Monday, February 18, 2019

Amber Cowie

Amber Cowie is a graduate of the University of Victoria and was short-listed for the 2017 Whistler Book Award. She lives in the mountains in a small West Coast town. Cowie is a mother of two, wife of one, and a debut novelist who enjoys skiing, running, and creating stories that make her browser search history highly suspicious.

Her new novel is Rapid Falls.

Recently I asked Cowie about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot, especially in the white and grey days of January when viruses knock incessantly at the door. I’m not sure if everyone is like this, but I tend to immerse myself in particular genres, depending on my life and leanings at the time. Last year, in the months before my debut psychological suspense novel, Rapid Falls, was set to come out, I didn’t read anything outside of the suspense/thriller category, which was amazing but slightly limiting. Though I will never be able to resist the newest works by masters like Ruth Ware, Tana French, Caroline Kepnes or Emily Carpenter, this year, I set a goal to read outside of that genre. It’s good to see the real world every now and then, so I started with memoirs and works of non-fiction.

One of the first non-fiction books I selected was more unsettling than any fictional murder I’ve ever read. I am still troubled by being inside a house with unlocked doors and I finished it about a week ago. The book was I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and it details the brutal activities of a then uncaught killer and serial rapist who hurt and murdered people in the Bay Area for years. Due in part to the exhaustive work of McNamara, and the publicity that surrounded the book, the Golden State Killer was found and arrested. Sadly, tracking the man’s dark path contributed to the destruction of the author. Before the book was finished, her husband found her dead in her own bed. He worked with researchers to finish the book and it was published posthumously.

What captured me about this book is the ability of McNamara to put readers in the dark bedrooms of those who were hunted. Instead of laboriously detailing the bloody acts of the criminal like other true crime books I’ve read, the author gives us a glimpse of the real life horrors caused by his actions. It is troubling, stark and deeply affecting to be reminded of the fragility of life by such a skilled writer. I remain shaken and humbled by this book and only wish that there was a possibility of reading more by Michelle McNamara.

After finishing that one, I am now reading Educated by Tara Westover, which is equally harrowing though for different reasons. I think I’m going to have to go back to a suspense novel after this one so I can sleep again without one eye open.
Visit Amber Cowie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Rapid Falls.

--Marshal Zeringue

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