Friday, August 22, 2014

Ruth Downie

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, and the newly released Tabula Rasa.

Late last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Downie's reply:
I’ve just listened to the audiobook of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – a title that was recommended by an Indian reviewer, written by a Korean, and read with an American accent, so it’s truly international. It’s a deceptively simple tale about life, death, love, loyalty, prejudice… that kind of thing. Clearly it’s never going to have the traditional happy ending, but the place it reaches feels absolutely right, and it’s beautifully done.

On paper, I’ve just read Donna Leon’s A Sea of Troubles. Venetian detective Commissario Brunetti investigates the death of two men in a traditional fishing community, and is very nearly compelled to face his feelings for the elegant Signorina Elettra. Donna Leon tells a great story while offering her readers the chance to visit Venice without the trouble of leaving home.

The ebook I’ve just finished is The Colosseum by Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard. It was the ideal preparation for a recent trip, because it’s not only a refreshing discussion of the evidence, the structure and the subsequent history, but it also tells you how to avoid the enormous queues to get in. Definitely worth reading!
Visit Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stephen Eric Bronner

Stephen Eric Bronner is a noted political theorist and Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Comparative Literature, and German Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. He is also Director of Global Relations for its Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and on the Executive Committee of UNESCO Chair for Genocide Prevention. His books include Modernism at the Barricades: Aesthetics, Politics, Utopia and the newly released The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists.

Recently I asked Bronner about what he was reading. His reply:
Writers Read caught me at the right time. Although most won’t admit it, writers do not read much while they are writing and, if they do, it is usually related to the project in which they are engaged. Following the publication of The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists (Yale University Press) and the new 2nd edition of Moments of Decision: Political History and the Crises of Radicalism (Bloomsbury) I now have some time. And it’s been put to good use.

I have always liked to read a few books simultaneously and that is the case now. The best is a magisterial interdisciplinary work in German with the title Terror and Dream: Moscow 1937 by Karl Schlögel. It recreates the cultural social and political circumstances in which Stalin’s greatest purge took place. In this 900 page work, the author provides a constellation of intersecting facts, stories, and social scientific studies that range from an investigation of the Moscow phone book to an interpretation of Mikhal Bulgakov’s classic The Master and Margarita to a portrayal of the geographic shifts to a host of other pregnant depictions in demonstrating the modernizing process in action and the communist attempts to intensify it whatever the costs. This is one of the great books that I have read in the last twenty-five years and it has provided me with numerous insights that I might just be able to employ down the road in what I hope will become a work on genocide.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the prestigious Booker Prize, is a novel set in the 16th century that focuses on Thomas Cromwell and the strategies employed by rival interests concerning the matrimonial woes of Henry VIII. I’m reading it now. Elegantly written, it captures the spirit of the time, and it offers provocative and unsentimental descriptions of figures like Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. Interesting is the way in which the real issues like the spreading influence of Protestantism, the decadence of the Catholic Church, the burgeoning liberalism and the looming civil wars seem to creep in through the back door without much comment. It's almost self-consciously serious tone is in marked contrast to the bubbly style of Janet Evanovich whose Stephanie Plum crime novels take place in the Chambersburg section of Trenton where my wife, Anne Burns, grew up. She has now written over 20 of them—I am currently on number 4 – and they make great plane reading material.

So that is where I am at the moment: each of these books provides me with a break from the political reports and documents that take up another part of my life – much less provocative, much less elegant, and much less fun.
Learn more about The Bigot at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Modernism at the Barricades.

The Page 99 Test: The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Martha Woodroof

Martha Woodroof was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Woodroof's newly released Small Blessings is her debut novel.

Early this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Woodroof's reply:
At this moment, I'm reading J.K. Rowling's second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm. As I live to lunch, this is my favorite quotation, so far: "They love their bloody lunches, book people," Strike said.

I recently read The Son by Philipp Meyer (cracking good story, recommended by a gym buddy) and Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose, because I make a habit of reading anything Ms. Prose writes.

As a late-blooming first novelist (I'm 67) I also recently read MFA vs. NYC, edited by Chad Harbach, with great interest, as I spring from neither literary culture.

I think my greatest reading treat this year has been Ian Rankin's Saints of the Shadow Bible. Wow, are Inspector Rebus and Siobhan Clarke good company. Plus, when I tweet Ian Rankin, he tweets me back. Although I am careful not to abuse the honor.
Visit Martha Woodroof's website.

My Book, The Movie: Small Blessings.

