Sunday, February 17, 2019

J. Albert Mann

J. Albert Mann is the author of five novels for children. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her new work of historical fiction about the early life of Margaret Sanger is What Every Girl Should Know. Born in New Jersey, Mann now lives in Boston with her children, cat, and husband listed in order of affection.

Recently I asked Mann about what she was reading. Her reply:
Unpresidented: A biography of Donald Trump by Martha Brockenbrough

An unapologetic, well-researched biography for young adults of our sitting president. Brockenbrough shies away from nothing. Not the lies. Not the lawsuits (close to 4000 of them). Not the infidelities. Trump’s life is laid bare in blue ink. Surprisingly, even though the unending press on Trump for the last two years has made me weary of his name and face, the book felt like a fresh read.

Brockenbrough’s narrative of the man in the oval office is neat, linear, and truly interesting. Trump’s life parallels the story of our country—it’s love affair with capitalism, disdain for working people, and the inability to move beyond race and gender as a way of defining ourselves.

On deck for me is Eugene V. Debs Speaks, edited by Jean Y. Tussey and Just What I Thought by Grace Paley. I’m on a political non-fiction reading binge! It happens.
Visit J. Albert Mann's website.

The Page 69 Test: What Every Girl Should Know.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A. F. Brady

A.F. Brady is a New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselor/Psychotherapist. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Brown University and two Masters degrees in Psychological Counseling from Columbia University. She is a life-long New Yorker, and resides in Manhattan with her husband and their family, including Maurice the canine.

Brady's new novel is Once a Liar.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am reading a small, but diverse pile of books these days because I am a mom to two little ones and I spend half my life rereading the same stories over and over to my kids. We are currently obsessed with Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. My brother and I used to read this when we were children and I am extremely excited to be bringing it to my two-year-old now, and he delights in finding Goldbug on every page.

I have just started Becoming by Michelle Obama. I absolutely adore Michelle Obama, I admire her intelligence, poise, grace and ability to persevere in the face of obstruction. I am always interested to hear the stories of a public figure’s personal experience. We tend to think we know someone by how they appear on TV, and I’m very much looking forward to getting into her story and learning about her on a more personal level.

I have Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis on my nightstand right now. I am a practicing psychotherapist, and I love the way Rachel provides self-deprecating, honest representations of sometimes unpleasant truths, to help her readers put down the heavy suitcases we have been packing with society’s unreasonable demands. It’s a very accessible and understandable set of guidelines to steer readers toward a happier and unburdened life.

I’m also in the middle of Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field. Always trying to educate myself. Maybe one day I’ll write a screenplay, adapt a novel, make a movie, who knows? But it all starts with an education.

Hopefully, when I have some more time on my hands, I will pile a few more books onto the pile.
Visit A.F. Brady's website.

Coffee with a Canine: A.F. Brady & Maurice.

The Page 69 Test: Once a Liar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 15, 2019

Darius Hinks

Darius Hinks works and lives in Nottinghamshire, England. He spent the nineties playing guitar for the grunge band, Cable, but when his music career ended in a bitter lawsuit, he turned to writing. His first novel, Warrior Priest, won the David Gemmell Morningstar award and, so far at least, none of his novels have resulted in litigation.

Hinks's new novel is The Ingenious.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I read in such an unfocused way. My reading is as messy as every other aspect of my life. I usually have half a dozen or so books on the go. At the moment, I’m re-reading the beautiful Peter Owen illustrated edition of Goose of Hermogenes, by Ithell Colquhoun. It’s an incredibly strange novel, quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Colquhoun was a surrealist painter (back in the 50s) and that really comes through in her writing. It feels more like slipping into a dream than reading a novel. Well, more of a nightmare than a dream – it’s pretty disturbing in places. I can’t say it makes a lot of sense but it’s so vivid and atmospheric I keep thinking about it and having to come back for another read. It’s highly recommended for anyone who likes surreal fiction about alchemists.

I’ve also been reading The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston, which is a rip-roaring, funny, gritty piece of grimdark fantasy.

Before that I enjoyed George Mann’s Wychwood – a clever mix of a modern-day police procedural and dark, occult, goings-on, all rooted in ancient, bloody, English mythology.

In complete contrast to all this sinister, nightmarish stuff, I’m reading a book of short stories by Tom Hanks. It’s not a book I would have been drawn to, but my sister has a habit of buying me random reads for Christmas and I’m actually really enjoying this one. Annoyingly, for someone who already has such a successful career, he writes well – unaffected, simple, conversational prose telling understated but quietly moving stories. I kind of hate him.
Visit Darius Hinks's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Ingenious.

My Book, The Movie: The Ingenious.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler spent three years in a covert position with the CIA's Directorate of Operations, then worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan, earning his black belt at the Kodokan International Judo Center along the way. Eisler's bestselling thrillers have won the Barry Award and the Gumshoe Award for Best Thriller of the Year, have been included in numerous "Best Of" lists, and have been translated into nearly twenty languages.

Eisler's latest novel is The Killer Collective.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished listening to an outstanding book that I hope will be widely read: The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy. It’s a study of what the author, Harvard Kennedy School professor Stephen Walt, calls liberal hegemony, a foreign policy worldview Walt persuasively argues has been disastrous for America and for the world. As the jacket puts it: “Since the end of the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats alike have tried to use U.S. power to spread democracy, open markets, and other liberal values into every nook and cranny of the planet. This strategy was doomed to fail, but its proponents in the foreign policy elite were never held accountable and kept repeating the same mistakes.”

As I listened to the book, I found myself thinking that liberal hegemony might be best understood as a kind of secular religion. It has its own priests (whose views often differ from those of lay people); its own orthodoxies (and apostates); its own catechisms. I’ve read studies of how, when a cult believes the world will end on X day and the event doesn’t happen, the cult doesn’t abandon its belief but instead rationalizes the inconsistency, and the psychology there is also reminiscent of liberal hegemony’s refusal to reconsider dogma and resistance to contrary evidence (and even common sense).

All of which is doubly interesting when you consider the way many Americans have been trained to cherry pick religiously inspired violence as the only violence worthy of condemnation. “They kill in the name of Islam, what other religion does that?”…that kind of thing. But the psychology of religion manifests itself more broadly than is immediately obvious, and certainly more people have been killed in the name of liberal hegemony than in the name of other, more obvious gods.
Visit Barry Eisler's website.

The Page 69 Test: Livia Lone.

The Page 69 Test: The Killer Collective.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Adele Parks

Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North East England. Her first novel, Playing Away, was published in 2000, and since then she's well over a dozen international bestsellers, translated into twenty-six languages.

Parks's latest novel is I Invited Her In.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished reading The Mother-In-Law by Australian author Sally Hepworth. It’s about the often-tricky relationship between a new wife and her mother-in-law. Lucy married Oliver, desperately hoping his mother might become the mom she never had. But Lucy’s mother-in-law, Diana is a conundrum. She’s a pillar of the community, a respected advocate for social justice and a strong, devoted matriarch, yet for all that she remains cool and distant. Lucy just can’t get close to Diana, no matter how hard she tries. Over the years Lucy is forced to settle for impeccable manners, rather than the genuine warmth she longs for. Then Diana is found dead, apparently suicide, and it soon becomes clear she was a woman who no one truly knew, a woman harbouring lots of secrets: the biggest being, how and why did she really die?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book that has such emotional density, combined with great plot twists and a thrilling, compelling sense of ‘whodunit?’ I’ll certainly be hunting out more of Sally Hepworth’s books to read.
Visit Adele Parks's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Invited Her In.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman was born in Chennai, India, and became an American citizen after attaining a Ph.D. in oceanography from The College of William and Mary.

She is the author of A Time to Dance, Island's End, and Climbing the Stairs.

Venkatraman lives in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Her new novel is The Bridge Home.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Venkatraman's reply:
I'm reading Faint Promise of Rain, the first in a historical fiction series, I believe, by author Anjali Mitter Duva. Set in 16th century India and written in lyrical, evocative prose, that brings alive the sights and sounds of dance and the desert where the novel begins, this is the story of a dancer's exploration of art, duty, and freedom, at a time change. I was drawn to it because my own novel, A Time To Dance, is also about an Indian dancer's search for self. I'm also reading a children's fantasy in German, called Das Blaubeerhaus, by Antonia Michaelis - because I want to keep up with my German and what's on my kid's reading list!
Visit Padma Venkatraman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bridge Home.

My Book, The Movie: The Bridge Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 11, 2019

Jane A. Adams

Jane A. Adams is a British writer of psychological thrillers. Her first book, The Greenway, was nominated for a CWA John Creasey Award in 1995 and an Author's Club Best First Novel Award. She has a degree in Sociology and was once lead vocalist in a folk rock band.

Adams's new novel is Kith and Kin.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to have several books on the go at the same time and read a pretty even split of ebooks and physical books.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting Agatha Christie – following a conversation with a friend who was complaining, after watching a TV adaptation, that ‘the book wasn’t like that!’ I’ve just read Ordeal by Innocence and Witness for the Prosecution. I came to Christie quite late. As a teenager I loved Dorothy L Sayers and Cornell Woolrich in particular but Christie was more familiar through television and film. I’ve come to appreciate the subtle and often rather cold way that she layers plot, casting a particularly merciless eye on her characters and their failings and foibles. I’ve not read either of these books in a while, but coming back after a long interval this coldness seems particularly pronounced in Ordeal by Innocence and in the end I found I was left not really liking anyone – but, oddly, still feeling sorry for them.

I’m fond of short stories and recently, in a second hand bookstore, found an edition of Points of View, edited by James Moffett and Kenneth R McElheny and first published in 1956. Contributors include Dorothy Parker, Frank O’Connor and Katherine Mansfield, plus a great many authors I’d never heard of but have really enjoyed, such as Cynthia Marshall Rich and Lorrie Moore. What really makes this collection unusual is that the stories are organised according to the POV from which they are written – Diary, Subjective Narration, Multi Character POV etc., which for a writer is very interesting.

As a contrast, I’m also reading The Watchman by Robert Crais. I’m a big fan of the Elvis Cole Books – though this one is in the spinoff, Joe Pike series. Crais seems to plug into those stylised elements of noir that I like so much; there’s an awareness of roots and tradition, but the books are also totally fixed in their particular now. I love the pace and the action and the imperfect but totally engaging characters. Reading a Robert Crais book is like being offered a privileged ride in the back seat of the story car. The reader can be at the very heart of the action (so long as you promise to stay quiet and not get in the way).

For research I’ve been reading a memoir. Crime Doctor by Dr A David Matthews who was a police surgeon and GP. Although only the early part of his career overlaps with the Henry Johnstone series, in practise things were slow to change in the way the police and GPs on their register interacted. What is particularly fascinating is the social attitudes. For example, the good doctor is frequently called out to certify drunkenness – particular in drivers – and he gets very cross about the risks some people take, assuring the reader that he would never have more than three drinks if he knew he would be driving home afterwards.
Visit Jane A. Adams's website.

The Page 69 Test: Kith and Kin.

My Book, The Movie: Kith and Kin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Gareth Hanrahan

Gareth Hanrahan’s three-month break from computer programming to concentrate on writing has now lasted fifteen years and counting. He’s written more gaming books than he can readily recall, by virtue of the alchemical transmutation of tea and guilt into words. He lives in Ireland with his wife and twin sons.

Hanrahan's newest novel is The Gutter Prayer.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
A lot of my reading is driven by research for freelance projects, so it’s a fairly eclectic mix and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a lot of them. Currently on deck, for example, is David Chute’s Sixty-Eight, a history of the political upheavals of May ’68, which I’m reading as reference for a Fall of Delta Green adventure for a tabletop roleplaying project. I’m a child of the ’80s, so I always dismissed the 1960s as flower-child hippies. It’s only recently, reading books like that or John Higgs’ I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary, that I’m waking up to how transformative those years were, and how a lot of our current events are those same unresolved tensions.

For Christmas, I got a copy of The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff. I’m not sure how good it is as a history – it seems to bounce around the chronology of events a lot, and focusses on individual cases in great detail without really giving a strong impression of the context – but it’s got some great descriptions of the hallucinations and the beliefs of the unfortunate villagers, and it’s good at conveying their mindset.

A friend recommended Chris Bailey’s Hyperfocus to me. So far, it covers a lot of the same ground as Cal Newport’s Deep Work – which is no bad thing, as Hyperfocus is more focussed (so to speak) on practical techniques and approaches, while Deep Work is more about the benefits and value of undistracted concentration. At times, it does feel like the book is just screaming Turn Off Twitter You Fool, but that could just be me. And it’s good advice, too. (I find that I need to reset my approach to work every six to nine months. I start out with excellent practices – up early, lots of focus, lots of exercise, internet firmly turned off, no distractions – and then within a few weeks, I fall back on bad old habits.)

