Sunday, December 9, 2018

Fran Hawthorne

Fran Hawthorne spent more than three decades as a reporter and editor (on staff at Fortune and BusinessWeek; as a regular contributor to The New York Times and many other publications), and as the author of award-winning nonfiction books, before finally returning to her childhood dream: writing fiction.

Her debut novel The Heirs was published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in May 2018 and sold out its first printing within two months. It’s a story of second-generation Holocaust guilt among soccer families in suburban New Jersey in 1999.

Recently I asked Hawthorne about what she was reading. Her reply:
I belong to three book clubs. Plus, I review fiction for the New York Journal of Books. Of course I want to read my friends’ newest oeuvres. And I always try to read books about the Holocaust, Poland, and other topics related to my novel The Heirs and also to the new novel I’m working on –- In short, I can hardly remember the book I read two books ago.

Luckily, I do remember some of the best:

I recently reviewed Gone So Long -- the story of a father’s attempt to reconcile with his long-estranged daughter after he’s been imprisoned for murdering her mother -- by the National Book Award finalist Andre Dubus III. To quote my own review: “Gone So Long has everything a novel could ask for: It’s a literary page-turner that explores the grit and pain of working class lives through complex personalities and beautifully pungent, multisensory language.”

Heretics, by the renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and translated by Anna Kushner, thoroughly bowled over one of my book clubs. We loved the complex, interwoven plot lines stretching from 17th century Amsterdam and Poland, to 21st century Cuba, as well as the detailed historical research. (However, at 545 pages, it does drag on a bit.)

Here’s an advance peek: I’m reviewing a historical novel called Wunderland by the little-known author Jennifer Cody Epstein, coming out in April. I chose it for its Holocaust theme without knowing much about Epstein, and it’s turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As one narrative plunges forward from 1933 Berlin, the other spirals backwards from New York in 1989 to Berlin in 1946, unraveling a daughter’s search to learn about her parents’ Nazi past.

On the other hand, I may be the only critic who did not adore Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach. Yes, it was unfair of me to want another A Visit from the Goon Squad (which I did adore), but I found the heroine of this novel to be annoyingly too perfect.

(Okay, readers: Now you can pile on your criticisms of my novel The Heirs. Fair’s fair.)
Visit Fran Hawthorne's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Heirs.

The Page 69 Test: The Heirs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 8, 2018

G.A. McKevett

Since publication of her first novel in 1986, Sonja Massie has authored more than 60 published works, including the highly popular and critically acclaimed Savannah Reid Mysteries under the pseudonym G.A. McKevett.

Her new novel is Murder in Her Stocking.

Recently I asked McKevett about what she was reading. Her reply:
At the moment, I’m reading two books, one for entertainment and the other for self-improvement. The entertaining one is a novel, Deadly Focus, written by a dear, longtime friend of mine, Sue Hinkin. She has been writing quality fiction for decades, but has only now been published. One of the most determined and dedicated artists I’ve ever known, Sue has inspired everyone in her realm, and we all knew it was simply a matter of time until the world discovered and began to enjoy her writing, as we have for years. I’m so proud of her and happy for her. If you like gritty, suspenseful, fast-paced stories with rich, relatable characters, I highly recommend this book and the others Sue will be releasing soon.

The second book I’m reading, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, was recommended to me by another precious friend, Holly Foster Wells, when I was griping to her recently about the “chattering monkeys” raging inside my head. The nasty little beggars refuse to give me a moment’s rest! Lately, I’ve experienced some lifechanging events that require a lot of decision making on my part. As I try to remain cool, calm, and collected, debate the pros and cons of the situation, and figure out which paths to take, these obnoxious critters—whom I’ve named Alarmist Agatha, Downer Delilah, Nervous Nadine, and Furious Frieda—natter back and forth between my ears, driving me to distraction. It’s been quite a challenge, trying to make logical choices with these drama queens screaming their emotional nonsense at me and each other, day and night. I’m halfway through this wise, easy to read, enlightening book, and I do believe it’s changing my life. How lovely it will be when I can learn to ignore these melodramatic ninnies!
Visit G.A. McKevett's website.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in Her Stocking.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Her Stocking.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Alan Cumyn

