Sunday, December 4, 2016

Beatrice Colin

Beatrice Colin was born in London and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. A former arts and features journalist, she also writes novels for adults, children, short stories, radio plays for the BBC. She has spoken at numerous book festivals, taught at Arvon and was a judge and mentor for the Scottish Boom Trust's New Writers Award.

Colin was also once a singer in the band, April Showers, whose single, "Abandon Ship," reached the number 144 in the charts.

Her latest novel is To Capture What We Cannot Keep.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Exposure (2016) by Helen Dunmore

I’m a big fan of Helen Dunmore and have been for years. I love her pared down, poetic prose and clever twists. I met her once at an event and we walked around Winchester Cathedral together. She impressed me further when she looked down at the 12th century Winchester Bible in its glass case and translated the Latin. Anyway, set in England in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, this novel explores what happens to a young family when caught up in the fringes of an espionage ring. Drawing links with the Jewish experience in Germany in the 1930s, it captures how easily the security of middle-class domesticity can be pulled from below and how one mother goes on to rebuild her life. Like all the best tales, this is a love story with lots of jeopardy, secrets and period detail thrown in along the way.

The Dark Room (2001) by Rachel Seiffert

I ordered this novel this after I saw the film, Lore (2012), which is based in one of the three interlinked stories that make up the book. While I liked the film, I was more far impressed by the prose. This story is set in Germany at the end of the second World War and follows the fate of four children and a baby whose parents are imprisoned for their association with the Nazi Party. Instructed by their mother to go to their grandmother’s house in Hamburg, the children cross the desolate landscape of post-war Germany moving from one occupied zone to the next. Like the other two stories, it’s beautifully written in a spare, vivid style, and looks at the legacy of German history, collective responsibility and residual guilt, without melodrama or blame.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding (2015) by Jackie Copleton

The author is a friend and so I was looking forward to reading her debut novel about the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Framed by the narrative device of a man arriving at the doorstep of an old woman’s house in America who may or may not be her grandson, the novel looks back at one family’s story leading up to the cataclysmic events of 1945. It’s an absorbing read, full of carefully drawn, authentic detail – Jackie lived in Japan for many years – that is both informative and moving. It isn’t just a love story, although it contains one, it’s a cross section of one family, revealing all the tensions and long buried secrets, the sacrifices and betrayals.
Visit Beatrice Colin's website.

My Book, The Movie: To Capture What We Cannot Keep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 2, 2016

Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee is the author of the novels The Art of Confidence, Across a Green Ocean, and Happy Family. Happy Family was named one of the top ten debut novels of 2008 by Booklist and awarded an honorable mention from the Association of Asian American Studies.

A graduate of Stanford University and New York University’s Creative Writing Program, Lee has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Corporation of Yaddo. She spent more than a decade in the publishing industry as an editor at HarperCollins Publishers and Lantern Books in Brooklyn, where she co-edited the anthology Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and the Sexual Politics of Meat. She has also worked as an English teacher in China, taught writing at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and served as a mentor with Girls Write Now.

Recently I asked Lee about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee, author of the also excellent The Piano Teacher. The story revolves around three women living in Hong Kong and the way their lives intersect—literally, in the place that’s become their temporary home; and thematically, around the issues of belonging, grief, and motherhood.

I’m also reading Vanessa Hua’s short story collection Deceit and Other Possibilities, whose protagonists include a disgraced Hong Kong movie star, a failed prophet, and an imposter college student. As different as these characters are, all of them are skillfully and empathetically portrayed, and make for a very impressive debut.

Another debut I recently read and highly recommend is The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang, which is one of the funniest immigrant novels ever. The basic premise is that the Wang family embarks on a cross-country trip after the patriarch loses his fortune in the financial collapse of the late 2000s. It’s kind of like the American Dream in reverse.
Visit Wendy Lee's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Across a Green Ocean.

The Page 69 Test: Across a Green Ocean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks was born and raised in Montana. He wrote on bar napkins and lesson plans before landing his dream job years and thousands of pages later.

Weeks's new book is The Blood Mirror (Lightbringer Series #4).

