Saturday, April 22, 2017

Nicole Helget

Nicole Helget is the multigenre author of The Summer of Ordinary Ways, The Turtle Catcher, Horse Camp, Stillwater, Wonder at the Edge of the World and The End of the Wild.

Recently I asked Helget about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have a different book or reading device in every area of the house, in the car, and on the porch. Next to my bed, I keep Sarah Kendzior’s essay collection, The View From Flyover Country. She’s a fantastic journalist, who has spent her career studying totalitarianist regimes and whose twitter feed is the first thing I consult in the morning before I turn on the news and get my morning fix of rage and inspiration to be a better writer, teacher, neighbor, and citizen. Her book is a collection of some of her best works on the economy, globalization, academics, and culture. I am daily in contact with rural people, many of whom voted for Trump, and I’m also working on my own essay collection, Requiem, a book that hopefully tells a national story through the tight lens of the life of a rural woman, me, and that comes out with Minneopa Valley Press sometime next year. The project often feels too large, overwhelming, and Kendzior keeps me motivated and reminds me that there’s room for voices from flyover country.

In the car (while parked and waiting for the kids to get out of school), I’m reading Louise Erdrich’s LaRose again. I already read it, but the first time through, I absorbed it like a reader. Now, I’m going back and examining it as a writer. I randomly select paragraphs here and there and really scrutinize her sentences, everything from their length and construction to their detail, diction, and music, and then I just sit back and appreciate the cumulative effect. One word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time, Erdrich demonstrates her artfulness.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is my porch reading. Even though I have now written two middle grade novels, I am still learning a lot about the craft of writing for children. While writing, I lean toward long sentences that wax on and on, usually about setting. I also tend to interrupt my forward-motion with back story. I do many other things that work better in adult fiction than in stories for young people. Middle-grade is very story focused. I think Parker Rhodes is one of the best MG writers out there, so I’m immersed in the world of Deja, the main character, as she navigates family, friends, school, community, and nation in a post-9/11 world, learning how to be a better writer for this population of readers.
Visit Nicole Helget's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Turtle Catcher.

The Page 69 Test: The End of the Wild.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Brian Staveley

Brian Staveley is the author of the award-winning fantasy trilogy, The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. After teaching literature, philosophy, history, and religion for more than a decade, he began writing fiction. His first book, The Emperor’s Blades, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, the Reddit Stabby for best debut, and scored semi-finalist spots in the Goodreads Choice Awards in two categories: epic fantasy and debut. The entire trilogy, which includes The Providence of Fire and the The Last Mortal Bond has been translated into over ten languages worldwide.

Steveley's new novel is Skullsworn, a standalone.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Silk, by Alessandro Baricco, is a stunning novella that’s one part fairy tale, one part historical fiction, and one part heartbreaking romance. It tells the tale of Hervé Joncour, a merchant who travels the world to find silkworm eggs to sell in the French town where he lives. As the European and African silkworms succumb to disease, he must travel further and further, leaving his wife, Hélène, for months at a time. At last, his travels bring him to Japan, where he falls in love with a woman to whom he never speaks.

The story covers years and thousands of miles, but rather than try to render everything, Baricco chooses his moments. Joncour will cross all of Europe and Asia in a short paragraph, but then we get the chance to linger on exchanges like this:
For days Hervé Joncour continued to lead a retired life; he was hardly seen in the town, and spent his time working on the plan for the park that sooner or later he would build. He filled sheets and sheets with strange designs that looked like machines. One evening Hélène asked him,

“What is it?”

“It’s an aviary.”

“An aviary?”

“Yes.”

“And what is its purpose?”

Hervé Joncour kept his eyes fixed on those drawings.

“You fill it with birds, as many as you can, then one day, when something lovely happens to you, you open the doors and watch them fly away.”
This exchange constitutes perhaps ten percent of the total dialogue between the two, and it is from such delicate miniatures that we are asked to reconstitute their entire inner lives. Reading this book is like glimpsing an elegant hand—the nail polish, the lines in the palm, the fine and faded scars, the rings—and imagining an entire life. That simple fact that, in the above passage, Joncour keeps his eyes on the page, tells us volumes about his mental and emotional state, as well as the condition of his marriage. Baricco relies on details like this throughout. As a result, when we arrive at the end, which has a heartrending twist, we are forced to see anew every aspect of the story, even the seemingly inconsequential details.

