Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Front Porch Books: May 2014 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of books--mainly advance review copies (aka "uncorrected proofs" and "galleys")--I've received from publishers, but also sprinkled with packages from Book Mooch, Amazon and other sources.  Because my dear friends, Mr. FedEx and Mrs. UPS, leave them with a doorbell-and-dash method of delivery, I call them my Front Porch Books.  In this digital age, ARCs are also beamed to the doorstep of my Kindle via NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Note: most of these books won't be released for another 2-6 months; I'm just here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco): We begin this month's selection of new books with a blindfolded woman rowing down a river.  Why is she blindfolded?  I'll let the Jacket Copy tell the story:
Something is out there . . . Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from. Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, Malorie has long dreamed of fleeing to a place where her family might be safe. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat--blindfolded--with nothing to rely on but Malorie's wits and the children's trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster? Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey--a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motley group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside--and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted? Interweaving past and present, Josh Malerman's breathtaking debut is a horrific and gripping snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.
Malerman is another one of those recording artists branching out into fiction writing (See Also: Steve Earle, Josh Ritter, et al)--he's the lead singer for the rock band the High Strung--but based on what little I've read of Bird Box so far, he might want to consider quitting his Day Job.  Blurbworthiness: “This completely compelling novel contains a thousand subtle touches but no mere flourishes--it is so well, so efficiently, so directly written I read it with real admiration.  Josh Malerman does the job like a fast-talking, wised-up angel.”  (Peter Straub, Ghost Story)

Along Those Lines by Peter Cashwell (Paul Dry Books):  I love the Opening Line of Peter Cashwell's book about “the boundaries that create our world”:
There is no such thing as a line.
This comes right after an epigraph from Paul Klee: “A line is a dot that goes for a walk.”  Cashwell strolls along his own lines, visible and invisible in a book that's sure to fascinate and delight.  What he did for ornithology in his first book, The Verb 'To Bird', he'll no doubt do for borders, edges, and fringes in this one.  Here's the Jacket Copy for Along Those Lines:
After years of crossing borders in search of new birds and new landscapes, Peter Cashwell's exploration of lines between states, between time zones, and between species led him to consider the lines that divide genders, seasons, musical genres, and just about every other aspect of human life. His conclusion: Most had something in common--they were largely imaginary. Nonetheless, Along Those Lines, a tour of the tangled world of delineation, attempts to address how we distinguish right from wrong, life from death, Democrat from Republican--and how the lines between came to be. Part storyteller, part educator, and part wise guy, Cashwell is unafraid to take readers off the beaten path--into the desert vistas of the Four Corners, the breeding ground of an endangered warbler, or the innards of a grand piano. Something amusing and/or insightful awaits at every stop. And he's not alone. The tricks and treats of the human instinct for drawing lines are revealed in interviews with experts of all sorts. Learn about the use of the panel border from a Hugo Award-winning comics creator. Trace the edge of extinction with the rediscoverer of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Get the truth about the strike zone from an umpire who holds a degree in physics. You'll begin to see even the most familiar lines in a whole new way.
Blurbworthiness: “From music to politics to gender splits, the things that divide us also tell us quite a bit about who we are, and how we got there.  You couldn't ask for a better guide than Peter Cashwell, whose eloquent musings on the lines we draw--and sometimes erase--is illuminating, fascinating, and impossible to put down.”  (Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You)