The Page 69 Test: Small Blessings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

April Genevieve Tucholke

April Genevieve Tucholke digs classic movies, red-headed villains, big kitchens, and discussing murder at the dinner table. She and her husband Nate Pedersen live in Oregon at the edge of a forest.

Tucholke's new novel is Between the Spark and the Burn, the sequel to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I’m currently listening to Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is a delightful comic science fiction classic, styled after Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In a Boat (with a bit of time travel thrown in). It’s a purely pleasant summer read, clever and droll, no drama, no tragedy. I’m also listening to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (for the fourth time). It’s one of my absolute favorite books, and the narrator, Simon Prebble, is stunning. Susanna Clarke’s writing is very dark and very deadpan. Is there a better combination?

I just started reading The Quick by Lauren Owen as well—I love gothic horror. I also try to reread a few childhood favorites every summer--I’m rereading On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt and The Ghost Belonged to Me by Richard Peck. They are both excellent and well written. Voigt's book is thoughtful and wise, and Peck's is genuinely scary in parts. Perfect summer fare.
Learn more about the book and author at April Genevieve Tucholke's website.

My Book, The Movie: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bill Crider

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award finalist. An English college professor for many years, he’s published more than seventy-five crime, Western, and horror novels, as well as a number of children’s books.

Crider's latest novel is Half in Love with Artful Death, the 21st Dan Rhodes Mystery.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Crider's reply:
At the moment I’m about halfway through The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marj Mills. Mills, a reporter, got to know Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, while working on a story for a Chicago newspaper. She and the sisters became friends, and Mills eventually moved to Monroeville, Alabama, and lived near them for a time. Her book tells as much about herself as it does them, as she learned a lot about life in the south and the people in small towns there. Before the book was even published, Lee disavowed it, claiming to be hurt and upset by its publication. Mills says that both Lee and her sister were aware that Mills was writing it and that they were her friends both during and after its composition. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting and engaging account, and while it doesn’t solve any mysteries or answer any big questions, it’s a charming look at the daily life of a revered author and the place she wrote about so well.

On an entirely different note, I just finished re-reading The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes. More than fifty years after its first publication, it’s a crime novel that’s as vivid and shocking as ever. It features Himes’ series characters Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, two Harlem cops who are dealing with the killing of a white man in Harlem. The furious action occupies only one night, but it covers a lot of ground. The story is grotesque, hilarious, and grotesquely hilarious. There’s satire, too, and it’s directed not just at social conditions but at just about everybody involved. Himes’ books in this series were relegated to paperback publication when they first appeared, but this one is now enshrined in an edition from the Library of America. Sometimes recognition comes along a little too late.
Visit Bill Crider's website and blog.

Learn about Crider's choice of actors to portray Dan Rhodes et al on the big screen.

The Page 69 Test: Half in Love with Artful Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tom Leveen

Tom Leveen is the author of Sick, Party, Zero, and manicpixiedreamgirl. Zero was named to YALSA’s list of Best Fiction for Young Adults.

His latest novel is Random.

Earlier this month I asked Leveen about what he was reading. His reply:
Am I the only one who has multiple books going at once? Currently sitting on my kitchen table (where I do most of my reading) is Secret Windows, by Stephen King, which is an out-of-print book-of-the-month exclusive collection of King fiction, nonfiction, and interviews. Much of it comes from King’s Danse Macabre, which I recently finished after taking copious notes on other horror books to read and movies to watch. While both Danse and Windows are dated, the information in both is excellent for horror writers, or fans of the genre. I think that’s particularly true for young aspiring horror or urban fantasy writers—it’s important to know who came before, what they did, and why it mattered. King didn’t invent the horror genre, after all, and reading about his influences (and why they should be influential) is a critical part of writing in horror.

Next up is Zen and the Kingdom of Heaven, by Tom Chetwynd. I have been fascinated by meditation of all kinds since I was very young, and while I don’t sit zazen or meditate regularly, I do use it from time to time and find it beneficial. I also have decades-old guided mediation tapes I use once in awhile when I need to calm down, relax, or otherwise check out for an hour or so. Chetwynd is a Catholic, and draws comparisons between Zen meditation and Christian contemplatives and prayer. I am currently enjoying the read, but at halfway through, it hasn’t really yet touched on the exact places where Christianity and Buddhism intersect. It’s been an interesting autobiography, though, of one man’s journey into Zen without compromising his personal faith.

Next is A Canticle for Leibowitz, which my science fiction professor brings up all the time. I haven’t finished it, and while it’s not bad at all, I’m not sure what makes it a must-read in the genre. But that is why I’m reading it; like I said about Windows and Danse, you have to read those who came before. So this one is really more an academic read for me.

Lastly, I’m reading Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace, #6 in the series. I’ve solved most of the mysteries. Most.

Books I’ve finished recently and can recommend: The Monster Show by David J. Skal; Monsters in America by W. Scott Poole; and Goosebumps: Ghost Beach, by R.L. Stine. Because sometimes you just gotta read Goosebumps.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Leveen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Zero.

My Book, The Movie: Sick.

The Page 69 Test: Sick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Donna Gephart

Donna Gephart's first novel, As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President! won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Her novel How to Survive Middle School received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Gephart's novel Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, about a girl determined to get on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, also earned a starred review from Kirkus.

Gephart's latest book is Death by Toilet Paper.

Late last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I adore books with humor and heart, so I was enamored by Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park. The friendship/love story between these two kids who felt like they didn't fit in was both harrowing and heart-warming. Loved the book so much that I've been reading all of Rainbow Rowell's other books.

One of my favorite books with humor, heart and fun illustrations is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It was raw and true and hilarious and heart-busting all at once. I could read that book repeatedly and find new reasons to love it. I'd put it in the hand of any young person who feels alienated in any way. It's a book that will stand the test of time. I wish Sherman Alexie would write more books for young people with his trademark rawness and honesty. There is power in his writing.

My most recent read was a slim gem called The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson. I don't know why this book didn't get more attention. Each of the stories ties together with a unifying theme and each story touches the heart. Kirby Larson writes such excellent historical fiction. I had the great pleasure of hearing her speak about how writers create their books based on the wonderful books that came before. I'm sure her books will provide the foundation for writers who come after her. I can't wait to read more of Kirby Larson's work.
Visit Donna Gephart's website.

Writers Read: Donna Gephart (December 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 15, 2014

Susan Elia MacNeal

Susan Elia MacNeal is the Barry Award–winning and Edgar, Dilys, and Macavity Award–nominated author of the Maggie Hope mysteries, including Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope, and the newly released The Prime Minister's Secret Agent.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. MacNeal's reply:
Right now, I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, to research the book I’m working on, Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante. This is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope series, and follows the adventures of Maggie Maggie’s adventures as she accompanies Winston Churchill’s on his post-Pearl Harbor meeting with President Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.

Although the two leaders agreed on many issues, one of the sticking points was Churchill’s idea of Empire — and Roosevelt’s desire to see people free to govern themselves. And so, to learn more, I’m reading Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made by Richard Toye, Churchill and Empire: A Portrait of an Imperialist by Lawrence James, and Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee.

Yes, pretty heavy stuff there. I love it — but sometimes need a break.

And that’s where the other books on the bedside table come in.

After writing The Prime Minister's Secret Agent, which takes place on the western coast of Scotland, I’ve become obsessed with the western and northern islands of Scotland, particularly Orkney and Shetland. Since an actual trip isn’t in the cards right now, I’m reading novels set there. (Isn’t that what we all do?)

The first novel I’m reading just for fun is Ann Cleeves’s Raven Black: Book One of the Shetland Island Quartet (Shetland Island Thrillers). I adore how Cleeves captures the language, atmosphere, and local customs of Shetland. Fascinating too are the discussions about the local raven population (the Shetland Islands are a bird-watcher’s paradise) and symbolism of the black raven. Even though I’m reading this in New York City in August, I can feel the cold and damp of Shetland in December, and smell the salty sea air. And it’s not just atmosphere — Cleeves weaves a tight story, with murder, intrigue, questions of insiders and outsiders, and great characters. I’m hooked and anticipate not only finishing the book, but continuing to read the series.

The other is Craig Robertson’s The Last Refuge. It’s set on the Faroe Islands — even farther north than Shetland, northwest of Scotland. It’s a gorgeous but desolate landscape, and Robertson not only paints the remote landscape and wildlife, but the towns, the people, and the customs and language as well. I picked up the book because of the setting, but continue to read, fascinated by the characters and their secrets, especially main character John Callum. He’s not necessarily likable character, but he’s fascinating.

And while I think I’ve figured him out — I won’t say for sure until I’ve read the very last line of the very last page.
Visit Susan Elia MacNeal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Michelle Lovric

Michelle Lovric writes darkly unusual historical fiction for both children and adults. Most of her books are set in Venice, where she lives. Her novel The Remedy was long-listed for the Orange Prize and The Book of Human Skin was a TV Book Club Summer Read in the U.K. Her latest is The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, the grubby and magnificent tale of seven siblings with forty feet of hair between them. She also blogs on Venetian life, writing and research.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Lovric's reply:
These days, much of what I read is suggested by my father, Vladimir. I’ve inherited both his voracious reading habit and his taste for dark humour and ornate turns of phrase. He’s always right about what I would like. He’s in Australia, and I live in Venice and London, but we talk books every week. The conversation is free, thanks to Skype, but the calls end up expensive as they always involve me in book-shopping afterwards.

My father is a paediatric haematologist, so he’s also brilliant at helping me with the clinical details in my novels.

Recently, he’s put me on to Andrei Makine’s Human Love and Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth.

I also recommend books for my father. Lately, I’ve been urging him to read Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic and Let the Great World Spin. And Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things.

It’s not just my father. I’m as suggestible as Othello. I’m always asking people what they are reading. So I also talk books, passionately, with my literary agent, Victoria Hobbs at A.M. Heath. At her suggestion, I just read Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. Predictably, I loved it. Edward St Aubyn is another mutual favourite. Victoria and I gossip about characters in novels as people we actually know. We both fell hard for Boris and Hobie in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

Most of my friends are writers. So I’m sometimes privileged to read manuscripts in draft form, especially from fellow members of The History Girls, a cooperative blog site where each of us publishes a piece on our researches and adventures one day a month. The latest History Girls’ publication is Louisa Young’s beautiful The Heroes' Welcome, a sequel to her deservedly acclaimed My Dear I Wanted to Tell You. It is just as sensitive, unusual and touching as the first book.

Non-fiction takes up much of my reading time, as I am always researching something or other, usually to do with grim medical history or Venetian studies. Most recently I loved Alessandro Marzo Magno’s Bound in Venice about the history of the printing industry, the subject of my own novel, The Floating Book.

Historical fiction writers like myself also find ourselves immersed in esoteric titles like Arthur L. Stinchcombe’s Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment. As my books are set in a city of canals, my characters often fall into the water – or are pushed – and need to strip down to their smalls. So I keep The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and Phillis Cunnington on my desk.

Currently, I’m interested in the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’m writing a protagonist with this very damaging syndrome. NPDs lack empathy and do not recognise the emotional carnage strewn in their wake, a characteristic that can make their cruelty stranger than fiction. They constantly move on, restless and hungry for new consumables – human or material – to fill the lacuna inside. It seems that this syndrome is unfortunately on the rise, encouraged by the self-centredness and sense of entitlement of the selfie generations. But there is historical precedent as well.

More cheerfully, I read a lot of poetry. I attend poetry classes to sharpen my writing instruments, and to spend time intensely sacred to the written word with others who share my obsession with it. The latest poetry book I bought is Hilda Sheehan’s The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood. With some trepidation, I’m about to join a select London poetry group of which Hilda is a member. I have read quite a lot of her work now, and it sparkles like sun on the water.
Visit Michelle Lovric's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Toby Ball

Toby Ball was born in Washington, DC, grew up in Syracuse, NY, and attended Trinity College (CT). He has had stints in journalism (Congressional Quarterly), education (one memorable year as a high school social studies teacher), and nonprofits (the Carbon Coalition among others). He is now the Business Manager at the Crimes against Children Research Center and the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. He lives in Durham, NH, with his wife and two children.

Ball's novels include The Vaults, Scorch City, and the newly released Invisible Streets.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ball's reply:
You caught me in between books! With my new book having just come out, I haven’t cracked anything new in the past couple of weeks, though I have Megan Abbott’s The Fever – which I hear is great – on my nightstand.

The most recent book that I finished was The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. He was kind of flying beneath the radar but no longer and it’s well-deserved. If you haven’t heard of his books, the setting is Concord, NH, in the extremely near future when we have discovered that a meteor will strike earth in a year, with cataclysmic consequences. With this event essentially providing an end date for civilization, people are variously despondent (suicide rates are through the roof), apathetic, cynical, and, in the person of Winters’ detective Hank Palace, clinging to whatever normalcy they can find. The mystery is fine –a presumed suicide that Palace thinks is a murder – but the great thing about The Last Policeman is the pre-apocalyptic setting that Winters evokes.

I’ve also been reading Tenth of December by George Saunders. It’s not as if he needs another voice adding to the chorus of praise, but he really is great. His stories have a certain not-quite-real feel to them and the ones that I have read so far have had real insight into our society and values.
Visit Toby Ball's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Vaults.

--Marshal Zeringue