This is a gorgeous story about love, sacrifice, and the temptations, opportunities, and dangers of the human imagination. I can’t recommend it enough.
Visit Brian Staveley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Providence of Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Nina Sankovitch

Nina Sankovitch is the author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing. She was born in Evanston, Illinois, and is a graduate of Evanston Township High School, Tufts University, and Harvard Law School.

Sankovitch's new book is The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
People often ask me if I still read a book a day, as I did during my year of magical reading. Although I no longer can read six or so hours a day, I still enjoy two to three books a week as a very necessary dose of escape and comfort. I also read eight to ten books a month as a judge for Book of the Month Club, which is a wonderful way of finding out about all the great new books coming out. I picked Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk for January, a lovely, engaging, moving, and unforgettable story of an older woman taking a very long walk through New York City on New Year’s Eve 1984 and looking back at her twentieth century life in the city.

I recently finished Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and I absolutely loved it. I knew the story of Lincoln and the death of his son, and in my book Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing, I write about all the condolence letters that the Lincolns received after poor Willie’s death. Saunders is a genius at portraying the grief of Lincoln and also the way in which both contemporaries of Lincoln and later biographers saw that period in his life. Civil War is on, boys are dying by the thousands, and how does this death fit in with all that sorrow? A beautiful, beautiful book. I am re-reading Lincoln in the Bardo now for one of my book groups, called “The Great Lines Book Group” because each of us has to bring to our monthly discussion a selection of our favorite lines from the chosen book. There are so many great lines to choose from in Lincoln in the Bardo, such as “These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and in this way, brought them forth.” Just beautiful.

I am also in the midst of reading a selection of books I just picked up at my local library book sale, including The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss, Curtain by Agatha Christie, and Aloft by Chang-rae Lee, all by authors I love.
Visit Nina Sankovitch's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Lowells of Massachusetts.

The Page 99 Test: The Lowells of Massachusetts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 17, 2017

G.M. Malliet

G.M. Malliet is the author of the Max Tudor novels Wicked Autumn, A Fatal Winter, Pagan Spring, A Demon Summer, and The Haunted Season.

The latest book in the series is Devil's Breath.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Malliet's reply:
I am a great re-reader of books. It takes a long time for any book to come to my attention but when it does and I love it, I will go back and back over it. It think I'm hoping talent is contagious. Tana French has this affect on me, for one. Agatha Christie, for another.

Right now I'm rereading Wolf Hall. A book I loved so much we renamed our house to match Seymour's and attached a little plaque out front. It is meant as a joke of course. It confused the mail and delivery and GPS services so much we had to stop using it as part of our official address.

Anyway, why do I love Wolf Hall? Because Hilary Mantel has managed to achieve what many writers of history fail at. She puts you right there, back in time. Seeing the world the way a man of the world in the 1500s would see it. I've no doubt she got it right.

An example of Mantel's beautiful use of language, from Wolf Hall:

"The faint push and pull of the ocean is steady and insistent as his own heartbeat."
Visit G. M. Malliet's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: A Fatal Winter.

The Page 69 Test: The Haunted Season.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mindy McGinnis

Mindy McGinnis is an Edgar Award-winning author and assistant teen librarian who lives in Ohio. She graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in English Literature and Religion, and sees nothing wrong with owning nine cats. Two dogs balance things out nicely.

Her latest novel is Given to the Sea.

Recently I asked McGinnis about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read all over the place, genre-wise and age range. Here's a glimpse of what's on my nightstand at the moment.

