Thursday, January 17, 2019

Molly MacRae

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

Her latest novel is Crewel and Unusual (Haunted Yarn Shop Series #6).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. MacRae's reply:
My five ways I’m starting the New Year:

Warm—The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel). This is a folkloric road trip story told mostly by Nana, a wise, self-sufficient cat. Nana and Satoru, the young man with whom Nana has lived for the past five years, are travelling around Japan in a silver van, visiting Satoru’s oldest friends. I’m only in the middle of the book, and find it completely engaging. I do wonder, with some trepidation, why Satoru is looking for a new home for Nana, but I feel sure the cat’s calm, philosophical take on life will make the journey worthwhile.

Dreaming—The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, 2019 edition. The catalog is 354 pages of full-color photographs—tomatoes with names like Sunrise Bumblebee and Lucid Gem; lime-green Chinese Shawo Fruit radishes; peppers, melons, herbs, flowers—all “mmm-mm-mm” and “wow.” Will I actually grow any of these wonders? Probably not. Our yard is heavily shaded and overrun with squirrels, but hope and delusions are strong motivators for me. The catalog includes interviews, a few recipes, and a fascinating account of a seed-hunting trip to China.

Salivating—Milk Street: Tuesday Nights by Christopher Kimball. This is my favorite kind of cookbook; there’s a picture of every single dish to drool over and everything in it can be made in less than an hour. Many can be finished in 25 minutes or less. What I’m trying this weekend: Maple-Whisky Pudding Cakes. Start to finish: 45 minutes.

Adventurous—The Capture of Black Bart: Gentleman Bandit of the Old West by Norman H. Finkelstein. This is exciting nonfiction for middle grade readers. We follow James B. Hume, chief detective for Wells Fargo & Company, as he doggedly investigates and tracks the poet bandit through 28 stagecoach robberies from 1875 to 1883. Upon capture, Black Bart (real name Charles Boles) revealed that he took his alias from his favorite story, The Case of Summerfield by Claxton (penname of William H. Rhodes), serialized in the Sacramento Union newspaper in 1871. You can find The Case of Summerfield in Project Gutenberg and see for yourself why Boles thought it such a good joke to call himself Black Bart.

Encouraged—Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell. This is a lovely, invigorating compilation taken from Gaiman’s speeches, poems, and manifestos. He’s a champion of ideas, reading, libraries, books, bookstores, and creating art. What better way to start the New Year than to be told so robustly that what you do matters?
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

My Book, The Movie: Crewel and Unusual.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Jess Montgomery

Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she wears several other literary hats: she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News; Executive Director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop at University of Dayton; and is an adjunct mentor in the Seton Hill University Low-Residency Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program.

Montogomery's new novel is The Widows.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to have several books going at once.

I try to read one poem each morning. Currently, I’m reading from Mary Oliver’s collection, A Thousand Mornings. One of her poems was in the program at the church I attend, a United Church of Christ congregation, and I found her work breathtaking in showing the depth of human experience in understated, quiet ways.

I’m reading texts for research on my next novel in progress.

And I’m reading stories from Lee Martin’s terrific collection, The Mutual UFO Network. These stories peer into the heart of the human condition in quirky, yet touching ways, showing how lonely, yet connected, each of us are. I love that tension between loneliness and connection, and how Mr. Martin brings it into sharp yet subtle focus.

