieda. She's grown, as have the characters that surround her. We learn something new about her and her background, we see her overcome trauma - past and present, and we see her use her ample skills to solve crimes and try to right wrongs she sees around her, often at grave risk to herself. She has a great support system of friends that have followed her throughout the series, getting ample page time and fabulous development where other series and authors may have left them to fall by the wayside.

Obviously the other facet of the series that I quite enjoy is the plotting and Dark Saturday is no exception. I love the slow build of the story and realizing, alongside Frieda, what her discoveries mean and how they pertain to the cases she's taken on.

Nicci French is, as I've mentioned on the blog before, the husband and wife team of Nicci Gerard and Sean French. Their writing together is seamless and excellent, with no stuttering or clear delineation between the writing. I can't attest to their process, but I can say the result of their writing together is as if one mind is behind the creation!

Dark Saturday is the sixth in the series, and I really have no idea how many more are planned. The series began with Monday and we're up to Saturday by now so I'm guessing there will be a Sunday installment too. For fans of the series, this is definitely another fantastic installment that lives up to expectations. For newbies to the series, you may miss out on some of the specifics of the character relationships, but you can definitely slide in with this latest without missing much. If you do want to start from the beginning, though, here's the series list in order:

Blue Monday
Tuesday's Gone
Waiting for Wednesday
Thursday's Children
Friday on My Mind
Dark Saturday

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on the authors and their work, you can like them on Facebook.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, July 16, 2017

New Releases 7/18/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Soul Cage by Tetsuya Honda

Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

Blame by Jeff Abbott*

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

One For Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

The Special Ones by Em Bailey

Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy

New on DVD:
Kong: Skull Island
Buster's Mal Heart
Resident Evil: Vendetta

*You may have heard by now, but if not, Jeff Abbott's home was lost in a fire just recently. The bookish community is doing a few things that you can find around the web but considering Blame is out this week, the easiest way to show your support is to pre order a copy now or head out to your local bookstore to buy a copy Tuesday.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy, Lisa, and Sam are the Final Girls. Dubbed so by the media, the three women were the sole survivors of three separate, horrible crimes. For Quincy, the moniker is an ever present reminder of the day her best friends were murdered. But she herself has very few memories of that terrible night. 

Then Lisa is found dead. The verdict is suicide, but Quincy isn't sure. And when Sam shows up at her door, she becomes even more certain that Lisa wouldn't have killed herself. Together, the remaining Final Girls begin searching for answers, but as they do, Quincy starts to wonder if she can truly trust Sam - or anyone. And as their investigation gets closer to the truth, she starts to remember.

"Final Girl" as you may know, is a term coined to describe the last woman standing in typical horror fare. There are multiple books and movies that bear the name (the film starring Taissa Farming and Malin Akerman is my favorite so far). And given that Riley Sager's debut (Riley Sager is apparently a pseudonym for a previously published author) has been hyped as THE thriller of the summer, blurbed by no less that Stephen King himself, you can imagine I was pretty excited to get my hands on a copy.

The attention this one is getting is not completely unfounded, but I think my own expectations of it may have been too high.

Quincy is a survivor. She's on meds to keep her stable, and abuses them to an extent, which is understandable. And she's shielded by the fact that she has virtually no memory of the crime that claimed her friends' lives. But when Sam appears in her life, she goes off the rails in a way that I didn't quite think worked.

She trusts Sam, as a fellow survivor. But we already know that she's made a point of never really interacting with the other final girls. She's spoken to Lisa a few times but Sam has remained hidden and fairly anonymous from the world. So I wasn't completely sold on the fact that Quincy would trust Sam so quickly. Her attraction to the fellow survivor, who is admittedly more outgoing and manic, and her quickness to follow just didn't quite mesh with the caution I thought Quincy displayed when the book began.

The story progresses quickly, with Quincy soon setting off to find out what really happened to Lisa. And it turns out Lisa herself had been keeping information on all three of them, which kicks off Quincy's returning memories.

It's a truly lightning fast read, with plenty of twists and turns. And overall I thought it was a lot of fun, certainly perfect for summer as promised. But I also thought it was just a bit thin in terms of development. I wanted more from the characters and the plot as a whole. I wanted to sink into the story and get lost, which never really happened, unfortunately.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

When the English Fall by David Williams

Jacob's daughter foretold the disaster. She saw angels in the sky and claimed the English would fall. And fall they did. Solar flares killed off almost everything electric, bringing the modern world to its knees. 