I'm currently reading one of the great unread classic authors, who I'd never heard of though she was born and lived not ten miles from me -- something that is unheard of out where I live. Dawn Powell was an amazing author who could handle with equal grace the setting of a small town, or life in a big city. All her characters are flawed - some comically, some hatefully - but always the reader is turning the page. She was called "our best comic novelist" by Gore Vidal and Ernest Hemingway was a fan of hers. The American Library issued two collections of her novels, and I've recently finished the first, and immediately dove into the second.

On a more adventurous note, I'm reading Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, a fantastic SciFi YA adventure where main characters with opposing viewpoints are trapped into working side by side. When Noemi's home planet of Genesis rebels against Earth, the blue planet sends mechs (robot soldiers) to attack. Noemi loses a good friend, and ditches her unit to try to find medical help on an abandoned Earth ship nearby. But a mech - abandoned for 30 years - has been waiting inside, and though he's loyal to his Earth-maker, his programming dictates that he obey the orders of a human... and Noemi is the first one he's seen in awhile. I'm enjoying it a lot!

Lastly, I'm a big fan of picture books and Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper is killing me. Big Cat likes his solitary lifestyle, until Little Cat shows up. At first, he doesn't like the kitten in his life, then as the grow together, Big Cat learns to love his new companion. Until one day, Big Cat is gone. Little Cat is now the Big Cat, and he doesn't know what to think when a new kitten comes home...
Visit Mindy McGinnis's website.

The Page 69 Test: Not a Drop to Drink.

The Page 69 Test: In a Handful of Dust.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Keith Yatsuhashi

Keith Yatsuhasi is inspired equally by The Lord of the Rings and Toho’s Godzilla movies. He is Director of the US Department of Commerce Export Assistance Centre in Providence, Rhode Island. A long time ago, in a world far, far away, Yatsuhasi was a champion figure skater.

Kokoro is his new novel.

Recently I asked Yatsuhasi about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m a binge reader; I go back and forth between Science Fiction/Fantasy, YA, (yes, YA), and thrillers. It depends on my mood more than anything else. This post catches me in the middle of a fantasy spree. The books I’m ready caught my eye because their blurbs were unique. I guess I was just ready for something new, and each of the books below delivered.

Nevernight: Jay Kristoff

This wild fantasy takes the familiar ‘character needs schooling/training’ trope and turns it into something completely crazy good. The ubiquitous school is not for wizards or super powers; it’s not for heroes of any kind. Nope. It’s for assassins. That’s right. Assassins. By definition, the main characters are killers, most are broken, and all are competing for the top spots in the school. That’s one bloody and usually deadly proposition. Unpredictable twists and turns abound, each as breathtaking as the last. Mr. Kristoff’s POV is essentially as a storyteller, a style I really like. It feels fresh but not, and it allows the author to add asides I find better than the typical info dump. I loved this book; it’s the best fantasy I’ve read in a very long time. I can’t wait for the second volume in this series.

Caraval: Stephanie Garber

I stood in line at BEA during my lunch break to pick up a ticket for a signed ARC of Caraval. My agent really wanted a copy; she represents YA and is a big fan of the genre. The buzz she’d heard about Caraval was good, so good it also landed in my to-be-read pile. The premise is enticing: a several-night-long game set against what feels like Rio’s carnival but set in a city similar to Venice. Rogues and intrigue are everywhere, as is magic. Said magic is subtle and atmospheric; it never gets in the way or overwhelms the goings on. The main characters are well drawn, their relationship building believably from a shaky start to alliance, to relationship. I expected no less, but Ms. Garber’s skill keeps the journey fresh. I wanted to savor the book, but ended up blowing through it. It’s good. Very good.

Under the Pendulum Sun: Jeannette Ng

My publisher announced signing Ms. Ng in early March. That announcement contained a blurb that caught my attention right away: UK missionaries sent into the Fae lands to convert the Fae to Christianity. How cool is that? I’m currently in the book’s early chapters, and the book’s everything I hoped it would be and then some. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, the idea of introducing a foreign religion fascinating and timely. I think about the book when I’m not reading, and as soon as I put it down, I can’t wait to pick it up again. It’s on hell of a ride. Under the Pendulum Sun will be available in October from Angry Robot Books.
Visit Keith Yatsuhasi's website.