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang (Scribner):  A confession: I've never read James Joyce's Ulysses.  While I greatly enjoyed Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses has always eluded me (frightened and daunted me, if we're going to be honest).  But now may be as good a time as any to tackle Joyce's 265,000-word classic.  I think it would pair nicely with Maya Lang's debut novel The Sixteenth of June--a date which, as any Joyce fan will readily tell you, is the timespan of the entirety of Ulysses, aka Bloomsday.  Lang also confines herself to a single day in a book which is considerably shorter than Joyce's (but, perhaps, is a little more accessible).  Jacket Copy:
Leopold Portman, a young IT manager a few years out of college, dreams of settling down in Philadelphia's bucolic suburbs and starting a family with his fiancee, Nora. A talented singer in mourning for her mother, Nora has abandoned a promising opera career and wonders what her destiny holds. Her best friend, Stephen, Leopold's brother, dithers in his seventh year of graduate school and privately questions Leo and Nora's relationship. On June 16, 2004, the three are brought together--first for a funeral, then for an annual Bloomsday party. As the long-simmering tensions between them come to a head, they are forced to confront the choices of their pasts and their hopes for the future.
Blurbworthiness: "As Joyce displayed in Ulysses, a single day can make for an epic journey, every step containing multitudes, but a day can also change a person in smaller ways, can clarify rather than obscure, as Maya Lang proves in her wonderful debut.  Instead of the winding streets of Dublin, we have the pathways of family and the roles we often play despite ourselves.  The language is lovely, the insights heartfelt.  We care deeply for these people and by the end of the novel we want to say Yes to Stephen, Yes to Leopold, Yes to Nora, and the biggest Yes of all to Maya Lang."  (David Gilbert, author of & Sons)

Third Rail by Rory Flynn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):  "A gun goes missing" isn't normally an earth-shattering headline, but in Rory Flynn's hands, that lost Glock becomes a life-or-death situation.  Flynn grabbed my attention right out of the starting gate with these Opening Lines:
When the first headlights burn in the distance, Harkness shoves the wire cutters in his back pocket, climbs through the fresh hole in the chain-link fence, and scrambles down the gravel embankment. He pulls on a Red Sox jacket to hide his uniform and finds his place in the center of the road like a pitcher taking the mound—focused and ready for tonight’s game. His departmental counselor would see this late-night return to the scene of the incident as proof of risk-seeking tendencies. His brother George would just shake his head and tell him to get over it and move on. Thalia would tell him to have another drink. But they aren’t here. Only Officer Edward Harkness, formerly of the Boston Police Department, stands on the Turnpike, ready to see if a stranger in a car will kill him.
Here's the Jacket Copy to explain why Eddie is standing in the middle of the road:
At crime scenes, Eddy Harkness is a human Ouija board, a brilliant young detective with a knack for finding the hidden "something"--cash, drugs, guns, bodies. But Eddy's swift rise in an elite narcotics unit is derailed by the death of a Red Sox fan in the chaos of a World Series win, a death some camera-phone-wielding witnesses believe he could have prevented. Scapegoated, Eddy is exiled to his hometown just outside Boston, where he empties parking meters and struggles to redeem his disgraced family name.Then one night Harkness' police-issue Glock disappears. Unable to report the theft, Harkness starts a secret search--just as a string of fatal accidents lead him to uncover a new, dangerous smart drug, Third Rail. With only a plastic gun to protect him, Harkness begins a high-stakes investigation that leads him into the darkest corners of the city, where politicians and criminals intertwine to deadly effect.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman (Grand Central Publishing):  I can't think of a better time than summer to read about an ice-cream empire, can you?  Combine it with a rags-to-riches saga of the American Dream, and I think you have the mix-ins of a delicious read.  Here's the Jacket Copy for Susan Jane Gilman's new novel:
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street. Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen"--doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality. Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.
Blurbworthiness: "Picture a scrappy young immigrant who amasses fame and fortune through bone-grinding labor, canny speculation, and the gift of gab, only to wind up a paranoid alcoholic mired in the trappings of luxury, in trouble with the Feds for tax fraud.  You pictured a man, right?  Gotcha!  This is the genius of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street: in a novel that condenses the innocence, the calculation, the hope, and the delusions of twentieth-century America into one figure, Susan Jane Gilman taps a heroine to do the heavy lifting.  The scope is broad, the writing is sumptuous, and Lillian Dunkle née Malka Treynovsky leaves Kane and Gatsby in the dust: she's a full-steam-ahead geyser tapped into the American life force itself." (Ellis Avery, author of The Last Nude)

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown):  Here in Montana where I live, summer not only means "ice cream," it's also known as "fire season."  Though reading about hundreds of acres of trees going up in flame and smoke may not be the most enjoyable thing to do, when you combine it with Michael Koryta's knuckle-whitening style, I'd say you've got a pretty irresistible thriller clenched between your hands.  Behold, the Jacket Copy:
When fourteen-year-old Jace Wilson witnesses a brutal murder, he's plunged into a new life, issued a false identity and hidden in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens. The plan is to get Jace off the grid while police find the two killers. The result is the start of a nightmare. The killers, known as the Blackwell Brothers, are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way in a methodical quest to reach him. Now all that remains between them and the boy are Ethan and Allison Serbin, who run the wilderness survival program; Hannah Faber, who occupies a lonely fire lookout tower; and endless miles of desolate Montana mountains. The clock is ticking, the mountains are burning, and those who wish Jace Wilson dead are no longer far behind.
Opening Lines:
On the last day of Jace Wilson’s life, the thirteen-year-old stood on a quarry ledge staring at cool, still water and finally understood something his mother had told him years before: Trouble might come for you when you showed fear, but trouble doubled-down when you lied about it. At the time, Jace hadn’t known exactly what she was talking about. Today he did.
Blurbworthiness: "Warning: Michael Koryta's wonderful, riveting, and harrowing Those Who Wish Me Dead may just move you to tears.  Enjoy at your own risk." (Harlan Coben, author of Missing You)

Auto Biography by Earl Swift (It Books):  It's hard to believe no one else has previously come up with a cleverly-titled book like Earl Swift's "biography" of a car--or, if there's another "Auto Biography" out there, I'm not aware of it.  Beyond the word play, Swift's book is pure click-bait for the To-Be-Read pile--and I say that as a dude who's not even remotely interested in automobiles (ask me what a piston is, and I'll probably tell you it's another name for a urinal).  Here's the Jacket Copy, which should be enough to rev any reader's engine:
A brilliant blend of Shop Class as Soulcraft and The Orchid Thief, Earl Swift's wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw-genius auto mechanic as he painstakingly attempts to restores a classic 1957 Chevy to its former glory--all while the FBI and local law enforcement close in. To Tommy Arney, the old cars at Moyock Muscle are archaeological artifacts, twentieth-century fossils that represent a place and a people utterly devoted to the automobile and transformed by it. But to his rural North Carolina town, they're not history; they're junk. When Tommy acquires a rusted out wreck of an old Chevy and promises to return it to a shiny, chromed work of American art, he sees one last chance to salvage his respect, keep himself out of jail, and save his business. But for this folk hero who is often on the wrong side of the law, the odds of success are long, especially when the FBI, local authorities, and the bank are closing in.
But I gotta tell ya, beyond the interesting real-life story, it's Swift's telling of the tale which really grabbed me from the Opening Lines:
      Behold Tommy Arney: six-one, two-forty, biceps big as most men’s thighs and displayed to maximum effect in the black wifebeater that is his warm-weather fashion essential. Thick neck. Goatee. Hair trimmed tight on the sides and to a broom-like inch on top, having grown too thin to facilitate the lush mullet he favored for the better part of two decades. Big, calloused mitts roughened by wrench turning and car towing and several hundred applications of blunt-force trauma, of which dozens resulted in his arrest. Self-applied four-dot tattoo on his left wrist, signifying his years as guest of the state. A belly nourished by beer, whiskey, Rumple Minze, and buckets of both haute cuisine and Buffalo chicken wings – of the latter, seventy-two at one sitting – but ameliorated by excellent posture: He leads with his chest, shoulders thrown rearward, daring the world to take a swing at him.
      Few scars, considering. Under his right arm is the ghost of a surgery he endured without general anesthesia, its healing compromised when, a few hours after he was wheeled from the OR, he snuck out of the hospital for a beer at a nearby strip club, got into a fight, and reopened the incision in such manner that he drenched himself, the club and a neighboring 7-Eleven in blood.
      Point of information: He owned the strip club.
      On his skull, a dent wrought by repeated blows with a heavy stick of lumber. Two breaks in the bones of his nose. And here and there, faded nicks recalling a melee outside a Norfolk, Virginia, sailor bar, during which he says he warned away an advancing K-9 cop by hollering, “Don’t set that dog on me, or I’ll fuck up your dog” – then made good on the threat by clamping his beefy hands around the charging animal’s neck, squeezing until it passed out, and beating the cop with his own German shepherd.

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson (Mariner):  When Dickens fans like me hear the name "Marshalsea," they immediately think of the sad squalor depicted in Little Dorrit.  Charles Dickens' own father, John, was sentenced to the debtors' prison for a number of years, so the author had first-hand knowledge of the place when he described it as "an oblong pile of barrack building, partitioned into squalid houses standing back to back, so that there were no back rooms; environed by a narrow paved yard, hemmed in by high walls duly spiked at the top."  When I received Antonia Hodgson's debut novel and saw she added a devil to the mix, I wanted to know more about what lay inside those spiked walls.  The Jacket Copy reveals some of the mystery:
It's 1727. Tom Hawkins is damned if he's going to follow in his father's footsteps and become a country parson. Not for him a quiet life of prayer and propriety. His preference is for wine, women, and cards. But there's a sense of honor there too, and Tom won't pull family strings to get himself out of debt--not even when faced with the appalling horrors of London's notorious debtors' prison: The Marshalsea Gaol. Within moments of his arrival in the Marshalsea, Hawkins learns there's a murderer on the loose, a ghost is haunting the gaol, and that he'll have to scrounge up the money to pay for his food, bed, and drink. He's quick to accept an offer of free room and board from the mysterious Samuel Fleet--only to find out just hours later that it was Fleet's last roommate who turned up dead. Tom's choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder--or be the next to die.
Blurbworthiness: "Hodgson, the editor-in-chief of Little, Brown U.K., conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot...(She) makes the stench, as well as the despair, almost palpable, besides expertly dropping fair clues.  Fans of Iain Pears and Charles Palliser will hope for a sequel." (Publishers Weekly)

Liberty's Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell (Atlantic Monthly Press):  Ah, summer, when thoughts turn to hot dogs, beachy afternoons and a 305-foot-tall statue in New York Harbor (preferably with fireworks blooming overhead).  While many of us take the Statue of Liberty for granted these days--both as a symbol and as a landmark--it's nice to be reminded that it is, at heart, a piece of art.  In her new book, Elizabeth Mitchell describes the sometimes tumultuous beginnings of the statue as sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi struggled to raise money for his vision.  Liberty's Torch confines itself almost entirely to, as the subtitle says, "the great adventure to build the Statue of Liberty."  Jacket Copy:
Bartholdi showed himself to be a talented sculptor at the tender age of twenty-one when a statue he created won third prize at the 1855 Paris Exhibition. His equally prodigious talent for entrepreneurship came to light soon afterwards. Following a trip to Egypt where he was inspired by the pyramids and the Sphinx, and with France in turmoil following the Franco-Prussian war, Bartholdi made for America, carrying with him the idea of a colossal statue of a woman in his mind. With no help coming from the French and American governments, he enlisted the help of a number of notable men and women of the age, including Joseph Pulitzer, Victor Hugo, Gustave Eiffel, and Emma Lazarus, and through a variety of money-making schemes and some very modern-seeming fundraising campaigns, collected almost all of the money required to build the statue himself.
Blurbworthiness: “Filled with outlandish characters, fascinating tidbits and old world adventure, Liberty’s Torch is a rollicking read about one of America’s most beloved and, until now, misunderstood, icons.” (Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette)

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland Books):  If, like me, you were held in thrall by the time-traveling serial killer in Beukes' previous novel, The Shining Girls, then I've got good news and bad news: Broken Monsters promises more of the same kind of thrill ride in a story about a criminal mastermind creating violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses.  The bad news?  You might end up with fingers laced with paper cuts from turning the pages so quickly (e-readers, you're relatively safe from harm).  Here's the Jacket Copy for Broken Monsters:
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams? If you're Detective Versado's geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you're desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you're Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you'll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe--and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world. If Lauren Beukes's internationally bestselling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.
The good times start for Beukes fans in September.

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