Saturday, November 17, 2018

Scott J. Holliday

Scott J. Holliday was born and raised in Detroit. In addition to a lifelong love of books and reading, he has pursued a range of curiosities and interests, including glassblowing, boxing, and much more. He is the author of Punishment, the first book in his series featuring Detective John Barnes; Stonefly; and Normal, which earned him recognition in INKUBATE.com’s Literary Blockbuster Challenge.

Holliday's latest book is Machine City, his second novel featuring Detective Barnes.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Holliday's reply:
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

I tend to return to the stories I love so well. Shutter Island is one of those. Lehane's writing has a beautiful, lyrical quality that I enjoy and the story is such a twisted little gem that it's hard for someone like me to resist. I would recommend the book for anyone who's interested in writing as an example of writing quality, voice, plot, pace, and thrills.
Visit Scott J. Holliday's website.

My Book, The Movie: Machine City.

The Page 69 Test: Machine City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until 2010, before immigrating to California.  A former academic linguist, she is now a full-time fiction writer, the multi- award-winning and best-selling author of the Dandy Gilver detective stories, set in Scotland in the 1920s.  She also writes a strand of award-winning contemporary standalone novels including Edgar-finalist The Day She Died and Mary Higgins Clark finalists The Child Garden and Quiet Neighbors.

McPherson's new novel is Go to My Grave.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. McPherson's reply:
I'm reading an ARC of Cathy Ace's The Wrong Boy, with a view to blurbing it on the jacket when it comes out. Getting advance copies of books from fellow writers is, on the one hand, one of the best perks of the writing life and, on the other hand, one of the most excruciating and nail-biting chances we take. What if you don't like it? Accepting a book you loathe from a person you love would put you into a horrible predicament. Thankfully, it hasn't happened to me yet. Certainly not this time: Cathy's delve into a tight-knit Welsh village, in the aftermath of a brutal crime, is a treat indeed. The village is by turns charming and claustrophobic, the secrets are juuuust beginning to spill at the point I've got to and the the mystery is completely baffling.

Before The Wrong Boy I read Wild Fire, Ann Cleeves' eighth and final Shetland novel. It's a cracking murder plot and a satisfying end to Jimmy Perez's story - resolved but not tied in a bow. I'm sad that the octet is done but I can't wait to read whatever Ann writes next.

What I'm probably going to read next is Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. What can I tell you? Sometimes I read an ARC before a book is even published and sometimes I'm at the cow's tail!
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Go to My Grave.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

R. E. Stearns

R. E. Stearns is the author of Barbary Station and the newly released Mutiny at Vesta. She wrote her first story on an Apple IIe computer and still kind of misses green text on a black screen. She went on to annoy all of her teachers by reading books while they lectured. Eventually she read and wrote enough to earn a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Central Florida. She is hoping for an honorary doctorate.

When not writing or working, Stearns reads, plays PC games, and references internet memes in meatspace. She recently moved to Denver, Colorado, USA with her husband/computer engineer and a cat.

Last month I asked Stearns about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since it’s October as I write this, I want to tell you about a couple of horror stories I recently read. The first is The Haunting of Blackwood House by Darcy Coates (2015), a creepy and charming haunted house ghost story. It begins with well-loved haunted house tropes: a woman buys a decrepit old house for a bargain price, footsteps sound from where nobody should be walking, furniture wanders, cell phones are as dead as the house's former residents.

However, Coates sidesteps or inverts a lot of annoying haunted house tropes, especially ones about the living characters, and that’s what I found so fresh and exciting about this ghost story. The homebuyer, Mara, is clever, brave, and independent. As a rational thinker, she investigates the creepy goings-on cautiously, resulting in multiple suspenseful scenes that gave me goosebumps. I love the character development as she is forced to accept that something in Blackwood really is out to get her. None of the characters are the people that decades of cheap horror thrills have led us to expect, and I loved all of them. Well, most of them. You’ll see.

Like The Haunting of Blackwood House, my nonfiction recommendation, Hugo-nominated Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoë Quinn (2017) tells exactly the its title describes. Between 2014 and 2016, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend mobilized thousands of sadists to terrorize and lie about her. Her well written account immerses the reader in that experience, then explains how to help if somebody you care about is targeted.

Like Quinn, I’m a queer woman, gamer, and creator who lives most of my life online. I picked up Crash Override to find out what garbage might land on my virtual or physical doorstep if my books get too popular. Aside from the sadists’ psychopathic and stalkerish behavior, the horrific part comes from how, just like in horror fiction, the real-life criminal justice system was ignorant, condescending, and generally unhelpful. Quinn’s narrative style is deeply moving, and she tells her own story in the audio version. Crash Override is an insightful but horrifying piece of recent internet history with mitigation tactics that are still useful today.
Visit R. E. Stearns's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Barbary Station.

The Page 69 Test: Mutiny at Vesta.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 11, 2018

James Tucker

James Tucker is the author of the acclaimed Buddy Lock thrillers Next of Kin and The Holdouts. He holds a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School and has worked as an attorney at an international law firm.

Currently he manages real estate strategy at a Fortune 50 company, where his work includes frequent travel throughout the United States. Fascinated by crimes of those in power, he draws on these cases for his novels.

One of four fiction writers awarded a position at a past Mentor Series at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Tucker has attended the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, where he was mentored by author Walter Kirn. He lives near Minneapolis with his wife, the painter Megan Rye, and their family.

Recently I asked Tucker about what he was reading. His reply:
Recently, I read Exit West, Mohsin Hamid’s book about immigration to the West. In these times when the movement of people is demonized, it’s important to understand why people journey to the West, risking everything for a dream.

Another recent favorite: Don Winslow’s The Force, about a crooked NYPD cop and his equally crooked crew. Turns out they have a code of honor greater than you might expect. An inside look at the police in America’s largest city, together with drugs, crime, redemption, and failure. When you finish one of Winslow’s big works, you’re exhausted but moved.

The Redbreast, one of Jo Nesbø’s best Harry Hole novels. The pain and deception of World War II leads to murder today. An amazing audiobook.

Looking forward to: James Ellroy’s The Storm. Ellroy is a master novelist whose work encompasses nearly every aspect of American society. It burns with rage, love, and disgust.
Visit James Tucker's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Holdouts.

The Page 69 Test: The Holdouts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 9, 2018

Eugenia Kim

Eugenia Kim's debut novel, The Calligrapher's Daughter, won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award, was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was Best Historical Novel and Critic's Pick by The Washington Post. Her stories have appeared in Asia Literary Review, Washington City Paper, and elsewhere.

Kim's new novel is The Kinship of Secrets.

Recently I asked the author about what I was reading. Her reply:
Since 2017, there seems to have been an explosion of Korean American writers with debut work or new books, both fiction and nonfiction. This trend seems to also be reflected in the larger Asian American writing community as well, but there have been so many Korean American new publications I haven’t yet had the opportunity to expand out of this specific category. The acclaimed best-seller, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, stands out, as does Alexander Chee’s collection of essays, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. In the past two months, I’ve read several other KA authors, and this list happily continues to grow. I regularly read poetry to inspire my writing practice, and at the moment it is Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems, and Monica Youn’s (another Korean American) Blackacre. I also have to read student work, but this semester I’ve been blessed with hard-working and talented students who make reading their work a pleasure. I did reread my own novel in its new hardcover form, and was relieved to see that I think it holds up.
Visit Eugenia Kim's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Kinship of Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Diane A.S. Stuckart

Diane A.S. Stuckart is the New York Times bestselling author (writing as Ali Brandon) of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series. She’s currently writing the Tarot Cats cozy mystery series published by Midnight Ink. A Texas native, Diane received her BA in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and now lives in the West Palm Beach Florida area with her husband, dogs, cats, and a few beehives.

Stuckart's new book is Fool's Moon, the first Tarot Cats Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Stuckart's reply:
I’m always so envious of pages-long writing lists posted by readers. Once upon a time, I used to be like that, reading a dozen or more titles a month. But now that I’m a writer with little spare time, most of my reading consists of online advice columns (of course, we serious column readers all go to the comments section for the real skinny on the problems du jour). Still, I manage to squeeze in the occasional book or two every few weeks.

Most recently, I’ve been flipping through the just-released Naked Tarot by Janet Boyer. Subtitled, “Sassy, Stripped-Down Advice,” I picked up this book for some no-frills interpretations of the Tarot—needed, since my human protagonist in my new Tarot Cats Mystery series is a Tarot card reader. While I’ve studied up on Tarot on and off for many years, I’m more of a deck collector. This book gives me lots of ideas on how my character, Ruby Sparks, can confidently deal with her Tarot clients despite being a relative newbie as a reader.

A few weeks ago, I jumped into the literary wayback machine and read (for the very first time!) Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. I’d seen bits and pieces of the various Thin Man movies over the years. My particular interest in the book was to get a sense of the Charles’s dog, Asta, for a blog piece I was writing on animal characters in mystery novels. Not only did I learn that “book” Asta is a female Schnauzer, and “film” Asta is a male wirehaired terrier (why? why?), I also discovered that the “book” Charleses drink like fishes. (Somehow, I didn’t remember that much booze flowing in the movies.) But my amazement at the copious flow of literary alcohol aside, I left with major respect for Hammett’s crisp yet poetic prose that so cleanly evokes his classic characters and situations.

Finally, I recently had the chance to read and blurb a non-fiction book by a writer friend of mine. Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition will be out in November. It’s written by Nancy J. Cohen, a prolific author of cozy mysteries. This slim (130 pages) volume is packed with great advice for the beginning cozy writer, breaking down the genre into its basics and clearly explaining mystery writing concepts. For a highly accessible how-to writing manual, you can’t go wrong with this book.
Visit the official Diane A.S. Stuckart website.

Coffee with a Canine: Diane Stuckart & Ranger, Delta, Oliver and Paprika.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Jennie Liu

Jennie Liu is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Having been brought up with an ear to two cultures, she has been fascinated by the attitudes, social policies, and changes in China each time she visits. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons.

Liu's new novel is Girls on the Line.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Last month I started a novel and quickly realized that I had already read it. And that much of what happened in the novel was gone from my brain. It was only a two-year-old book! That sort of disturbed me. I call myself a greedy reader, but my mind has been so busy the last months with writing and life, I’ve decided to step back from galloping through books and be bit more intentional.

So, I started re-reading The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters. This was a blind grab a few years ago, and I was immediately drawn in by the vivid writing and surprising turn of events. (It also has one of the most sensual love scenes I’ve ever read—a lesbian one!) This novel is a study in craft for me, particularly how Waters expresses the emotions of a reserved person.

Despite trying to slow down, two days ago I heard an interview on Fresh Air with Jarrett J. Krosoczska’s about his YA graphic novel/memoir Hey Kiddo. I had to run out and get it right away. My kids loved his other books, and lately, addiction and homelessness has been popping up in many of my conversations since my other job is in a hospital and I live in a downtown area. My 12yo boy took it from me before I finished, but I love how Krosoczska depicts his family life and problems without completely processing his feelings in words at each scene. That seem very real to me.

Yesterday, my 12yo just finished Dorothy Bryant's The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You. He put it down and said, “I’m going to be thinking about this for a long time!” My husband had given it to him, and this morning he (my husband) told me about some of the brutal and/or graphic scenes in it, but he assured me it was an amazing story of personal transformation. I have been trying not to fret about the content of the novels my 12yo reads, but I had to start this one this morning, not only because my guys were really moved by it, but also because I want to know what hard stuff my boy has in his head.
Visit Jennie Liu's website.

My Book, The Movie: Girls on the Line.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 5, 2018

Jennifer Estep

Jennifer Estep is the New York Times bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series; the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series; the Crown of Shards epic fantasy series; the Black Blade young adult urban fantasy; and the Bigtime paranormal romance series.