Alan Cumyn is the award-winning author of several wide-ranging and often wildly different novels. His historical novels The Sojourn and The Famished Lover chronicle the First World War and Great Depression experiences of artist Ramsay Crome. His human rights novels, Man of Bone and Burridge Unbound, follow a torture victim through survival and post-trauma. Losing It is a darkly funny and truly twisted novel about madness, while his Owen Skye books for kids–The Secret Life of Owen Skye, After Sylvia and Dear Sylvia— hilariously trace the calamitous trials of childhood and the pangs of early love. Cumyn’s young adult novel Tilt is a funny, sexy exploration of a teenaged boy’s obsessions as he lives through an impossibly absurd time of life. All Night, a literacy project, follows a young artsy couple through a stormy night of hard truths and romantic dreams. And Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend brings a touch of Kafka to the previously ordered love life of a high school senior who has no idea what might fly out of the primordial past. His latest novel, North to Benjamin, is a psychological thriller that sees a young boy, Edgar, dragged north by his unstable mother, testing his formidable survival skills.

Recently I asked Cumyn about what he was reading. His reply:
I have been living in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for the last couple of months and waited till I got here before reading a few of the classics. Everyone references Graham Greene's The Quiet American, and now I can see why – the rich atmosphere of the city in the 1950s, the brilliant way the book encapsulates so many central themes of the country in the love triangle between the aging Brit Fowler, the brash young American Pyle, and the beautiful local flower Phuong. Complicating all of their lives is the seamy politics of the place and of the day. So much has changed in the city in the more than 60 years since Greene finished the book, but you can still walk up and down Rue Catinat (now called Dong Khoi – Total Revolution), you can still sit on the sidewalk veranda outside the Intercontinental Hotel where Greene and so many of his ex-pat friends hung out, and I'm living an easy walk from the site of the old Da Kao Bridge, where Pyle meets his untimely end.

Far more recent is Viet Thanh Nguyen's 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, which evokes the Saigon of 1975 especially, as the southern government is crumbling and so many are fleeing the arrival of the Communist forces. The protagonist is a spy for the North, sent to the United States to keep tabs on potential plotters abroad, and Greene's work is acknowledged in the novel. I can't help wondering if there is also a debt to recent accounts of the most famous spy of the Vietnam war, Pham Xuan An, who worked as a reporter for Time, Reuters and others while feeding information to the North. His story is captured in Larry Berman's 2007 Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An. The character of An who emerges from Berman's biography is far more likable than the spy in The Sympathizer. An managed to fool so many people, yet remained friends with them to an incredible degree. As the army he sympathized with came pouring into the city in 1975, An was running around trying to help as many friends as possible – Americans and South Vietnamese – evade the chaos all knew was coming. When George W. Bush visited Vietnam in 2006, An’s son was an official translator, a living symbol of nations getting past the bitterness of war.

It's an extraordinary thing to be able to come to a city like this and stay for a while, and read such stirring and complex accounts of what has happened here in the not-so-distant past.
Visit Alan Cumyn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Harriet Brown

Harriet Brown is the author of Body of Truth and Brave Girl Eating. She has edited two anthologies and has written for the New York Times Magazine, O Magazine, Psychology Today, Prevention, and many other publications. She is a professor of magazine journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Brown's new book is Shadow Daughter: A Memoir of Estrangement.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m always reading several books at a time. I just finished The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict, a work of historical fiction about Albert Einstein’s first wife, Mitza Maric. She was a brilliant physicist and mathematician who was completely overshadowed by her famous husband. She contributed a lot to Einstein’s work, especially the theory of relativity; some suggest it was actually her theory. We’ll never know for sure. But what we do know is that Mitza gave up her own chance at a career to support her husband’s, and he repaid her by having an affair with his cousin and ultimately divorcing Mitza. As a non-physics person I love the science in this book as well as the history and the human drama.

I’m also reading At Eighty-Two by May Sarton, a Belgian-born poet, fiction writer, and journal keeper; this was her last journal published before her death in 1995. Sarton writes about the tension between art and life. She writes of the creative gifts of solitude and the frustrations of growing old and infirm. She writes beautifully about what it’s like to be human, and a woman, and alive. I’ve been reading her work since I was 20, and have returned to it again and again throughout my own life and career.
Visit Harriet Brown's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2018

John Zubrzycki

John Zubrzycki is a Sydney-based author, journalist and researcher, specializing in South Asia, in particular India.

He is the best-selling author of The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback (2006) and The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy (2013). His new book is Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic.