I just finished Michael Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption, which was compared to my own Gutter Prayer. This… worries me, rather a lot. I mean, Beyond Redemption is great, but it’s twisted and so very, very dark. It’s got that sickening post-apocalyptic desperation that comes when everyone knows in their gut that everything’s doomed, that the world is dying and sliding into madness, but everyone’s also in denial, and direct that nihilistic fervour into violence or religion or hedonism or just shore up that denial to absurd levels. It’s the Thirty Years War if you added broken magicians.

Next up, I’ll be rereading Jonny Nexus’ comedic The Sleeping Dragon before it comes out next month.
Visit Gareth Hanrahan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Gutter Prayer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Simon Ings

Simon Ings is the author of novels (some science fiction, some not) and non-fiction, including the Baillie Gifford longlisted Stalin and The Scientists. His debut novel Hot Head was widely acclaimed. He is the arts editor of New Scientist magazine and can often be found writing in possibly the coldest flat in London.

Ings's newest novel is The Smoke.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I've just finished The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark. My ex-wife had some run-ins with Dame Muriel: now there, she once told me, was a woman who could make a typist cry.

Towards the end of her life Muriel gave huge grief to her agent because her books weren't thick enough to compete, spine-wise, with the books they were shelved next to. (My new, slim Penguin edition of the Ballad uses exquisitely thin paper: some former typist's revenge, perhaps?)

Dougal Douglas (or is it Douglas Dougal?), an "arts man" consulting for a textiles firm, is taking the moral temperature of Peckham in South London. He advances this research by chatting up girls, provoking fights, and extemporising unusual dance moves. He cannot possibly come into the office, because this would get in the way of his field studies. Also there is the matter of his raise. Douglas flim-flams his way through the class-complexes of Peckham, wreaking quiet havoc as he goes. Spark never once breaks the fourth wall: If you find this sort of thing funny, well, that's up to you, dear. You absolutely would not survive a game of poker with Dame Muriel.

I lived in Peckham for years, and it was amusing to see which pubs are still going; daunting. too, to realise that the factory next door, Robert's Capsule Stopper Company, was probably the sole survivor of industries that gave Spark's community its life.

It's taken this long for everyone to stop baffing on about it for long enough that I feel that I can give Donna Tartt's The Secret History a proper read. Even then, my 15-year-old daughter had to press her copy into my hands. "Text me about it," she insisted.

What shall I say, after 13 whole pages? That it seems to have emerged from an alternate reality in which Woolf, Joyce and Carver never happened? I don't understand why I couldn't just re-read Dickens. It's unputdownable, of course. And it will probably turn out to be a work of genius. Books I avoid for no good reason usually turn out to be the very books that might have turned my life around.
Visit Simon Ings's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Smoke.

My Book, The Movie: The Smoke.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 8, 2019

Ann Weisgarber

Ann Weisgarber was born and raised in Kettering, Ohio. She has lived in Boston, Massachusetts, and Des Moines, Iowa. She is the author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers.

Weisgarber's new novel is The Glovemaker.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently a judge for Texas Institute of Letters’ two fiction prizes so I have to resist the urge to talk about the stacks of books I’ve been reading during the past two months. Between books, though, I’m reading poet Tim Conroy’s Theologies of Terrain. Most of the poems are short – a much needed break from novels -- but are layered with meaning that shifts each time I reread them. Conroy doesn’t get tangled up in fancy language but uses simple words that dive into my heart and make me see something new about myself.

Before the stacks of the novels showed up on my doorstep, I was at the South Dakota Festival of Books. While on an elevator, Jacob M. Appel handed me his latest book, Millard Saltzer’s Last Day. It’s about a 75-year-old psychiatrist who plans his suicide. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this but I’m glad I did. I started it on the plane trip home and had heaps of laugh-out loud moments. But for every one of those, there were profoundly moving scenes.

I’m a fan of historical fiction and was bowled over by Judithe Little’s Wickwythe Hall. It takes place in a country estate outside of London in May 1940. Germany has invaded France, and England is on edge. As Churchill and Roosevelt spar over what to do next, the characters feel the threat of invasion tightening around their lives. The prose is beautiful but doesn’t bog down the pace or tension. The best historical fiction taps into history that has been overlooked, and Wickwythe Hall does this in fine form.
Visit Ann Weisgarber's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Glovemaker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Patrice Sarath

Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos and Fog Season (Books I and II of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the series Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet.

Recently I asked Sarath about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. The Murderbot Diaries comprise the books All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy. The books tell the story of a fearsome SecUnit, a cyborg who has hacked its governor and could become a rage-filled murderous killing machine. Instead, all it wants to do is to be left alone to watch TV. Murderbot, as it calls itself, takes on jobs providing security for various human contractors, and is baffled by humans’ inability to keep themselves alive.

The books are poignant, hilarious, and thrilling, and are a commentary on humanity at its best and its worst. I highly recommend the series.

The Mere Wife, by Maria Dahvana-Headley. A retelling of Beowulf but so much more. The Mere Wife delves into the poem in a way that doesn’t just place Beowulf in a modern setting but provides additional insight into the story. I loved this book, and I’m looking forward to re-reading.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This is my current read and I am enjoying it immensely. What I love is that all of the characters like each other. They aren’t goody-two shoes or anything like that, but they work well as a team, and they like each other for their differences. It’s a very accepting book. But don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of conflict and plot, as well as humor and romance.

My Sister The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Loved it! This fast-paced thriller kept me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I recommend it as a quick read.
Visit Patrice Sarath's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Fog Season.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Lior Sternfeld

Lior B. Sternfeld is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Penn State. His new book is Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran.

Recently I asked Sternfeld about what he was reading. His reply:
These days, as I am teaching two courses this semester and preparing for some summer research, I have on my desk some books that connect many points of teaching and research interests. I guess that the overarching theme is global and transnational histories of the Middle East. Orit Bashkin's Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel, is an inspiring account of the Iraqi Jewish communities who had immigrated to Israel after 1948. Bashkin analyzes the formation of Iraqi-Israeli-Jewish identity that is far more complex than earlier assumed. The social struggles, the navigation between the Israeli nation-building project, the "melting pot," and tension between ideas, ideologies, unreconciled past, and unclear present and future (with regards to the active conflicts of Israel and its Arab neighbors, "Oriental" identity, and assimilation).

Neda Maghbouleh's The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race, is one of the most important contributions to the understanding of Iranian identity in general and the construction of diasporic Iranian identity specifically. Maghbouleh brilliantly dismantles the race categories as we understand them in the American context and the Iranian context. This book allows the reader to get a sort of an X-Ray photo of the Iranian-American community in terms of perception of diaspora/homeland and assimilation questions.

Another book that I just started reading (trying to finish it before I get to the relevant week on the syllabus) is Michael R. Fischbach's Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color. I find it extremely important to see how discourse on civil rights, self-determination, and the awakening of the dark nations manifested itself in earlier periods. Perhaps even to find earlier displays of intersectional struggles and solidarity.

Last, I found myself this semester, in light of many events in this country and other places, go back to one of my favorite novels, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. This book tells the story of a devastated generation that fought in the First World War, pointed out all the fallacies of their contemporary politicians and warlords. The reader cannot help but see how patriotism easily transforms into radical hatred and racism, and the belief that every sacrifice is justified if "the nation" demands it.
Learn more about Between Iran and Zion at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Jane Corry

Jane Corry is the author of The Dead Ex, published by Pamela Dorman Books. Her previous books, My Husband’s Wife and Blood Sisters, were international bestsellers.

Recently I asked Corry about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just started reading The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. To be honest, I’ve had it on my bedside table for a while because I didn’t feel in the right frame of mind to tackle a serious subject. But the new year moved me to open it and as soon as I read the first page, I was hooked. Why? It was the main character who drew me in. Here is a man who fell into the job of tattooing prisoners in concentration camps. You might say he’s a bit of a jack-the-lad but he also has strong family values. Then he falls in love. I’ve just got to this bit (I kept on reading well beyond midnight). Now I can’t wait for bedtime tonight. What makes it particularly moving is that the real-life protagonist told his story to the author and trusted her to write his story. In my view, she’s done a great job.
Follow Jane Corry on Twitter and Facebook.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Ex.

My Book, The Movie: The Dead Ex.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 4, 2019

James Brabazon

James Brabazon is an author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. Based in the UK, he has traveled to more than seventy countries, investigating, filming, and directing in the world’s most hostile environments.

He is the author of All Fall Down, The Break Line, and the international bestseller My Friend the Mercenary, a memoir recounting his experiences of the Liberian civil war and the Equatorial Guinea coup plot.

Recently I asked Brabazon about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve just finished reading Killing Eve by Luke Jennings. It’s a classic cat/mouse, killer/cop story with a lot of dark humour and some very modern twists and tropes. Jenning’s main character is a psychopathic Russian assassin named Villanelle. She’s as lethal with a blade as she is with a pistol as she is with a rifle – and I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if she and Max McLean, the central spy-assassin character in the The Break Line, were ever to meet… There would be sparks. And blood. But whose? Jennings is very courageous writing about the inner-most workings of the female erotic mind. It’s hard to know if he’s hit the nail on the head or not, but I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to do that – although women do play an absolutely central role in The Break Line.

Before that I re-read The Violins of Saint-Jacques - Patrick Leigh Fermor’s only novel. He gave me a copy (“something for the Istanbul bus journey”) after I stayed with him at his house in Greece in 1991. It’s a perfect picture of a world teetering on the edge of extinction – an allegory, perhaps, of the pre-War Europe he’d travelled through and written about and which, like the fictional island of Saint-Jacques, was destined to vanish forever.
Visit James Brabazon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Break Line.

My Book, The Movie: The Break Line.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born and educated in London and had a variety of jobs in the commercial world before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed Bill Slider mysteries and the historical Morland Dynasty series. She lives in London, is married with three children and enjoys music, wine, gardening, horses and the English countryside.

Harrod-Eagles's new novel is Headlong.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have just finished The Adults by Caroline Hulse. I picked it up in the airport on the way to New Orleans because I liked the thesis: a divorced couple want to spend Christmas together with their 7-year-old daughter, for her sake, so they book a chalet in a holiday village for the period. But they each bring their new partner, and the daughter brings her imaginary friend, a child-sized stuffed rabbit who talks to her, Harvey-style.

The book didn’t disappoint. The writing style is unusual but easy to get along with, and the handling of the story is different because the writer looks through the eyes of each character in turn, and in the process develops the characters, their backgrounds and their present hang-ups in a satisfying way.

I particularly admired the way she wrote the child and her imaginary friend. Children are hard to do anyway, and it could have ended up forced, sentimental or sickly. But the child comes across very naturally and realistically, and the way in which she uses the rabbit to explain things to herself was very cleverly done. The rabbit, of course, could only know what the child knew, since his speech originated in the child’s mind, but through him she explores possible explanations for what she sees going on – sometimes hilariously wrong, sometimes uncomfortably right. Her sadness and confusion are blended with a nice touch of frank cynicism that we sometimes forget can be part of a child’s makeup.

The characters felt real, the dialogue was natural, and the book was funny, ultimately very sad, and always engrossing. The plot development – the accidental shooting of one protagonist by another, identity of both withheld until the end – was perhaps less than convincing, but it was never more than peripheral to what the book was doing so well, portraying the complexities of the relationships of exes and their new attachments. This was Hulse’s first novel, and I shall look out with interest to see what she does next.
Visit Cynthia Harrod-Eagles's website.

My Book, The Movie: Headlong.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Ray Taras

Raymond Taras is Professor of Political Science at Tulane University. In 2019 he is Fulbright Distinguished Chair at Australian National University in Canberra.

Taras's new book is Nationhood, Migration and Global Politics: An Introduction.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I read Michel Houellebecq for two reasons. One is for the ethnic pecking orders he establishes in his novels. The other is for the pornographic descriptions he provides. Frequently the two go hand-in-hand - he is such a provocateur! I do not read him for his literary genius.

The holy grail for many French writers is Marcel Proust so Houellebecq’s latest shock-value contribution, Sérotonine, seeks to amend his book titles. Replacing In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (the ornate second of seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past) is the blunt Donald Trump-like substitution of “young, moist pussies.” As Houellebecq observes, “it seems to me to simplify the debate without destroying its poetry (what can be more beautiful, more poetic, that a pussy which becomes damp?).”

“Poetic” is rarely a term used to apply to this enfant terrible; vulgarités would seem more apposite. That said, he is a man who is aware that the most erotic times of his life are over with. As he puts it about his incongruously-named protagonist Florent-Claude, a new generation of anti-depressants has led to such side effects as nausea, loss of the libido drive, impotence. Of these “I have never suffered from nausea.”

Serotonin levels are affected by drugs like Captorix. They inhibit the synthesis of testosterone which in men range from 2.5 to 10 milligrams daily (women’s daily average is just 0.25). So the doctor accordingly scribbles the names of some women who can help Florent-Claude out, if he decides to reduce his Captorix dosage.

In 2006 on this blog I reviewed The Possibility of an Island in which one of Houellebecq’s main purposes was to rubbish East European women. In his words, “most of the girls were Romanian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian, in other words from one of those absurd countries that emerged from the implosion of the Eastern bloc.” The pornography industry “remained in the hands of shady Hungarian, or even Latvian, jobbers”. Aging tourists at a holiday club are entertained by a Miss Bikini Contest where the main contestants were a leggy teenage girl from Budapest and “a platinum-blond Russian, very curvaceous in spite of her fourteen years, who looked a right tart” and eventually “began stuffing her hand down her bikini bottom.”

Times change and he now takes swipes at Malians starting on their trips as undocumented workers. Florent-Claude would never let his cash go to Romanians now in the country. “The Dutch are truly a nation of whores, a race made up of multilingual opportunistic business people.” Yuzu, his onetime Japanese girlfriend, stands out for her sexual exploits, including a mini canine gang-bang. The narrator feels sorry for the dogs. Moreover “for a Japanese woman - after what I had observed of the mentality of these people - sleeping with a Westerner is nearly like copulating with an animal.”

Since I am supposed to teach political science, Houellebecq’s novels give me a pulse of French contestation - the clash of rival perspectives, at times violent. Normandy is in the foreground. The narrator bonds with Aymeric, a nobleman from a distinguished family, whose wife has forced him to build summer cottages to rent out so as to pay the bills. Aymeric is engrossed in rifles and weapons which lead him to organize a protest movement. His wife Cécile abandons him and Normandy to move to London with a world-famous pianist. Just as “this huge slut was passionate for a life in London,” “The European Union also was an enormous slut, imposing quotas on milk.”

The tragedy of Aymeric is that, in the face of so many suicides of family farmers unable to earn a living wage, he fights on behalf of the French peasantry. The novel presciently anticipates the gilets jaunes challenging the Macron presidency from the provinces: “So when the cisterns of milk would arrive 2-3 days later, from Poland or Ireland, what could they do? Block the road with rifles? Even if they achieve that, what would they do if the cisterns were guarded by the security forces? Open fire?” Houellebecq elegantly sets out the case for “the producers of apricots from Roussillon who would not stand a chance given the flood of Argentine apricots.” Free trade always wins in today’s world; for the author it is a devastating blow to sustainable development.

Made Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur on the first day of 2019, the author is convinced that his latest novel is a romance. So there is pitiable Camille, the unacknowledged love of Florent-Claude’s life, who meanders into it at various points in time, regardless of the ethnic and misogynistic hierarchies that Houellebecq constructs.

Behind his crotchetiness and insouciance, this best-selling writer cares deeply for his main character. Even as serotonin takes its toll and anti-depressants lead to la-la land, an added driver of the plot is the narrator’s futile search for a hotel that would allow guests to smoke. He is, literally, cornered and choked off – a fitting allegory of Europe approaching endgame.
Visit Raymond Taras's website, and learn more about Nationhood, Migration and Global Politics at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Nationhood, Migration and Global Politics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 1, 2019

Emily Suvada

Emily Suvada is the award-winning author of the Mortal Coil trilogy, a science fiction thriller series for young adults. The first book, This Mortal Coil, won the Oregon Spirit Book Award, and was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and the Readings Young Adult Book Prize.

Suvada's latest book is This Cruel Design, the sequel to This Mortal Coil.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm currently drafting the third book in the Mortal Coil trilogy, which means I can't read anything that's written in a similar tone. Some of my favorite genres to read are technothrillers and science fiction, but they tend to bleed into my own voice while drafting, so they're out. Instead, I turn to another of my great loves, fantasy - and right now I'm reading one of the genre's most beautiful and imaginative writers, Laini Taylor. I'm reading Muse of Nightmares, which is the second book in her Strange the Dreamer duology, and it's absolutely gorgeous. Laini's writing is the kind of perfect, smooth, captivating prose I could read all day, but it's equally enjoyable to devour in small morsels of a few pages a night, which is all I'm really able to do while I'm on deadline. I'm almost at the end, though, and I'm preparing my heart for what's feeling like a devastating conclusion!
Visit Emily Suvada's website.

The Page 69 Test: This Cruel Design.

--Marshal Zeringue