Estep's new book is Kill the Queen, the first title in the Crown of Shards series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Estep's reply:
Over the past few months, I’ve been reading the “James Bond” graphic novels published by Dynamite Entertainment, including James Bond: Kill Chain by Andy Diggle and Luca Casalanguida.

I’m a big Bond fan, and the comics/graphic novels really capture the spirit of the classic Bond stories/movies. Plus, it’s interesting to see the different writers’ takes on Bond and the other characters and how the artists bring the action/fight scenes to life.
Visit Jennifer Estep's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 4, 2018

P. J. Vernon

P. J. Vernon was born in South Carolina. He holds a PhD in immunology and published science before turning his hand to publishing fiction.

His new novel is When You Find Me.

Recently I asked Vernon about what he was reading. His reply:
The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey

Massey’s debut has been a long time coming for me, and I’m knee-deep in one hell of a beautifully crafted work of “Grit Lit” by a very talented author. This novel yields an unflinching look into how the families we’re born into shackle us. Bleak. Raw. The tension in this one builds like a wave closing in on the shoreline, and I’m very much looking forward to experiencing the ending.

Recently finished:

#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar

A wickedly delicious and darkly humorous story of murder and high fashion. Think Devil Wears Prada meets American Psycho. Compulsively written with the vicious voice of real-life former fashion editor and all-around fabulous woman, Amina Akhtar.

What She Gave Away by Catharine Riggs

A heart-wrenching suspense hinging on a zero-sum game between two very different women. The past is patient, and this gripping novel by Catharine Riggs—who I was lucky enough share a panel with at Bouchercon—explores what happens when it finally catches up.

Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World by Thomas F. Madden

It’s not all toxic relationships and terror in suburbia on my bookshelf. I love historical non-fiction. Go digging far enough, and you’re bound to find a tragic past in every city. But none quite so epic as the “narrative arc” of Byzantium-turned-Constantinople-turned-Istanbul. I’m obsessed with this city and harbor secret dreams of writing a re-imagining of its 1453 sacking by the Ottoman Empire (don’t tell my agent).
Visit P. J. Vernon's website.

The Page 69 Test: When You Find Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 3, 2018

D.S. Butler

Born in Kent, D. S. Butler grew up as an avid reader with a love for crime fiction and mysteries. She has worked as a scientific officer in a hospital pathology laboratory and as a research scientist.

After obtaining a PhD in biochemistry, she worked at the University of Oxford for four years before moving to the Middle East.

Butler's new novel is Bring Them Home.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished reading the first two books in the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s unusual for me to pick up a fantasy book, but I’d heard such good things about the series. I didn’t want to put the books down. They are long, but I found them very fast paced. The story follows Kote, an inn keeper, who is more than he seems on the surface. Kote recounts his life story to a chronicler describing how he became a powerful wizard. I read the books quickly and loved Rothfuss’ writing style and vivid details, but now I join the huge number of people waiting for the third instalment to be released.

Crime fiction is my favourite genre to read. I like the clear line between right and wrong and the satisfaction of the bad guys getting punished, something that doesn’t always happen in real life. I’m a huge Peter James fan, and I’ve just started reading Absolute Proof, which is about finding proof of God’s existence. It’s a thriller and is very different to his police procedural series, but I’m already hooked.
Visit D.S. Butler's website.

My Book, The Movie: Bring Them Home.

The Page 69 Test: Bring Them Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Beth Cato

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. Roar of Sky, the finale of the trilogy, is now available. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats.

Recently I asked Cato about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished up two fantastic, starkly different books. MJ-12: Endgame wraps up Michael J. Martinez's Majestic-12 trilogy about superhumans working as agents in the Cold War of the late 1940s and early 1950s. He does a fantastic job of utilizing the tense politics of the time period, and not just when it comes to America and Russia. These books go all over the place, including Syria, East Germany, and the Korean War. The superhero battles are like icing on the cake.

I was also fortunate enough to read a galley of the tenth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley. I don't read a lot of standard mysteries, but I adore Flavia. She's a preteen girl with a passion for poison and a knack for finding dead bodies. The setting of 1950s rural England and a quirky cast adds a cozy, fun element to it all. The first book in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
Visit Beth Cato's website.

The Page 69 Test: Breath of Earth.

The Page 69 Test: Call of Fire.

The Page 69 Test: Roar of Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Alyssa Palombo

Alyssa Palombo is a writer living and working in Buffalo, NY. She attended Canisius College in Buffalo, where she majored in English and creative writing with a minor in music. She is a classically trained mezzo-soprano who also dabbles in playing piano. When not writing, Palombo can usually be found reading, hanging out and laughing way too hard at nonsensical inside jokes with friends, traveling (or dreaming of her next travel destination), at a concert, or planning for next Halloween. She is a metalhead and a self-proclaimed French fry connoisseur. She also owns way too many hoodies, pairs of sunglasses, and pajamas, but never enough books.

Palombo is the author of three historical novels, The Violinist of Venice, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

Recently I asked Palombo about what she was reading. Her reply:
Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton: This book is the perfect eerie, atmospheric fall read. The novel is set in the fictional village of Three Graces, where long ago a witch made a pact with the devil, and forever after no sickness or evil or misfortune shall befall anyone in the village – so long as every few years a boy is sacrificed to the devil in the forest. The plot centers on three friends: Rhun, the likely next “saint”; Arthur, who wants nothing more than to become a saint and prove himself; and Mairwen, daughter of the village’s witch. When a sacrifice is demanded early, things in Three Graces begin to take an odd turn. I’m not quite halfway through this one yet, but I’m just loving it so far. Gratton sucks you right in with her otherworldly plot and setting, and with her lovely writing.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu: This historical horror novel tells the story of the infamous Donner party. I’m only about halfway through, and things have been dark and are getting darker. This book has that thing that I always love in a horror novel – a pervasive, palpable dread right from page one. There are hints that there is going to be a supernatural element to the Donner party’s fate – if Sam and Dean Winchester have taught me anything, I’m guessing that there are wendigoes involved here.
Visit Alyssa Palombo's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 29, 2018

Catherine Reef

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef's latest young adult biography is Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently read Mark Ford’s Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner, which opens with an incident worthy of Mary Shelley. It seems that when Hardy died, in 1928, there was a tussle over his body. Hardy had requested burial in Stinsford Churchyard, alongside his rural Dorset family and his first wife, Emma Gifford Hardy. But his literary executor successfully lobbied for a resting place in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, a tribute that Florence Dugdale Hardy, the writer’s widow, was inclined to accept. To act in keeping with Hardy’s wishes yet allow the nation to honor him in its manner most fitting, a compromise was reached: the writer’s heart was removed from his chest and buried at Stinsford; the rest of his body was then cremated and deposited at Poets’ Corner.

Ford had my attention, and he held it to the end, as he used the lenses of biography and criticism to reveal a way of looking at Thomas Hardy. Ford’s Hardy was someone with rural, working-class roots who was changed by exposure to city life.

The son of a builder, Hardy left Dorset and went to London in 1862, at twenty-one, to be an architect’s apprentice. In his off hours he adhered to a rigorous program of self-education, visiting galleries and museums, reading demanding texts, attending concerts and the theater, and writing poetry. He had literary ambitions, but after failing to find success as a poet, in 1867 he returned to Dorset, determined to give up his dream and become the architect he had been trained to be. With Emma’s encouragement, however, he tried novel writing and began to make a name for himself. In future years he regularly stayed in London for months at a time, although Dorset remained his base. He wrote as a man not fully at home in either environment, who observed both settings with the eye of an outsider.

Ford pointed out instances of the city’s encroachment on country life in the novels for which Hardy is famous. An example that comes to mind is the growing presence in the rural landscape of the railroad in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Hardy described the rail line extending its “steam feeler to this point three or four times a day,” like some tentacled creature. The fictional rural Wessex was no longer untouched and unspoiled.

Ford devoted at least as much space to Hardy’s lesser-known novels as he did to the famous ones. These are books set partly in London, such as The Hand of Ethelberta, which follows the romantic fortunes of Ethelberta Chickering, who finds success as a storyteller in London while concealing her background as a Wessex girl and the daughter of a butler. In another, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Hardy created a character much like himself, an architect’s assistant recently arrived in London from the country.

Hardy returned to his poetry in old age. I am not as familiar with his poems as I would like to be, so I was happy that Ford looked closely at so many of them. One that has stayed with me is “Coming Up Oxford Street, Evening.” In this early poem Hardy presents an indifferent universe, one in which the sun shines impartially and beautifully on windows and their brass hardware, door panels, bottles in a chemist’s shop, and “the laughing eyes and teeth / Of ladies who rouge and whiten.” The same sun
dazzles the pupils of one who walks west,
A city-clerk, with eyesight not the best,
Who sees no escape to the very verge of his days
From the rut of Oxford Street into open ways.
The city-clerk may have mirrored the young Hardy, a lonely transplant in London.

Ford left me wanting to immerse myself in Hardy’s body of work—if only I had nothing else to do! Will I have the same feeling about Joyce when I finish Richard Ellmann’s book on him?

I have good reasons to reread Ellmann’s James Joyce, one of the great literary biographies of my lifetime. Since first reading it in the 1990s, I have stayed in Dublin and Paris, the cities that were most formative for Joyce the writer. I have become a literary biographer myself; my interests and views have evolved; and I hope I have learned from experience. I am bound to take different things away from Ellmann’s Joyce this time, as I would with any good book, because I am not the same reader.

Right now I am about 130 pages in, and Joyce is twenty-one (the age at which Hardy went to London), having grown up in a large family whose finances are precarious, and having done as well in school and college as he cared to. His plan to study medicine, first in Dublin and then in Paris, with the goal of pursuing the dual careers of physician and writer, has come to nothing. He is scraping by in Paris, economizing in every way that he can as he reads in the National Library and submits reviews to journals in England and Ireland.

It is fun to watch Joyce’s character take shape. Even on second reading, his youthful arrogance surprises: he has great respect for his own literary talent and potential, although he has written very little, and he thinks nothing of disparaging established writers such as Yeats and Lady Gregory, who have gone out of their way to help him. (It is interesting that they have spotted something unusual in him too.) I shake my head, though, as he mails self-pitying letters to his mother, worrying her to the point that she pawns her meager possessions to send him small amounts of cash. Of course, I know—and you know—that he will take his place among the greats, although to succeed he will need to distance himself from Ireland and his family.

Ellmann used a generous hand when adding footnotes to his book. They enrich the text with anecdotes that go beyond the scope of the narrative and references to Joyce’s oeuvre, pointing out occurrences in novels and stories that were inspired by real events. I savor these notes and think of them as the currants in this hefty loaf of Irish soda bread.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 99 Test: Mary Shelley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Eliot Peper

Eliot Peper is a novelist based in Oakland, CA.

He writes fast-paced, deeply-researched novels with diverse casts that explore the intersection of technology and society. He is the author of Bandwidth, Borderless, Cumulus, True Blue, Neon Fever Dream, and The Uncommon Series.

Recently I asked Peper about what he was reading. His reply:
Last week, I was lucky enough to participate on a panel at New York Comic Con about politics in speculative fiction. Among the other panelists was the estimable Robert Jackson Bennett, whose latest novel I read and loved. Foundryside is a thought-provoking epic fantasy starring a scrappy thief-cum-spy set in a world where items can be "scrived" to think for themselves and bend natural laws. Packed with intrigue and adventure, one thing in particular really resonated with me: The role scriving plays in this alternate reality is an elegant analogy to how software defines so many aspects of our own lives, and the four merchant houses that dominate this fictional society map closely to the tech monopolies that are accruing more and more power every day.
Visit Eliot Peper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Daniel Torday

Daniel Torday is the author of the novel The Last Flight of Poxl West, a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, and an International Dublin Literary Award nominee. Torday's work has appeared in The New York Times, NPR, The Paris Review Daily and Tin House, and has been honored in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays series. A two-time National Jewish Book Awardee and winner the 2017 Sami Rohr Choice Prize, he is Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College.

Torday's second novel, Boomer1, is out now from St. Martin's Press.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Torday's reply:
I'm plagued by an affliction where I always have about six books going at the same time-- I'll never lose the excitement of cracking a new novel or story collection, and I'll never underestimate how slowly a good book deserves to be read.

So I'm currently 400pp into The Magic Mountain, and hope to finish while there are still coral reefs. I've read about half the stories in Lauren Groff's Florida, the best of which are as good as it gets-- oh, man, one called "Snake Stories" might be the best story I've read all year. I'm a huge Deborah Eisenberg fan, so the publication of Your Duck Is My Duck for me is like a new Bon Iver record dropping. She had me on stage a couple years ago to read one of the voices from it and it was a life highlight.

Oh, and I'm on leave from teaching this year so one of my indulgent projects is to become a Joseph Conrad completist-- I gobbled up Maya Jasanoff's beautiful new-ish book on him called The Dawn Watch a couple months back. Now I'm about half through Nostromo, which is the most challenging book I've read in a long time, and also the most beautiful in many ways. Finally, I've always got at least one book of poetry going-- I'm loving Iain Haley Pollock's second book, Ghost, Like a Place. All the Philadelphia therein is so movingly portrayed...
Visit Daniel Torday's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Zachary J. Lechner

Zachary J. Lechner teaches history at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia. His book The South of the Mind: American Imaginings of White Southernness, 1960-1980, was published by the University of Georgia Press in September 2018.

Recently I asked Lechner about what he was reading. His reply:
Although my research specialization requires that most of my reading pertain to US history, I try to branch out into other areas, when possible, to keep my mind stimulated and to pick up writing techniques from other authors, including novelists.

Currently, I’m on a bit of a Joan Didion kick, inspired by my recent viewing of the 2017 Netflix documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. I just finished reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), Didion’s classic collection of 1960s essays, many of which, in some way, detail the unraveling state of American society. The book’s centerpiece, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” first published in the Saturday Evening Post in September 1968, remains a stunning, fly-on-the-wall account of the San Francisco hippie scene as its initial heady idealism devolved into drug-fueled paranoia and ugliness. Didion’s image of a five-year-old child, lips coated with white lipstick, tripping on acid can still shock readers (as it did me) more than 50 years later. Even when Didion places herself in the middle of her essays, which occurs frequently, she remains somewhat aloof, a cool observer taking it all in from a critical distance. She’s alternately intrigued and repelled—often at the same time—by the various subcultures, from Las Vegas quickie wedding parties to a Communist Party USA splinter group, that she encounters.

I just started Didion’s Play It as It Lays, her 1970 novel about a former model and actress who ends up in a mental institution. (Didion is obviously captivated by “things fall[ing] apart,” as a Yeats poem she quotes at the beginning of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” puts it.) Although I’m only twenty pages in, I’m impressed by the author’s ability to say so much with so little. Her writing is deceptively simple. In fact, every word is there for a reason. I can only imagine how much she labored over this book.

In between Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Play It as It Lays, I read historian Mark R. Cheathem’s The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson (2018). I happened to receive a free copy, and I’m fascinated by the politics of the Jacksonian period. Cheathem sees the birth of modern political campaigning emerging gradually during the presidential elections between 1824 and 1840. Where Cheathem’s somewhat textbook-like account excels is in its analysis of the various aspects of the era’s shifting “cultural politics”—material culture, political music, print culture, auxiliary organizations, and so on—that, along with an increasingly sizable electorate, led to an astounding 80 percent voter turnout in the election of 1840. I found Cheathem’s discussion of that contest between incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig challenger William Henry Harrison revelatory, especially the book’s explanation of the Whigs’ sophisticated electioneering techniques.

Soon, I’ll jump back into background reading for my current research project (Jimmy Carter’s cultural and political iconography) with historian Nancy Mitchell’s Jimmy Carter in Africa: Race and the Cold War (2016). I’ve heard good things about it.
Learn more about The South of the Mind at the University of Georgia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Sarah McCoy

Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables; The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post, Read It Forward, Writer Unboxed, and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilbert, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Recently I asked McCoy about what she was reading. Her reply:
Currently, I’m reading Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose. It's just the kind of historical fiction I love: sumptuous details, rich characters, imaginatively playful, and yet historically precise. It takes an adept author to balance all those elements when writing about real people, places, and events—and Rose does it exquisitely. In this case, she’s writing about Louis Comfort Tiffany and his estate. I’m completely enraptured. There’s an undercurrent of energy in this novel that has me quickly flipping pages.
Visit Sarah McCoy’s website, Facebook page, Instagram page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Sarah McCoy and Gilbert.

The Page 69 Test: Marilla of Green Gables.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 22, 2018

Ann Pearlman

Ann Pearlman has won vast critical and commercial success for her fiction and nonfiction books. Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair With Your Spouse garnered the attention of the Oprah Winfrey Show and was featured on many other talk shows. Her memoir, Infidelity, was nominated for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and made into a Lifetime movie by Lionsgate. Inside the Crips, with a foreword by Ice T, took readers into the life of a Crip gang member and the California Prison system. Her first novel, The Christmas Cookie Club, became an international bestseller, spawning cookie exchanges and a follow-up cookbook. A Gift for My Sister won first place in the Sharp Writ Book Awards, 2013. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

Recently I asked Pearlman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read three novels back-to-back examining romantic relationships in which one partner was significantly younger than the other. Although I have been involved with much older lovers and much younger lovers, I had not planned to embark on mini research into novels about May- September romances. Rather, I choose each book for reasons unrelated to romance and ended perplexed they had such a similar plot focus.

The first was Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, which was hailed as an unforgettable novel about luck, love and the entwining of life and art. I have been perennially fascinated by these topics, which have been themes in several of my novels. Philip Roth inspired one of the characters and I chose to read Asymmetry partly because of my appreciation of his writing. The first third of the novel focuses on the love affair of a young woman and her lover who is forty plus years older and a famous writer. The final third is an interview of that same lover about his writing.

Less, the second novel, won the Pulitzer and I wanted to familiarize myself with Andrew Sean Greer’s writing. Plus I was intrigued that it concerned a writer turning 50 reviewing his life and career while hoping across the world from one literary event to another. However, his love life is bracketed first by a relationship with a much older man (his first love) and more recently a much younger man (his most recent love). Much driving his voyage and the plot was spurred by these relationships and exploring the different vantage points.

I chose Julian Barnes’ The Only Story because I loved The Sense of an Ending. In this novel, the love affair is between a nineteen year old man and a 40 something married woman which, as the title implies, ends up informing the story of his life, but not especially happily.

Three books coincidently had similar, atypical plot elements of September-May relationships of various configurations. I wondered at the coincidence and asked myself if there’s a “message from the universe” in the happenstance?

In the first two books, the underlying friendship and respect continue regardless of the age difference, or personality issues ending the lovership. In the Barnes’ book, the mental health issues of the older woman end up tweaking her young lover’s life in such a way that this first relationship remains his only story. His love and concern for her trap him so he did not form another significant relationship. He becomes the parental figure. Each novel presented windows to different life experiences on the same theme with occasional truths. The assumption that the older partner was “parental” did not hold true.

So did I love all these books? No. I was entertained by them, each in a different way, and I was exposed to different lives and minds which is a hallmark of a good novel. The language in all three sang and offered profound sentences and prose exhilaration. Enough of a reason to read, I think.

But what’s the take away about lovers of vastly different ages? As to be expected, there really isn’t any universal. Except the obvious that ends up being hallmark in all love: the importance of friendship, caring, and acceptance. And the enormous sadness of loss.
Visit Ann Pearlman's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Gift for My Sister.

My Book, The Movie: A Gift for My Sister.

The Page 99 Test: Infidelity.

--Marshal Zeringue