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Weeks's reply:
I have eclectic reading tastes, and I'm perfectly fine with that. I think Haruki Murakami said that if you read the same things everyone else does, you'll think the same things everyone else does.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance--Nonfiction. This is an examination by neurobiologist Angela Duckworth of what she calls "non-IQ competencies." Why do some people succeed? Why do some find meaning and purpose and happiness in their work? Can people learn to have more "grit"? I love books that examine what makes great people great, not only for my self-edification, but also for character studies in my own novels.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Classic graphic novels from Japan by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. I devoured 1,200 pages of this in about a week. This is the story of a disgraced former samurai out for vengeance--with his very young ward. I mean, picture a bad ass ninja pushing a stroller, sometimes literally. Renowned for the art and action, but to me also fascinating for the cultural and even spiritual currents.

Salt--by Mark Kurlansky. A history of, yep, salt. Far more interesting than it has any right to be. I really enjoy peeks at the economies of the ancient world, and how various cultures and empires went about getting what they need, and what they value.

Next in my queue: The Emperor's Soul, a novella by Brandon Sanderson. Finally some fantasy! I've heard this is perhaps Sanderson's best writing to date. As I've enjoyed everything of his that I've read, that's high praise!
Visit Brent Weeks's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Prism (Lightbringer Series #1).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Andrew Harding

Andrew Harding is a British journalist and author. He has been living and working abroad as a foreign correspondent for the past 25 years. Since 1994 he has been working for BBC News.

Harding has been visiting Somalia since 2000, and was in Mogadishu during the height of the battle against the Islamist militants of Al Shabab and during the famine of 2011. He is one of the very few foreign journalists to have travelled into territory controlled by Al Shabab and met their commanders, or to have visited (twice) the pirate town of Eyl.

Harding's new book is The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m gearing up to write my second book – a non-fiction tale about a brutal double murder here in South Africa and the way the subsequent investigation and trial have been stirring up all sorts of political tensions in a small farming town. And so yes, I’ve been re-reading In Cold Blood, looking for tips, and have been left, once again, in awe of Truman Capote’s skill at hiding the seams and stitches that allowed him to transform years of interviews and transcripts into such a polished, perfect novel.

Jonny Steinberg’s A Man of Good Hope has been useful too. But not for the way it tries to hide any stitches - rather for the opposite. He tells the story of a Somali boy’s escape from war in Mogadishu, and the long trek down the continent to South Africa, where he encounters a different kind of hell. It’s a startlingly honesty and skillful work of reportage, and grows more topical by the day in this era of migration and closing borders.

In a similar vein, I’ve been enjoying Nadifa Mohamed’s beautiful, evocative Black Mamba Boy. This is another story about leaving Somalia – based on the life of the novelist’s own father, but fictionalised. I can’t wait to read her most recent book, The Orchard of Lost Souls.
Visit Andrew Harding's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Mayor of Mogadishu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 2016

David Welky

David Welky is the author of The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937, The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, and other books. He is a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas.

Welky's latest book is A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Welky's reply:
Having a family and a full-time teaching job – both of which I’m grateful for – leaves me with precious little time for discretionary reading. Most books I read are related to my current writing project. When I do reach beyond my field, my choices tend to be eclectic. I not only enjoy history and biography, but also books about biology, geology, and astrophysics written for general readers.

But a trend is evident in my recent reading. Events over the past several months have left me thinking deeply about race in America, and much of my “outside reading” has focused on that fascinating and thorny subject.

By now, most readers have heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me, the author’s spellbinding message to his son. There’s not much point in adding another handclap to the thunderous applause Coates has already received, but I will say that I found his writing utterly devastating, and was particularly struck by the way in which he made the fragility of the black body central to the African-American experience. Between the World and Me is the kind of book you plow through in one sitting, then immediately return to the first page and start reading again.

Mat Johnson’s Pym had been on my list ever since I read Edgar Allan Poe’s bizarre novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a shambling travelogue about an Antarctic expedition that encounters a cartoonish tribe of black people. The protagonist of Johnson’s Pym, a modern-day professor of African-American studies named Chris Jaynes, uncovers evidence that Poe’s story was fact not fiction; there actually is a lost civilization hidden in the Antarctic. His pursuit of the truth becomes a charming, witty, satirical, provocative meditation on the relevance and irrelevance of race. Jaynes interacts with a hilarious array of stereotypes ranging from a hip-hop theorist to an old-school Black Power advocate to a group of “super ice honkies.” Best not to say much more lest I spoil a novel that revels in the unexpected. But anyone curious about what would happen if a band of intrepid African Americans stumbled across a Thomas Kinkaid-like painter who lives in a giant ice dome should check out Pym.

My wife kept raving about a book called Underground Airlines. I patiently (probably patronizingly) told her it was called Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s National Book Award-winning novel. I was wrong. Ben Winters’s Underground Airlines is set in a familiar world of cars and computers and cell phones, but with a twist: The United States never fought the Civil War, and slavery still exists in the Deep South.

Victor is an African-American bounty hunter who returns fugitive slaves to their owners. His self-acknowledged hypocrisy – maintaining his own freedom by denying it to others – becomes the central paradox driving the narrative. In less adept hands the theme could become trite: No one is free so long as anyone is deprived of their rights. But Winters creates a complex, nuanced environment that leaves space for the reader to empathize with multiple perspectives while fully grasping the horror of a modern-day, industrialized form of chattel slavery.

Underground Airlines’s world is utterly believable. Winters conveys big themes in small ways, whether by describing the economic ties between southern manufacturers that exploit slave labor and the supposedly “clean” northern retailers who sell their products, or by showing the intricate network of mechanisms that keeps the slavery system in place while minimizing white people’s exposure to it. Ugliness is easy to ignore when you can’t see it. Most people are content to leave the slaves to their fate so long as their suffering doesn’t inconvenience the lives of the free.

Finally, I just completed Patrick Phillips’s Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America, a searing tale about how and why Forsyth County, Georgia expelled all of its African Americans in 1912 and remained all white until quite recently. Violence lies at the heart of this true story. African Americans fled following a series of hangings, some extralegal and some carried out by a prejudiced legal system. Persistent vigilantism kept the area all white for decades to come. Forsyth County’s “racial cleansing” also stemmed from white residents’ fears of losing their privileged status. The presence of successful black farmers and businessmen in the early twentieth century inspired a backlash grounded in a sense of white victimhood. Subsequent attempts to re-integrate the area failed amid angry denunciations of so-called outside agitators and cries for black people to stay in their place. Residents claimed, apparently without irony, that there were no racial problems so long as the area remained entirely white.

Phillips exhumes this sad story from old newspapers, local records, and oral histories. But what really makes Blood at the Root special is that Phillips himself spent his formative years in all-white Forsyth Country. The book therefore straddles the line between history and personal discovery.

Although many of us think (whether consciously or unconsciously) in terms of race or are troubled by our fractured race relations, we as a nation are uncomfortable talking about how race has affected (and continues to affect) the United States. Instead of frank discussions and forthright action, we employ coded references to “other communities,” “inner cities,” “assimilation,” and “post-racial societies.” Taken collectively, these four books poke at our hang-ups, urging us to thrust our fears into the open. In order to make progress, we must acknowledge inequality and deal with the consequences of it. We must accept that present-day racial inequities and suspicions have grown from deep roots. And, as all of these books demonstrate, we must stop pretending that race doesn’t matter.
The Page 99 Test: The Thousand-Year Flood.

My Book, The Movie: A Wretched and Precarious Situation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Zana Fraillon

Zana Fraillon was born in Melbourne Australia, but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. She has written two picture books for young children, a series for middle readers, and a fictitious book for older readers based on research and recounts of survivors of the Forgotten Generation. She lives in Melbourne, with her three sons, husband and two dogs.

Fraillon's new novel is The Bone Sparrow.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Fraillon's reply:
The most recent book I have read is Moose Baby by Meg Rosoff and published by Barrington Stoke. I really love the Barrington Stoke books – they are short, accessible reads, beautifully designed on thick paper and often with beautiful illustrations to accompany them. Moose Baby is about a teenage mother who gives birth to – you guessed it – a Moose. Apparently a fairly common occurrence. It is a story full of warmth and humour and completely quirky.

The other book I have read recently is The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan. This book, like Crossan’s Carnegie award winning book One, is written entirely in free verse. The wonderful thing about writing this way is that the rhythm of the words is very close to the natural rhythm of thought, so the reader is instantly inside the character’s head. This is one of those books in which the character’s voice sticks with the reader long after the book is finished. I only wish I’d thought of writing books like that…

And finally, I am about to start a book by one of my very favourite authors, Fredrik Backman. His most recent story is a novella, and I already know I will be devastated to finish it. It is called And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer. Backman’s books are always full of amazing characters expressed with real depth and love. They are always touching, and always full of gentle humour.
Follow Zana Fraillon on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: The Bone Sparrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Stephen L. Moore

Stephen L. Moore is the author of eighteen books on World War II and Texas history. His latest, As Good As Dead: The Daring Escape of American POWs From a Japanese Death Camp, covers the dramatic escape of eleven American POWs from the Palawan Massacre in the Philippines during December 1944. Moore, a sixth generation Texan, is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Moore's reply:
The most recent book I’ve read is James Hornfischer’s new release, The Fleet at Flood Tide, which covers the last year of the war in the Pacific. The depths of his research is evident in an important work that helps reveal the startling psyche of a Japanese culture that must be reckoned with if the Allies decide to invade mainland Japan.

Currently, I am reading John Stryker Meyer’s Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam. Meyer, a leader of a small Special Forces team of Green Berets, recounts his dangerous, and previously classified missions, as his team is pursued by NVA patrols while in enemy territory during the Vietnam War.
Visit Stephen L. Moore's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Battle for Hell’s Island.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Stephen Aryan

Stephen Aryan was born in 1977 and was raised by the sea in northeast England. After graduating from Loughborough University, he started working in marketing, and for some reason he hasn't stopped. A keen podcaster, lapsed gamer and budding archer, when not extolling the virtues of Babylon 5, he can be found drinking real ale and reading comics.

Aryan's books include Battlemage, the first book in his Age of Darkness trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Aryan's reply:
I’m currently reading 666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs. I was in the mood for something light hearted and funny, but also gothic and a bit dark, so this book is perfect. I’d previously read most of his Brenda and Effie books, about the Bride of Frankenstein and her friend who is a witch, as two old biddies fighting the forces of darkness in Whitby. His books are always funny, clever and very witty.

In 666 Charing Cross Road, imagine if Buffy had retired and was now someone’s grandmother. She’s enjoying her quiet time when once again the forces of darkness rise up in New York and she very reluctantly has to dust off her stakes and go out and fight evil again. The story is fast paced, the humour leaps off the page and Magrs always make me laugh with his mix of horror and comedy.

Before that I’d just finished reading the penultimate volume of Chew, the Image comic from John Layman and Rob Guillory. This comic book completely divides people. They either love the concept or they think it’s gross and never want to read it. It’s about a cop who gets a psychic impression from everything he eats where he sees the origin of whatever it was. So if it’s a burger he sees the cow’s sudden demise, then right before that, then it living in the field, then being born and so on, which makes it very difficult for him to eat much of anything. However, he uses his special ability to solve food related crimes in a world gone mad where chicken is banned, there’s alien writing in the sky and another person like him, a Cibopath, is killing other people for their food related powers and absorbing them. It’s incredibly graphic, very funny, quite dark and suddenly it sounds like everything I read is twisted and weird. I really like how over the top it is and how it mixes comedy and the writer’s genius at coming up with new powers. It is without a doubt the most unique comic I’ve ever read and in an increasingly crowded entertainment market I like its originality.

Before that I read The Fireman by Joe Hill. It’s about a post-apocalyptic world where a dangerous spore has infected the entire population which makes people spontaneously combust. Joe Hill is really good at creating characters that, on the surface, seem like awful people. However no-one is completely a white hat or a black hat. We are all flawed to one degree or another and in all of his stories he takes these broken, damaged people and puts them through the wringer and during that process we find out who they really are. Sometimes they are unpleasant people who can be heroic and sometimes they’re good people who are just trying to survive. I like the fact that no-one rips open their shirt and transforms into a superhero. They’re just ordinary people doing their best.

On a slightly more light-hearted note, I recently read The Good, The Bad and The Furry, a non-fiction book about a British man, Tom Cox, and the escapes of his five cats. One of them is nearly twenty years old and has had a very interesting and long life. This third book chronicles another chapter in Tom’s life and it’s a gentle read about his cats but also relationships, getting on a bit in life, moving house and trying to find your place in a new area, meeting the neighbours and all of it is done in a humorous and touching way. As a cat owner, but also someone with a bit of grey in my hair, I can relate on many levels. I moved house about a year ago so I see many parallels about trying to start over, build up a new life and network of friends. It’s not as easy as it was when I was a child. Back then you’d just see someone playing in the street and join in. You can’t really do that these days, especially as an adult!

My next read is going to be the second Dexter book by Jeff Lindsay, Dearly Devoted Dexter, as I am a huge fan of the TV series and I started reading the books ages ago. I then got lost in the TV series but now that it’s finished and has faded a bit in my mind, I can read the books without getting the two muddled up as I know there are some distinct differences. I love the sarcastic voice overs in the TV show and the inner voice of his Dark Passenger, which you get much more of, in the books.
Visit Stephen Aryan's website.

My Book, The Movie: Battlemage.

The Page 69 Test: Battlemage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 20, 2016

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.

Her new novel, A Most Novel Revenge, is her third Amory Ames mystery.

Recently I asked Weaver about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. I bought the book before I succumbed to Broadway’s Hamilton craze, but having fallen in love with the musical I finally picked up the book and started reading. I’m still in the early stages of the 700+ page biography, but I’m already captivated. The wonderful writing and the non-stop dynamism of the subject are putting this book on course to be one of my favorites of the year.

While I’m loving the Founding Fathers’ story, it’s another era of history that is occupying my attention recently. I often get into phases in my reading, and my current subject of interest is WWII. I’m currently enjoying two books on this theme. The first is Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre. This is the fascinating true account of a British criminal and con man that became a double agent during World War II. It reads almost like a spy film, and it’s such a pleasant mix of history, adventure, and even a dash of humor.

The second WWII book I’m enjoying is When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald C. Rossbottom. This is an excellent account of what life was like in Occupied Paris, and the author does a fantastic job of covering everything from the everyday life of Parisians to the workings of the Resistance.

A recent fiction favorite was Red Rising by Pierce Brown. The first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy set on Mars, it follows a young man’s rise from the lowest social order to its most elite through a harrowing and violent journey. This page-turner was both compelling and thought-provoking, and I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy!
Visit Ashley Weaver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 18, 2016

Levi Roach

Levi Roach is lecturer at the University of Exeter, and formerly a junior research fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge. His new book is Æthelred: The Unready.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Roach's reply:
My most recent read was R.I. Moore’s War on Heresy. I’m a long-time fan of Moore, so it’s something of an embarrassment that it took me so long to get around to the book. I started reading it while on holiday in Toulouse. The southern French city – which witnessed some of the most dramatic heresy trials of the Middle Ages – offered the ideal backdrop.

Moore seeks to understand the origins medieval Europe’s obsession with heresy. As he notes, before the second half of the twelfth century, false belief had only been a matter of passing concern; thereafter, however, it became something of a fixation. Moore argues that this was a consequence of socio-economic changes in the preceding years (above all, economic boom and the growth of government and administration). These placed traditional social bonds under strain, encouraging a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to faith; they also provided authorities with new means of imposing their will.

It was out of this heady brew that the ‘war on heresy’ was born. Confronted by local customs and beliefs which did not conform to Church teachings, ecclesiastical and secular authorities became convinced that they were dealing with a unified a movement, and proceeded accordingly. Though some of the people accused of heresy were willing to die for their beliefs, it is far from clear that these constituted a coherent body of teachings. Heresy was, in short, largely an invention of those charged with pursuing it.

Moore’s is a disturbing book. While some of his arguments have proven controversial, his basic point, that medieval heresy – like early modern witchcraft – was in the eye of the beholder, is as convincing as it is troubling. The book serves as a timely reminder that the scapegoating of minorities and non-conformists – all too evident in modern politics – is nothing new.
Learn more about Æthelred: The Unready at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue