Friday, July 30, 2010

Jodi Compton

Jodi Compton is the author of the acclaimed novel The 37th Hour, which features Detective Sarah Pribek, and the newly released Hailey's War.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Macbeth. Generally, I think Shakespeare loses a lot in just being read, instead of seen on the stage or screen. But I reread Macbeth every once in a while because it’s my favorite Shakespeare, and chances are relatively few to see it live (I blame the alleged ‘Scottish play curse’ for that).

You’d expect a four-hundred-year-old verse drama based on royal history to present murder as a well-choreographed ballet by villains with steely resolve, but instead, Macbeth and his wife act a lot like the poor 20-century shlubs who end up in the pages of Ann Rule’s true-crime books. The evening of the planned murder, the two are still debating about whether to do this thing or not. Lady Macbeth goes into Duncan’s bedchamber and comes back saying she would have stabbed him herself, had he not looked so much like her father as he slept. Macbeth does succeed in killing him, and then there’s a weak attempt at a frame job, a hasty, bloody cleanup afterward, and then a spiral into psychological collapse.

People tend to consider Macbeth a story about the big questions -- is there such a thing as fate? -- but I’m more interested in the little ones. Like, what happened to the baby Lady Macbeth says she nursed, in Act 1? Who is MacDuff really talking about when he says ‘He has no children‘ in Act 4? (I’m in the minority; I think it’s Macbeth, not Malcolm, who is, after all, standing in front of MacDuff and should reasonably be addressed in second person).

Okay, I could go on about all the fascinating bits of business in this play, but it’s Macbeth; it’s famous. Just read it already, if you haven’t.

Bike for Life, by Bill Katovsky and Roy M. Wallack. Nobody gets stabbed to death in a bedchamber in this book, but it’s very readable, and it’s a godsend to bicycle lovers who, like me, have unwisely been using the bike as their only form of exercise equipment. Bike for Life covers ‘prehab’ (which is what it sounds like, injury prevention), effective cross-training (swimming makes an ideal companion), the best yoga asanas for cyclists, and so on. Also included are interviews with a fascinating cross-section of famous cyclists -- not Armstrong, no, but Marla Streb and Missy Giove are represented. Perhaps best is the interview with John Sinibaldi, born in 1913, an Olympian who never wanted to turn pro and spent most of his adult life as a sheet metal worker. He did a century ride (100 miles) with a pack of younger riders to celebrate his 90th birthday.

Sinibaldi tells the story of the day he and his team took the ferry to the 59th Street Bridge in New York for a race (again, 100 miles), and got there too late: the race had already started, the peloton was gone. He and his team didn’t even start after them right away -- it was a rainy day, so they stopped at a machine shop and greased up their legs to repel water, and then set off. Says Sinibaldi, ‘We chased and chased and chased.‘ He bent a wheel out of true and had to take off the brakes to compensate, so he rode after that with no stopping power. They finally caught the group after 70 miles and won it in the final 15. He concludes: ‘God, was I riding good that day.’

Visit Jodi Compton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nancy Thayer

Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of Moon Shell Beach, The Hot Flash Club, The Hot Flash Club Strikes Again, Hot Flash Holidays, The Hot Flash Club Chills Out, Between Husbands and Friends, and Summer House. She lives on Nantucket.

Thayer's new novel is Beachcombers.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Richard Russo is my newest own personal literary discovery. This winter I read That Old Cape Magic, which is a wonderful book about relationships, funny and profound, so I bought Empire Falls, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, and devoured that. Now I'm reading The Risk Pool. His books are full and his heart is generous.

I'm also reading--because I always seem to have at least two books going at the same time for the different moods I'm in--my favorite genre, mysteries. Last night I finished The Ice Princess, a mystery set in Sweden by Camilla Läckberg. Perhaps I bought it because of the word "ice" in the title--it's so hot here! Also, I'm building a collection of Scandinavian mystery writers. There's something brooding and elemental about all the Scandinavian mysteries, something that deepens the mystery genre.

