Sunday, January 26, 2020

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 was born in Australia, where she spent her childhood reading, writing, and watching Star Trek. In college, she studied math and astrophysics, and went on to a career in finance before finding her way back to her first love—books.

Her new book, the finale to the Mortal Coil series, is This Vicious Cure.

Recently I asked Suvada about what she was reading. Her reply:
The latest book I read was Recursion by Blake Crouch. I'm a huge fan of Crouch's ever since having Dark Matter recommended to me by a friend, and am working my way through his backlist. However, Recursion is a straight-up masterpiece of a speculative thriller, and my mind is still blown by its pace, and how it manages to be incredibly complex without becoming confusing or bogged down in detail. Crouch is, in my opinion, one of the best structural thriller writers around, and his ability to deliver ever-increasing stakes as the plot progresses is unparalleled. Every time I read one of his books, I think it can't get any wilder until I hit the third act and the book truly takes flight. Amazing. If you've ever wanted to read a book that carries the same mind-blowing feeling as the cult film Primer, then Recursion is for you. I wish I could read it again for the first time, and I already look forward to reading it again.
Visit Emily Suvada's website.

The Page 69 Test: This Cruel Design.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 24, 2020

Matt Killeen

Matt Killeen was born in Birmingham, in the UK, back in the war-mad seventies–a hometown largely demolished and rebuilt in his lengthy absence. People tend to dismiss what comes more easily to them as unworthy, so it took him far too long to realize he was a writer. He worked as an advertising copywriter and largely ignored music and sports journalist in the noughties, before fulfilling a childhood dream to join the LEGO® Group in 2010. He left after eight years, and an unconscionable amount of money spent in the staff store, to become a full-time author. A lover of costume parties, he is an avid gamer, soccer fan, toddler wrangler, and warrior for truth and social justice. Although a devout urbanite, he has somehow ended up surrounded by fields in a house full of LEGO® bricks and musical instruments, with his two diversely aged children, Nuyorican soul mate, and neurotic, fluffy dog. Orphan Monster Spy was his debut novel, and he has still not learned to touch-type.

Killeen's new novel is Devil Darling Spy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
As a writer of historical YA, I just don’t get to read as much fiction as I’d like. It’s the nature of the beast. Every time I think I’m going to get a book for the love of it, I have a mini-panic that I should be ploughing through some research, or worse, reading something again if I'm going to use it in the next book. Part of that is a generalised paranoia that I’m going to get something wrong, or that I just don’t “get” something and who do I think I am authoring on subjects of great weight and import with a dilettante’s grasp of events. I’m also working on multiple projects so that is, at time of writing, three different time periods, countries and conflicts. Then, of course, I have to go into schools and talk about it, so the revision is never done.

Some of this stuff can be very dry, but Svetlana Alexievich’s oral histories, The Unwomanly Face of War and Last Witnesses, are pretty amazing. In purely research terms, for fiction, it’s the motherlode. The words from a witness or participant’s own mouth are worth a dozen lengthy and well-constructed treatises. But hearing their experience of war was harrowing in places, because it was there in what they said, how they said it, what they chose not to say. It’s raw. Painful.

I’m also working through Anna Funder’s Stasiland, about East Germany during the Cold War. It’s excellent but there’s a lot of her in it, rather than letting the stories speak for themselves and I wonder if it’s diluting the “data” at all. I knew what the GDR was and what the Stasi did, but in terms of scale and profundity of it all, I hadn’t previously understood really. It was a bit like the work I did for Devil Darling Spy revealing the depths and ubiquity of the horror of colonial rule. I knew, but I didn’t really get it until then.

I have managed to read some awesome fiction this last year, like Sarah Maria Griffin’s unique Other Words For Smoke, Anna Mainwaring’s Tulip Taylor and some trademark Kathryn Evans creepy, fridge horror, Beauty Sleep. I was also lucky enough to get an advanced copy of Sherri L. Smith’s The Blossom & the Firefly which is a heart-rending tale of a young tokkōtai (kamikaze) pilot and one of the schoolgirls tasked with waving him off to die.