I also am reading a work of nonfiction, just for fun—The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin. The premise of the book is that, regardless of other personality traits or attributes, we each have a tendency for how we respond to expectations, either from others or from ourselves. (Ms. Rubin does admit that each tendency can be on a spectrum.) It seems overly simplistic, but I was drawn to the book after listening to her podcast, “Happier.” And I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the book has helped me recognize not only my own tendency but the tendencies of others around me, and doing so has made me more patient with others—and to recognize that my own tendency might sometimes frustrate others. (I’m a “Questioner,” which means I am more than willing to meet internal or expectations—after I’ve asked a lot of questions and figured out the “why” of the expectation.) Honestly, I, well, questioned the premise at first (and I still have plenty of questions about it as I work my way through), but I’m glad I’m reading the book.
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

M.K. England

M.K. England is an author and YA librarian who grew up on the Space Coast of Florida and now calls the mountains of Virginia home. When she’s not writing or librarianing, England can be found drowning in fandom, rolling dice at the gaming table, climbing on things in the woods, feeding her video game addiction, or talking way too much about space and science literacy. She loves Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if you never speak of Sherlock Holmes in her presence. You’ll regret it. The Disasters is her debut novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. England's reply:
I'm a book juggler, and I frequently have several books going in a variety of formats at any given time.

In audio:

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

I'm one of those people who reads self-improvement books throughout the year, but especially at the new year. I just finished this is a great book about habit formation, narrated by the author, that embraces the fact that we're all different and there's no one right way to help a habit stick. A great way to kick off the year!

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

I've been meaning to read this YA thriller forever and Brendan and I are doing an event together later this month, so I finally bumped it to the top of my list. Lots of twists and turns!

In ebook:

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

An adult romantic comedy that comes highly recommended to me by a friend! I always like to have a romance novel on deck for when I need something to brighten my day.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

I bought this one the day it came out and never got around to it, which is tragic because I'm so enjoying it. Thanks to everyone on instagram and twitter who recommended this and reminded me I owned it! Funny, magical, witty—an utter delight.

In print:

Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety by Seth J. Gillihan

I've struggled with anxiety and depression, among other things, for most of my life. I find that reading books like this in between times when I'm able to get to therapy is a great way to keep in the healing mindset. I read a few pages every morning!
Visit M. K. England's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2019

Matthew Carr

Matt Carr is a writer, campaigner and journalist, living in Sheffield England. His non-fiction books include: My Father’s House; The Infernal Machine: a History of Terrorism; Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain; Sherman’s Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American War of War; and Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent.

His first novel The Devils of Cardona, was published in 2016 by Penguin Random House in the US.

Carr's latest book is The Savage Frontier: the Pyrenees in History and the Imagination.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Carr's reply:
When I'm writing non-fiction, my reading tends be dominated by the subject in hand. I try to read obsessively on whatever project i'm writing about so that I'm completely filled up by it. When I'm in between books, as I am now, I try to read more freely, either catching up on books I've been looking forward to, or following possibilities that interest me. I'm currently looking into the possibility of a book on the Arctic, so I read Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams. Few people write more eloquently or gracefully about landscape and nature than Lopez. Every time I read him he's a revelation and an inspiration.

Over the holiday period I also read Adam Zamoyski's Phantom Terror, an amazingly well-researched book which shows how the Austrian Chancellor Metternich and his reactionary cohorts set out to reverse the revolutionary and nationalist movements unleashed by the French Revolution in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.

I would have liked to have had a book like this when writing my history of terrorism The Infernal Machine and my book about Europe's 'migration crisis' Fortress Europe. Zamoyski persuasively shows how Metternich and other European governments imposed a European-wide surveillance network in an attempt to repress a 'phantom' revolutionary conspiracy that was essentially a figment of their imagination. Briskly and wittily-written, his book is filled with examples of non-existent conspiracies and official paranoia, dishonesty and surveillance overkill, all of which we have seen repeated in subsequent historical episodes.

Over the holiday season I also took time to read some fiction. I came across Walter Kempowski's All for Nothing after reading a rave piece in the New Yorker, and it lived up to everything that was written about it. It's a mournful, epic account of the apocalyptic collapse of East Prussia in the last months of World War 2, seen through the eyes of a Prussian landowning family. Kempowksi is one of those writers who is able to combine a broad historical tragedy with a real sense of emotional intimacy. I shall be reading more of him in the future.