My Book, The Movie: Kokoro.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Jennifer M. Randles

Jennifer M. Randles, author of Proposing Prosperity?: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America, is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her research explores how inequalities affect American family life and how policies address family formation trends.

Recently I asked Randles about what she was reading. Her reply:
Queering Families: The Postmodern Partnerships of Cisgender Women and Transgender Men by Carla A. Pfeffer

Based on 50 in-depth interviews with cisgender women partnered with transgender men, Pfeffer brilliantly analyzes the impacts of partners’ transitions on women’s identities, relationships, families, and communities. After a transition, others often read them as straight couples, which for many directly challenged their lesbian and queer identities. Entire chapters on couples’ negotiations around public misrecognition, housework, sex lives, and other family relationships illuminate how the connections between sex, gender, and sexuality are not always static. The book reveals in vivid detail the stigma and unique challenges respondents faced in forging and maintaining these postmodern partnerships. It made me completely rethink what it what it means to be a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship or family, and shows how, just as for all couples, compassion and recognition go a long way in addressing interpersonal challenges.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Currently on my third read, I never tire of peeking into the creative processes of history’s most prolific writers, scholars, painters, playwrights, and scientists—ranging from Charles Darwin and Maya Angelou, to Georgia O’Keeffe and James Joyce. Drawing from diaries, letters, biographies, and other secondary source material, Currey details the daily habits that generated some of our culture’s greatest artistic and scientific works. What emerges is a powerful statement on the creative process and its varied rhythms. I have many of my own ritualistic writing quirks and habits. I always write to a timer in 10-minute increments, with a candle burning, sipping a hot cup of tea. Currey accomplishes a great feat by showing how the diverse permutations of the creative process have no one shared requirement other than the (almost) daily commitment to make oneself sit down and get at it—whether or not inspiration strikes.
Learn more about Proposing Prosperity? at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sage Blackwood

Sage Blackwood lives at the edge of a large forest, with thousands of books and a very old dog, and enjoys carpentry, cooking, and walking in the woods of New York State.

Blackwood's latest novel is Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Well, I've just started another Diana Wynne Jones binge. This one began with a copy of Charmed Life found at the book exchange barn at the local dump. (All dumps should have these! The only thing I don't love about dump book exchanges is finding my own books there.)

Jones is sublime. The deftness, the sheer economy and humor. And her willingness to let heroes quibble over the little things. Too often fantasy protagonists —especially in children's literature— are so good and pure and noble that if there was only one brownie left on the plate, the protagonist utterly wouldn't care if he got a piece of it, because his mind is fixed on Higher Things.

I go through Jones's entire children's fantasy ouevre every three years or so. I think I'll read The Homeward Bounders next, probably her most structurally impressive novel. Then on to Drowned Ammet for the character development, and… oh, all of them! She was so good.

After that I'll probably read Terry Pratchett's whole oeuvre from 1991 onward; I do that every few years too.
Visit Sage Blackwood's website.

The Page 69 Test: Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 10, 2017

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of western North Carolina. His books include the story collection In the Season of Blood and Gold and the novel Fallen Land.

Brown's new novel is The River of Kings.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Blood, Bone and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews – Ted Geltner

Harry Crews was born just 75 miles west of my hometown in Georgia, and the man and his work have always fascinated me. His writing is at once brutal and comic, raw and articulate. And the man himself possesses a larger-than-life mystique – one, we learn, which he may have cultivated with “malice and forethought.” Here is a man who would quote long passages of Shakespeare in lecture, who wore a mohawk and wrote his novels alongside a mason jar of amphetamines, who survived childhood polio and tragedy and extreme poverty to become a darling of Madonna and Playboy and The New York Times, writing books of incredible beauty and power.

