Friday, September 21, 2018

Ashley Weaver

Ashley Weaver is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University.

Weaver's new novel, An Act of Villainy, is her fifth Amory Ames Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the novel. The story of a woman thrown into realm of outrageous riches has all the fun and frivolity of a modern-day fairytale.

I’m also reading a pair of true crime books. The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum is one I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and I’m loving it. It’s the fascinating account of the development of the first forensic toxicology unit in 1920s New York. It’s peppered with historical details, accounts of accidental deaths and devious murders, and fascinating facts about forensic pathology and poison. My other true crime read is The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. The story of crime writer Ann Rule’s dawning realization that the serial killer she’s been covering is none other than her friend and former co-worker Ted Bundy is definitely a page-turner.

Rounding out my currently-reading list is an audiobook. Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre details the history of the SAS, Britain’s secret special forces unit, which was developed during WWII. Read by the author, the audiobook follows a motley crew of heroes in their quest to sabotage the Nazis and help win the war. It is absolutely riveting.
Visit Ashley Weaver's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Most Novel Revenge.

The Page 69 Test: An Act of Villainy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Inman Majors

Inman Majors is the author of five novels including the newly released Penelope Lemon: Game On!.

A native of Tennessee, Majors received his BA from Vanderbilt University and his MFA from The University of Alabama. He is a professor of English at James Madison University and makes his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Recently I asked Majors about what he was reading. His reply:
My daughter was reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for school and I realized I was the only American not to have read it. It’s a great book, and in my opinion the best of the dystopian novels. I found the concept of government control via pleasant distraction (guilt-free sex and feel good drugs known as feelies) to be much more in touch with our current milieu than the forced coercion of Orwell’s 1984 and more realistically ominous. A strange, excellent book and one that influenced a number of other books in the same genre.

This got me on a bit of dystopian bender, so I checked out Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano. I’m a huge fan of KV and had read Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, The Sirens of Titan, and others multiple times. I still love all of those, but to me Vonnegut’s first novel is his most prescient. In it, he anticipates a world where the only jobs are for the military and engineers. Everyone else gets a monthly stipend that covers food, boarding, beer money, etc. but despite having basic needs covered, the general population is unhappy and unsettled. They want to work and feel worthwhile—essentially they desire to feel like contributing members of society. Here, in a book written in 1952, Vonnegut anticipates the universal wage. It’s not as funny as some of his other novels but it’s smart. It’s also the novel where I first realized Vonnegut’s debt to Sinclair Lewis, specifically his masterpiece, Babbitt. Player Piano is not just a commentary on the dangers of an industrial military machinery out of control, but also a look at society—the machinations and clubs of those in the successful crowd, the winners in life—through a narratively scientific lens. Sinclair Lewis is the best at this detached bugs-in-a-jar mode of fictive observation, and it was fun for me to see the early Vonnegut showing his influences (sidenote—Vonnegut said that he “cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World for this one).

Continuing the dystopian jag I knocked out Fahrenheit 451. It also shows a futuristic world where the preferred population control is distraction. In it, people have wall-to-wall TVs in their dens and can participate in their own shows. That is, shows—soap operas, in particular—are tailored to the specific person. The end result is a population that can feel as if it’s interacting with the rest of the world while never leaving the comforts of home. There’s also the book burning of course, but it was the participatory entertainment stuff that seems to me to best anticipate the current milieu of ever-expanding—ever-encroaching— virtual reality. The novel ends, however, on an optimistic note as we see our protagonist, the former book-burning fireman, with his band of intellectual hoboes returning from their exile to try and rebuild society. Another good, weird, stimulating book.

A book I absolutely loved, and one I found strangely uplifting, was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Dystopian in ways that the whole of Stalin-era Russia was, the novel follows a prisoner, falsely found guilty of spying during World War II, as he goes about a single workday in a gulag. The work the prisoners do is brutal, as is the monstrously cold temperature and the overall conditions. It’s like a Jack London novel of survival in a lot of ways. The novel effectively depicts the dehumanizing effect of Stalinism—or any totalitarian government—but it’s the humanity of the prisoners that carries the day. A sneakily simple book that resonates with a quiet hope and dignity. Highly recommended.
Visit Inman Majors's website.

The Page 69 Test: Penelope Lemon: Game On!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tim Pratt

Tim Pratt is a Hugo Award-winning SF and fantasy author, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. He is the author of over twenty novels, including the newly released The Dreaming Stars.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Pratt's reply:
I just read City of Miracles, the last book in the Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett, and it prompted me to go back and re-read the first two, City of Stairs and City of Blades. They're a wonderful strange blend of spy thriller and epic fantasy, set in a world where a civilization ruled by several literal gods subjugated and oppressed the world... until one of the enslaved people devised a weapon that could kill the gods. The ensuing war destroyed the dominant culture, because almost everything in their world, from weather to architecture to food, was created by miracles... and when the gods died, most of those miracles stopped working, leading to widespread devastation and vast shifts in world politics. The books are set decades after the death of the gods, and deal with the dangerous remnants of magic and miracles, and mostly feature characters who are covert operatives trying to keep a delicate sociopolitical balance from falling apart. It's philosophically complex but very plotty and fast-moving (and emotionally moving, too). He's got a new book (unrelated to that series) called Foundryside that's high up on my to-read list as well.
Visit Tim Pratt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2018

Katie Sise

Sometimes Katie Sise is an author, TV host, and jewelry designer featured in major fashion magazines and television shows, but mostly she’s a leggings-clad coffee-drinking mother of four.

We Were Mothers, her debut adult novel, is a critically acclaimed novel about three seemingly perfect couples whose lives turn very dark over the course of one weekend.

Recently I asked Sise about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading two terrific books right now, both nonfiction, both very different. One author I know personally, and the other I feel like I do. My friend Fran Hauser’s new book is called The Myth of The Nice Girl. It empowers women to step into their kindness and lead effectively. Fran embodies this! It’s so refreshing to read a book that values innate kindness and generosity in the workplace, instead of teaching women to squash their kindness in order to succeed. The other book on my nightstand is The Tenth Island, a memoir by Diana Marcum. It’s a wonderful read about her travels on a set of islands called the Azores. I only have a few pages left to go, and I’ve treasured my time in this book because it’s a total escape — I feel like I’m traveling right along with her because of the language she uses to describe the islands. I want to book a plane ticket and discover the Azores myself.
Visit Katie Sise's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 16, 2018

David Sosnowski

David Sosnowski has worked as a gag writer, fireworks salesman, telephone pollster, university writing instructor, and environmental-protection specialist while living in places as different as Washington, DC; Detroit, Michigan; and Fairbanks, Alaska. His books include the critically acclaimed novels Rapture and Vamped.

Sosnowski's new novel is Happy Doomsday.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
What is David Sosnowski reading? An even split of male and female authors of fiction and non-fiction, it seems. Specifically, and in no particular order:

The Overstory by Richard Powers: While reading this powerful novel I kept thinking of the Lorax saying, “I speak for the trees…” That’s exactly what this book does: It speaks for the trees, as well as generations of humans who have taken these slower-paced beings into their hearts. Recent research has shown that trees have the ability to communicate over long distances, can warn of threats and defend themselves – behavior previously thought reserved for fauna, not flora. Powers uses these emerging truths and treats everything from the American chestnut to banyan trees to the mighty redwoods like characters on an equal (and often superior) footing than his human characters. It might sound silly but is indeed masterful and I guarantee you’ll never look at trees the same way again.

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani: This is one of those books I read just to not feel like I was losing my mind. Having gone to grad school at a time when literary deconstruction and Jacques Derrida were all the rage, I often found myself thinking that tinkering with the whole concept of objective meaning like that would certainly make life easier for propagandists. I therefore found myself nodding in agreement when Kakutani’s traced the MAGA world of alternative facts back to those thesis-generating/meaning-destroying acts of intellectual onanism.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: I read this novel mainly because it was set in Alaska and I wanted to see how Hannah’s portrayal matched up to my own recollection from when I attended the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. I thought Hannah did a good job of capturing the mind-set of the place and her treatment of Fairbanks as relatively cosmopolitan compared to where most of the action is set reminded me of what folks in Fairbanks used to say about Anchorage: “It’s a lovely community just off the coast of Alaska.” Gotta love that frontier snobbery.

Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson: Okay, I’m a sucker for 2001, having seen it for the first time on the big screen at the formative age of 9 – and then maybe a dozen more times after that. I read this because it seemed a nice way to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. It started a bit slow but once Clarke and Kubrick met in its pages, my interest was hooked.
Visit David Sosnowski's website.

My Book, The Movie: Happy Doomsday.

The Page 69 Test: Happy Doomsday.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Stephen Aryan

Stephen Aryan is the award winning author of the Age of Darkness trilogy (Battlemage, Bloodmage, Chaosmage) published by Orbit books.

A second trilogy, the Age of Dread, starts with Mageborn. Aryan's new book, the second book of the trilogy, is Magefall.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Aryan's reply:
I tend to read a mix of SFF books and then something non-fiction. Sometimes this is an autobiography and sometimes it’s a book about something that has caught my interest.

A non-fiction book I recently read is called Why We Sleep - The New Science of Sleep by Matthew Walker. Professor Walker is a neuroscientist of renown and there are a number of talks on YouTube and other places if you want to take a look. But this book, which was an international bestseller, focuses on the importance of getting enough sleep.

The book contains some shocking and quite eye-opening facts about sleep. We spend a large portion of our life asleep and putting dreams aside for now (another section of the book does look at them), part of the book focuses on what sleep does for the human body and the human mind. It repairs the body in so many ways I never realised. It rebuilds our immune system and helps us to fight infections and disease. Our brain goes through a number of different phases while we’re asleep, processing memories, sorting them into sections like a computer archiving files. But then there’s the other side that no one really talks about. The damage, the life-threatening damage over a long period of time, of not getting enough sleep. The book does a deep dive into the dangers of not getting enough sleep.

At school we’re taught about the human body in biology and how to remain healthy through diet, exercise and so on. But no one taught me about sleep. Ever. There’s a common misconception that teenagers are lazy because they spend a lot of time in bed. There’s actually a very good scientific reason for this from a growth perspective, and while some teenagers make take it to the extreme, it’s actually important they sleep more.

As well as exploring the science behind the power of sleep and what it does for individuals the book looks at the serious impact of not getting enough sleep. More traffic accidents on the road are caused by a lack of sleep than drugs and alcohol. Just think about that for a minute. Cars and lorries drifting into lanes, ploughing into other cars, causing multiple car pile-ups. That’s just one gut-punch in the book. Here’s another one. Men who routinely sleep 5 hours a night or less have significantly smaller testicles than those who sleep 8 hours or more. They will also have a level of testosterone in their body that is the equivalent of someone ten years their senior, ageing them and reducing virility. There is an equivalent in women’s reproduction as well for those who regularly sleep less.

This book provides fascinating insight into why every single person should sleep between 7-8 hours a night, regardless of age, and the benefits of doing so for the body and the brain. There are still many scientific discoveries to make in the arena of sleep but this book lifts the veil on many of the latest.

A slightly lighter read from before this book was The Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding. This is the fourth and last book in the Ketty Jay series, so I will try to talk about it without spoilers.

Imagine if Firefly had continued but instead of Mal and the Serenity, you had a Captain called Frey and an airship called the Ketty Jay. That’s the basic set up. They are a diverse crew of pirates, all of whom came to the ship for their own reasons, and now they’re kind of stuck there, getting involved with dangerous jobs to earn a living.

Somehow this disparate group always find a way to work together to complete the mission, but not in the way you might expect or with the ideal outcome. It’s brilliant fast paced fun because a lot of the crew don’t really like each other and they don’t have much in common. One thing that Chris Wooding excels at is characterisation. The ship has a cast of about eight characters (plus a ship’s cat who has his own story arc across the series!) but Wooding spends plenty of time with all of them so that you know each intimately. Some of them aren’t very nice people, everyone is multi-layered, and that’s realistic and ultimately human. But they all try to be good and do the right thing in their own way. Of course what one person thinks of as good can sometimes make for an uncomfortable read. Despite that you become invested in the fate of all of the characters and really care about them.

The whole series is a fantastic action romp through a bright and colourful universe that is both familiar and alien. They’re perfect books for a holiday read, by which I mean, you need to be able to sit down and read, uninterrupted, for several hours at a time as once you get started you will not want to stop. The pace doesn’t slow down and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Visit Stephen Aryan's website.

My Book, The Movie: Battlemage.

The Page 69 Test: Battlemage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sofka Zinovieff

Sofka Zinovieff studied social anthropology at Cambridge and carried out the research for her PhD in Greece. This marked the beginning of a lifelong involvement with the country.

She has lived in Moscow and Rome and worked as a freelance journalist and reviewer, writing mainly for British publications including The Telegraph Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, The Financial Times, The Spectator, The Independent Magazine and The London Magazine.

After many years in Athens, she now divides her time between there and England. She is married and has two daughters.

Zinovieff's new novel is Putney.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Cressida Connolly’s After the Party, is set in the little-known milieu of England’s nicely-spoken fascists in the late 1930s. They revered Oswald Mosley, attended the cheery, black-shirt summer camps on the south coast and were taken aback when during the war, they were suddenly flung in jail as traitors. Phyllis is a political innocent who never really understands what she has done wrong, even when she is exiled on the Isle of Man (ironically, along with German Jews as well as other British fascists). Connolly’s lyrical writing is razor-sharp and wonderfully funny. She has also taken on a subject which resonates only too powerfully with current politics. It always was easy for people to be seduced by charismatic, populist leaders and nothing has changed. Danger can lurk in the most comfortable lives.

Imogen Hermes Gowar, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

An enchanting novel set in Georgian London, that manages to be both wickedly bodice-ripping and brilliantly intelligent. It made me feel buoyantly happy all the way through, even though some of the characters have a terribly hard life – courtesans in London had no fun unless they were very lucky. The author has a marvelous sense of humor and despite the evidence of her deep knowledge of the epoch, its language and its ways, the book is very modern in its sensibility.

Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger

I missed this the first time around when it won the Booker Prize in 1987 and caught up recently as it was on the shortlist for the Golden Booker this year. I was entranced by the clever, prickly heroine, the environment of Egypt during the Second World War and the ability of Lively to telescope between a captivating love story and enormous questions of history and the individual. Moon Tiger doesn’t refer to something dreamy or fey but the smoking coil that was burned by the doomed lovers at night to keep mosquitoes away.

Glen David Gold, I Will Be Complete

This memoir is an extraordinary look at the life of a clever but neglected boy in 1970s San Francisco. From a reasonably well-off family, the young Glen doesn’t look like a typically deprived child, but the neglect from his intelligent but flaky parents is horrifying. I found myself groaning with empathy; my London upbringing in the same era had some similarities, as does that of the heroine of my novel, Putney. I also laughed every other page. The book continues to Gold’s young adulthood, and while I found those passages less memorable, the section on his childhood is astonishing and brilliant.
Visit Sofka Zinovieff's website.

My Book, The Movie: Putney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Margaret Mizushima

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the critically acclaimed Timber Creek K-9 mystery series. Her books include Killing Trail, Stalking Ground, and Hunting Hour. Her new book, the fourth in the series, is Burning Ridge.

Last month I asked Mizushima about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m typically reading both fiction and nonfiction, and the book I pick up depends on which room I’m in when I decide to sit and rest. In nonfiction, I’ve lately focused on books about writing and books about childhood trauma (to help with the character arc of my protagonist Deputy Mattie Cobb).

Here are the books you would find scattered around my home today:

South California Purples, by Baron R. Birtcher. I ordered this novel months ago and am finally able to grab a few moments to savor it. Set in 1973, this book captures the turmoil and transition of its era while it tells the story of an Oregon cattle rancher who is involuntarily conscripted to help law enforcement with the government auction of a herd of wild mustangs, despite the protest and interference of local citizens. Birtcher’s depiction of the times, landscape descriptions, and dialogue are a pleasure to read, and the book is a terrific example of action/adventure.

The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. With powerful narrative and documentation, Harris describes her research into how childhood trauma can have lasting effects on adult health; she presents a medical screening assessment tool used to identify children at risk, and proposes innovative health interventions and treatments. I find this type of research fascinating, and my daughter who works in public health passed this book on to me.

Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment, by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. I attended a workshop presented by Nancy Pickard last week where I bought this book, so I haven’t had time to start it yet. Here is the endorsement from Harlan Coben: “Highly Recommended…Seven Steps is a terrific writer’s guide with practical advice and great wisdom for both the novice and veteran.” I hope to gain help achieving balance in my life for the step that I’m currently on in the writer’s journey. Can’t wait to dig in!
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

My Book, The Movie: Burning Ridge.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Eric Jay Dolin

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of Leviathan and Brilliant Beacons. His new book is Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates. Dolin and his family live in Marblehead, Massachusetts, from which the pirate John Quelch departed in 1703, and returned to in 1704, only to be hanged in Boston.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Dolin's reply:
I always pick book topics that I know little about. That is because, I want to stay interested and engaged in the researching and writing process, which takes roughly 18 months to 2 years from start to finish. By not knowing much about a topic, you are guaranteed to find surprises virtually every day, and that keeps it exciting, and, hopefully, that excitement translates to the written page.

Since I know little about my topics, almost all of my reading is focused on books related to the topic I am working on at the moment. That leaves me hardly any time for pleasure reading. But, there is one way in which I get outside of my bubble. I am often asked to write blurbs for upcoming history and natural history publications. This introduces me to some great books (at least the ones I blurb; there are quite a few books I am asked to blurb, but don’t because I didn’t find the books very appealing).

Three of the most recent books I blurbed are Thor Hanson’s, Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Honey Bees (2018); Ben Goldfarb’s, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter (2018); and Brian Murphy and Toula Vlahou’s, Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Who Lived to Tell about It (2018). The blurbs are below, and I think (or hope) they give you a flavor of the books.

Buzz: "As he did for feathers and seeds, Thor Hanson has written a wonderfully engaging work of natural history that will delight readers with its elegant prose, surprising stories, and deep humanity. Bees, so important to life on earth, are fortunate to have someone as passionate and knowledgeable as Hanson tell the tale of their evolutionary past, turbulent present, and precarious future. After reading Buzz, you will look at bees with a profound mixture of awe and gratitude.”

Eager: “In this beautifully written tribute to beavers, Ben Goldfarb paints a vivid and captivating portrait of two of nature's most fascinating species. Seamlessly combining history, ecology, biology, politics, and compelling stories of those battling over the proper role of beavers in today's anthropocentric world, Eager resoundingly proves that these magnificent rodents do indeed matter a great deal. In so doing, this gem of a book offers hope not only for the beavers' future, but also our own.”

Adrift: “The dramatic story of Thomas W. Nye, the sole survivor of the John Rutledge's tragic encounter with an iceberg in 1856, is beautifully rendered, gripping, and emotionally engaging from beginning to end. Murphy and Vlahou perform a literary magic trick of sorts, transporting readers into another era and enabling them to see and feel what it was like to travel across the ice-choked north Atlantic in the depths of winter, and confront the ultimate nightmare scenario -- a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean with no help in sight. Adrift is a chilling and searingly memorable tale of unimaginable suffering and one man's bittersweet triumph over the odds.”

So, that’s what I have been reading lately.
Visit Eric Jay Dolin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lisa Black

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office she analyzed many forms of trace evidence as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI in Florida and is the author of thirteen traditionally published novels. Some of which have been translated into six other languages, one has been optioned for film and one reached the New York Times bestseller’s list. The latest is Suffer the Children, which involves forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner in a series of deaths inside a center for violent children.

Recently I asked Black about what she was reading. Her reply:
My most recent release, Suffer the Children, has my forensic scientist Maggie and homicide detective Jack investigating a series of murders at a juvenile detention facility. This facility is trying very hard to be forward-thinking and progressive in providing the best programs for the children in its care, mostly teenagers, most of whom have committed violent acts including murder. So not having any children of my own I had to do a great deal of research in violent children, the treatment of violent children, dysfunctional families, foster programs and juvenile detention facilities--but one book that stuck in my head the most was called One Small Boat. This memoir of a foster mother was written by Kathy Harrison. She and her husband had a daughter of their own but took in a lot of foster girls over the years. They stuck with girls because it just made things easier in terms of sleeping arrangements, clothing, toys etc. This book convinced me that every child’s story is different so every child needs a situation that’s tailored to their issues. Despite the grim-sounding outline it was a fun book to read; the narrator has a very no-nonsense way of talking that’s human and relatable.

Among her charges were many young orphans--for instance there was a girl that was literally feral, not quite having been abused so much is simply neglected, raised in a cabin that she wasn’t able to leave. She knew very few words and had apparently never had a bath in her entire life.

Then there was a long-running case of a girl of about six, who had been molested by her mother‘s boyfriend. The mother had immediately dropped the boyfriend but was a disinterested (to put it mildly) woman who simply didn’t want to raise a child but was trying to hang onto custody only at the behest of her mother; the grandmother was quite wealthy and couldn’t stand the embarrassment of having such an unproductive daughter. This went back-and-forth for a while because of course the focus in foster care is always to try to reunite the family, if it all possible. But the child harbored such resentment at her mother, who she believed knew about this molestation, that a reunion wasn’t truly wished for on either side. Then just as the author decides to adopt this girl, the girl’s father reappears.

Another little girl had schizophrenic parents, who adored her. But occasionally they would go off their meds, and the neighbors would find the girl hungry and cold and dirty out in the hallway. Yet her parents loved her and wanted her back so she was an odd combination of spoiled and neglected at the same time.

Then two little sisters found living with their abusive family in the back of a van. On the surface their manners were perfect, but in secret the older one acted out. The younger one was an angelic-looking thing with blonde ringlets and huge blue eyes, but the author saw a budding sociopath. The girl was adopted, and as much as the author felt she may be releasing a wolf into a group of sheep, she had to say nothing and err on the side of hope.

The stories were as fascinating as they were individual, and gave me a new appreciation for anyone who would have the love and patience and understanding to be a foster parent.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: Suffer the Children.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 9, 2018

William Boyle

William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His debut novel, Gravesend, was published as #1,000 in the Rivages/Noir collection in France, where it was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. Gravesend is currently shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK and will be reissued by Pegasus Crime in the US in September 2018. Boyle is also the author of a book of short stories, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, and of another novel, Tout est Brisé (Everything is Broken). His most recent novel, The Lonely Witness, is out now from Pegasus Crime. A new novel, A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself, is forthcoming in March 2019. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

Recently I asked Boyle about what he was reading. His reply:
I was in a reading funk—kept starting things and putting them down—and then Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other broke me out of it. I picked it up because it’s got a killer cover by Matthew Revert and I’ll pick up anything with a Revert cover; I was glad to find killer prose to match. Some books just hit you at the right time and this one has that raw, desperate feeling I long for in fiction. I don’t think Elle Nash would describe herself as a noir writer, but this sure feels like noir to me: doom rules the mood, to crib a line from Barry Hannah. It reminded me at various times of Susanna Moore’s In the Cut, Vicki Hendricks’s Miami Purity, and Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, with maybe a dash of Jean Rhys mixed in there. A compelling-as-hell look at desire and obsession. So much of the tension comes from the tautness of the writing. Lines like this continue to haunt me: “She named me Lilith because it was what I wanted to become. I wanted to know what it would be like to carry a bad habit all the way through.” The book feels like stumbling in and out of the unnamed narrator’s secret lives.
Visit William Boyle's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

The Page 69 Test: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 7, 2018

S. M. Thayer

S. M. Thayer is a pseudonym for an award-winning fiction writer and McDowell Fellow whose work has appeared in numerous publications and received several Pushcart Prize nominations. A native of New York, Thayer lived for decades in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region before moving to rural Virginia and earning an MFA from Virginia Tech.

His debut novel is I Will Never Leave You.

Recently I asked Thayer about what he was reading. His reply:
The Fall Guy, by James Lasdun

This was the third time I’ve read the novel since it was published in 2016. For me, it’s that rare breed of novel that works both as intelligent literary fiction and an honest-to-goodness page-turning psychological thriller. I just finished writing the first draft of a new novel so, before going to work on revisions, I wanted to dive into something that could show me yet again what I should be aiming for. Lasdun’s prose, imagery, dialogue, pacing, and his sense of time and place, are impeccable. Like many (every?) good psychological thriller, envy and illicit love propel The Fall Guy’s plot, but I’m equally drawn to Lasdun’s exploration on “how [money] affects the consciousness of people who have it, or work with it.”

The Favorite Daughter, by Kaira Rouda

I was given an advanced copy of The Favorite Daughter, which will be published next year, and tore through it with shocking quickness. Rouda’s got a way with writing totally compelling, totally shocking characters. Like Rouda’s previous novel (Best Day Ever), the novel’s central character is a narcissistic psychopath who cackles with malicious verve. The weird thing is, despite their many and obvious flaws, as a reader I root for Rouda’s psychopaths almost up to the end. As a writer, one of the things I struggle with is writing sympathetic characters, so I paid attention to how Rouda made me feel so close to her characters. I hoped I learned a few things. It’s a tough balancing act—trying to create a character underhanded enough to effectively manipulate others and yet likeable enough so the reader doesn’t throw down his or her books in disgust. At this, Rouda’s a master!

“Dark vs. Darker” by Leslie Pietrzyk (essay)

I just stumbled upon this essay tonight but I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about it for several weeks—especially once I start revising the draft of my next novel. Pietrzyk, an award-winning writer who teaches in a low-residential MFA Program, muses about how all the best writing originates from some deep, dark place inside each writer. When thinking about some of her novels she’d been unable to sell to publishers, she concludes that that they failed because she didn’t dig to the darker places all of us have within us.

One paragraph that especially got to me was this:
Oh, I’m a hundred percent right; the best writing comes from the dark place. As a teacher, I’ve got to tell them that. But as a writer, I know we don’t muck down there all the time. I mean, there are funny books, and skillful stories that don’t require guts splayed on paper, and practiced writers learn to distract readers with style! Intellect! Tricks! All sorts of glittery baubles work, or seem to, keeping the writer safely distant from the dark place while getting published.
Believe it or not, I once considered myself a pretty clever, intelligent, witty writer. Prior to writing I Will Never Leave You, I wrote aggressively experimental novels stuffed up the wazzoo with bells and whistles and parlor tricks. None of those previous manuscripts got close to being published, and still I clung to my literary baubles. I Will Never Leave You was the first novel I consciously wrote in a realistic style. Because I didn’t try to hold readers’ attention with bells and whistles, I dug deeper, and darker. I hope I remember this lesson as I plow forward with the next novel.
Visit S. M. Thayer's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Will Never Leave You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Chad Zunker

Chad Zunker studied journalism at The University of Texas, where he was also on the football team. He’s worked for some of the most powerful law firms in the country and invented baby products that are now sold all over the world. He has wanted to write full time since he took his first practice hit as a skinny freshman walk-on from a 6’5, 240 pound senior All-American safety — which crushed both him and his feeble NFL dreams. He lives in Austin with his wife, Katie, and their three daughters.

Zunker's new novel is Hunt The Lion, the third Sam Callahan thriller.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

This book is the first in Dugoni’s phenomenally bestselling Tracy Crosswhite series. Dugoni and I are part of the same wonderful publishing house, Thomas & Mercer, and I just discovered I’ll be working with the same developmental editor as Dugoni on a new series my publisher will be launching next year. So I wanted to give it a read. With an intriguing protagonist who is haunted by the shocking death of her sister twenty years ago—whose body was recently discovered—the book is everything you could want in a great thriller. It’s no wonder Dugoni has sold more than three million copies in the series so far.
Visit Chad Zunker's website.

My Book, The Movie: Hunt The Lion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Caz Frear

Caz Frear grew up in Coventry, England, and spent her teenage years dreaming of moving to London and writing a novel. After fulfilling her first dream, it wasn’t until she moved back to Coventry thirteen years later that the second finally came true. She has a degree in History & Politics, and when she’s not agonizing over snappy dialogue or incisive prose, she can be found shouting at Arsenal football matches or holding court in the pub on topics she knows nothing about.

Frear's new novel is Sweet Little Lies.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Skin Deep by the fantastic Liz Nugent. Skin Deep tells the story of Cordelia Russell, an Irish woman passing herself off as an English socialite on the French Riviera. Nugent is the new queen of unlikeable heroines, in my humble opinion, and she’s the queen of the deliciously dark first line too:
I wondered when rigor mortis would set in, or if it already had.
While the central mystery is who has been killed and why has Cordelia killed them, Skin Deep is far more than a classic ‘why-dunnit’ – it’s a super-smart character study, a psychologist’s dream! While Nugent doesn’t flinch from showing us the bleakest parts of human nature, she’s also careful to help us understand Cordelia, even when we want to turn away in disgust. There’s such a skill in balancing such brutality and compassion and I’m absolutely loving the Skin Deep ride so far.

Prior to this, I read The Secret Place by Tana French – the only French book to have somehow passed me by. The Secret Place focuses on the murder of a teenage boy at an exclusive Dublin school, and as with all French’s novels, it’s as much a commentary on current society and the human condition as it is a standard thriller. I’ll be honest, it probably isn’t my favourite French novel, although that’s like saying X isn’t my favourite child – I still loved it. Seriously, Tana French could write a recipe for a boiled potato and I’d probably still rave about it!
Follow Caz Frear on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Sweet Little Lies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Julia Buckley

Julia Buckley is a Chicago mystery author. She writes the Writer's Apprentice Series and the Undercover Dish mysteries, and is soon to launch a new series with Berkley Prime Crime.

Buckley has taught high school English for thirty years; she lives near Chicago with her husband, four cats, and a mischievous Labrador named Digby. She has two grown sons. She is a lifelong reader and a writer since around age six, when she started a notebook of poems.

Buckley's newest Writer's Apprentice mystery is A Dark and Twisting Path.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Probably the best book I read in the last few months was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The book, about a Russian Count who "Lives under house arrest for a poem deemed incendiary by The Bolsheviks" (Amazon Book Review) made wonderful fodder for the book club I started on my block, and Count Rostov was loved by all for his quick wit, his gentility, and his romantic soul. What amazed me about this second book by Amor Towles was that it was so many things at once, and yet it was never distractingly digressive. And while the main character, Alexander Rostov, is strong enough to command the reader's attention throughout, Towles offers a whole universe of eccentric supporting characters whose stories are laugh-out-loud funny in some cases and desperately sad in others. I am thrilled to hear that it has been adapted for film and that Kenneth Branagh will play the lead role.

Another powerful book I read recently was written by a thirteen-year-old Japanese boy with such severe autism that he cannot speak, but he found a way to communicate with the world in The Reason I Jump. I'm quoting my own Goodreads review here, in part: "[He used] an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences and thoughts that he is unable to say out loud," but he was able to think about his own thinking and behavior in order to attempt to explain it to other people. This meta-cognition would be remarkable for anyone, but for someone so young, and with such challenges, it is awe-inspiring.

One of the most powerful passages, for me, was this revelation: "The truth is, we'd love to be with other people. But because things never, ever go right, we end up getting used to being alone... whenever I overhear someone saying how much I prefer being on my own, it makes me feel desperately lonely."

While these two books had little in common, starting with the fact that one is fact and one is fiction, they both provided one thing: a main character who helped me to see the world in a different way, and whose isolation made me question the ways that we judge the quality of our lives.
Visit Julia Buckley's website and blog, Mysterious Musings.

My Book, The Movie: A Dark and Twisting Path.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2018

David Gordon

David Gordon's books include The Serialist, Mystery Girl, and White Tiger on Snow Mountain. His new novel is The Bouncer.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Gordon's reply:
During the school year, which is about to start, I rarely have time to read for fun. During the summer, when I am traveling and working on my own stuff, I tend to have a few books on the go at once: one by the bed, one in my bag for the subway or waiting rooms, one that I am saving for a long flight or a day at the beach. Also I tend to mix a heavier book, that I read slowly and ponder, or nap over, with a faster, funnier or more thrilling one. Here are the handful that I have around right now:

Simenon - a biography by Pierre Assouline. I am a long time fan of Simenon, who created one of the great detective series with his character Inspector Maigret, and also great psychological noir thrillers, which he cranked out by the dozen, often writing a whole novel in fifteen days. He was also a kind of maniac, compulsive about writing, sex, money, smoking, travel. So when I came across this biography in a used bookshop, I decided to check it out. A fascinating character. A monster in many ways. And a genius.

Full Moon - PG Wodehouse. I am pretty much always reading Wodehouse. It is impossible not to be happy reading him. In his field - the comic novel, specifically farce, there really is no one comparable. It is like watching the world’s greatest magician pull off another stunning trick, a champion gymnast turn in the air or ballet dancer leap - how can you do anything but watch in wonder?

The Illogic of Kassel - Enrique Vila-Matas - How does one describe Vila-Matas? Reading his books is like being on the phone late at night with your wise, clever, funny, incredibly well-read old friend while you suspect he might be losing his mind. In this one, he is asked to participate in Documenta 13, the avant garde art fair, and eagerly accepts, since he is fascinated with the idea of contemporary art, but is dismayed to learn that he will be sitting and writing in a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of town as a performance piece, which slowly induces both ecstasy and panic. It is like a profound theoretical and philosophical inquiry directed by Hitchcock.

The Girls of Slender Means - Muriel Spark -She is one of the greatest. I’ve never not loved on of her books and this is true to form - brilliant, witty, wicked, and weirdly spiritual. Go read all her books if you haven’t already.
Visit David Gordon's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue