Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What to Read, What to Write?

When Dan Wells was still a nobody, he read epic fantasy. He wrote manuscript after manuscript, all epic fantasy, none of which were working. It wasn't until he wrote six (six-ish, I forget the actual number) that he finally tried a horror novel, and that was the one he was able to get published, the first John Cleaver book. And you know what? That horror novel is a really great book. But I always wonder if he (or authors in general) feel conflicted, like they are betraying a part of themself by writing in a different genre.

So, what's the moral of this story? If all you read is teen contemporary, you should write adult paranormal? No, not really. More that you should be brave, and write outside your expectations.

And let me tell you, this is really freaking hard. I don't have one specific genre I want to write in, mainly because I read across all kinds of genres. I read whatever I feel like. But all of the stories I fall in love with have something in common. The characters are real enough to cut your throat, real enough to fall in love with. They have real issues and real conversations and real wants and needs. They no longer exist solely on the paper, and become a living, breathing person that just happens to be in a different room while they tell me their story. Please find me one person who didn't want to be best friends with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and until then I think I've made my point.

There's another thing I like: first person. I like to think that the character is telling their story directly to me, that they sat down and wrote this long letter because I needed to know, and the pages are their heartstrings because they couldn't live another second without me knowing what happened to them. For the same reason researchers go to letters and other primary sources, I want to hear the story from the primary source. Not filtered through a faceless narrator (although I can definitely enjoy third person, those stories always feel one step removed from the emotions for me). Perhaps that makes me a romantic. I don't care. This is why the printed word will never die for me, because turning the pages in a book is like uncovering another layer of the person it encompasses.

I'm losing faith in Bria's story. I'm not surprised, it was the Shiny Awesome Thing that took me away from the story I was working on previously. Marshmallow's story has already existed in a partial draft, and I'd done a lot of work on the outline of the new draft before thinking up Bria's story and starting on that on a whim. I worked on Bria's story for a little over a month, without an outline, just writing wherever my fancy took me. And that was fun for a while, but there was no real depth. The characters were all just mushy, and it wasn't long before I would go an entire week without writing because my interest wasn't there.

Now, I find my interest moving back to Marshmallow. First of all, the main character's name is Marshmallow, and it totally makes sense and that's awesome. Second, this is the first story that I thought of a plot that worked, and I created the story, instead of creating chapters in a generic story shape like my other attempted manuscripts. This is hard to explain... Really, this is the only story that truly works, that I am writing because I want to know what happens, instead of creating a simplified story that I think my novice writing skills can handle. It's never fun to do something that's dumbed down. Bria's story is dumbed down. So was Visola's, though it wasn't as obvious. But Marshmallow's story is much fuller and rounder, and more interesting for that. What's the point of writing something if it's not the most interesting thing I can think of? (Seanan McGuire touched on this in another podcast interview at Roundtable. She is made of so much awesome.)

I'm not really sure what I set out to say with this post. My writing life is in upheaval yet again while I switch gears between stories. Relevant to how I feel is this post from Chuck Wendig. He always seems to come out with articles just when I need them (then again, I can always use a motivational article). I keep trying to simplify things so that I can handle them, and finally finish something, but by simplifying them I am making them boring, thus encouraging me to abandon them. It's a vicious cycle. What I really need is to sack-up and stick with something long enough to get the story out. It doesn't matter if it sucks, it doesn't matter if plot arcs don't match up, and any character that comes out boring can be revised until they are awesome. The important part is getting something out that I can fix.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Irrepressible Library

I am in the wonderful and horrible position of not knowing what to read next. I have too many ideas and can't decide between them, but after reading White Horse I know I want something cheery, which rules out The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I have Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard from the library, but I'm not in a YA mood right now, which is one of the reasons why I gave up on Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. It's beautifully written, but it seems like a bunch of "stuff" happening, and I know there are clues to important things that I am supposed to be paying attention to, but I have no idea what is important or what to focus on, so I just feel lost. I think the point of the book is just to show the love and loyalty between sisters, but I keep wanting it to be about something more, like folklore or mermaids or something, and I'm just missing NRS's point completely. Not in the right headspace to read it right now. Then there's Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, The Prestige by Christopher Priest, and A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough.

But to be honest, I'm leaning towards My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland and Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

In watching news, I am now on Season 4 of Supernatural and it is so fan-freaking-tastic! I just love Dean and Sam so much. There are so many things on Netflix I want to watch between Supernatural, Dollhouse rewatch, and Breaking Bad that I don't know what to do with myself. And I'm still looking for The Sound of My Voice to come out on DVD.

Update: I ended up reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It's dense, but the movie trailer is made of so much awesome I'm super motivated to stick with it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

White Horse

I discovered Alex Adams through her interview on Terribleminds, and I immediately knew that I had to read White Horse. A superior spiritual cousin to Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig? Don't mind if I do. The book in a tweet from Alex Adams: White Horse: It’s like The Road, but with breasts, hope, and punctuation. For the record, this book is infinitely more depressing than The Road. Find Alex on Twitter and her blog, and there's a cool book page from SS Aussie.

A synopsis, from BN:
Thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life until the end of world arrives. She is cleaning cages and floors at Pope Pharmaceuticals when the president of the United States announces that human beings are no longer a viable species. When Zoe realizes that everyone she loves is disappearing, she starts running. Scared and alone in a shockingly changed world, she embarks on a remarkable journey of survival and redemption. Along the way, Zoe comes to see that humans are defined not by their genetic code, but rather by their actions and choices. White Horse offers hope for a broken world, where love can lead to the most unexpected places.


First of all, don't let the charming cover fool you. This book is full of death and sickness and vomit (way, way too much vomiting) and all those terrible things people do after the world ends. In a post-apocalyptic book that's supposed to be about hope and love, it sure is really fucking bleak. I made the mistake of reading the first half of the book in one sitting, and I was so depressed and awful-feeling when I came up for air that I made P take me driving to the mall/ice cream/various sundries to get the haze out of my head. (So much tension around that goddamned jar!) I should mention that the US cover is awesome and I love it so much more than the UK cover. And in case you didn't realize (I didn't at first) White Horse is a reference to Pestilence, the first horseman of the apocalypse.

Why do I continue to read books that are pretty much my worst nightmare? I don't know. I felt the same way after reading The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe. Maybe by forcing myself to think about it I will conquer my fear? Who knows. But I hate thinking about the apocalypse. It's not that I'm afraid of dying (no more than any other person, that is, I don't really want to, but I don't dwell on it), but more that I'm afraid everything we've ever worked for will count for nothing. When one person dies, they still have a legacy they leave behind. People they love who get to keep living, a coin collection they built over their entire life, a however small stamp they left on the world that says I was here. But if life ends, everything that makes us human, love and passion and fear and emotions and relationships, will just dissipate into thin air, and I find that incredibly sad. All this hubbub about 2012 and the Mayans (which, after much internal debate, I do not think the world is ending December 2012. Read this. Also, this is funny.) is bringing out all kinds of end-of-the-world books, and I can't keep myself away from a book that sounds good, apocalypse within its pages or not. \end{rant}

I loved the main character, Zoe. She was quiet, but strong as balls. She did what was necessary for her to survive, even if it meant losing a bit of her humanity. She was snarky, but it was realistic, not like the super-dialogue that goes too far. She laughed and cried in equal measure, and I think that is important for the end of the world. Accept the sadness, but realize how ridiculous everything has become. Zoe wasn't physically strong, it was her character that was strong (two recent articles: On Becoming Strong, and The Definition of Badass). Adams did a great job of portraying what the world turns into when everything ends. Normal people surviving by normal means, and the other kind of people, the kind that lose their humanity because they are focused so much on surviving.

And this book is a trilogy? Why? It ended! The story is over. The world lurches on for the moment, but Zoe's journey is complete. I have no idea what the following books are about, but I'd definitely be interested in at least checking them out. It would make sense if the series was four books and went through all the stages of the apocalypse with all four horsemen. There were mentions of God in this first book, but there wasn't a large religious bend to it, more just the thoughts you would expect from someone trying to make sense of the apocalypse. I don't know if I would even want to read a story that continued to be so depressing after the journey Zoe already took, but anything happier wouldn't be true to the tone of the first book.

So why is this book worth reading, you ask? Because the writing is phenomenal. I mean, phenomenal. The kind of writing you can taste as you read. Because Adams doesn't shy away from talking about the hard things, the scary things. Because she created a fascinating virus that had a mind of it's own, and I love the people that arose from that virus. Because the last paragraph made this entire journey worth taking (and you will be wrung out as if you walked the hundreds of miles with Zoe). Because the last sentence was so fucking awesome it made my heart squeeze and left my mind racing and really made finishing the book worth it. I'll put down a book I'm not interested in easily, but a book that scares me I force myself to keep reading. And I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Snippets

I read a lot of great articles during the week, most of which I find in my Twitter feed. I think they are great articles, and I just want to share! Which leads me into my first link...

Should Bloggers Charge for Reviews? This makes me angry. A book review site charging money for reviews. I'm sorry, whatever happened to reviewing books because you loved them and wanted to tell people about them? Even if you didn't really love the book, there's a compulsion for readers to talk about what we just read. For the record, I review books because I wanted to read them, and now that I've read them I want to tell you about them.

Two great posts from Beth Revis, one old and one new:
The Definition of Badass. Comparing Katniss, Bella, and Hermione, and why all three of the characters are strong. You know, I admit that I knock Twilight a lot (mainly because I'm sick of the teen franchise it's become) but when I first read the book, I loved them. In the words of Beth Revis, there is something strong about knowing what you want and going after it, even if that something is only love. I would have loved to hear this panel.
Thankful for Dreams.

Are you an aspiring writer? If so, you should be following this guy.

Hilarious Guide to the London Olympics. Your one-stop shop for cultural know-how. Fit in like a true Brit!

I've been watching Supernatural on Netflix. Marathoning, is a better word. It's an amazing show. Like old-school X-Files but with more snark and hotter guys (but I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for David Duchovny). But it's the dynamic and loyalty between the two brothers that really makes this show amazing.

Did you know that this is one of my favorite book quotes ever? And it got the Zen Pencils treatment! And reading some more of Carl Sagan's quotes (like this one), I've decided he is awesome. Contact is one of my favorite movies.



Monday, July 16, 2012

The Hollow City

The Hollow City is a stand-alone novel by Dan Wells and follows a schizophrenic protagonist; a similar vein to his John Cleaver Series, whose protagonist was a sociopath. Wells seems to be the guy who always writes about mental illness, and I'm okay with that. You can follow Dan at his Twitter, blog, and on Writing Excuses. Here are the reviews from EBR and Bookworm Blues, and an interesting post on the inspiration for the book.

A synopsis, from BN:
Michael Shipman has paranoid schizophrenia; he suffers from hallucinations, delusions, and complex, horrific fantasies of persecution. They are as real to him as your peaceful life is to you. He is haunted by sounds and voices, stalked by faceless men, and endlessly pursued by something even deeper and darker--something he doesn't dare think about.
        Soon the authorities are linking him to a string of gruesome serial killings, and naturally no one believes them himself. Hounded on every side, Michael contemplates a terrifying possibility: that some of the monsters he sees are real.
        Who can you trust if you can't even trust yourself? THE HOLLOW CITY is a mesmerizing journey into madness, where the most frightening enemy of all is your own mind.


The book opens with a typical crime drama foof. We watch a murder, and we know this going to be the center of the story. But then we cut to the hospital where Michael Shipman is waking up, and he has no idea where he's been for the last two weeks. We don't know who he is yet or how he's related to that murder. If you've read the John Cleaver books, this protagonist will feel familiar. He's a damaged soul, unable to interact with life normally, and the deeply personal narration and the close viewpoint makes everything painful and tense. Since he is a schizophrenic, we have no idea what is real and what is not (even when we think we do), and because of that we have no idea who to believe or who to trust. The first few chapters do a great job of explaining the disease and debunking the common myths, so the reader understands what is happening to Michael's synapses. Wells does a great job at making the reader as skeptical of people as the protagonist is, and we can relate to him even through this mental disease.

I've mentioned before on this blog that I have schizophrenia in my family, and the hiding-from-authorities and living-under-a-bridge hit really close to home. Look at the way Michael acts in the book, and watch the way Jani acts, and Michael will seem all the more real. The hand movements, the intelligence, the hallucinations... Again, Wells did a fantastic job at creating such a vivid character.

For the first half of the book, I had no idea where the plot was going. We were just existing with Michael through the first two months of his treatment. But you know something is very wrong. There is something very weird with the Children of the Earth cult, and with the Faceless Men, and Michael slowly finds out more and more between the doctors and the FBI agents who come to interrogate him.

I really liked that I was completely in the dark until the very end of the book. I made several guesses, and they were all wrong. But that was awesome! Because what actually happened is way better than I could have thought up myself. And while I do still have some lingering questions about the Red Line Killer (Why the mutilation? Why that specific mutilation?), there was no time to wrap everything up with a bow. The book ends suddenly (thank you for the epilogue!) but rest assured it's the only way it could have ended, and it was great.

Also: "Steve, the bookstore guy?" Hilarious! I laughed out loud when I got to that one. EBR

There was a point during the middle of the book, when I was reading on the train headed home from work, like I always do, and we pass the Temple University football field. Its empty. There are always people practicing on that field, until 5pm every day. But of course there's a reasonable explanation, that explanation being It's summer, and the football team's on a break. But I didnt think of that. I thought of the hollow city in the book with no people and no movement, and it freaked me out a little. And of course, the next road we pass is full of cars but there's no one on the sidewalk, so now I HAVE to stare out the window until I see a person, and finally the next street had a bunch of guys playing basketball so everything was ok, but that's not the point, is it Mr. Wells? The point is you freaked me the fuck out for approximately six seconds, and that's kind of awesome.

All in all, this book was great. I definitely recommend it (as well as the John Cleaver books), and I think you should give it a shot even if you weren't as much a fan of Partials, because this book is completely different. It's original and keeps you hooked all the way to the end. I'm definitely interested to see what Wells comes out with next!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Snippets

Libba Bray doing a great job of explaining all the Legislative hoopla regarding ladyparts.
Also this article, explaining all the hoopla regarding marriage rights, aka, denying American Citizens Their Right to Anything.
For the record, vaginas are awesome (VAGINA I SAID IT), marriage should be about joining two people out of LOVE, regardless of sex/color/shoe size/whatever YOU think about SOMEONE ELSE, and the only thing withholding birth control is going to create is a bunch of unwanted/neglected children, overcrowded orphanages, makeshift/dangerous abortions by coat hanger, and oh yes, more money to be provided by the State, which is all you naysayers care about, isn't it?

Embracing Fear by Meagan Spooner. A Turning Points blog post on Nova Ren Suma's blog. A really great post, and you just need to read it for yourself. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Harry Potter:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.  -Albus Dumbledore

To make your dreams happen you have to take action and make changes and do things that are absolutely terrifying. In other words, live your life.

The Night Circus Pinterest board. Have you read The Night Circus? If not, you really need to get on that. It's a beautiful book, and there's really no good way to describe it because you need to read it to understand. This Pinterest board does a great job at catching the feeling of the book.

Alex Adams Terribleminds interview. After reading this interview, White Horse is at the top of my TBR list.

Why yes, I am completely obsessed with the Imagine Dragons EP. The LP comes out September 4! (Incidentally, also my college roommate's birthday.)

50 Creative Ways to Repurpose, Reuse, and Upcycle Old Things. So creative!

Hilarious.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Outlander

If you like reading books with brilliantly realized settings leaving out no details, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is the book for you. I loved that this book didn't shy away from anything, but approached it with the frankness that people have in real life. To warn all you softies: there is sex, and there is blood (sometimes at the same time), but it does not call attention to itself and it is not used for shock value. They are a part of the book because they are a part of life. And living in eighteenth century Scotland is not an easy life. More than following a strict plotline with a beginning, middle, and end, this book follows the life of Claire Beauchamp, when her life is flipped entirely upside-down.

A synopsis, from BN:
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...
       In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.
       Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
       Her husband is two centuries away, she is related to her lover's mortal enemy, and her neighbors think she's a witch. In this unforgettable novel of time travel, Diana Gabaldon fuses wry, modern sensibility with the drama, passion, and violence of eighteenth century as she tells the story of one daring woman and the man who loves her.


This is a hefty book, but not without its rewards. It took me nearly a month to read the whole thing. The first half of the book proceeds at a very slow pace, but it's relaxing and interesting and keeps you devoted and turning the pages. Relaxing is what I needed. The prose is clear and invisible, which is what I think prose should be. I don't have the energy to decipher my book as I read it. I want a good story. Patrick Rothfuss is another writer who does this. You read the world so effortlessly you fall through the words and into the story, and it's not until you slow down and really focus on the paragraphs that you realize just how beautiful it is.

Claire is a wonderful character. Strong and snarky, she makes a place for herself in a completely foreign new world with grace. She definitely acclimated to the strange life much better than I expected, but she still made mistakes and still called attention to herself as a foreigner, and she was a very realistic person for that.

The book treads a very fine line between "Women were made to serve" and "Women are people, too." Since it takes place 200 years ago, the men hold very strong beliefs about what a woman can and cannot do, and are largely unshakable in those beliefs. It was painful to read several of these scenes, but what was Claire to do? She is one person with a modern outlook surrounded by burly men a foot taller than her and twice her weight. There is only so much she can do to keep her independence. That being said, I think she did a great job at preserving her integrity, and she managed to land a husband who is the most understanding of the lot of them, so that worked out well. He explained to her why some things had to be the way they were, and he was open to changing his own beliefs in return. All in all, it's a very realistic (if a bit optimistic) portrait.

I will say, as relaxing as the whole book was, I was super tense reading it. I was waiting for the other ball to drop the entire time. I can't be too specific about this because I don't want to give anything away, but it's about Claire going back to her own time. It ended up being much simpler that I made it out to be, but until I read the last page I couldn't stop thinking/wondering/worrying about it.

The chapters in themselves are episodic for most of the book. Something happens, they deal with it. At most, a single problem will cover a few chapters. Really what holds the whole book together is the recurring antagonist (who's a real asshole), and he's dealt with finally in the last 250 pages of the book. This also gives the book a defined arc, which is nice. This long journey wasn't all for nothing. And I'll tell you, the ending turned out to be a real mind game. It was pretty brilliant!

I did have some issues. Too many things were convenient. A man haunted by his past into oblivion is not going to come around with one opium-fueled fistfight. The brooding clansman is not going to step out of the shadows to save the day each of the twelve times when it is necessary. The men talked about their emotions way to easily to be realistic, but I guess the frankness could be attributed to societal differences between now and eighteenth century Scotland. Don't let any of these things stop you from reading the book, they are minor. Besides, this book is all about the journey and discovering the people and the world that Claire was forced into, all while being a remarkably tender love story. It's a really fascinating read, and if you have the time to devote to it or want something slow and relaxing, definitely pick this one up!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Background Players

Some people are meant to change the world. Others are meant to do simple things, quiet things. If a man puts his own life in danger to save any number of people, he is a hero. But what about his mother--a woman who lived a quiet, conventional life--who calmed his hurts and held him close, wishing him sweet dreams and love every night before bed? What about his father--a man who lived a quiet, conventional life--who taught him what it was to be brave, to kill the majestic deer even when it pained him to do so, so that his family may be fed during the winter? Without those things, the hero would not have grown to be the man he is, willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. 

The people who change the world are strong. The people who do quiet things, give hugs of safety and kisses good night, are also strong. The world needs both, to function. The heroes, and the quiet heroes.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Irrepressible Library

The books are starting to pile up again. I've put the kibash on buying any new books for the month of July (paperbackswap and the library are still allowed). I now have so many good books in my possession that need to be read, there's no more room to be buying more. (But my bookshelf makes me so happy!)

First up, I'm currently reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I just took a quick look at the reviews on Goodreads, and people are really slamming it! But you know what? I LOVE IT so far. Yes, it's a girl book. Ewww. I bought this for my mom for Christmas and she loved it, and now I'm reading it and I love it. It has really clear, crisp writing, the historical period is heavily researched and full of detail, and the characters are dynamic and make bad choices and we fear for their safety and their relationships... really, all the things that make every other book good. This book doesn't go at a breakneck pace, but really it's the nice, heart-squeezing kind of book (with the bonus fantastic prose) that I need/want to be reading right now. I'm really just miffed that everyone one Goodreads is slamming it for a floozy romance. It is possible to tell a love story that is interesting in it's own right, and let this be a lesson to all you people who let yourselves be brainwashed by marketing departments. Read what looks interesting! In all genres! You never know what you may discover, what may become your next favorite book. When I picked up The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, I thought it was just going to be a crappy ARC that had been sitting in the bookstore for months and months. And it ended up being stupendous and amazing, and it's one of my all-time favorites.


I had such a nice surprise waiting for me when I got home yesterday: THREE books from paperbackswap! (If you haven't check out that site, you seriously have to. I can give away books I've already read or will never read to people who actually want them, and I get books I want in return! How awesome is THAT?) The Quantum Thief has been on my TBR list since it came out back in January 2011 (the sequel, The Fractal Prince, is coming out 4 September 2012). It's the right combination of weird and action and brainy science stuff that I'm really interested in. I'm thinking fans of Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space trilogy will really like this one.

I first came across Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie when I saw the David Suchet version on TV. What a fantastic movie. My jaw may have dropped at the end. He is by far the best actor to play Hercule Poirot. But, that made me want to read the book, and voila paperbackswap! In this mystery, Poirot is investigating a murder on a train while stranded in the snow. The characters are great, and like I said before, this story is all about the fantastic ending, and how Poirot grows as a character.

Also, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I've read American Gods and a started a few others by Neil Gaiman, and while I like his ideas and his essays, I find his fiction writing unemotional. I'm hoping Terry Pratchett helps with that problem in Good Omens, because I've heard all kinds of fantastic things. About an angel and a demon who team up to save the world from the apocalypse. Also, it's written by two geniuses.


These next two books, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, are quickly becoming (if they're not already) YA standards. TFIOS is about two teenagers battling cancer, and their subsequent romance. It's one of those cry-until-your-eyeballs-fall-out kind of books. TKONLG (the acronym for that looks like SCHLONG, hee) is a dystopian, I believe, and there's a talking dog. I don't know that much about it other than the entire internet was waiting for the final book in the trilogy, and then died a little bit when it was over. I may possibly need new tear ducts after reading the two of these. (But those are always the best books, aren't they? The ones that leave you raw at the end?)


These last two books are to give me a break from all the other stuff. The Prestige by Christopher Priest is the story of two dueling magicians, made famous from the movie with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. I've heard it's a wonderful book. A finally, Making Waves by Tawna Fenske, a lighthearted, quirky romance. Because everyone needs a feel-good story now and again.

So there you have it, the top of my TBR pile! This isn't even mentioning The Hollow City by Dan Wells (out yesterday, July 3), Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard (out July 28), Inside the Outbreaks by Mark Pendergrast (currently reading, though slowly), and January First by Michael Schofield (out August 7).