My favorite "mystery" this summer is Margriet de Moors' The Storm, which is set in Holland (I know that's not Scandinavia) and is about a real storm that took place fifty years ago, devastating an entire area of the coast. Perhaps it fascinated me because I live on an island surrounded by water. Also, her writing is brilliant--a page-turner that makes you feel the power of nature, something we all need to remember. I think the best mysteries, the best books, remind us that there's something else in the universe, something more than just us.
Read an excerpt from Beachcombers, and learn more about the book and author at Nancy Thayer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Charlotte Jacobs

Charlotte Jacobs, M.D., the Ben and A. Jess Shenson Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, is the author of Henry Kaplan and the Story of Hodgkin's Disease.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
As a biographer, I tend to read lots of biographies and memoirs. One of my favorites, which I am re-reading, is My Own Country by Abraham Verghese. Many of your readers are familiar with his current novel and best-seller, Cutting for Stone, an exquisite saga of the type we rarely see today. Verghese is a gifted writer and storyteller whose talents span nonfiction and fiction.

My Own Country tells the story of a newly-trained infectious disease specialist who takes a position in Johnson City, Tennessee at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. We learn about AIDS as Verghese does through his patients and their families. The author captures the voice and spirit of the people of east Tennessee as he unfolds his experiences with them. The tale is as engrossing as a novel, except these people are or were real, and that makes the book even more compelling. Woven throughout are the issues of how it feels to be a foreign physician and how a doctor’s devotion to patients can displace one’s own family.

The central character, Dr. Abraham Verghese, reveals his emotional responses with incredible honesty, humor, and humility—characteristics lacking in many doctor-authors. His quiet dignity and compassion, words he never uses to describe himself, emerge from the page through his interactions with patients, their families, staff, and neighbors. I’ve always loved this book, not just for the writing—the superb characterizations and narrative—but mainly because the author lets us look into his heart in a way few people can or are willing to do.
Learn more about Henry Kaplan and the Story of Hodgkin's Disease at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lauren Belfer

Lauren Belfer's debut novel, City of Light, was a New York Times bestseller, as well as a #1 Book Sense pick, a Barnes & Noble Discover Award nominee, a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal Best Book, and a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. City of Light was a bestseller in Great Britain and has been translated into seven languages.

Her new novel is A Fierce Radiance.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Belfer what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt. On the surface, this novel is a portrait of two families involved in art world in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, beginning in 1975 and continuing for over two decades. I lived in New York during that time, and I was fascinated to see the evolution of the neighborhood as the lives of these two families, the closest of friends, played out. But What I Loved is much more than a novel about the art world and about New York City. Beneath the surface, it’s a riveting suspense story that accumulates tiny, precise clues one by one by one, to reach an overpowering and tragic conclusion.

Recently I read Embers, by Sandor Marai. Embers was originally published in Hungary in 1942. It takes place on a vast estate in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The mystery unfolds with one mundane detail after another, until a terrible betrayal becomes clear. The narration begins on the eve of the Second World War, then goes back in time to reveal secrets from forty years before. While the story plays out, the reader knows that the immense tragedy of World War II awaits the characters and their way of life, and this knowledge adds to the novel another layer of insight and power.

And I’ve just reread The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. This novel, which begins in Canada after World War II, is an astonishing achievement. The first time I read it, I didn’t understand what was actually taking place until I reached the final pages. Then was I so surprised that I immediately reread the novel from the beginning. In The Blind Assassin, nothing is wasted, and everything contributes to the whole. The science fiction story-within-the story has shocking parallels to the “real” story unraveling through the book. In fact, this novel is so consistently fascinating that I think I’ll start rereading it again now…
Visit Lauren Belfer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cynthia Robinson

Cynthia Robinson lives in San Francisco, where she works as a part-time advertising shill, and a full-time raconteur.

Her debut novel, The Dog Park Club, is a noir comedy. It’s the first installment in a series about the reluctant adventures of Max Bravo—an opera singer whose real life adventures are even more dramatic than his stage roles. The sequel, The Barbary Galahad, is coming in 2011.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Momento Mori by Muriel Spark

There’s a lot of buzz about Muriel Spark right now. Her biography, by Martin Stannard, has just come out and that’s what turned me on to her—I caught a review of it in the New York Times.

Once I learned a bit about Ms. Spark—she was imperious, tempestuous, brilliant, a documented speed-freak and a purported lesbian—I had to read her.

I went to a local bookstore intending to buy The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Instead, I came away with Momento Mori. Two reasons: The Tennessee Williams endorsement on the cover. And the book’s subject.

It’s about a set of aged, 1950s British aristocrats being terrorized by an anonymous phone caller who keeps reminding them that they must die.

How germane, I thought, in this time when the insistent shadow of our Baby Boom generation is baring its long teeth everywhere you go; bargain matinee movies, the opera house, the queue at the grocery market they instigate by laboriously writing out cheques.

Ms. Spark’s keen eye and sharp wit renders her ancient characters in deft, resonant strokes. It’s sly and funny and unstoppable.

She captures mannerisms perfectly. And motivations. Ms. Spark’s characters are driven by the mad furies that whirl inside their own grey heads. The past intrudes on the present. Secrets and intrigues, many of them decades old, run riot. And it turns out that these desiccated passions—wandering the landscape like senile zombies—are far scarier than the mysterious phone stalker.

The most illuminating moments come when Ms. Spark allows her characters to break free of their obsessions. That is, when they simply choose to stop sweating the small stuff—which is, let’s be honest, pretty much everything.

It’s in these bright spots that Ms. Spark is sublime. Many sharp-penned satirists can skewer their subjects. Ms. Spark can do so with a perfect compassion that comes only from divine detachment.

The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen

This book was published in 1899. It’s the third time I’ve read it. Never has it seemed so pertinent to me as it is right now.

Veblen is popularly known as the economics theoretician who developed the theory of “conspicuous consumption.” He, of course, goes a whole lot deeper than that. And his precise, vivid prose is as riveting a read as you’ll find.

I recommend reading Veblen. Do it now. While the shrapnel of our freshly imploded consumer-spending-based economy is still lodged in your mind.
Read an excerpt from The Dog Park Club, and learn more about the book and author at Cynthia Robinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 23, 2010

Janni Lee Simner

Janni Lee Simner's first novel for teens, Bones of Faerie, is a post-apocalyptic fairy tale, set after the war with Faerie has destroyed much of the world. Her second, Thief Eyes, is a contemporary fantasy based on the Icelandic sagas, Njal's Saga in particular. She is also working on Faerie Winter, a sequel to Bones of Faerie.

She has also written three books for younger kids-most recently Secret of the Three Treasures, which is about a kid who's determined to live a life of adventure from the start, and who isn't about to let small things like still being in elementary school, too young to book passage to anywhere (these days even caravans require major credit cards) get in her way.

Simner has published more than 30 short stories for kids, teens, and adults, including appearances in Cricket magazine, Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, and Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar.

Recently I asked her what her what she was reading. Her reply:
As a lifelong fantasy reader, one of the things I love most is when a story manages to spin mythology that feels so real that some part of me feels it surely can't be new, but that the author must instead be tapping into something that's always been true.

Given that, two recent reads made me very happy.

Laini Taylor's Blackbringer--with its miniature winged fairies and talking crows--is steeped in a sort of whimsy that doesn't always work for me, but in this case, that whimsy was bound up in worldbuilding that was so original and dark and textured that it won me over.

In Blackbringer world is a tapestry woven by the dreams of djinns. Only the tapestry is fraying--as tapestries do over time--letting in darkness and an ancient enemy who seeks the unmaking of all things. Worse, the memory that the tapestry is even real has slipped from the world--as such memories do--leaving most creatures unaware their existence is imperiled. So it falls to the (miniature, winged) fairy Magpie Windwitch--the first non-djinn with the ability to reweave the tattered threads--to set things right. And she does, and if as readers we never doubted it, that doesn't change the fact that the tapestry feels so real that it's hard not to look for its hidden threads behind the workings of our own world when the story is through.

Bruce Coville's The Last Hunt, the fourth book of the Unicorn Chronicles series, completes a story begun fifteen years ago. I love how this entire series takes the sorts of unicorn stories so many of us grew up on--stories of gentle creatures stripped of their historical fierceness--and, instead of undercutting it, uses it to create something new. In earlier books we get the story of Beloved, a human maiden who is forever being both wounded and healed by the shard of unicorn horn lodged in her heart, and who has become the deadly enemy of the unicorns as a result of that pain, forever training hunters to seek their lives. Had the mythmaking ended here, I wouldn't have been disappointed.

But in the last two books, we get something more: the story of the Whisperer, a dark seducer created by the unicorns themselves--when they chose to purge themselves of the darkness all creatures have to become, well, the all-good, all-light creatures I grew up with. That creating such one-dimensional goodness comes with a price, for the unicorns and for all of us, feels true to me, too--true enough that it makes not only this story but other unicorn stories as well feel more real and more true. There's a lot more going on in these books--especially in The Last Hunt, which also has things to say about the relationship between creators and their creations--but it's the lore of how the unicorns came to be the creatures I've known them as much of my life that stayed with me when I finished reading.
Visit Janni Lee Simner's website and blog/journal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Susan Wiggs

Susan Wiggs' first book was published by Zebra in 1987, and since then she has been published by Avon, Tor, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Warner and Mira Books. Unable to completely abandon her beloved teaching profession, Wiggs is a frequent workshop leader and speaker at writers' conferences, including the literary institution Fields End and the legendary Maui Writers Conference. Her novel The Charm School was voted one of RWA's Favorite Books of the Year. She is the proud recipient of three RITA awards for Lakeside Cottage, Lord of the Night and The Mistress, and is often a finalist for the prestigious award.

Her 2010 releases include The Summer Hideaway (#7 in the Lakeshore Chronicles Series).

Not so long ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I always have a book within reach, and my tastes are eclectic. A couple of memorable recent reads for me: A Castle in the Backyard: The Dream of a House in France by Betsy Draine, about her summer home in southwestern France. I'm heading to Bordeaux and St. Cirq Lapopie later this month, so this incredibly charming memoir fed my excitement. It's perfect for armchair travelers, too, and for fans of books like Under the Tuscan Sun and the Peter Mayle books.

The Passage by Justin Cronin is a vampire book for grown-ups. He writes beautifully, and although I'm not a huge fan of apocalyptic or futuristic fiction, this one definitely drew me in. I'm definitely a sucker for the innocent-child-saving-the-world plots, and this is what the book is, at its heart.

One of my favorite thriller authors is Tess Gerritsen, and her latest, Ice Cold, is a fabulous addition to the Rizzoli and Isles series. They're going to be in a series on TNT, so I'm primed to tune in.

Bodily Harm by Robert Dugoni is another thriller I loved. Nobody writes courtroom drama better. There's a wrongful death suit and an ending I didn't see coming.
Visit Susan Wiggs' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Caroline Clemmons

Caroline Clemmons writes historical and contemporary genre fiction. Historical romances, contemporary romantic suspense, mysteries, and paranormals are among her current works.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Hello, I'm Caroline Clemmons and I write romance. Oops, that sounded like an AA statement, didn't it? Not meant that way, I promise. I love romance novels because they entertain and take readers' minds off their daily grind and problems. I'm an eclectic reader, so you're in for a variety of books. I hope you've read some of them.

Last night I finished Welcome to Harmony, by Jodi Thomas. To paraphrase Will Rogers, I've never read a Jodi Thomas book I didn't like. This is no exception. Her characters are so well-formed they seem real. Yes, that's the point, but not something that always happens. Reagan is introduced as the central character. We never learn her real last name, but she's an adorable runaway who is not afraid of hard work. She is a little afraid of Jeremiah Truman, hates school, and yearns for a real home. Reagan's arrival launches the events that catapult this story and its characters into a book that will stay with you long after you've finished reading it. I can hardly wait for the next linked book, Somewhere Along the Way, due out this fall. I hope readers will also pick up the first of this series, Twisted Creek, for the story of Allie and Gran. Jodi Thomas delivers in that one, too, and it's set near Lubbock where I grew up. Reading Twisted Creek seemed like visiting friends.

The House on Tradd Street, by Karen White, and the linked book, The Girl on Legare Street. I put these two books together because the second continues the story of Melanie Middleton and Jack Trenholm. Members of the book club I'm in chose the first, and each of us liked it so well we chose the second one a few months later. These are paranormal stories--ghosts--and are well crafted. Even if you don't enjoy paranormal books, I think you'd enjoy these two. Secondary characters lend humor to lighten the tension of the battle Melanie and Jack wage against dark forces. Along the way, they discover a great deal about themselves and about Melanie's family. The books are about reconciliation and righting past wrongs.

The Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn is on my nightstand. Yes, all of them. My daughter collected this series and loaned it to me so that I can read them in order, something she knows I enjoy. I've read the first two of the series and adore Daisy. She is an Honorable who is penniless but doing something about it. These books remind me of Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series. The heroine is just as spunky, just as poor, and just as bound by the rules of an outdated peerage system. Okay, I'll admit it, I'm an anglophile and an admirer of Queen Elizabeth II. In addition, I love reading about the 1920's and 1930's. These are just my ticket!
Caroline Clemmons lives in North Central Texas and writes full-time, unless life interferes. You can learn more about her and about her books at her website. Visit her blog and comment to enter her weekly prize drawing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lori Handeland

Lori Handeland has written nearly fifty novels, novellas and short stories in several genres--historical, contemporary, series and paranormal romance, as well as urban fantasy--for such publishers as: Dorchester, Kensington, Harlequin, St. Martin's Press, Harper-Collins and Simon and Schuster.

She is a New York Times, USA Today, Waldenbooks and Bookscan Bestselling Author and the recipient of many industry awards, including two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Paranormal (Blue Moon) and Best Long Contemporary Romance (The Mommy Quest), a Romantic Times Award for Best Harlequin Superromance (A Soldier's Quest), the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence, the Write Touch Readers Award, the National Readers Choice Award and the Prism Award. She lives in Southern Wisconsin with two sons, a husband, and a yellow Lab named Elwood.

Her new book is Shakespeare Undead.
As summer approached I kept hearing whispers about an upcoming "big" summer vampire book, The Passage. It sounded like something I would like, but when I caught a glimpse of the length (766 pages) I put the thought aside. I like to carry my books around with me and at that size, I might hurt myself!

However, I kept hearing about the book. Everything I heard, I liked. When I saw the quote from Stephen King: "It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve. Read this book and the ordinary world disappears" I decided I'd risk the injury.

I'm very glad I did. The Passage reminds me very much of The Stand, one of my all time favorite King novels. By combining great characters and stellar writing with vampires, secret government experiments and an apocalyptic setting, Justin Cronin has penned both a literary work and a great summer read.
Visit Lori Handeland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gregg Hurwitz

Gregg Hurwitz is the author of several novels, including Trust No One, and has been a finalist for the ITW Best Novel and the Ian Fleming Gold Dagger. His new novel is They're Watching.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I am reading a graphic novel called Chew, about a detective who can solve crimes -- by tasting the dead flesh of the victims! It's a crazy little comic and really takes advantage of the medium. Good sense of humor, great underlying conspiracy/mythology, and in the middle of it all, a protagonist gnawing on human legs. What's not to love?
Visit Gregg Hurwitz's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Crime Writer.

The Page 69 Test: Trust No One.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 16, 2010

Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch was born near the piedmont town of Statesville, North Carolina in 1978. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2000 with degrees in English and Creative Writing.

His first two novels are Desert Places and Locked Doors.

Beginning in late 2005, and inspired by his relocation to Durango, Colorado, he researched and wrote a book set in the past and present in a remote mining town high in the San Juan Mountains. The resulting novel, Abandon, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009.

His new novel, Snowbound, was released last month.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
At the moment, I'm tearing through Michael Koryta's new book, So Cold the River. It's a departure from his PI series and his excellent crime fiction standalone, Envy the Night, but I'm loving it. The main character is a washed-up filmmaker reduced to shooting video montages for funerals, and he goes to this strange town to investigate the history of his reclusive subject who no one seems to know anything about. This is no doubt Koryta's strongest book yet.
Visit Blake Crouch's website.

Read an excerpt from Snowbound.

The Page 69 Test: Abandon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thomas L. Carson

Thomas L. Carson is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. He is the author of Value and the Good Life, The Status of Morality, and the newly released Lying and Deception, and is the co-editor of Morality and the Good Life and Moral Relativism.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
During the last month I read Ronald White’s biography of Lincoln, A. Lincoln, Henry Lewis Gates’s, Lincoln on Race and Slavery, and the Library of America collection of Lincoln ’s speeches and writings. I am preparing to give a series of public lectures on Lincoln’s Ethics at my alma mater, Saint Olaf College, in 2011. These lectures will combine historical biography and moral philosophy. I am combining my work in philosophy with my lifelong interest in history. The last few chapters of Lying and Deception also address historical questions in considerable detail.

I read Philippa Foot’s Moral Dilemmas, a collection of essays by an important analytic philosopher who is a wonderfully clear stylist and writer. She takes on “big” and interesting questions, as opposed to scholarly minutiae.

I am now reading Value and Reality: The Philosophical Case for Theism, by A. C. Ewing. This book talks about the relationship between morality and religion, a topic that greatly interests me and one that I address in my earlier book Value and the Good Life.

Since I have a lot of time on my hands this summer, I have started reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He and Dostoevski are among my very favorite writers. It’s a great book and lives up to its reputation.

I read The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, and The New York Times Book Review which give me good summaries of many more books than I have time to read.
See Thomas L. Carson's Loyola University webpage for more information about him and to see a list of some of his favorite books.

Learn more about Lying and Deception at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Joanne Lessner

Joanne Lessner is a singer, actor, and writer. She is the author of the novel Pandora’s Bottle, which was published by Flint Mine Press in June 2010. Her play, Critical Mass, was named the winner of the 2009 Heiress Productions Playwriting Competition and will receive its New York premiere at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row in October 2010. She has written the book and lyrics to several musicals with her husband, composer/conductor Joshua Rosenblum, including the cult hit Fermat's Last Tango, which received its Off-Broadway premiere at the York Theatre Company in November 2000. The original cast recording became a bestseller, and the DVD has been screened at festivals from New Jersey to New Zealand.

Last week I asked Lessner what she was reading. Her reply:
You’ve caught me in a spate of re-reading, which is fairly unusual for me! In general, I subscribe to the ‘too many books, too little time’ school of thought, but occasionally, I find myself revisiting favorite works for specific reasons:

I’m reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban aloud to my 9 year-old daughter. I’ve read the series silently for myself, of course, and aloud once before in its entirety to my son who is now 14. I love to read the Potter books this way. What fabulously juicy and idiosyncratic characters – it’s actor catnip! Really, why should Jim Dale have all the fun? I keep the narrator in my own voice and layer on various British dialects for the others. My favorite character to do is Professor Trelawney, the loopy divination teacher. The only problem with reading the Potter books aloud is that I cry unabashedly at various key points and have to stop, much to my kids’ amusement. I think J.K. Rowling is a phenomenal, inspired author. We’re the same age and we share the same name, but I fear the similarity may end there.

I’m also taking a second look at Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel. It’s less well-known than Rebecca, but just as creepy and suggestive, and I’m reading it with an eye towards adapting it as a musical with my husband, composer Joshua Rosenblum. We’re envisioning something moody and mercurial - a sort of gothic, chamber musical. It’s a property we’ve been considering for awhile, and we recently received a commission from the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, so its time may have come!

Still sitting on my bedside table because I’ve just finished them for the second time, is the Cazalet Chronicle by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’m clearly a sucker for anything British, but particularly for books that reveal England in the first part of the last century. These four novels - The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion and Casting Off – are a charming, but penetrating saga of an extended family before, during and after World War II. Just after 9/11, the BBC film version aired on PBS and I found tremendous comfort watching another generation survive and triumph over a stealth threat from abroad. When I turned to the novels, I saw that Howard, like Rowling, had created a supremely detailed and involving world that reflected my own, despite obvious differences. Howard delivers much more than a garden-variety family saga; she is an acute observer of human nature. As soon as I finished them the first time, I knew I would read them again. I made myself wait almost ten years, and presented them to myself as a reward for finishing Pandora's Bottle. In fact, they were just what I needed as a palate cleanser before my last manuscript review.

Next up, to read for the first time, so I don’t have much to say yet, is Inheritance, by Natalie Danford. Not England this time, but Italy, another favorite locale, and WWII again. Looks right up my alley. Then, for completeness’ sake, I’ll read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. And if anyone reading this has a direct line to Reginald Hill, could you let him know I’m ready for the next installment of Dalziel and Pascoe? That has to be the slyest, most intellectually entertaining detective series ever!
Visit Joanne Sydney Lessner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner's novels include the Jo Beckett series -- The Dirty Secrets Club, The Memory Collector, and the newly released The Liar's Lullaby.

About a week ago I asked her what she was reading Her reply:
The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, shocked and gripped me. Lewis’s account of the crash of the mortgage bond market—which led to the near-collapse of the U.S. financial system—is clear, compelling, and full of intensely drawn characters. The book discusses arcane securities such as credit default swaps, yet I was flipping the pages to find out what happened next. And yes, nearly everybody on Wall Street who jumped into the subprime mortgage market became so greedy that it made them stupid. And they were playing with other people’s money, including yours and mine. “Cautionary tale” doesn’t begin to cover it.

To cool me down after that book, I needed a good thriller. 61 Hours, Lee Child’s latest, did the trick. Reacher’s trapped in a blizzard in South Dakota, dealing with small town cops and a big league drug lord. The novel went down smooth—like a dagger carved from ice.
The Page 69 Test: The Dirty Secrets Club.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory Collector.

Learn more about the author and her work at Meg Gardiner's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Susan Hasler

Susan Hasler spent twenty-one years at the CIA, where she held a variety of positions including counterterrorism analyst. In 2004 she resigned from the CIA and now writes full time. Her short stories have appeared in The Beloit Fiction Journal, O. Henry Festival Stories 2005, and more.

Her new novel is Intelligence.

Earlier this month I asked Hasler what she was reading. Her reply:
Of the novels that I’ve read this year, three have lodged in my mind with particular stubbornness.

I loved T. C Boyle’s The Women for the strange warp and rhythm of its backwards chronology. Boyle takes the material of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and turns it into a long prose poem. As a writer, I have to admire the skill required to pull this off so effectively. If Boyle were a figure skater, this would be a quadruple axel.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna is a masterful rendering of the political and social sins of an era. How could I, as a one-time art major, one-time Soviet expert, and frequent visitor to the North Carolina mountains not love this novel? It features Frida Kahlo, Trotsky, and Asheville. Moreover, Kingsolver’s account of McCarthy era excesses has a chilling political relevance in a time of cable news screamers.

Finally, I adored Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. How does this woman make each page so special? Every sentence exudes its own atmosphere and makes you breathe its air. This quiet story of a midwest minister nearing the end of his life sounds in the memory for a long time after you put it down.

These are writers that leave me feeling humbled and anxious to push myself to do more.
Visit Susan Hasler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Joshilyn Jackson

New York Times bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Georgia with her husband, their two children, and way too many feckless animals. Her debut, gods in Alabama, won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the year Award and was a #1 BookSense pick. Jackson won Georgia Author of the Year for her second novel, Between, Georgia, which also a #1 BookSense pick, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to receive #1 status in back to back years. Her third novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a Break Out book at Target and has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction. All three books were chosen for the Books-A-Million Book Club.

Her latest novel, Backseat Saints (June 2010), tells the story of Rose Mae Lolley, a fierce, tiny ball of war wounds who was a minor character in gods in Alabama. Her life changes dramatically when she meets an airport gypsy who shares her past and knows her future. The gypsy's dire prediction: Ro's handsome, violent husband is going to kill her - unless she kills him first...

Last month I asked Jackson what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished tour, which means umpty plane rides, which means I’ve been reading a metric buttload of eclectic picks, based on the ARCS I managed to hoover up at BEA, books I nabbed in airports, and the recommendations of booksellers I met on tour.

Ape House: I shamelessly stole an ARC at BEA even though there were a limited number and everyone was trying to nab them. I am not even sorry. I would steal it again. It opens with a bang, literally, as animal rights activists blow up a lab to “rescue” a group of Bonobo apes who speak American Sign Language. Isabel Duncan, a scientist who has bonded with the apes and who isn’t great at making human connections, is the rich, red heart of this book. She’ll do anything to find her missing family, and the plot is a rollercoaster ride that explores what it means to be human.

61 Days: Number something-teen in a long-running thriller series that never seems to get stale. I unabashedly love Jack Reacher, an ex-military cop and current drifter who is a magnet for big, fat, hairy trouble. 61 days could be easily read as a stand alone, I think, but it’s worth starting at book one (Killing Floor) and getting the next one whenever you find yourself in the thriller mood. I did it that way, and I am SO sad that I have caught up with the series and now have to wait for the next release!

City of Thieves: Recommended to me by a bookseller at The BookMark in Atlantic Beach, Florida, this coming of age tale is set during the Nazi Siege of Leningrad. I laughed out loud and wept openly on a plane like an idiot reading this brutal, blackly funny, bittersweet tale. A pair of mis-matched “war criminals” search for a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake to save their lives.

A Soft Place to Land: This book was in every airport I went to, which struck me as ironic, as it opens with a plane crash. It tells the story of a pair of half sisters orphaned in that crash as they grow up separately, a country apart. It was so beautifully written and so moving. It’s all about connection, and it is ultimately hopeful without ever once slipping into sentimentality. It’s the work of a first rate talent.

The 19th Wife was a gift from Calvin Crosby at Books INC in San Francisco, and that guy can pick my next read anytime. It’s a novel that swings back and forth in time, from Brigham Young’s 19th wife and her crusade to end polygamy to a contemporary murder mystery that features “lost boys,” young men forcibly run off by the older, powerful men running a town of modern day polygamists. It’s a page turner for sure, and a compassionate examination all the ways--for good or ill--we define and create families.
Learn more about the author and her books at Joshilyn Jackson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Andrei S. Markovits

Andrei S. Markovits is the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies at the University of Michigan. His books include Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, and (with Lars Rensmann) the recently published Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Arik Brauer, Die Zigeunerziege: Fast wahre Geschichten (Munich/Vienna: Langen - Mueller, 1976)

This wonderful selection of brilliant vignettes represent Arik Brauer's first foray into the world of literature. While never a core member of the famous "Vienna School of Fantastic Realism," Brauer's paintings -- just like these writings -- merge fantasy with reality in an immensely exciting manner. Every one of Brauer's short stories commences with a banal and pedestrian event of city life and then becomes part of a fable-like tale featuring macabre, even grotesque, qualities. His synthesis of deeply-felt Jewish and Viennese sensibilities evoke much of my own boyhood experiences in Vienna where I lived from the age of nine to eighteen, from 1958 to 1967.

Michael Boloker, The Gym Rat (Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2002)

Boloker details graphically the story of Guy Golden, Division I college basketball coach, who is forced to deal with the aura of the NCAA tournament, "March Madness," while his star player is accused of raping a coed. The novel concerns the conflict between his love for the game and the pressure to win at any cost.

Wiltrud I. MacKinnon, Wings and Ashes (Boston: MacKinnon, 2009)

Wiltrud was arguably among the most gifted of my many students that I had the honor of teaching in my 35-year professorial career at the finest universities in the United States, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Israel. She took a course from me on comparative fascism that I taught at the Harvard University Extension School in the spring term of 2003 while a Visiting Professor of Social Studies at that university. I remained in touch with her via e-mail after my return to Ann Arbor and have not seen her in seven years. She just sent me this collection of her poems which have overwhelmed and awed me. Full of empathy for the weak, particularly animals, but also children and the poor, these poems have touched me like few others in recent years. They obviously bespeak Wiltrud's childhood in her native Germany and her Boston-area adulthood but all poems enjoy a much greater relevance. Apart from the emotional salience of Wiltrud's poems, their style is also beautiful in my opinion.
Read more about Gaming the World, and visit Andrei S. Markovits' website.

--Marshal Zeringue