But for Jacob and the rest of his community, life went on almost as per usual. Planning and planting for the winter, canning and preserving the current crops to see them through the season, community, and worship. And when the English supplies fall short, Jacob and his community gave what they could. But as the outside world become more and more desperate, Jacob and his neighbors faced the ultimate  challenge: could they remain true to their beliefs and their faith even when their very safety was in question?

I never met a post apocalyptic tale that didn't appeal to me in some way. This was no exception, though in retrospect I must admit that it likely would have completely missed my radar had I not seen it on the list of "19 Science Fiction Debuts We Can't Wait to Read in 2017" from Barnes and Noble. When I came across the ARC shortly thereafter, I had to read it immediately.

I can't tell you how glad I am that this one came to my attention, because it really is superb. It's a quiet sort of story, one that is ultimately a morality tale.

Jacob and his family are Amish. And though their community is less strict than the one he and his wife grew up in, they still live by the basic tenets all Amish do. Those tenets include helping your fellow man and not raising arms. So when technology in the world around them fails, they're not very affected at first. With only a few exceptions, they live completely by and on the land with no reliance on technology or electricity.

Of course an over reliance on technology is the downfall of the towns and cities that surround their community and soon people come in search of help. The story will no doubt remind you of Aesop's "The Grasshopper and the Ants" up until this point. But here the story deviates - Jacob and his community are more than willing to help.

Though the tale is told through Jacob's own journals, the Amish aren't the only characters in the story. Through Jacob's writings, readers are given insight into his family and his community and their beliefs. We're also given insight into their neighbors and acquaintances - English who live and work alongside Jacob's community.

David Williams's debut examines the hearts of men at times of true testing: when disaster strikes and all seems lost. Some react with sorrow and violence, while others hold firm and strong in their beliefs. But no one remains immune to or untouched by the fear of uncertainty.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Nuala Ellwood's My Sister's Bones.

Kate's childhood was not a happy one. The day her father died was the day her family was finally freed from his tyranny. Kate was close to her mother, as a result, but not her sister who tended to side with their father. In fact, all these years later it's their father Kate's sister seems to take after most. 

Kate herself has spent over a decade traveling the globe reporting on the worst atrocities. An award winning war reporter, she most recently spent three weeks in Syria, where she was posted when she found out her mother had passed away. She missed the funeral. 

Now, she's returned to her hometown and her mother's home ostensibly to help put her mother's affairs in order. In truth, Kate needs time to recover from the things she witnessed and experienced overseas. Haunted by her time in Syria and her own childhood memories, Kate begins to hear screams coming from the neighbor's house. She's also seen a young boy in and around the yard, but when she calls the police she's told there are no children in the home. Can Kate be certain of anything she sees and hears? Or is her own mind playing tricks on her?

My Sister's Bones is an intriguing read and, I have to say, a pretty fantastic debut. We begin with Kate being held by the police, so we know things have not gone well on her trip home. The story immediately jumps back one week to her arrival. She meets the neighbor, a refugee who appears to be living alone, and, as she recalls both her own experiences at the hands of her abusive father and what was clearly a very traumatic time in Syria, begins to hear and see strange things at the neighbor's house.

Pretty early on, the reader - just like the local police - questions whether Kate has really seen what she says or if it's flashbacks from her own past. And as the story progresses, Kate doesn't make it any easier to believe her. We, the readers, know that she's experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations. We also know that her reports of the boy next door bear a marked resemblance to both her childhood (she reports seeing the boy laying in her yard just chapters after recalling a night she spent under her mom's rosebushes after her father banished her for the evening) and her hallucinations/memories of Syria.

Of course wondering if there's something to her suspicions drives the story, but so does Kate herself. We know she's yet to deal with something huge in her immediate past. There are hints of it throughout, especially in her talks with the psychiatrist at the police station. Her relationship with her sister, who's holed herself up at home except for her missions to acquire more alcohol, is terrible. And there's an increasing suspicion that even if Kate isn't 100% sure of what she's seen, something is not quite right. All of that rolled up into one neat story package means that My Sister's Bones is a hard one to put down!

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

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

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, July 9, 2017

New Releases 7/11/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

When the English Fall by David Williams

Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Tornado Weather by Deborah E. Kennedy

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Dress

The Fifth Ward: First Watch by Dale Luca

The Rift by Nina Allen

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Dark Saturday by Nicci French

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente

Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo

House of Spies by Daniel Silva

Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

The Thread Level Remains Severe by Rowena Macdonald

At the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon

Like a Fly on the Wall by Simone Kelly

Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen by

The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howard

The Savage Dawn by Melissa Grey

New on DVD:
The Lost City of Z
Their Finest
The Fate of the Furious

New review at Bookbitch.com:
Before This is Over by Amanda Hickie

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The One That Got Away by Leigh Times

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Leigh Himes's debut, The One That Got Away.

Married, with two kids and a job she's good at (even if she doesn't really enjoy it, due to circumstances), Abbey is, for all intents and purposes, happy... ish. And yet she also feels like something is missing. 

While perusing the pages of Town & Country one day, she comes across a picture of a man she simply knew as Alex. Once upon a time, Alexander Collier van Holt asked Abbey out on a date. And now, she wonders what things would have been like if she'd said yes. Then she takes a tumble down an escalator at Nordstrom and gets to find out! But is the privileged life as the wife of one of Philadelphia's best and brightest really what she wants? Or is the messy and sometimes struggling life  of before really the better of the two? Abbey will have to decide for herself!

The One That Got Away is a sweet and funny what if story. What if Abbey had said yes? What if she'd led a very different life? And of course, as she gets the chance to ponder over these questions and live the results, she has to face the fact that her old life of non designer clothes, frazzled mornings, and always trying to get by may actually be the better one.

There's a reason stories like this are fun - everyone wonders about the choices they've made in life. And in Abbey's story, we get to see someone experience both. She's aware of her life with Jimmy, Sam, and Gloria even as she experiences life as a van Holt, getting the opportunity to analyze and compare the two and decide what's really most important to her.

The One That Got Away isn't packed with surprises. It's easy to see where the story is headed, but, as I said, it's both sweet and funny. Plus, you'll want to stick around for Abbey!

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

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Let me preface this review by saying that Dennis Lehane, while massively talented, critically praised, and lauded by plenty of writers I adore, has been hit or miss for me throughout the years. He is, admittedly, an incredibly talented writer but his books just don't always appeal to me as a reader. Much as I love detective fiction, I never fell in love with his Kenzie and Gennaro series and many of the other books just didn't catch my attention. With the exception of Shutter Island.

Shutter Island is absolutely brilliant and one of my all time favorite reads. And so I've been open to Lehane, simply waiting for another of his books to catch my eye the way that one did.

Since We Fell seemed like it might be the one.

Rachel Childs did not have an easy childhood. Her father left when she was just three and her mother kept his identity a closely held secret, the kind she lorded over Rachel. After years of promising to reveal enough information that Rachel could seek him out herself, her mother passes away without revealing said information. Driven to find meaning in her life and her career, Rachel sets off on one mission after another - finding her father's identity, connecting with the man himself, covering stories that mean something... - until she finally breaks down in a very public and career ending way.

But life is starting to look up again, in spite of the fact that Rachel has become something of a shut in thanks to unpredictable panic attacks. She's remarried to a man she loves dearly, who loves her as well. And yet the panic attacks continue. Not only that, but Rachel finds herself analyzing her new life in a manner that suggests she still can't trust the things around her. Whether her suspicion is founded or another symptom of her fragile mental state is something only Rachel can discover.

Since We Fell builds so slowly. For the first half of the book, the story is driven by Rachel herself. Given my preference, as I've mentioned many times, definitely leans away from character driven tales it seemed likely I'd probably DNF this one. And yet there was something about Rachel that kept me interested.

Oh, and there's the fact that the book begins with Rachel killing her husband. Those elements combined to pretty much ensure that I was invested enough in the story to be driven by curiosity as to how we'd get from Rachel's beginning to that shocking end.

Rachel is stubborn and, as I mentioned, driven. While it seems she has nothing to go on at all, and a PI even reinforces this idea, she's still determined to find her father. Later, she sticks to her guns as a journalist, risking (and ruining) her career in an effort to help in Haiti. Her dogged demeanor means that once she sets her mind to something, she's not going to give up. But it turns out that might be to her detriment as well.

It takes roughly half of the book before the story really gets moving. But again, Rachel is interesting. Her husband travels - a lot. Rachel stays home because she's been fighting agoraphobic tendencies and panic attacks, but one fateful afternoon she does actually leave her home to meet up with a friend for drinks. And it's that meeting that kicks off the real action of the story.

It's almost jarring how quickly the book breaks from the slow build of the first half. It's definitely disjointed to some extent. No doubt the slow build of the first half will (and already has) garner criticism from readers, but so far the book's gotten the same great reviews Lehane always gets from fellow authors and trade publications. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it because, as a whole, and disjointedness aside, I did enjoy Since We Fell. While I definitely think that first half gives the reader a chance to understand Rachel and her life leading up to that point, and it does make more sense by the time the book is finished, I'd argue that it could have been pared down at least a little a bit. But it certainly didn't keep me from adding this to the win column as far as Lehane's books go for me.  I listened to it on audio, narrated by Julia Whalen, which is a bit of a change for me, and found myself looking for excuses to fit in time to listen.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Child by Fiona Barton

Last year, Fiona Barton burst onto the scene with her debut, The Widow. Last week, her highly anticipated second book, The Child, hit shelves.

Like The Widow, this is a hard one to sum up without giving too much away, but here goes!

It's been a while since breaking the story about baby Bella and Kate Waters knows she can't ride that wave much longer. So when the story about the bones of an infant being dug up at a local construction site breaks, she decides to dig deeper. 

Her investigation takes her to Angela Irving, a woman who's convinced the remains are those of her own daughter who went missing years ago. But Angela isn't the only one watching the story closely.

The story alternates between Kate and Angela as well as Emma, a woman who is certain the police will come knocking on her door any minute for reasons that aren't clear to the reader in the beginning and Jude, Emma's mother.

If you enjoyed The Widow you will definitely love The Child. Barton employs the same quick pace and careful attention to detail in her second outing. Each narrator offers up tiny clues that move the story along. Even still, I wasn't able to figure out the end before it came.

When we met Kate in The Widow, I didn't love her. And I think that was the point. In Barton's debut, the reader wasn't supposed to be sure who to trust and Kate seemed like just another reporter nosing her way into someone's private business. In that case, a grieving widow. Of course, things there weren't quite what they seemed, as we learned soon enough.

By now, though, I love Kate. I love her tenacity and her tendency to follow her gut instinct. More than that, I love that she rallies in the face of her paper going ever the way of so many others. She's not going to go down without a fight and she's not going to let the story go until the truth has been revealed.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

New Releases 7/4/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:
The Last Hack by Christopher Brockmyre

The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

Madame Zero by Sarah Hall

Sungrazer by Jay Posey

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas

Don't Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

Every Deadly Kiss by Steven James

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

The Lightkeeper's Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol

Made for Love by Alissa Nutting

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn

The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick

The Disappearances by Em Bailey

New on DVD:
The Zookeeper's Wife
Awakening the Zodiac

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Leona: The Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby

I've been tuning in to a host of Book Riot podcasts of late - all of which are terrible for my TBR! One of them, Read or Dead, is focused exclusively on mystery/suspense/thriller titles and launched just this month with a discussion that included recapping some of the titles featured at BEA, including the first in the Leona series, The Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby.

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Naked and bloody, a seven-year-old girl walks into a bank in central Stockholm in broad daylight and gets away with millions. Leona Lindberg of Stockholm's Violent Crimes Division agrees to work on the case. With a long, distinguished history in the police force, she seems the perfect choice. But Leona is grappling with deep issues of her own--a gambling addiction, a strained marriage--that could jeopardize the investigation. As she struggles to keep the volatile pieces of her life under control, the line between right and wrong becomes increasingly unclear--and even irrelevant.

I love a good Scandi crime and I am definitely intrigued by the premise here. Unfortunately I did not manage to snag a copy of this one at BEA myself, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it when it releases from Other Press in August. 

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.

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