Recently I asked Zubrzycki about what he was reading. His reply:
I've just finished Ravi Agrawal's India Connected: How the Smartphone is Transforming the World’s Largest Democracy. What's great about this book is not only its breezy style, but the fact that most people in the world don't realise just how transformative India's digital revolution is. In no time at all India went from being a country where having a landline was the preserve of the privileged few to having 700 million people using cell phones. India leapfrogged the PC and laptop eras and now the vast majority of internet traffic goes through smartphones. Why used old-fashioned voice calls and email when you can communicate via Whatsapp? Why use credit cards when its easier to use mobile wallet apps, as over a hundred million Indians already do? Aggarwal starts off by following Phoolwati, a semi-literate woman from Rajasthan as she rides a blue bicycle from village to village teaching other women ‘the magic of the internet’. Using voice recognition which now comes in most major Indian languages, illiterate women can conjure up images of the Taj Mahal or access information on government services. Aggarwal maintains that the smartphone is what the Model T Ford was to America more than a century ago, calling the device “the embodiment on the new Indian Dream”. But he is careful not to get carried away with such comparisons, ending the book with a timely reminder, namely: “Technology will never fix poverty, inequality and broken infrastructure.” Even for someone who visits India as frequently as I do this book was a real eye-opener.
Visit John Zubrzycki's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Simon R. Green

Simon R. Green was born in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England, where he still lives. He is the author of more than fifty science fiction and fantasy novels.

His new novel is Murder in the Dark.

Recently I asked Green about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. The book has a great high concept, which is what if the Scooby Gang encountered actual H P Lovecraft style monsters on one of their adventures? And then suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder? And then had to get back together again as adults when they discover the case isn’t quite as over as they thought it was? Great fun.

Then there’s Peter S Beagle’s new collection of short stories, The Overneath. Beagle writes marvellous stories where the magical intersects with the real world and real people. He matches a poetic sensibility with perfectly observed characters. Prose that’s a pleasure to read.

And finally, I’ve been working my way through the complete collection of ghost stories by M R James, A Pleasing Terror. James wrote the best ghost stories ever. Still scary, and often disturbing, even after all these years.
Visit Simon R. Green's website.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in the Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 30, 2018

David Drake

The Army took David Drake from Duke Law School and sent him on a motorized tour of Viet Nam and Cambodia with the 11th Cav, the Blackhorse. He learned new skills, saw interesting sights, and met exotic people who hadn’t run fast enough to get away.

Drake returned to become Chapel Hill’s Assistant Town Attorney and to try to put his life back together through fiction making sense of his Army experiences.

He describes war from where he saw it: the loader’s hatch of a tank in Cambodia. Drake's military experience, combined with his formal education in history and Latin, has made him one of the foremost writers of realistic action SF and fantasy. His bestselling Hammer’s Slammers series is credited with creating the genre of modern Military SF. He often wishes he had a less interesting background.

Drake's new novel is The Spark.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Drake's reply:
Grand Illusions by David M. Lubin

A brilliant study of how American art reacted to World War I. This wide-ranging book (it covers film and literature as well as paintings, sculpture, and propaganda posters) considers not only the works but the artists who made them. These are subjects I know something about, but Lubin informs and enlightens me in every paragraph.

Don’t Eat Me by Colin Cotterill

Latest in a series of mysteries about a septuagenarian Lao coroner, the first set in 1975 immediately after independence at the end of the Viet Nam War. Cotterill is London-born but living in Thailand. The themes and subjects involve Southeast Asian cultures and the impact of Western cultures on them. They are a warts and all view of Third-World socialism and very funny among the bleakness.

Probably the next best thing to learning a foreign language for being introduced to an alien culture--and extremely entertaining as well.
Visit David Drake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Rosemary Simpson

Rosemary Simpson is the author of two previous historical novels, The Seven Hills of Paradise and Dreams and Shadows, and two previous Gilded Age Mysteries, What the Dead Leave Behind and Lies that Comfort and Betray. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. Educated in France and the United States, she now lives near Tucson, Arizona.

Simpson's newest Gilded Age Mystery is Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Simpson's reply:
I just finished reading Feared: A Rosato & DiNunzio novel by Lisa Scottoline and The Darling Dahlias and the Poinsettia Problem by Susan Witting Albert. I'm about halfway through both A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman and Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird. Since I usually have at least two or three books going at the same time, and I keep yearly lists of what I want to read and what I've read, that should give you an idea of how wide my tastes in fiction are. Most of my non-fiction choices are research tomes for the Gilded Age Mystery series I write for Kensington Books or to explore other historical eras in which to set a novel or another series I'm thinking about developing.

I'm always interested in how other authors grow their protagonists in long-running series. As far as mysteries and thrillers go, I read everything from the really noir to a wonderfully distracting series like The Darling Dahlia books. I can sink into my rocking chair and let Susan Wittig Albert transport me to Depression era Alabama with the assurance that nothing really terrible will happen and that when I've finished the book I'll feel as though I've lived through some of those trying days. Cozies make a great contrast to books like Feared, where the plot demands that the reader be educated in the finer points of the lawsuits that the protagonists' firm pursues. But even while I'm working to untangle the intrigue, I'm noting just how much the author expands on the three main continuing characters as she carries them from book to book. And how much is left for the reader to wonder about.

A King's Ransom is the fifth volume in Penman's Plantagenets series, a sweeping historical novel that takes Richard the Lionheart from his captivity in the Holy Roman Empire to his death seven years later. I bought it as soon as it came out in March of 2014 and tucked it away on my bookshelf where I could glance at it every day until exactly the right moment came to read it. Which turned out to be a few days ago, when I cleared my desk and computer of deadline material and decided it was time to treat myself. Not too fast, not too slow. Just a few chapters a day to make the almost 700 pages last. And even though I was relishing A King's Ransom, when I saw Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen on the library's new books shelf, I knew I had to have it, also. The title piqued my interest, and the jacket blurb lured me on. Based on a true story, it's another historical novel, this time told in the first person. The hook is that the narrator is an ex-slave who enlists in the U.S. Army at the end of the Civil War in order to find freedom in the West. And she's a woman who has to preserve her disguise as a man!
Visit Rosemary Simpson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Kate Heartfield

Kate Heartfield is the author of the historical fantasy novel Armed in Her Fashion and two time-travel novellas from Tor.com Publishing, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives. She has also published several dozen short stories and an interactive novel for Choice of Games. A former journalist, she lives in Ottawa.

Recently I asked Heartfield about what she was reading:
I'm just about to dig in to an advance reading copy of Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra. She's a very talented Toronto writer. Mahimata is the sequel to Markswoman, a fantasy novel about a sisterhood of elite, knife-wielding warriors. I'm looking forward to more of the nuanced character relationships and thoughtful worldbuilding.

In the meantime, I'm finishing up Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones. This is a novella, a length I really enjoy as both a reader and a writer. And this novella is a must-read, about a woman who steals the Pacific Ocean in a jar and has to face the consequences. It's about the geography and culture of the United States, in a very deep way, and as a Canadian, I'm sure there are subtleties I'm missing. But I'm fully enjoying the prose, the story-craft and the characterization.
Visit Kate Heartfield's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice Payne Arrives.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

James Alan Gardner

James Alan Gardner is a 1989 graduate of the Clarion West Science Fiction Writers Workshop, and has had several science fiction stories and novellas appear in publications such as Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Amazing Stories, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He is the author of Expendable, Commitment Hour, Vigilant, Hunted, Ascending, Trapped, and Radiant. He was the grand prize winner of the 1989 Writers of the Future contest, has won the Aurora Award, and has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Gardner's new novel is They Promised Me The Gun Wasn't Loaded.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I aspire to write action-adventure stories that have both humor and heart. I therefore aspire to read such stories whenever I can find them.

So I’ve been reading the Murderbot novellas by Martha Wells. There are four of them: All Systems Red, Artificial Conditions, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy. They’re science fiction, taking place several centuries from now when humans are spread across the stars. The hero is Murderbot—a security unit, part machine, part organic, which has hacked its control chip so that it no longer has to obey human commands.

Despite its name, Murderbot doesn’t want to kill people. It just wants to watch its favorite soap operas and avoid being captured or destroyed by the corporation that manufactured it. But Murderbot gets entangled in a series of adventures during which it gradually develops emotions and awkwardly learns to handle them.

Murderbot doesn’t become human. It doesn’t want to be human. But it becomes endearingly sympathetic in its grumpy intimacy-fearing way.

Exit Strategy brings Murderbot’s story to a satisfying resting-place, but I doubt that it’ll be the final book. Too many readers (like me) want to see more of the charming hacker/killer/misanthrope. I hope the series continues for many years to come.
Visit James Alan Gardner's website.

The Page 69 Test: They Promised Me The Gun Wasn't Loaded.

--Marshal Zeringue