Tag Archives: published: 2016-07

The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan

The Art of Space Travel

The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan

Published by: Tor.com on July 27, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

After the first mission intended to put people on Mars was a tragic failure, it has taken thirty years for people to be ready to try again. As a hotel housekeeper, Emily’s only connection to the mission is the fact that two of the mission’s astronauts will be coming to her hotel to participate in the final press conference before the launch. But Emily’s mother, Moolie, has something that Emily needs to know. And that something may just set Emily’s entire world on its head.

When I read science fiction, I admit that I do like the speculative elements of the story. But what is most important is the character development. Who are these people? Why should I care about them and what is happening to them? How are they going to overcome the obstacles that are thrown in their way? And Nina Allan definitely delivers in all of those areas. Although this is novelette length, readers get an opportunity to see in to Emily’s world–and to be right there with her when everything changes in ways she never expected or imagined.

Ace in the Hole by Ava Drake

Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole by Ava Drake

Series: Wild Cards, Book 1
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on July 1, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Christian Chatsworth-Brandeis is nothing if not devoted to his job. And even though the senator he works for is probably not the greatest human being on the planet, Christian is not going to let him down. Besides, it is only for a few more years and then he can be on to something bigger and better. But when a series of threats against the senator lead to the hiring of an additional security team–one that includes Stone Jackson–things go in some unexpected directions. And the almost completely fall off the rails when the senator disappears right before a series of important public appearances and fundraising events. But Christian has a plan…and he can only hope that his burning attraction for Stone–something it’s clear is reciprocal–doesn’t get in the way.

Fun. Lighthearted. Original. Steamy. These are all words I would use to describe this book. It is written in an engaging and entertaining style, and I found myself quickly drawn in to Christian and Stone’s world. It is well worth a read, and is the first book in a series so I am looking forward to what’s to come…

The Boy Next Door by Kate McMurray

The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door by Kate McMurray

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on July 22, 2016 (2nd Edition)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Lowell moves back to his hometown after his father dies so he can help out his mother. Coming back brings up a number of old memories, some of which hit him with a rush when he realizes his next door neighbor is Jase, an old friend and longtime crush. But Jase is straight, divorced, and a single father. All Lowell can hope for is to rekindle their friendship and to keep all of his other feelings buried deep, deep down where they can’t get him into trouble. After an odd night out with Jase, though, Lowell wonders if he should risk letting those feelings come back up into the present.

Much has happened in Jase’s life since Lowell left town. Yes, he got married. Yes, he had a child. Yes, he got divorced. And yes, he got custody of his daughter. But what Lowell doesn’t know is that there are many reasons Jase and his wife decided to split. And one of his wife’s terms of their custody arrangement was that their daughter would not know about Jase’s attraction to other men. Which would be something very hard for him to hide if he acted on his feelings for Lowell since he lives right next door. And as much as he wants to let Lowell in, he’s not willing to give up his daughter to do so. If only he could find a way to have both…

So much of this book’s synopsis looks like it may be just a major trope, but it really doesn’t read that way at all. Yes, gay kid comes back home to learn that straight guy he crushed on is actually not-so-straight. But all of the dynamics at play here make that only one part of an otherwise complex story. And believe me, you’ll be rooting for these two in the face of all the other forces at play even when they’re straight up sabotaging themselves at every single turn.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Published by: Crown on July 5, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

When Elka wanders away from her grandmother’s house, the last thing she expects is to be taken in by a local hunter. But that’s exactly what happens. And, to her surprise, he treats her well–provides for her, teaches her skills. And he protects her.

Imagine Elka’s surprise when she learns the man is wanted for several murders. She wants to believe it’s not the man who has become her surrogate father. But before she really has time to do anything about it, she knows she needs to run. The ruthless magistrate is after her, too, assuming she’s somehow connected to the crimes.

Elka sets out on a mission to find her parents. Perhaps by finding them, she can disconnect herself completely from the one adult she’s trusted for years. And hopefully she can get there before either of the people chasing her–the Trapper and the Magistrate–catch up with her.

When I finished this book, I told myself it was a decent historical fiction novel. But then when I went back to start this review, I noticed it’s marked as “dystopian”. I guess there’s a reference in the blurb, but it didn’t really come through at all in the book. I just thought the lack of technology, homesteading, etc. was an element of the time setting.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.]

The Night Screams by Devon McCormack

The Night Screams

The Night Screams by Devon McCormack

Published by: Harmony Ink Press on July 28, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After his family abandoned him, Cal took refuge at a shelter for homeless LGBT youth. But one night he woke up in a dark room, naked, and with no idea where he was. And the torture that followed was nearly unbearable. When he manages to escape on a whim, he first heads to take care of his basic needs (clothes and food). But he’s caught shoplifting from a store, and he finds himself in a position where he’s once again unable to run.

Cal certainly doesn’t expect the kindness shown to him by the owner of the store. Gary and his wife Luce are willing to give Cal the benefit of the doubt (even though his trauma has left him speechless). They welcome him into their home and help him work with the police to find the man who abducted him. It’s a bit overwhelming for Cal but it’s definitely the support he needs.

Though what’s truly overwhelming for Cal is Luce’s nephew, Jake. Jake is skeptical of Cal at first, but Cal can understand why. Cal also understands why so many people are drawn to Jake. He’s attractive and he has an edge to him that is nothing short of intriguing. But Cal know Jake isn’t interested. He has a girlfriend. And Cal’s the guy who tried to steal from his family. But as Jake hints there might be a possibility for a relationship, Cal finds himself confused. Even if Jake is interested, should he take such a leap? Is he ready to be with someone like that after all he’s been through? Can he trust someone on that level? And would he be taking advantage of his generous hosts?

I enjoyed this one more than I originally expected I would. The characters–all of them, including the supporting cast–are complex and dynamic. The storytelling is engaging and descriptive. And the plot is paced well with just the right twists at the perfect time. Add to that the fact that it’s difficult not to feel for these two guys on a number of levels, and you can see why it was hard for me to put it down.

There are layers of issues that the author touches on in this story: abandonment, abuse, assault, kidnapping, religion, small town issues, violence, family, homophobia, etc. But none of it is done in a way that comes across as patronizing. And the intersection of these issues adds some realism to the story. We’re never dealing with just one issue at a time in our lives.

Despite this being a Harmony Ink title (Dreamspinner’s young adult imprint), I find myself questioning where this fits in the young adult spectrum. Yes, the main characters are in their late teens, but the content is really heavy and at times graphic. It seems like this may be more of a new adult title.

Content warnings: sexual assault, graphic violence, forced imprisonment, hate crimes

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Series: Harry Potter, Book 8
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books on July 31, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. The One Who Defeated the Dark Lord. One might think that Harry Potter is fearless. He’s up for any challenge. But no one told him that moving on, raising a family, and trying to have a normal life would be more challenging than anything he’s faced before.

And one of the biggest challenges for Harry is his son. Albus Severus and his dad have never really clicked. The connection between them doesn’t feel the same as the connection Harry has with James. And when Albus is sorted into Slytherin and becomes friends with none other than Scorpius Malfoy, the divide only grows wider. A divide further complicated by the rumors that Scorpius may not be Draco’s son. A divide further complicated by Harry’s scar acting up. And a divide further complicated by a centaur’s vision of a darkness around Albus.

For Albus, living in his father’s shadow is challenging. There are expectations. And it’s always made very clear when he doesn’t meet them. But there’s got to be a way for him to do something to break beyond that, right? Something he can do that makes him stand out on his own? And with Scorpius at his side, he’s sure he can accomplish anything.

I’ll start by saying that if you’re not a big reader of plays, this one might be a little challenging. They don’t read like prose. They’re not meant to. And you often have to fill in some of the action and internal monologues based on your own reading of the characters. That’s just part of dramatic works as casual reading.

The story here is engaging. I enjoyed getting a glimpse back into the wizarding world. You’ll find your old favorites and even some new characters that are a part of the next generation. And the flashbacks to Harry’s childhood that were left out of the original novels were also very telling.

Is this another epic Harry Potter adventure? No. But I don’t think it’s meant to be. It’s not a seven-novel saga with a major arc. It’s a single story, focusing on the future of the wizarding world, and reminding us that the past can come back to haunt us in ways we never imagined. And those ways are exponentially more when magic is involved.

I’ve seen some comments online to the effect of “I’ve read better fanfiction.” And while I don’t want to get into a whole debate in this review, I don’t see how that is necessarily a standard of what makes for a good story. For one, it diminishes fanfiction as something “less than” quality published work. And I’ve read many fanfics that were better than some published work. And secondly, what’s the point of the comparison? Just because you’ve personally read something you think is “better” than something else, it doesn’t–by default–make that something else bad. When I give a book a three or four star rating, I don’t say “But I’ve read 15 five star books that were better so this is awful.” Context is important, and I think it’s something that we as readers and reviewers need to remember. /soapbox

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, pick this up. If nothing else, you’ll get a few hours of entertainment and enlightenment out of it. And you’ll get to go back to Hogwarts one last time…

 

Native Wind by A.M. Burns


Native Wind

Native Wind by A.M. Burns

Series: Native Ingenuity, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on July 19, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After the murder of his family, Trey McAllister found a home among the Comanche. Not only did they give him a place to live and a tribe to support him, but his innate magical abilities led to him being taken on as a shaman’s apprentice. The new home also gave Trey the opportunity to bond more closely with his friend Grey Talon. And their relationship quickly became more to both of them than they might otherwise have imagined.

As part of a bargain made by the tribe’s shaman, Trey and Grey Talon find themselves on a mission to track down a dragon’s daughter. But it’s not just a simple tracking mission. It’s a task that may bring them face-to-face with people more vile and more powerful than they’ve faced before. The two of them will need to work together, and they’ll need to be willing to rely on any extra help they might find along the way.

There’s quite a convergence of genre here. There are elements of historical fiction when it comes to place and people. Then one will find some fantasy in the use of magic. There’s mythology with the mention of spirits of the elements and dragons. And the mechanical creations that show up early in the book bring in a healthy helping of steampunk. But comes together in a way that really works.

This is one that I finished in a single sitting. Not only is it a relatively easy read, but it’s engaging. I had no real desire to put it down and go do something else until it was finished. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but I am certainly looking forward to more.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Dinner for One by Meg Harding

Dinner for One

Dinner for One by Meg Harding

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on July 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Bastien isn’t known for taking criticism very well. But, then again, he doesn’t have much practice. His French restaurant always gets rave reviews, and he’s never really had any complaints. So when a respected restaurant critic gives the place a negative review, Bastien is a bit miffed. He channels that energy into making something extra special for his niece’s school bake sale. And it’s to his benefit when he meets an attractive writer who just might be interested in more than Bastien’s food.

Of all the things James expected when he showed up to a school bake sale, meeting someone like Bastien wasn’t one of them. The man not only knows how to bake, but he appeals to James in other ways as well. And James thinks they might be a good match–until he learns that Bastien is the owner of a restaurant he recently reviewed. And said review wasn’t exactly positive. James knows that if he reveals this to Bastien their potential relationship will stop dead in its tracks. But maybe if Bastien can have the chance to get to know James, he’ll see there’s something more there? Is it dishonest to omit this fact, when it shouldn’t matter anyway if it turns out they like each other?

Is omission really dishonesty? Such an age-old question that gets answers all across the spectrum. On one hand, it’s not an overt lie by giving misinformation. If a question isn’t asked, then is there really an expectation that it should be answered? But if you know sharing a piece of information would matter to someone but you withhold it, isn’t that just as bad?

Don’t let all the philosophical questions fool you. This is actually a fun and light-hearted book. But it does bring those issues to the forefront. Is building a relationship while you withhold something from your partner that you know would matter to them the right way to go? You know they’ll be upset when it all comes to bear. But you also can’t help thinking that if you tell them upfront, any chance of a relationship will be lost. James definitely struggles with these questions, and he gets varying advice from other sources in his life. Which goes to show that opinions on this subject haven’t really reached a widespread consensus.

This, of course, easily snags a recommendation from me. Especially because of the way everything ends up playing out for these two…

Wildflowers by Suki Fleet

Wildflowers

Wildflowers by Suki Fleet

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on July 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Xavi hasn’t had the best luck in the love department. And as a result, he’s become a bit of a loner, keeping everyone at a distance. Why let people get close when caring only leads to hurt and heartbreak?

One person Xavi’s connected with is Sam. But Sam has his own pain. He’s sick–Xavi’s not sure with what–and he’s made one single request. Sam wants Xavi to stay with him until he’s gone. And Xavi agrees, relying on the “I don’t really care for anyone” attitude he hopes will get him through.

As the two go on a cross-country trip, however, Xavi realizes that letting Sam slip away might be harder than he imagined. And maybe with the right support, Sam might not be as intent on just giving up. But how can Xavi change Sam’s mind when he’s already made such a major decision? And can he convince Sam to trust him to be something other than what he’s presented to the world for so long?

I now know that when I pick up a Suki Fleet novel, it’s going to be one that pulls at the heartstrings. This author has an amazing ability to tell deep, emotional stories that manage to be a bit rough around the edges. These characters are far from perfect. But you root for them every step of the way, even when they’re driving you up a wall because of the decisions they’re making.

Despite the emotional nature of the story, there’s never a feeling of angst for angst’s sake, which I think we get from many romance authors (especially M/M) these days. Fleet’s storytelling is unique in that regard and very refreshing.

The Photographer’s Truth by Ralph Josiah Bardsley

The Photographer's Truth

The Photographer’s Truth by Ralph Josiah Bardsley

Published by: Bold Strokes Books on July 12, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Ian’s life seems to be on track. He has a wife and two intelligent, well-adjusted sons. He’s a key part of a software startup that looks to be going nowhere but up. There’s nothing he feels is missing. This is what he’s worked for all his life.

But when a long-term assignment in Paris takes Ian away from his family and his life, his perspective begins to shift. Especially after he meets Luca, a former fashion photographer with a skill that leaves Ian in awe. As the two become closer friends, Ian’s memory of a brief one-night encounter with another young man in college brings him to a “what if” moment. Yes, Ian has what many would call a perfect life waiting for him back at home. But is that really the life he wants, or is it just the life he expects? While he knows he can go back and continue in his role as husband and father, would he then be true to himself?

This is the second Ralph Josiah Bardsley book I’ve read, and I’m always impressed by this author’s ability to capture characters who are on the brink. A character like Ian is dealing with a lot in this story. He’s confronting truths about himself–some of which he’s buried and some of which he’s never seen before. He’s trying to reconcile the responsibilities of his life and how they might fit into a possible new truth. But it’s all done in a way that feels very real and authentic without simply piling on the angst as so many authors would do.

The only reason this doesn’t pull a higher rating from me is that I would have liked to see a bit more in the resolution. But this is still a great read, and I give it a strong recommendation.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]