Following this catastrophic trajectory, I also found myself reading Paul French's City of Devils, a sizzling noirish portrait of gangsters, hucksters, show girls, and war in interwar Shanghai. French knows he has a great story, and he tells it well, in all its sleazy and often shattering detail, from the hedonistic nightlife of the Shanghai Western 'settlement' in the 1920s to the Japanese invasion.

So that's two books dealing with social collapse as I hunker down for 2019, to remind me that no matter how difficult the present moment seems, things have been a lot worse.
Visit Matthew Carr's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devils of Cardona.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2019

James L. Cambias

James Cambias has been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the 2001 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He lives in Western Massachusetts.

His new book is Arkad's World.

Recently I asked Cambias about what he was reading. His reply:
I typically have an "upstairs book" and a "downstairs book" so I'm never more than a few steps from some reading matter. I'm currently reading biographies of two very different men.

Upstairs I'm reading African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi. It's a great book about one of my favorite historical figures: Colonel (later General) Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who commanded the Imperial German troops in East Africa during the First World War.

Von Lettow was an amazing military commander, who kept British and Commonwealth forces twenty times the size of his own army busy chasing him around Africa. When the war ended he was Germany's only undefeated general.

But beyond his military prowess, he seems to have been a genuinely good guy. One reason his little army was so effective was that he integrated white and black troops into the same units, and considered them all equally soldiers of the Kaiser like himself. He spent decades lobbying the German government to give his African soldiers the wartime pay they were owed (and finally succeeded in 1964).

Over the years I've been amused and/or irritated by fictional depiction of the African campaigns in the Great War because they're a perfect example of how the winners write the histories. In pretty much all films about that war — from The African Queen to Shout at the Devil to the Young Indiana Jones TV series — the British are depicted as rag-tag plucky underdogs taking on overwhelmingly powerful German forces. The historical truth was literally the exact opposite.

The only portrayal of von Lettow in film (outside of Germany, at least) was in the Young Indiana Jones episode, which depicted him as a genius — but also a rigid martinet, while the man himself seems to have been extremely flexible about military regulations (to the point of near insubordination in his dealings with German East Africa's idealistic governor Schnee).

Gaudi's book is thoroughly researched, and includes quite a few entertaining digressions about the various eccentric and colorful characters involved in the African theater of World War I. (It must be admitted that at least some of von Lettow's success was due to the fact that the British didn't send their best commanders against him.) It's a good read and I'll probably come back to it again.

Downstairs I'm reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. Unlike von Lettow, Leonardo needs no introduction — although there's quite a lot of his life which most readers probably don't know about. I haven't finished it yet (spoiler alert: Leonardo dies at the end) but Isaacson does an excellent job of describing Florence as Leonardo knew it, and setting the artist in his proper context.

Refreshingly, Isaacson steers away from the quasi-mystical depiction of Leonardo as some kind of otherworldly genius, a saintly innocent misunderstood by mere mortals. His Leonardo is a man actively involved in the world and in Italian society of the 15th Century — even a bit of a hustler and self-promoter.

Like Gaudi's book about von Lettow, this one is very well-researched and fun to read. Right now I have something fascinating at hand whether I'm upstairs or down.
Visit James L. Cambias's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Darkling Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry's novels include the Jane Whitefield series (Vanishing Act, Dance for the Dead, Shadow Woman, The Face Changers, Blood Money, Runner, Poison Flower, and A String of Beads), Death Benefits, Pursuit, the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for best novel, and The Butcher's Boy, which won the prestigious Edgar Award.

Perry's new novel is The Burglar.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Perry's reply:
What I find unusual at the moment is that this month I’ve been reading books that other people chose for me, and observing my own reactions. On March 3, 2019 I’ll be moderating a panel at the Tucson Festival of Books. I always start by reading the most recent books of the panelists. Here they are, in the order in which I read them.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. This just won the National Book Award. I’m often puzzled by the choices of award panels, but this time I’m not. This is a fine novel and I was lucky to have it included. The book is a kind of journal in which a no-longer-young woman who’s spent much of her life reading and discussing great books addresses “You,” a male friend who has committed suicide. He was her professor, mentor, briefly her lover, and her closest friend for the rest of his life. He has, at least according to his unpleasant and probably-lying third and final wife, left her his Great Dane. The book is wise, funny, tragic, and moving. It’s also a deep meditation on death, grieving, and the bond between humans and animals.