Geltner does not shy from the darker sides of Harry’s life and character, yet avoids condemnation or judgment. He succeeds in giving us a very human portrait of a conflicted man, while preserving some of the mystery so essential to Harry’s myth and work. I’m lucky enough to be reading with Ted Geltner at Turnrow Book Co. and Lemuria Books in Mississippi.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

This is a reread for me. More accurately, I’ve been listening to the audiobook version during some recent road trips. I found myself returning to the book after writing an essay for SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) about the books that have had a profound impact on my life. It would be tough to overestimate how much this memoir of Hemingway’s time in 1920s Paris shaped my idea—or ideal, perhaps, of the writing life.

After I graduated college, I sold my car and moved to Buenos Aires to work on my first novel—I was looking for the 1920s Paris of the 21st century – and largely found it. But the influence continues to this day. Certain images and ideas are still so sharp: the high attic apartment where Hemingway kept his pencils sharp, burning orange rinds and small bundles of sticks, and the early morning cafes, with their smell of espresso and scratch of brooms. The solitude and focus and sense of vocation. The discipline. All of this has stayed with me, and it has been a treat to tread those Paris streets again.

Georgia Motorcycle History – Chris Price

This book may seem like an outlier, but beyond writing fiction, I’m actually the founder and lead editor of a vintage/retro/custom motorcycle blog, BikeBound.com. I grew up riding with my father—both dirt bikes and street bikes, including trips to the notorious bike weeks at Daytona and Sturgis—and motorcycling is my main passion outside of books and literature. Chris Price (Archive Moto) succeeds in marrying those passions for me with this book, which acts as a lens on the rise of motorcycle culture nationwide in the first half of the 20th century.

The book is replete with incredible black-and-white photographs of the early pioneers of the two-wheeled lifestyle, including figures like Vivian Bales—a seamstress and dance instructor from Albany, Georgia, who rode all over the country on her Harley-Davidson, becoming an icon for female enthusiasts for decades to come. Inspiring historical figures like these have a habit of turning up in my work, so I might say this book is as much research for me as pleasure. Recently, I got to hear Chris speak at Caffeine & Octane at the Beach—a car and bike show on Jekyll Island, Georgia—and it only redoubled my enthusiasm for his work.
Visit Taylor Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: The River of Kings.

The Page 69 Test: The River of Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Anthony Franze

Anthony Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, and a novelist with St. Martin’s Press.

His 2016 novel, The Advocate's Daughter, was named “best legal thriller of the year” on influential critic Stacy Alesi’s annual best books list, and received significant praise.

Franze's new novel is The Outsider.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Franze's reply:
I’m a rare breed in Washington, D.C.: I love my morning commute on the Metro. It’s not because the subway system is particularly reliable. On any given day you’re bound to see me running down Massachusetts Avenue late for a meeting because of a train delay. Nor is the Metro particularly comfortable—I’m usually forced to stand in a packed car, unable to reach a handrail and required to balance wide-legged like a surfer to avoid falling on the jostling train. And don’t get me started about the smells.

So why do I love it? What’s the allure?

It’s when I get to read.

And over the past few weeks I’ve read some great books.

First, there’s Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, a new anthology where bestselling thriller writers (including many friends of mine) tell the stories of fifteen men and women who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit. It’s a powerful book that captures the human cost of our flawed justice system. It also illustrates the generosity and spirit of the thriller writer community.

Second, I recently read Shining City, veteran journalist Tom Rosenstiel’s debut novel set in the midst of a Supreme Court nomination battle. You couldn’t get more ripped from the headlines. And as someone who also writes fiction against the backdrop of the secretive world of the Supreme Court, I enjoyed his skilled take on One First Street.

Finally, I just finished Chevy Stevens’s Never Let You Go. My wife is a longtime Stevens fan and she turned me on to her work. The book is about a woman who escaped an abusive relationship, and a decade later fears the abuser is back and as obsessed as ever. Tense, emotional, and a big twist. I really admire Stevens’s style and verve.

As for tomorrow’s trip into downtown, I just started a new book, Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear, which has already pulled me in. So, if you’re in D.C. and you see a bald guy on the train trying to balance while holding a novel—or with pen in hand editing his own book—come over and say hello.
Visit Anthony Franze's website.

--Marshal Zeringue