Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Peter Blauner

Peter Blauner's novels include Slow Motion Riot, winner of an Edgar Allan Poe award for best first novel from Mystery Writers of America, and The Intruder, a New York Times bestseller. He began his career as a journalist for New York magazine in the 1980s and segued into writing fiction in the 1990s. His short fiction has been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories and on Selected Shorts from Symphony Space. He has written for several television shows, including Law & Order: SVU and the CBS series, Blue Bloods. His newest novel is Sunrise Highway.

Recently I asked Blauner about what he was reading. His reply:
Whenever somebody asks me what I'm reading, the answer is usually three or four books at the same time, and chances are one of them will be by Tolstoy.

Yeah, I know it sounds pretentious - but that's only if you haven't actually read Tolstoy. He wrote so many things in so many different genres over such a long period of time that most open-minded readers should be able to find something to appreciate. He wrote epics, novellas, philosophy that influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., political tracts, fables, soap operas, psychological studies, children's stories, religious texts, and what seem to the modern eye like dark crime stories. I devoured Anna Karenina a few years ago and then read his short fiction obsessively. But for some reason, I haven't been able to crack War and Peace, his most famous work. Until now.

It's a tough to read these days for a number of reasons. Length is obviously one of them. And the temptation to be distracted with other media. But what I had the hardest time getting past was the "Peace" part. Much of the book, especially in its earliest sections, is about the social world of the Russian aristocracy in the early 19th Century. There are dense detailed accounts of party planning, social etiquette, courtship and the like. I must have started and stopped a half-dozen times, occasionally dilating on the odd incident like an account of soldiers drinking heavily and chaining a police officer to a bear (yes, I had to re-read that one a few times to make sure I'd read it right). It's only in recent months that I've been able to push through to the "War" sequences, which are as riveting as yesterday's dispatches from Syria or Afghanistan. They also put what I'd thought of as the more gossipy and frivolous sections about families and their social world into a deeper and darker context. I'm not quite halfway through, and I'll probably be reading for a while longer, but I get it now. Tolstoy really was that great - not pristine and classic, but raw, messy, and utterly great. Readers who avoid him because he's old, supposedly difficult, and a "white man" are missing out and cheating themselves. This is news that stays news.
Visit Peter Blauner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A. J. Banner

Born in India and raised in North America, A. J. Banner received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Her previous novels of psychological suspense include The Good Neighbor and The Twilight Wife, a USA Today bestseller. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and rescued cats.

Banner's new book is After Nightfall, her third novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished reading A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay.

Sharply written, suspenseful and intriguing, A Noise Downstairs is a psychological thriller with an unusual premise. Several months after sustaining a head injury when he surprised a murder victim disposing of two bodies, Paul Davis, a college professor, is suffering from PTSD and depression. As a form of therapy, he decides to write about his experience on a vintage typewriter, a gift from his wife, Charlotte, who found the typewriter at an estate sale. Soon, Paul begins to hear the typewriter typing by itself at night. But when he runs downstairs, nobody is there. He’s the only one who can hear the noise. Charlotte doesn’t hear a thing. She thinks he’s losing his mind. Paul begins to believe the typewriter is possessed and somehow connected to the murders from nearly a year earlier. I found myself flipping the pages late into the night, trying to guess the answer to the mystery of the haunted typewriter. The plot twists and turns in surprising directions, hurtling toward a shocking and satisfying conclusion.
Visit A.J. Banner's website.

The Page 69 Test: After Nightfall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 21, 2018

Ashley Weaver

Ashley Weaver is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University.

Weaver's new novel, An Act of Villainy, is her fifth Amory Ames Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the novel. The story of a woman thrown into realm of outrageous riches has all the fun and frivolity of a modern-day fairytale.

I’m also reading a pair of true crime books. The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum is one I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and I’m loving it. It’s the fascinating account of the development of the first forensic toxicology unit in 1920s New York. It’s peppered with historical details, accounts of accidental deaths and devious murders, and fascinating facts about forensic pathology and poison. My other true crime read is The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. The story of crime writer Ann Rule’s dawning realization that the serial killer she’s been covering is none other than her friend and former co-worker Ted Bundy is definitely a page-turner.

Rounding out my currently-reading list is an audiobook. Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre details the history of the SAS, Britain’s secret special forces unit, which was developed during WWII. Read by the author, the audiobook follows a motley crew of heroes in their quest to sabotage the Nazis and help win the war. It is absolutely riveting.
Visit Ashley Weaver's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Most Novel Revenge.

The Page 69 Test: An Act of Villainy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Inman Majors

Inman Majors is the author of five novels including the newly released Penelope Lemon: Game On!.

A native of Tennessee, Majors received his BA from Vanderbilt University and his MFA from The University of Alabama. He is a professor of English at James Madison University and makes his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Recently I asked Majors about what he was reading. His reply:
My daughter was reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for school and I realized I was the only American not to have read it. It’s a great book, and in my opinion the best of the dystopian novels. I found the concept of government control via pleasant distraction (guilt-free sex and feel good drugs known as feelies) to be much more in touch with our current milieu than the forced coercion of Orwell’s 1984 and more realistically ominous. A strange, excellent book and one that influenced a number of other books in the same genre.

This got me on a bit of dystopian bender, so I checked out Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano. I’m a huge fan of KV and had read Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, The Sirens of Titan, and others multiple times. I still love all of those, but to me Vonnegut’s first novel is his most prescient. In it, he anticipates a world where the only jobs are for the military and engineers. Everyone else gets a monthly stipend that covers food, boarding, beer money, etc. but despite having basic needs covered, the general population is unhappy and unsettled. They want to work and feel worthwhile—essentially they desire to feel like contributing members of society. Here, in a book written in 1952, Vonnegut anticipates the universal wage. It’s not as funny as some of his other novels but it’s smart. It’s also the novel where I first realized Vonnegut’s debt to Sinclair Lewis, specifically his masterpiece, Babbitt. Player Piano is not just a commentary on the dangers of an industrial military machinery out of control, but also a look at society—the machinations and clubs of those in the successful crowd, the winners in life—through a narratively scientific lens. Sinclair Lewis is the best at this detached bugs-in-a-jar mode of fictive observation, and it was fun for me to see the early Vonnegut showing his influences (sidenote—Vonnegut said that he “cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World for this one).

Continuing the dystopian jag I knocked out Fahrenheit 451. It also shows a futuristic world where the preferred population control is distraction. In it, people have wall-to-wall TVs in their dens and can participate in their own shows. That is, shows—soap operas, in particular—are tailored to the specific person. The end result is a population that can feel as if it’s interacting with the rest of the world while never leaving the comforts of home. There’s also the book burning of course, but it was the participatory entertainment stuff that seems to me to best anticipate the current milieu of ever-expanding—ever-encroaching— virtual reality. The novel ends, however, on an optimistic note as we see our protagonist, the former book-burning fireman, with his band of intellectual hoboes returning from their exile to try and rebuild society. Another good, weird, stimulating book.

A book I absolutely loved, and one I found strangely uplifting, was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Dystopian in ways that the whole of Stalin-era Russia was, the novel follows a prisoner, falsely found guilty of spying during World War II, as he goes about a single workday in a gulag. The work the prisoners do is brutal, as is the monstrously cold temperature and the overall conditions. It’s like a Jack London novel of survival in a lot of ways. The novel effectively depicts the dehumanizing effect of Stalinism—or any totalitarian government—but it’s the humanity of the prisoners that carries the day. A sneakily simple book that resonates with a quiet hope and dignity. Highly recommended.
Visit Inman Majors's website.

The Page 69 Test: Penelope Lemon: Game On!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tim Pratt

Tim Pratt is a Hugo Award-winning SF and fantasy author, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. He is the author of over twenty novels, including the newly released The Dreaming Stars.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Pratt's reply:
I just read City of Miracles, the last book in the Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett, and it prompted me to go back and re-read the first two, City of Stairs and City of Blades. They're a wonderful strange blend of spy thriller and epic fantasy, set in a world where a civilization ruled by several literal gods subjugated and oppressed the world... until one of the enslaved people devised a weapon that could kill the gods. The ensuing war destroyed the dominant culture, because almost everything in their world, from weather to architecture to food, was created by miracles... and when the gods died, most of those miracles stopped working, leading to widespread devastation and vast shifts in world politics. The books are set decades after the death of the gods, and deal with the dangerous remnants of magic and miracles, and mostly feature characters who are covert operatives trying to keep a delicate sociopolitical balance from falling apart. It's philosophically complex but very plotty and fast-moving (and emotionally moving, too). He's got a new book (unrelated to that series) called Foundryside that's high up on my to-read list as well.
Visit Tim Pratt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2018

Katie Sise

Sometimes Katie Sise is an author, TV host, and jewelry designer featured in major fashion magazines and television shows, but mostly she’s a leggings-clad coffee-drinking mother of four.

We Were Mothers, her debut adult novel, is a critically acclaimed novel about three seemingly perfect couples whose lives turn very dark over the course of one weekend.

Recently I asked Sise about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading two terrific books right now, both nonfiction, both very different. One author I know personally, and the other I feel like I do. My friend Fran Hauser’s new book is called The Myth of The Nice Girl. It empowers women to step into their kindness and lead effectively. Fran embodies this! It’s so refreshing to read a book that values innate kindness and generosity in the workplace, instead of teaching women to squash their kindness in order to succeed. The other book on my nightstand is The Tenth Island, a memoir by Diana Marcum. It’s a wonderful read about her travels on a set of islands called the Azores. I only have a few pages left to go, and I’ve treasured my time in this book because it’s a total escape — I feel like I’m traveling right along with her because of the language she uses to describe the islands. I want to book a plane ticket and discover the Azores myself.
Visit Katie Sise's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 16, 2018

David Sosnowski

David Sosnowski has worked as a gag writer, fireworks salesman, telephone pollster, university writing instructor, and environmental-protection specialist while living in places as different as Washington, DC; Detroit, Michigan; and Fairbanks, Alaska. His books include the critically acclaimed novels Rapture and Vamped.

Sosnowski's new novel is Happy Doomsday.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
What is David Sosnowski reading? An even split of male and female authors of fiction and non-fiction, it seems. Specifically, and in no particular order:

The Overstory by Richard Powers: While reading this powerful novel I kept thinking of the Lorax saying, “I speak for the trees…” That’s exactly what this book does: It speaks for the trees, as well as generations of humans who have taken these slower-paced beings into their hearts. Recent research has shown that trees have the ability to communicate over long distances, can warn of threats and defend themselves – behavior previously thought reserved for fauna, not flora. Powers uses these emerging truths and treats everything from the American chestnut to banyan trees to the mighty redwoods like characters on an equal (and often superior) footing than his human characters. It might sound silly but is indeed masterful and I guarantee you’ll never look at trees the same way again.

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani: This is one of those books I read just to not feel like I was losing my mind. Having gone to grad school at a time when literary deconstruction and Jacques Derrida were all the rage, I often found myself thinking that tinkering with the whole concept of objective meaning like that would certainly make life easier for propagandists. I therefore found myself nodding in agreement when Kakutani’s traced the MAGA world of alternative facts back to those thesis-generating/meaning-destroying acts of intellectual onanism.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: I read this novel mainly because it was set in Alaska and I wanted to see how Hannah’s portrayal matched up to my own recollection from when I attended the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. I thought Hannah did a good job of capturing the mind-set of the place and her treatment of Fairbanks as relatively cosmopolitan compared to where most of the action is set reminded me of what folks in Fairbanks used to say about Anchorage: “It’s a lovely community just off the coast of Alaska.” Gotta love that frontier snobbery.

Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson: Okay, I’m a sucker for 2001, having seen it for the first time on the big screen at the formative age of 9 – and then maybe a dozen more times after that. I read this because it seemed a nice way to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. It started a bit slow but once Clarke and Kubrick met in its pages, my interest was hooked.
Visit David Sosnowski's website.

My Book, The Movie: Happy Doomsday.

The Page 69 Test: Happy Doomsday.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Stephen Aryan

Stephen Aryan is the award winning author of the Age of Darkness trilogy (Battlemage, Bloodmage, Chaosmage) published by Orbit books.

A second trilogy, the Age of Dread, starts with Mageborn. Aryan's new book, the second book of the trilogy, is Magefall.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Aryan's reply:
I tend to read a mix of SFF books and then something non-fiction. Sometimes this is an autobiography and sometimes it’s a book about something that has caught my interest.

A non-fiction book I recently read is called Why We Sleep - The New Science of Sleep by Matthew Walker. Professor Walker is a neuroscientist of renown and there are a number of talks on YouTube and other places if you want to take a look. But this book, which was an international bestseller, focuses on the importance of getting enough sleep.

The book contains some shocking and quite eye-opening facts about sleep. We spend a large portion of our life asleep and putting dreams aside for now (another section of the book does look at them), part of the book focuses on what sleep does for the human body and the human mind. It repairs the body in so many ways I never realised. It rebuilds our immune system and helps us to fight infections and disease. Our brain goes through a number of different phases while we’re asleep, processing memories, sorting them into sections like a computer archiving files. But then there’s the other side that no one really talks about. The damage, the life-threatening damage over a long period of time, of not getting enough sleep. The book does a deep dive into the dangers of not getting enough sleep.

At school we’re taught about the human body in biology and how to remain healthy through diet, exercise and so on. But no one taught me about sleep. Ever. There’s a common misconception that teenagers are lazy because they spend a lot of time in bed. There’s actually a very good scientific reason for this from a growth perspective, and while some teenagers make take it to the extreme, it’s actually important they sleep more.

As well as exploring the science behind the power of sleep and what it does for individuals the book looks at the serious impact of not getting enough sleep. More traffic accidents on the road are caused by a lack of sleep than drugs and alcohol. Just think about that for a minute. Cars and lorries drifting into lanes, ploughing into other cars, causing multiple car pile-ups. That’s just one gut-punch in the book. Here’s another one. Men who routinely sleep 5 hours a night or less have significantly smaller testicles than those who sleep 8 hours or more. They will also have a level of testosterone in their body that is the equivalent of someone ten years their senior, ageing them and reducing virility. There is an equivalent in women’s reproduction as well for those who regularly sleep less.

This book provides fascinating insight into why every single person should sleep between 7-8 hours a night, regardless of age, and the benefits of doing so for the body and the brain. There are still many scientific discoveries to make in the arena of sleep but this book lifts the veil on many of the latest.

A slightly lighter read from before this book was The Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding. This is the fourth and last book in the Ketty Jay series, so I will try to talk about it without spoilers.

Imagine if Firefly had continued but instead of Mal and the Serenity, you had a Captain called Frey and an airship called the Ketty Jay. That’s the basic set up. They are a diverse crew of pirates, all of whom came to the ship for their own reasons, and now they’re kind of stuck there, getting involved with dangerous jobs to earn a living.

Somehow this disparate group always find a way to work together to complete the mission, but not in the way you might expect or with the ideal outcome. It’s brilliant fast paced fun because a lot of the crew don’t really like each other and they don’t have much in common. One thing that Chris Wooding excels at is characterisation. The ship has a cast of about eight characters (plus a ship’s cat who has his own story arc across the series!) but Wooding spends plenty of time with all of them so that you know each intimately. Some of them aren’t very nice people, everyone is multi-layered, and that’s realistic and ultimately human. But they all try to be good and do the right thing in their own way. Of course what one person thinks of as good can sometimes make for an uncomfortable read. Despite that you become invested in the fate of all of the characters and really care about them.

The whole series is a fantastic action romp through a bright and colourful universe that is both familiar and alien. They’re perfect books for a holiday read, by which I mean, you need to be able to sit down and read, uninterrupted, for several hours at a time as once you get started you will not want to stop. The pace doesn’t slow down and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Visit Stephen Aryan's website.

My Book, The Movie: Battlemage.

The Page 69 Test: Battlemage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sofka Zinovieff

Sofka Zinovieff studied social anthropology at Cambridge and carried out the research for her PhD in Greece. This marked the beginning of a lifelong involvement with the country.

She has lived in Moscow and Rome and worked as a freelance journalist and reviewer, writing mainly for British publications including The Telegraph Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, The Financial Times, The Spectator, The Independent Magazine and The London Magazine.

After many years in Athens, she now divides her time between there and England. She is married and has two daughters.

Zinovieff's new novel is Putney.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Cressida Connolly’s After the Party, is set in the little-known milieu of England’s nicely-spoken fascists in the late 1930s. They revered Oswald Mosley, attended the cheery, black-shirt summer camps on the south coast and were taken aback when during the war, they were suddenly flung in jail as traitors. Phyllis is a political innocent who never really understands what she has done wrong, even when she is exiled on the Isle of Man (ironically, along with German Jews as well as other British fascists). Connolly’s lyrical writing is razor-sharp and wonderfully funny. She has also taken on a subject which resonates only too powerfully with current politics. It always was easy for people to be seduced by charismatic, populist leaders and nothing has changed. Danger can lurk in the most comfortable lives.

Imogen Hermes Gowar, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

An enchanting novel set in Georgian London, that manages to be both wickedly bodice-ripping and brilliantly intelligent. It made me feel buoyantly happy all the way through, even though some of the characters have a terribly hard life – courtesans in London had no fun unless they were very lucky. The author has a marvelous sense of humor and despite the evidence of her deep knowledge of the epoch, its language and its ways, the book is very modern in its sensibility.

Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger

I missed this the first time around when it won the Booker Prize in 1987 and caught up recently as it was on the shortlist for the Golden Booker this year. I was entranced by the clever, prickly heroine, the environment of Egypt during the Second World War and the ability of Lively to telescope between a captivating love story and enormous questions of history and the individual. Moon Tiger doesn’t refer to something dreamy or fey but the smoking coil that was burned by the doomed lovers at night to keep mosquitoes away.

Glen David Gold, I Will Be Complete

This memoir is an extraordinary look at the life of a clever but neglected boy in 1970s San Francisco. From a reasonably well-off family, the young Glen doesn’t look like a typically deprived child, but the neglect from his intelligent but flaky parents is horrifying. I found myself groaning with empathy; my London upbringing in the same era had some similarities, as does that of the heroine of my novel, Putney. I also laughed every other page. The book continues to Gold’s young adulthood, and while I found those passages less memorable, the section on his childhood is astonishing and brilliant.
Visit Sofka Zinovieff's website.

My Book, The Movie: Putney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Margaret Mizushima

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the critically acclaimed Timber Creek K-9 mystery series. Her books include Killing Trail, Stalking Ground, and Hunting Hour. Her new book, the fourth in the series, is Burning Ridge.

Last month I asked Mizushima about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m typically reading both fiction and nonfiction, and the book I pick up depends on which room I’m in when I decide to sit and rest. In nonfiction, I’ve lately focused on books about writing and books about childhood trauma (to help with the character arc of my protagonist Deputy Mattie Cobb).

Here are the books you would find scattered around my home today:

South California Purples, by Baron R. Birtcher. I ordered this novel months ago and am finally able to grab a few moments to savor it. Set in 1973, this book captures the turmoil and transition of its era while it tells the story of an Oregon cattle rancher who is involuntarily conscripted to help law enforcement with the government auction of a herd of wild mustangs, despite the protest and interference of local citizens. Birtcher’s depiction of the times, landscape descriptions, and dialogue are a pleasure to read, and the book is a terrific example of action/adventure.

The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. With powerful narrative and documentation, Harris describes her research into how childhood trauma can have lasting effects on adult health; she presents a medical screening assessment tool used to identify children at risk, and proposes innovative health interventions and treatments. I find this type of research fascinating, and my daughter who works in public health passed this book on to me.

Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment, by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. I attended a workshop presented by Nancy Pickard last week where I bought this book, so I haven’t had time to start it yet. Here is the endorsement from Harlan Coben: “Highly Recommended…Seven Steps is a terrific writer’s guide with practical advice and great wisdom for both the novice and veteran.” I hope to gain help achieving balance in my life for the step that I’m currently on in the writer’s journey. Can’t wait to dig in!
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

My Book, The Movie: Burning Ridge.

--Marshal Zeringue