Talking of planes, Elizabeth Wein’s White Eagles is…well it’s Elizabeth Wein, isn’t it? I’d make time for her stuff if she was copying out an old phone book, and it would take me to somewhere new and insistent. I like the “super readable” stuff that Barrington Stoke publishes – designed for reluctant and underconfident readers and those with dyslexia etc on yellowed, thicker paper using special fonts – and they are a vital and important resource…but, I did want more of both White Eagles and Firebird because I loved them so. I suppose I should just be happy they exist.

In search of some great sci-fi to replace the Iain M Banks shaped hole in my life, someone pressed Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet into my hands, and yet it remains virtually unopened by my bedside. Good first chapter or two, but frankly too early to tell if it’s all that’s been promised. Likewise Alastair Reynold’s sequel to The Prefect (aka Aurora Rising), Elysium Fire is sitting under it. I don’t know if it’s the danger that the story will peter out – Reynolds has a bit of previous in that regard, it’s practically endemic amongst sci-fi writers – but I almost don’t dare start it. A new book by a writer I love (returning to universe I adored) is a valuable thing, when it’s gone it’s gone. I guess the shattering loss of Iain Banks taught me that in heart-breaking fashion. I’m not saying that’s a particularly sane way to consume books but, hey, that’s the least of my psychological challenges.
Follow Matt Killeen on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Orphan Monster Spy.

The Page 69 Test: Devil Darling Spy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Chad Dundas

Chad Dundas’ debut novel Champion of the World was a 2016 Boston Globe Best Book of the Year as well as a finalist for the David J. Langum Sr. Prize for Historical Fiction and Reading the West Book Awards. His short fiction has appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Sycamore Review, Sou’Wester and Thuglit.

Since 2001, he’s worked as a sportswriter for outlets such as ESPN, NBC Sports, The Sporting News, Bleacher Report, and the Associated Press, among others.

Dundas' new novel is The Blaze.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The sad truth is, with three kids under the age of eight and what amounts to two (or three) jobs depending on my workload any given week, I don’t get to read as much as I should. I’m also embarrassed to say I’m a bit of a slow reader, which further complicates things. I’m always amazed by people who can steam through an entire book in a day or two. I’m dying to know their secret. But I am resolved to do more reading in 2020 – it’s the time of year for resolutions, after all.

I’ve stockpiled a disconcerting number of year-end “best of” lists in my browser bookmarks folder during the last couple of months and I’m intent on working my way through as many of them as I can. At the moment, I’m about halfway through The Bird Boys by Lisa Sandlin (a New York Times pick for best mystery of 2019, if I’m not mistaken) and so far, it’s delightful. Set in New Orleans during the mid-1970s, it has a pleasing “’70s cop show vibe” as fledgling private investigator Tom Phelan and his embattled secretary/investigative partner Delpha Wade meander through a series of cases while searching for the estranged brother of a mysterious wealthy client. Phelan and Wade are both enchanting point-of-view characters and Sandlin delivers some of the best one-liners I’ve encountered in a long, long time, like describing Nixon's “Watergate gang” as “holding the truth underwater until it ran out of bubbles.”

If you want a book that makes it easy to imagine mustachio-and-sideburn bedecked plainclothes cops skulking around in wide-lapeled plaid suits, I recommend The Bird Boys highly.

I also just finished Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman, which came out in 2016 but was new to me. This novel left me out of breath and fanning myself like a degenerate gambler watching a horserace. Not sure I’ve ever read a book like it before, with Hoffman intricately following a group of sketchballs who are all trying to screw each other over on a huge shipment of MDMA. The drugs move from southeast Asia to Florida to San Francisco and main characters drop like flies as the reader slowly catches up with what’s really going on. The initial review I read called Every Man a Menace “kaleidoscopic” and that seems about right to me. It’s dizzying and great, but also a little on the heavy side. Reader be ready.

In early 2020, I’m looking forward to a host of new releases, including the next installment in Joe Ide’s terrific “IQ” series, called Hi Five, which drops on January 28.

Now I just need to find some damn time to read all these books.
Visit Chad Dundas' website.

My Book, The Movie: The Blaze.

The Page 69 Test: The Blaze.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 20, 2020

Maureen Johnson

Maureen Johnson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, The Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow (with John Green and Lauren Myracle), and The Bane Chronicles (with Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan).

Johnson's new novel, The Hand on the Wall, is the third title in her Truly Devious Series.

Recently I asked Johnson about what she was reading. Her reply:
I always try to have one P.G.Wodehouse novel within reach. The one on my night table right now is Uncle Dynamite. This is pretty much like medicine to me. I like this world in which the biggest problems are who broke the bust or threw the manuscript in the fire or who has to judge the babies at the village fair. My husband was born and raised in a small English wooded village and he is a bit like a Wodehouse character set loose in the world and I love this about him. His dad is always fighting the vicar, a horse broke into their house, that kind of thing.

I read and re-read a lot of classic mystery. I pulled Dorothy L. Sayer’s Gaudy Night back off the shelf. It’s brilliant. It doesn’t even have a murder in it and I am still in love with it. It’s about a series of strange events at Harriet Vale’s women’s college at Oxford. Harriet is more interesting than Lord Peter.

No one is quite as lucid and clear-cutting as Angela Davis. Her collection, Women, Culture & Politics is a collection of her speeches and essays and is a great starting point to get into her body of work.

Mostly Dead Things by luminous weirdo Kristen Arnett is so great. Until I go through with my plans to sneak into her house and live under the floorboards (she knows about this and has given her permission), I keep her book nearby so I can visit her.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan is where I like to live. It’s a wonderous fantasy and very, very funny. I think this book is particularly good in the bathtub.
Visit Maureen Johnson's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Hand on the Wall.

The Page 69 Test: The Hand on the Wall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mike Chen

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Chen lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.

His novels are Here and Now and Then and the newly released A Beginning at the End.

Recently I asked Chen about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently starting an ARC of Rule, by Rowenna Miller. Rule is the final book in her Unraveled Kingdom trilogy, and I basically have been begging her for an ARC since I finished reading the second book Fray last year. The Unraveled Kingdom is a fantasy series, but it's very different from most fantasy works because of two choices that I absolutely adore. The first is that magic in this world is created through art. The passion an artist, be it weaving clothes or playing music, taps into a source of magical power for this world. The second is the level of politics in the book: inspired by the French Revolution, Rowenna carefully allows both sides (aristocracy and commoners) to have their say, with both doing their share of unscrupulous manipulation. So many political narratives often paint one side or the other as the champion, and this handles it with way more nuance. I have a massive TBR queue, but I let Rule skip right to the front of the line because I loved the first two books so much.
Visit Mike Chen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Here and Now and Then.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 12, 2020

J. T. Ellison

In J. T. Ellison's new thriller, Good Girls Lie, Ash Carlisle leaves the U.K. after the death of her parents to attend the Goode School, a prep school for young women located in a small Virginia town that is a stepping stone to the Ivy League. Initially unprepared for the mean girls and the hazing, things get worse when students start dying...and suspicion falls on Ash.

Recently I asked Ellison about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m deep into a wonderful upcoming title from New York Times bestseller Ariel Lawhon, Code Name Hélène, a historical fiction of the dynamic spy Nancy Wake. It’s fabulous not only because I love reading about her exploits in the field, dropping behind enemy lines with her lipstick fresh and her handbag clutched to her side, but also the deep, abiding romance between she and her husband. We get to see them meet, fall in love, and eventually, work together to defeat Hitler. Just a superb example of top-notch historical fiction by a stellar author hitting her stride in the genre.
Visit J.T. Ellison's website and follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

My Book, The Movie: Good Girls Lie.

The Page 69 Test: Good Girls Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Genevieve Cogman

Genevieve Cogman is a freelance author who has written for several role-playing game companies. She currently works for the National Health Service in England as a clinical classifications specialist. She is the author of the Invisible Library series, including The Mortal World, The Lost Plot, The Burning Page, The Masked City, The Invisible Library, and The Secret Chapter.

Recently I asked Cogman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm currently reading the new Penguin Classics edition of Japanese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn. I've read some of them before, in different collections, but this particular edition has multiple stories which I hadn't previously encountered. Hearn is an interesting figure, who besides working as a journalist, made his way through traditional Irish ghost stories and Creole ghost stories to Japanese supernatural myths and folklore. He loved ghost stories, and he collected and translated them generously and with relish. While any translation is to some extent shaped by its translator, these writings have the genuine feeling of stories told in candle-lit darkness, shared in a whisper with friends, or in summer to raise a shiver down the spine. People who like the classic movie Kwaidan would also particularly love these stories, as they can read the origins of the episodes featured in the movie.

(And if anyone would like a sample Japanese supernatural story from Lafcadio Hearn, "The Mujina," click here).
Visit Genevieve Cogman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Karen Odden

Karen Odden is the author of bestselling novels A Lady in the Smoke and A Dangerous Duet.

She currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband, her two children, and her ridiculously cute beagle, Rosy.

Odden's new novel is A Trace of Deceit.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
As I work on my mystery, about a Scotland Yard inspector in 1878, I find myself craving big-hearted, bold works that are strongly rooted in true history. So here are a few of my recent favorites!

In mid-December, I finished Daniel Mason’s The Winter Soldier, about a young Viennese medical student who is called upon to serve in a hospital in the Carpathian Mountains during WWI. When he knocks on the door, asking to be taken to the senior physician, the nurse tells him bluntly that he is it. (!) The book is told in third person but adheres closely to the protagonist’s point-of-view. It has some of the historical charm and strong sense of place as Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves, or David Benioff’s City of Thieves.

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey. I read the galley because I heard the author speak at Bouchercon (a large mystery writer’s conference) in October and had a feeling this would be an amazing book club read. (My book club is one of the more serious sort. My friend Donna runs it; I’m just a happy participant.) Jess Lourey’s book, based on horrifying true events in a small town in 1980s Minnesota, cuts to the bone. The best comparison I can make about its emotional punch is to books such as Jeannette Walls’s memoir The Glass Castle and the more recent Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. I bought this book for my husband two Christmases ago, and he loved it, so I put it on my TBR list. It details one of those untold but wretchedly true American stories about race, money, and the abuse of power. The Osage were relocated (several times), ultimately ending up on a reservation that happened to sit on top of an enormous oil reservoir. For several decades in the early 20th century, various unscrupulous white men conspired to steal the Osage’s profits by every means, including highly questionable legal actions and murder. Grann has clearly done meticulous research into these events. I found myself hoping against hope for some justice at the end. (Spoiler alert: there isn’t much.)

November Road by Lou Berney. This book won the best book of the year at Bouchercon. I finished it in two stints, and the characters are still haunting me. The time is November 1963, just after JFK was shot, and this is one of those books in which two stories intersect. The first story belongs to Frank Guidry, an upper-middle-ranking member of the New Orleans mob, who was asked to drop off a getaway car in Dallas. But after JFK’s assassination, he knows that the killer was not Lee Harvey Oswald but a professional hit man sent by his mob boss Carlos Marcello. Frank knows that he knows too much, and now he is on the run. The second story is that of Charlotte, who takes her two daughters and flees her alcoholic, dysfunctional marriage in Oklahoma. An accident tumbles her car into a ditch, and in Charlotte and her two children, Frank finds a way to hide from the hit man sent to kill “a single man” on the run. But Frank and Charlotte find in each other something that transcends their past lives. Told in third person, the chapters are focalized through different characters, but predominantly through Frank and Charlotte. Frank’s backstory is hinted at throughout, and when finally revealed ratchets up the emotional power. It’s a dark read, and the fairly explicit sex and gore, while not gratuitous, may not be for everyone. But Frank’s transformation from a callous womanizer to a decent human being is compelling and ultimately heartbreaking.

The holidays are an excellent time to read books by the fire while eating cookies! Next up for me? Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know and Geraldine Brooks’s The Secret Chord because her book Year of Wonders is still one of my all-time faves, and I reread it almost every year.
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Odden and Rosy.

--Marshal Zeringue