Next I read Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III. This is a recounting of the story of a momentous event in a family history, told partly through fragmentary memories, attempts to write a fictional version that stubbornly refuses to be fictional, and the dread and regret that haunt human existence. The father, Daniel, hasn’t been seen since he went to prison 40 years ago for stabbing his wife to death in front of their 3-year-old daughter Susan in a jealous rage. He is now dying, and he goes on the road to find and speak to Susan just once. The book-long trip gives us the chance to overhear the thoughts of the father/killer, his now-43-year-old daughter, and Lois, the mother of the murdered wife, the grandmother of Susan. The book is impressive and hypnotic. It reminded me of Faulkner in his As I Lay Dying mood. This one too deserves awards.

The third and final book of the panelists is Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels. I’m only about 60% finished. It’s ironic because I’ve met Mr. Urrea a number of times, spoken with him, served on panels with him. I knew this book would be terrific, one of a long line of really good books, and it is. So I saved it as my reward in case I didn’t like the others. I’m including it here because the prompt was “What is Thomas Perry reading?” This is it.

This is another big “family history” book, the narratives consisting of memories triggered by a gathering of the family in the present for the funeral of the family matriarch, and the final birthday party the next day of the eldest son, Angel (referred to as Big Angel, while the youngest is Little Angel), who is dying. It’s brilliant, bursting with fascinating characters, full of original insights, and I can hardly wait to get back to it.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Burglar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

David Housewright

David Housewright is the Edgar Award and three-time Minnesota Book Award-winning author of the Rushmore McKenzie and Holland Taylor novels as well as other tales of murder and mayhem in the Midwest.

His new novel is First, Kill the Lawyers.

Recently I asked Housewright about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’m reading Julie Klassen, an award-winning author of Historical Romance novels. I’m not a romance kind of guy. Hell, I play hockey 26 weeks out of the years. But I met Julie at a couple of literary events here in Minnesota and liked her very much. She is smart, funny, and considerate so I thought I’d give her books a chance. Damn, they’re good! First they’re not really Historical Romance despite what the lady might tell you. They’re straight up thrillers and as suspenseful as anything you’ll read by Tami Hoag and PJ Tracy (which I also know, like and read). My advice, start with The Secret of Pembrooke Park, which won the Minnesota Book Award, followed by The Tutor's Daughter. Or simply dive into her bibliography. Just about everything the woman’s written has won something or been nominated for something.
Learn more about the book and author at David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: First, Kill the Lawyers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 6, 2019

David Drake

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

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

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

Drake's new novel is The Storm.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Drake's reply:
A Bright Shining Lie/Neil Sheehan

I'm a Nam vet--drafted out of Duke Law School in 1968 and sent to War Zone C, then Cambodia, with the 11th Armored Cavalry. I read memoirs of participants in the war, but rarely histories. I was given this book by a friend.

Sheehan was In Country as a correspondent and was a friend of John Paul Vann, the subject of this biography. Vann was a committed anti-communist and believed in the war--but not in the way the war was fought by number-crunchers like McNamara and his boss, Lyndon Johnson; or by the military brass like General Westmoreland who acted as McNamara's surrogate and toady.

This is a different view of the war than I got as a grunt at the sharp end, but it's very much the same stupid war.

The Dream Of Arcadia/Van Wyck Brooks

The experiences of American writers and artists in Italy during the 19th century and how that shaped them. This is a different view of people whom I'm familiar with as Americans.

I've recently visited Central Italy, so it was interesting to read of Thomas Cole discussing his Course of Empire in the gardens of the Villa Borghese where I too chatted with a friend, or realized that the apartment which we rented in Rome must be quite near where the writer F Marion Crawford (now famous for a few horror stories) grew up with his father, the sculptor Thomas Crawford.
Visit David Drake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 4, 2019

J.D. Trafford

J.D. Trafford is the bestselling author of Little Boy Lost, which recently broke 100,000 copies sold. His newest book is Good Intentions.

Last year I asked the author about what he was reading. Trafford's reply:
I love reading, usually I read for thirty minutes to an hour before bed. It's a wonderful opportunity to wind-down at the end of the day. I recently finished two books featuring a main character named Virgil and take place in Minnesota.

The first was Leif Enger's Virgil Wander. It was a wonderful book, although much more slow moving than the books I usually prefer, about Virgil (the title's namesake) who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury that occurred when his car went off the road during a snowstorm. It takes place in a fictional small town in northern Minnesota along the shores of Lake Superior. As Virgil Wander rediscovers himself, the reader is introduced to a cast of quirky characters (think "Northern Exposure") and hints of something a little more sinister going on in Virgil's hometown. I loved Leif Enger's first novel, Peace Like a River, which was published over fifteen years ago. So, I was really looking forward to this one, and it did not disappoint me. Leif incorporates some subtle supernatural elements to all of his books, and I like that. It inspires me to push boundaries in my own writing.

I also just finished Holy Ghost by John Sandford. In this book, Sandford continues his series featuring Virgil Flowers. Sandford is best known for his Lucas Davenport "Prey" books, but his Virgil Flowers books are slowly becoming my favorite. Rather than dealing with serial killers, the Virgil Flower's books are lighter and a little more humorous. They focus on quirky characters in small-town, southern Minnesota. In Holy Ghost, Virgil Flowers is asked to investigate a shooting that occurred outside a small-town church where there had been recent ghost sightings. Sandford is the master of pacing, and I love reading his books and studying how he constructs the mystery and keeps readers turning pages. Holy Ghost is a winner
Visit J.D. Trafford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Jaime Kucinskas

Jaime Kucinskas is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Hamilton College, and is also a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland – College Park from 2018-2019. Broadly speaking, her teaching and research interests center on the intersections of: the sociology of religion/spirituality, social movements, cultural and organizational change, elites, and inequality. In particular, she is fascinated by how people, even those with various privileges, can impact and yet be constrained by different institutions.

Her book The Mindful Elite: Mobilizing from the Inside Out, investigates how Buddhist modernist meditators transformed meditation in America into a mainstream practice embraced by esteemed secular organizations such as Fortune 500 companies, Ivy League schools, hospitals, the U.S. military, and K-12 schools.

Recently I asked Kucinskas about what she was reading. Her reply:
Around the holidays, one of my favorite things to do is to wander around a local bookstore and pick up a few books to get lost in over the break. This year, I have been enjoying reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming. She is an excellent writer, who reveals a process of self-growth familiar to so many women, people of color, and others, who slowly gain confidence and self-awareness over the years with the help of countless others supporting them along the way.

Another bookstore gem I devoured was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which was a captivating multi-generational fictional account of a Korean family that lived in Japan during the Second World War. While Lee’s book opens with beautiful descriptive prose, she leaves you with a sense of awe for how dramatically Korean and Japanese history changed during the 20th century and how those living through it adapted to survive. The book also opened my eyes to how ethnic prejudice and discrimination pervaded the lives of Koreans in Japan during that time period.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was another gripping, dark novel which kept me up at night, but I could not put down. The book tracks the downward spiral of a young boy’s life after a traumatic bombing at an art museum, where he loses his mother and spontaneously steals a priceless painting.

Lastly I’ll mention another bookstore find: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan. I’m not much of a mystery reader typically, but as a lover of bookstores and high quality writing, I really enjoyed this book and its surprising twists.
Visit Jaime Kucinskas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue