Tuesday, December 1, 2015

David Silverman

David Silverman is the president of American Atheists and one of the best-known atheists in America. Known as “America's loudest heathen,” a term he embraces proudly, Silverman is passionate about atheism and atheist equality.

His new book is Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Silverman's reply:
I’m currently just finishing Islam and the Future of Tolerance by Maajid Zawaz and Sam Harris. I had hoped to gain some insight on the Paris murders and how to stop Islamic terrorism from a Muslim point of view.

I was not disappointed, but neither was I thrilled. I was hoping for answers that hit hard, but what I got was the need to push pluralism, the fact that people can see different interpretations in the same book. That’s a start, but it doesn’t go all the way.

The ISIS terrorists are not bloodthirsty evil people out to kill babies. They think they are doing good. They think they are bringing peace and love. They are killing people, but they don’t believe in death – they believe their victims go to Heaven when God allows the worthy ones into heaven. The terrorists are, in a very real way, doing their victims a favor by getting them to heaven early. Where’s the harm in that?

The problem is not the lack of pluralism per se. It’s the concept of objective morality. The concept that they are right, because their preachers say so, and there is no doubt or flex in that. They are definitely doing good. This is how planes get flown into buildings, abortionists get shot, and kids in Norway get slaughtered. Doubt will create hesitation. Yes, the pluralism of which Harris and Nawaz speak is one means to that end, but perhaps a larger goal would be to stop teaching that objective morality is real. That every religion, and every belief, is just a matter of opinion. It’s all up to interpretation.
Learn more about Fighting God at the publisher's website, and follow David Silverman on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 30, 2015

Patricia Appelbaum

Patricia Appelbaum, an independent scholar of religion and American culture, is author of Kingdom to Commune: Protestant Pacifist Culture between World War I and the Vietnam Era. Her new book is St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Because someone close to me is working in Haiti right now, I’ve been rereading Karen McCarthy Brown’s Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. It’s very rich. Not only was Brown one of the first to use ethnographic methods to study religion, her book did more than any other to make Haitian Vodou visible and respected. I sometimes assign excerpts to my students to show them that Vodou isn’t just about sticking pins into dolls – which is new information for many of them.

In Brown’s innovative presentation, the chapters alternate between ethnography and storytelling. Each pair of chapters focuses on one of the Vodou spirits, from the peasant Azaka, earthy and local, to Gede, the spirit of death and transformation, who takes on particular importance in the Haitian diaspora. The stories, based in Mama Lola’s family history, illustrate the character of each spirit and the particular way he or she works to shape events. The ethnographic chapters give us vivid descriptions of complex Vodou practices and astute analysis of their meanings for everyday struggles. For a people who have faced repeated social disruption, says Brown, Vodou provides an adaptable system that enables adherents to survive, cope, and heal, in the company of a complex community of spirits and humans.

On this reading, I was particularly struck by the ways in which women have moved into a more prominent place in Vodou in urban and emigrant society, and the ways in which Vodou has changed to reflect their struggles and strengths. But every time I read this book, I find something new.

In a very different vein, I recently read Margaret Bendroth’s The Last Puritans, a new history of American Congregationalism. I especially liked the way the author asked questions not only about history, but about memory – the ways people construct the past, the ideas they have about it, how they engage with it in imagination and play, what they choose to “remember” or “forget,” and how all of this builds the sense of who they are. (Maybe it isn’t so distant from Haitian Vodou after all.) For Congregationalists, the image of the Puritans has been a source of identity since the nineteenth century. But the meanings of that image have changed over time, responding and adapting to changes within the Congregationalist community and to wider historical forces. This narrative resonates with some of the questions in my own book, where I reflected on what history means for practitioners of religion. How do we best understand the relationships between history, imagination, and spirituality?

I like to read fiction during my down time, and not long ago, I discovered Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World. It’s both a novel of ideas and a compelling page-turner. Essentially, it’s the story of a woman artist trying to make her mark late in life. It plays with a lot of themes and ideas – masks, deception, puzzles; identity, and the multiple identities that one individual may contain; bodies; aging; women and gender, in private life and social life; parents and children; madness and sanity; seeing and listening and being seen. It reflects in complicated ways on women’s struggles, especially over being seen and heard. The author also did a remarkable job of writing in multiple voices. Since the novel presents itself as an edited collection of various people’s writings and statements, we hear not only from the first-person narrator, but from the psychiatrist and old friend, the aging failed poet and lover, the new-age healer, the daughter, the sardonic art critic. All are convincing.

I also loved Kent Haruf’s tender story Our Souls at Night. It’s about a man and a woman in their seventies who form an unusual and caring relationship. What I liked best about it was that they had both lived imperfect lives that didn’t work out quite the way they had planned.
Learn more about St. Francis of America at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Michael Livingston

An award-winning writer and professor, Michael Livingston holds degrees in History, Medieval Studies, and English. In his academic life, he teaches at The Citadel, specializing in the Middle Ages.

Livingston's new book is The Shards of Heaven, the first in a trilogy of historical fantasy novels.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Livingston's reply:
I'm a professor specializing in the cultural history of the Middle Ages while writing a historical fantasy series set during the rise of the Roman Empire … so my reading list at any given moment is, well, diverse.

On the Roman front, I've been reading Philo of Alexandria's De vita contemplativa, the study of a sect of ascetic Jews living near Alexandria. The work has been very useful for one of the major plot elements of the sequel to The Shards of Heaven, but I can't say I'd recommend it for pure pleasure reading.

On the other hand, if pure reading pleasure is your thing, I did just finish one fun novel (John Scalzi's Redshirts) and am preparing to jump into another: Aliette de Bodard's The House of Shattered Wings. I've known Aliette's work for a very long time, and I've long been a fan. I'm incredibly anxious to get into this new novel of hers. It looks absolutely terrific.

And then there's Livingston-the-medievalist. That part of me is engaged in a reading of Simon Armitage's Death of King Arthur, a translation of one of my favorite poems of the Middle Ages: the wonderful Middle English Alliterative Morte Darthur. I'm finding that I'm pleasantly surprised at Armitage's ability to modernize a work that was, even at the time of its composition, deliberately archaic.
Visit Michael Livingston's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Shards of Heaven.

The Page 69 Test: The Shards of Heaven.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Bridget Asher

Bridget Asher's novels include The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, The Pretend Wife, and My Husband’s Sweethearts.

Her new novel is All of Us and Everything.

(Asher is in real life the critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott.)

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Asher's reply:
I'm reading a lot of literary science fiction and fantasy. I just dipped into The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. I'm bouncing around in Best American Fantasy, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. I'm also reading a novel that will come out next year The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson and an upcoming poetry collection by the poet Josephine Yu.

Oh, and The Last September by Nina de Gramont, a literary mystery. It's a cross-section of my cross-genre interests and, I suppose, it's not unusual to find an odd mix of books on my nightstand. That's the way I prefer it.
Visit Bridget Asher's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: All of Us and Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany on the 7th of March 1968. She spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles but escaped at the end of the 1980s. After a few years of drifting, she moved to England where her accent was irretrievably damaged. She now splits her time between South Wales and the Costa del Sol.

Her new novella is Domnall and the Borrowed Child.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
At the moment, I'm reading four books. This is problematic because I'm not really much for juggling. My reading pattern is usually serial monogamy but somehow I've ended up in a mess.

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
This is the first in the Laundry Files series and considered a novella although it seems to have the heft of a novel to me. The Laundry Files are a series of Lovecraftian spy thrillers told from the view point of a computer expert working for a secret department in the British intelligence organisation.

My son has devoured every book in the Laundry Files and has been recommending them to me for some time. We agreed on a recommendation trade: if he read Andy Weir's The Martian then I would read the first book in the series. He's done his bit (and gone to watch the film too) but I was only about a third of the way in when I got interrupted.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Hopefully the Discworld needs no introduction. The Wee Free Men is the story that introduces Tiffany Aching, young witch who is tasked with saving her brother when he is kidnapped by the Queen of the Fairies. She gets by with some help from the Nac Mac Feegles.

I wrote an article about five books with bad-ass fairies and one of the books I chose was this one, because the Nac Mac Feegles are totally bad-ass. One of my proofreaders said he didn't think that the Nac Mac Feegles were fairies. So I bought an e-book version to make sure that I wasn't mis-remembering. I was right... they are specifically described as fairy when they first appear. I have to justify the purchase, though, so I have kept reading. I was almost done when I realised I was falling behind on other reading.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
This book is about Consuelo Ramos, a 37-year old American woman admitted into a mental hospital by her niece's pimp. I'm not far enough into the story to tell you much more than that, though.

I'm in a book club where each member gets the chance to nominate three books and then we all vote on which one is the book of the month for us to read. It's a great group with some very good discussions but it is getting a bit quiet. This is actually our October book and I haven't read it yet so I really need to get dug in.

Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth Cato
This is a novella, not a novel, so I should get caught up quickly. It's a tie-in story to the Clockwork Dagger world which a great steampunk series of adventure and magic. The novella follows a machinist named Rivka, rescued from the slums in The Clockwork Crown, who is struggling to fit in with proper society.

Buying new books at this point seems insane but Beth Cato's novella happened to come out the same day as mine, so it seemed like fate. This is the what I am actually reading right now but I'm sure I'll catch up on the whole pile soon!
Visit Sylvia Spruck Wrigley's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 23, 2015

Elizabeth Lee

Elizabeth Lee (AKA Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli) is the author of the Nut House mysteries, including Snoop to Nuts and A Tough Nut to Kill.

Her new novel in the series is Nuts and Buried.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
What am I reading? Well, mostly my own work since I’m under a couple of deadline constraints. But ... when my brain’s worn out and I can’t write another word I’m turning to M Train by Patti Smith. The book is like watching Seinfeld—about nothing, but what a great ‘nothing’ it is. Patti Smith was a 1970s rock star; an artist, and a writer. I love the way she writes—she kicks my butt to do better with this part memoir, part fiction, part photo book which somehow soothes me.
Visit Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Nuts and Buried.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lisa J. Edwards

Lisa Edwards, CPDT-KA, CDBC, is a professional dog trainer and dog behavior consultant, a Pet Partners evaluator and instructor, and an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator. Her book A Dog Named Boo was a London Times bestseller.

Edwards has been training dogs professionally and performing animal-assisted therapy since 1999. She has trained hundreds of therapy dogs and service dogs for veterans and individuals with PTSD. She is the lead trainer and behavior consultant for the Animal Rescue Foundation–Beacon and the Danbury Animal Welfare Society. Edwards also lectures on dog/child safety, runs webinars for Pet Partners, and operates a teaching and consulting business, Three Dogs Training.

Her new book is Please Don't Bite the Baby (and Please Don't Chase the Dogs): Keeping Our Kids and Our Dogs Safe and Happy Together.

Recently I asked Edwards about what she was reading. Her reply:
As the mother of a three-year-old staunchly entrenched in the tyrannical threes, I spend the majority of my reading time reading Indy’s books to him. I have spent many hours reading One Little Blueberry, by Tammi Salzano because Indy loves counting. We have spent another chunk of time reading all the books by Mo Willems that we can find in the “Pigeon” series like, Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, or Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, or The Pigeon Needs a Bath! But, my favorite of all of Indy’s books has to be The Stray Dog by Marc Simont.

While these books may not be adult literary genius (Stray Dog did win a Caldecott Medal for children’s literature), it is my hope that because Indy, at age three, is already reading them back to me, he may well be the genius in this equation.

When I am not reading to a three-year-old, I am reading veterinary behavior journal articles, and when all is quiet in the house, I sit in bed with Pinball snuggled at my feet and write myself to sleep, effectively telling myself my own bed-time stories.
Visit Lisa J. Edwards's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Lisa Edwards & Boo, Porthos, and Pinball.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tony Peak

Tony Peak is an Active Member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and an Associate Member of the Horror Writers Association. His interests include progressive thinking, music, wine, history, Transhumanism, and planetary exploration. Happily married, he resides in rural southwest Virginia with a wonderful view of New River.

Peak's new book is Inherit the Stars.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just started Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest, the sequel to his Hugo Award-winning novel, The Three-Body Problem. The first book’s scientific detail, recollections of China’s turbulent past, and an ingenious first contact scenario ensured that I would read the second installment.

Before that, I completed all four books in Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos, a sprawling, complex space opera that delved into poetry, the course of human evolution, malignant artificial intelligence, and the role of religion in a galactic civilization—and of course, the time-traveling, enigmatic killing machine, the Shrike.

I’m halfway through Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath, which has been an enjoyable and diverse return to that galaxy far, far away.
Visit Tony Peak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers. Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen is her twentieth book, and the first in the Year Round Christmas cozy series from Berkley Prime Crime. Under the pen name of Eva Gates, she is the national bestselling author of the Lighthouse Library series, the latest of which is Booked for Trouble. Delany lives in Prince Edward County Ontario, and she is the current president of the Crime Writers of Canada.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Delany's reply:
I’ve just put aside the book my book club is reading this month. I’ve read about a quarter of it, and can’t stand any more. It’s the first book the club has chosen that I didn’t like at all. I won’t mention it except to say that I’m surprised we’re reading such a standard lump of “women’s fiction” (and that’s a phrase I hate). I’ve more or less enjoyed every book the club has read so far, and one of the things I like best about being in the book club is the chance to read books of the sort I wouldn’t normally read.

After giving the club’s book up, I started The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman. I like Goodman’s psychological suspense novels very much and I don’t know why this one, published in 2007, escaped my notice, but I’m glad I found it.

Next up is a book I’ve been looking forward to for some time, but I didn’t buy it because for some reason it was shockingly expensive here in Canada, but finally the price came down to a respectable level. It’s The Third Sin by Aline Templeton, and is one of the DI Marjorie Fleming novels. I love the British-style police procedurals best of all, and Templeton is up there with my favourites. I guess I particularly like that Marjorie is a normal Scottish wife and mother, married to a farmer with a hectic family life and a couple of difficult teenagers. Oh, and she’s also the head of a police team.

After that, I’ll be reading A Killer Necklace by Canadians Melodie Campbell and Cynthia St-Pierre. In my writing life I mix up my styles and sub-genres and I like to do so as a reader as well.
Visit Vicki Delany's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Eva Gates / Vicki Delany (October 2015).

The Page 69 Test: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, a town with strong Scottish roots. She graduated from the University of Otago with degrees in languages and music, and has had a varied career that includes teaching and performing music as well as working in government agencies. Marillier now lives in a hundred-year-old cottage near the river in Perth, Western Australia, where she writes full-time. She is a member of the druid order OBOD. She shares her home with a small pack of waifs and strays. Her historical fantasy novels and short stories are published internationally and have won a number of awards.

Marillier's Blackthorn & Grim novels are Dreamer’s Pool and Tower of Thorns.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I am working towards a tight deadline for my current project, the third novel in the Blackthorn & Grim series, and that means I have to curtail my reading for pleasure as it gobbles up too much time. On my bedside table there’s a pile of reference material – books about trees, mythology, medieval building methods, all relevant to my current writing. But I have allowed myself time to read new novels by a couple of favourite authors.

I just finished Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, third installment in the Cormoran Strike series of mysteries featuring this unusual private detective and his sidekick, Robin Ellacott. Robert Galbraith is, of course, none other than J. K. Rowling under another name. While I didn’t enjoy her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, I’m impressed by the Cormoran Strike series, which I think is getting stronger with each book. I stayed up very late to finish Career of Evil.

The Comroran Strike novels are stand-alone mysteries. The volatile relationship between disabled war veteran turned private eye Strike and his assistant Robin, who has career ambitions and a needy fiancé, runs through the series. Both Strike and Robin are complex, damaged individuals whom the author brings to convincing life on the page. The secondary characters in Career of Evil are also very well drawn, an element that was a little lacking in the earlier books of the series.

The story opens with Robin opening the office mail to find a severed human leg in a parcel addressed to her. Strike identifies four people from his past who may have sent this out of malice. The police seem fixed on one particular suspect, so Strike and Robin start their own investigation into the other three. As more crimes occur, the two are drawn down some very dark paths. Before the end, each faces deadly danger. The novel’s conclusion is satisfying on all counts and will leave readers waiting impatiently for the next installment.

I’ve also read After You, a contemporary novel by well-known UK writer JoJo Moyes. After You is a sequel to Me Before You, which is being made into a feature film to be released in 2016. JoJo Moyes is one of my favourite writers. She has a deft touch with voice and her female protagonists are remarkably real women, with convincing strengths and flaws. We cheer their triumphs and groan at their sometimes misguided choices. Moyes’s stories are compelling, believable, funny and tragic. I think her contemporary novels are her strongest – she’s written many historicals as well – and After You is no exception.

It’s hard to say much about the story without including spoilers for Me Before You. The protagonist of both novels is Lou Clark, who in the new book is trying to put herself together after the events of Me Before You (this story takes place eighteen months later.) Lou hasn’t kept a promise she made to her beloved Will. She’s working in a dead-end job, feeling alone, and wondering if she’ll ever be prepared to take a risk again. Then she does, and everything changes.

For those unfamiliar with this author’s work, I’d suggest you start with Me Before You (read it before you see the film, in case they ruin it by changing the ending) or the lighter but equally wonderful The One Plus One, which was a Sunday Times bestseller. They are engaging, thought-provoking novels that don’t shy away from tackling serious issues.
Visit Juliet Marillier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

--Marshal Zeringue