Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nick Drake

Nick Drake's critically acclaimed novel Nefertiti was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award; his Tutankhamun was a Publishers Weekly top 100 books selection. He has published two award-winning collections of poetry, and his play Success was performed at the National Theatre in London, where he is a literary associate. Drake's screenplays include the critically acclaimed Romulus, My Father (starring Eric Bana), which won Best Film at the Australian Film Awards in 2007.

His latest novel is Egypt: The Book of Chaos.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading. His reply:
Having spent many years in Ancient Egypt in my imagination, while writing my Egypt trilogy, I've been enjoying reading about other worlds and other parts of the world. In 2010, I was lucky enough to be invited by Cape Farewell, the arts/climate change organization, to travel to Svalbard, the archipelago about 600 miles from the North Pole. Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams is one of the most important, eloquent and deep-thinking books I have ever read; it's about how we make sense of landscapes, how landscapes confront us with who we really are as a species, and as individuals, and how beauty, terror and truth are to be found in places as extraordinary, hostile and above all precious, as the Arctic.

Climate Change holds a mirror up to us all, to how we live, and to our values; The New North by Laurence Smith and The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding are two impressive books that dare to look into the mirror of the future, and say honestly, cogently and thoughtfully what they see. The Arctic may seem remote, but what happens there because of what we do, or take from it, will always come back to haunt us. The Inuit say of us (that's to say, the industrial world) that we are the people who change nature; she is changing fast now; these two highly-informed books have the courage to think about what that's going to mean to us all, soon.

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk is a brilliant novel about love, obsession, Istanbul, cinema, time and death. I couldn't put it down, returning every night to the mystery of the love story; it has such a powerful effect that I felt differently about being alive once I had finished it. The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst is also a masterpiece; set across decades in England, it's one of those rare novels where every line is a thing of beauty, somehow managing to draw together, with wit and grace and clarity, worlds of feeling and insight. I also loved Ali Smith's There but for the; she is the most ariel, the most daring of writers; the novel is gripping, and tells its stories from surprising, revealing angles, with incredible verbal vivacity, variety and zig-zag brilliance; wild and delightfully original writing.

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, the poet and novelist, is a memoir destined for classic status; with warmth, humour and candour it tells the acutely moving story of how she grew up in Scotland, the adopted black daughter of Helen and John Kay, how she traced her white birth mother and her Nigerian birth father, and what she found at the end of the red dust roads of Nigeria. It's a book about the strange complexities of identity, history, and love.
Visit Nick Drake's website.

The Page 69 Test: Egypt: The Book of Chaos.

My Book, The Movie: Egypt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 29, 2011

John Gribbin

John Gribbin is one of today's greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books including In Search of the Multiverse, In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, and Science: A History. He trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

His new book is Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique.

Earlier this month I asked Gribbin what he was reading. His reply:
I have recently been reading two books inspired by the quest for a “theory of everything”, while waiting for news from CERN about the discovery of the Higgs particle. The books complement each other beautifully. The Infinity Puzzle, by Frank Close, is an erudite (but readable) history of particle physics in the twentieth century. As I said in a review for Focus magazine, it tells the story of the search for a unified field theory from the Second World War to the Large Hadron Collider, concentrating on the people involved and the sometimes tortuous path that led to what is now known as the Standard Model of physics. Along the way we get the true story (or as near as we are likely to get to the true story) of the “discovery” of quarks, find out why Peter Higgs is so embarrassed that his name is attached to a certain particle, and lays to rest the myth perpetrated by Thomas Kuhn that science proceeds by a series of revolutions.

Higgs Force, by Nicholas Mee, tells the same story in much more gossipy fashion, a delightfully readable and accessible account of the search for the force which ensures that there is something rather than nothing in the Universe. Mee explains as clearly as anybody what scientists mean by the concept of infinity, and how symmetry breaking gave rise to the Universe as we know it.

Of course, if the Higgs particle has not been found by the time you read this, both books will need revision, and physicists will have the exciting prospect ahead of them of explaining what went wrong with their “standard model”. Contrary to popular belief, this is what most physicists secretly hope for -- new discoveries to explain rather than a lifetime dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s of old theories.
Learn more about Alone in the Universe and the author at John Gribbin's website.

The Page 69 Test: John Gribbin's The Fellowship.

The Page 99 Test: Alone in the Universe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is an American sociologist at the University of Winchester known for his research on sport, masculinities, sexualities and homophobia. He shows an increasingly positive relationship between gay male athletes and sports, as well as a growing movement of young heterosexual men’s masculinity becoming softer and more inclusive. Anderson also researches matters related to men’s monogamy, men's improving recognition of bisexuality, and the increased acceptance of young heterosexual men kissing.

His new book is The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently re-reading Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman is one of my favoured sociologists, namely because unlike many sociologists who write in densely inaccessible post-structuralist style, Goffman merged some aspects of interpretative sociology with a bit of philosophy to be meaningful in a way that is engaging and accessible. I’m revisiting this work because one of my undergraduates is endeavouring to publish an article in a highly-ranked sociology journal. His thesis builds on my work, suggesting that as cultural homophobia decreases masculine behaviours that were once highly stigmatized (and therefore kept in what Goffman called the ‘backstage’) are today proudly displayed in front of their peers. Thus, the backstage becomes the front stage. I’m impressed, so far, with how accurate my student has adapted Goffman!
Learn more about The Monogamy Gap at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Monogamy Gap.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 25, 2011

J.J. Murphy

J.J. Murphy, an award-winning health care writer in Pennsylvania, has also been a long-time Dorothy Parker fan.

She started writing The Algonquin Round Table Mysteries after the birth of twin daughters, as an escape from toddler television.

Earlier this month I asked Murphy what she was reading. Her reply:
I love Tina Fey. I love the show 30 Rock. So, I was over the moon when her book Bossypants came out. It’s not exactly an autobiography and it’s not exactly a book of essays. It’s something in between. Personal vignettes, maybe? I don’t care. I loved the book.

(To be perfectly honest, I listened to the audiobook on CD, which is read by Fey herself. That was great. If you could get Mark Twain to read Huckleberry Finn for you, you’d do it, right? That’s not to say that Bossypants is any Huckleberry Finn, but you get the idea.)

Fey talks about growing up being a not-blonde and having body hair like a werewolf. She talks about her early days in the comedy circuit and her battles as one of the few women writers (and the first woman head writer) on Saturday Night Live. She talks just a little about 30 Rock—but not enough about working with Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan. (I’d have liked more behind-the-scenes anecdotes about that. Maybe she’s saving it for a sequel.)

One of the things that draws me to Tina Fey is that she’s a lot like my real-life protagonist Dorothy Parker. Both are witty writers who’ve made it in a “man’s world.” Both have an intellectual, subversive, wicked sense of humor. Both are pretty, petite, brown-haired and brown-eyed. Only one has affected U.S. politics by her portrayal of a vice-presidential candidate, but the other’s collected works have never gone out of print in more than 50 years.

There’s another interesting, unknown connection: 30 Rock itself. Dorothy Parker—cocktail in hand and quip on her lip—frequented a speakeasy that once stood on the site where Rockefeller Center (the GE Building specifically) now stands. So, if 30 Rock had a time-traveling elevator, you could get on with Tina Fey, press “down,” and wind up drinking bootleg booze with Dorothy Parker. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Instead of inventing all these silly “apps” for the iPhone, scientists should be hard at work on that time-travel elevator!
Visit J.J. Murphy's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Algonquin Round Table Mysteries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tim Riley

NPR critic Tim Riley is the author of Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary (Knopf/Vintage 1988); Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary (Knopf/Vintage1992, Da Capo 1999); Madonna: Illustrated (Hyperion 1992); Fever: How Rock'N'Roll Transformed Gender In America (St. Martin's/Picador 2005).

His latest book is Lennon: The Man, The Myth, The Music.

Some time back I asked Riley what he was reading. His reply:
I'm a non-fiction obsessive. My favorite books from the past season include Adam Gopnik's Angels and Ages, a joyride comparing Lincoln with Darwin.

I also admired Peter Doggett's You Never Give Me Your Money, which soars as the best entry on the Beatles breakup with many new voices and stories I'd never heard before. More proof that Beatle soil is well worth tilling by the right scribes.

I also dive regularly into David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film and "Have You Seen ...?" for explosive opinions on movies near and far, and Greil Marcus's Dylan compendium.

Oh yeah: The China Study turned me vegan, no regrets.
Visit Tim Riley's website.

Lennon: The Man, The Myth, The Music is on the Christian Science Monitor's list of the five best books on John Lennon.

My Book, The Movie: Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley currently hacks out a living as a marketing and advertising writer in Ohio. Her personal and professional exploits have taken her all around the world. She spent much of her roaring 20′s traveling, pretending to learn how to box, and trying not to die spectacularly. Along the way, she justified her nomadic lifestyle by picking up degrees in history from the University of Alaska and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Hurley's novels include God’s War and Infidel.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
A good deal of my nonfiction reading involves tales of war and tactics, logistics and the psychology of killing. You would think I’d take a break from this when I read fiction, but because I’m fascinated with the exploration of war, terror, fear, and violence and how the way we divide, oppress and categorize people plays into that, I am just as interested in how other fiction writers explore these topics.

Just this week, I finished reading Stories from the New War by Joel Best. It’s a book of prose poetry that explores the stories of the people and places being transformed by a long, drawn-out conflict. One of the truths you uncover as you delve into the history of war is that often, who the enemy is and what people are fighting over isn’t as relevant to the personal stories of those affected by the conflict as you might think.

Most people are unwilling or unconscious participants in wars – we work in factories, write communications, make sure the trains run on time – but each of our actions is necessary for the continuation of the conflict that is slowly killing us. And it is in showing the everyday lives of these people that Best excels. This wasn’t about the soldiers on the field, or the people making decisions from on high. It was an exploration of how our everyday lives are changed and shaped by ongoing hardship.

For me, the strength of this book was in how well it evoked the many protagonists’ feelings of both helplessness and grim determination in the face of war. They reminded me of stories my grandmother told me of occupied France during WWII. The details of everyday life – from unending quotas for seemingly innocuous goods, to dealing with mad neighbors and non-paying clientele at a local restaurant – were vivid , heartbreaking… and highly recommended.
Visit Kameron Hurley's website.

My Book, The Movie: God’s War and Infidel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Laura DiSilverio

Laura DiSilverio spent twenty years as an Air Force intelligence officer, serving as a squadron commander, with the National Reconnaissance Office, and at a fighter wing, before retiring to parent and write full time.

Her new novel is Swift Edge.

Not so long ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos, which seems appropriate since Christmas is just around the corner. It’s a tale of loss and relationship, told in a vaguely Dickensian way with an omniscient narrator that I find fascinating. It is inspiring me to attempt a similar narrator myself, probably in a short story. I usually dash through books, racing the detective to the conclusion, but Mr. Ives has a gravity that is making me read slowly and savor the experience. I’m rationing how much I read because I don’t want to reach the end. I foresee tears in the near future and I’m actually anticipating that release of emotion.

I just finished Reed Farrel Coleman’s Walking the Perfect Square. I met Coleman recently at a Mystery Writers of America event and was impressed by his thoughts about how a novel is structured/created, so I bought the second in his Moe Prager series, Redemption Street. When I wrote to tell him how brilliant I thought it was, he kindly sent me the first in the series. I like this series because Moe is a serious PI with a real family life, the mysteries have some edge but aren’t gory or over-the-top, and Coleman has a delicious way of playing with time throughout the series that makes it refreshing.

Finally, I’m reading poetry: Thirst by Mary Oliver. I don’t read poetry, but I picked up a copy of Thirst on a friend’s end table and read the first poem, “The Messenger,” and was hooked. She writes about nature and spirituality in a simple, accessible way that moves me. I only allow myself a poem or two a day. They sometimes bring on happy tears (I don’t usually cry so much—put it down to the emotional time of year), and the urge to sit on my front porch or deck, quiet my mind, and absorb the world around me. I have the deep conviction, reading her poetry, that if I did that more often, I’d be a far happier, more peaceful person.
Visit Laura DiSilverio's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Deborah Baker

Deborah Baker is the author of In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, as well as A Blue Hand; The Beats in India, and The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been reading Mary McCarthy’s trilogy of book length essays on the Vietnam War. I found them collected in a book called The Seventeenth Degree that I picked up at a used bookstore for a dollar. This is probably more than she made from them when they were published, in 1967, 1968 and 1972 as they were greeted with critical silence and left the bookstore only when the shop owners gave up the prospect of selling them. It is hard to see why no one paid attention, unless it was because people had already decided their views on the war and that was that. Or maybe people just felt there was nothing they could do. McCarthy was the only American novelist to visit North Vietnam. And in South Vietnam only John Steinbeck and Martha Gellhorn preceded her. Her decision to go began forming when talk of bombing North Vietnam first arose. She thought perhaps India or the Pope might intervene. Her need to find an alternative to the bombing, a way out of the impasse, she said, was evidence of how wedded she was to the “good image” she had of her country.

Until the war on Iraq actually began, I too was wedded to this image. I had imagined that the lessons we learned from Vietnam were somehow permanently tattooed on our national consciousness. If we were to ever forget them, I thought, it would be because too much time had passed. But the men who got us into the Iraq war, both the ones in the White House, and those at the editorial desks, were of an age to remember. I couldn’t get over that; I kept waiting for everyone to come to their senses. McCarthy describes a kind of peculiar mind freeze evident among those selling the Vietnam War to themselves. She explained it then as a conditioned reflex of Americans that is intimately bound up with our ironclad faith in free-enterprise; an idea that Occupy Wall Street now has by the throat. She believed that the laws of the market dictate our responses in ways that we are only dimly aware of, whether it comes to war or in smaller day-to-day decisions we all make. “The human damage involved,” she writes, “if seen close up, may elicit a sigh, as when a co-operative apartment building fires its old Negro elevator operators…to put in self-service. ‘We had to, you see. It was cheaper.’” But there are all kinds of mental prisons at work during a war. To hear him tell it, Johnson would have dearly liked to extract himself from his “commitment” to Vietnam, but he imagined himself powerless. “[T]he more deeply he involves himself in it, the more abused and innocent he feels.” In the end his entrapment and the nation’s was complete. If this sounds awfully familiar, it should.

While reading this book, I found myself substituting the word Iraqi or Afghan every time Mary McCarthy quoted the military on the Vietnamese. That the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were purported responses to the attacks of 9/11 doesn’t change the fact that they eventually morphed into something else entirely. These wars are coming to a close now, and we are free to turn our minds to other things. Still, I can’t help but wonder where our war’s Mary McCarthy was.
Visit Deborah Baker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lia Habel

Lia Habel was born in Jamestown, NY, and has lived there the majority of her life. Her first book, Dearly, Departed, is a sweeping tale of zombie-living romance set in a cyber-Victorian/steampunk future. When Dearly, Departed sold, she was swimming in debt incurred from her studies and years of un- and underemployment, with only a few dollars to her name. Habel enjoys attending anachronistic and steampunk events, watching zombie movies (she has watched over a hundred of them), commissioning ball gowns, and collecting Victorian and Edwardian books. She is incredibly grateful for the opportunities she has recently been given.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Habel what she reading. Her reply:
I'm currently reading Spook by Mary Roach, and I'm of two minds about it. The book chronicles her search for evidence for or against "the afterlife" - she does everything from interviewing scientists with incredibly expensive and complex plans for how one might measure the energy or weight of a departing soul to pulling apart lengths of fraudulent, spiritualism-age ectoplasm in university libraries. From the research and anecdotal side, it's fascinating - but it seems to have a mildly snarky tone that the first book of hers I read, Stiff, didn't have. It might be her inherent skepticism coming through.

Stiff, though, is one of my favorite books of all time. It has an honored place amongst my Dearly-related research materials. It's all about how dead bodies are used and treated, and how they occasionally benefit the living, which is a subject dear to my heart. I love finding and reading books like hers, because they provide so much inspiration for ways to deal with my zombie characters. Even though I write "good" zombies, I refuse to sanitize them completely, to shy away from the gore and grossness that's part of the zombie allure. Finding creative ways to deal with it is part of my job, so I end up reading a lot of books about the funeral business, physiology, etc. Honestly, I think just constantly exposing myself to these materials helps to cultivate the proper good-guy-zombie frame of mind - that bodies aren't to be feared, that we're all going to die and that isn't the end of our story, that there's nothing to panic about, etc.

Plus, Stiff taught me that I totally want to be frozen and shattered after I die. It's very Nora Fries.
Visit Lia Habel's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 16, 2011

Michael Broyles

Michael Broyles is Professor of Music at Florida State University and former Distinguished Professor of Music and Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University. His book, Leo Ornstein: Modernist Dilemmas, Personal Choices, written with Denise Von Glahn, won the Irving Lowens Prize in 2007.

His new book is Beethoven in America.

Recently I asked Broyles what he was reading. His reply:
In addition to music, my two passions are history and photography. I am currently reading Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People. It’s a massive book, 1130 pages, physically fatter than any paperback should be. Johnson writes in an engaging style, and it is fascinating to read a Britisher’s take on American history. I have worked my way up to the Civil War, and Johnson is particularly adept at providing striking vignettes of important individuals. Most interesting was his depiction of Jefferson Davis, who viewed slavery from a moral, idealistic perspective, who practiced what he preached, but simply could not see the evils of the institution. Other vivid portraits are of Henry Clay and not surprisingly Andrew Jackson.

I recently finished Roland Barthes' last book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Like the Madeline that ignited Proust, an old photograph of Barthes’ mother takes him on a journey of both loss (his mother had recently died) and the nature of photography itself. His ruminations are highly personal, almost quirky, as are his readings of photographs. He sees the medium of photography itself closely related to death. The terms “studium” and “punctum” are especially important: “studium” refers to the conventional qualities that make a photograph appealing or excellent – composition, content, tonal values. Punctum is more personal, that detail that makes a photograph alive, that grabs the viewer and stimulates interest. For Barthes the punctum could be strange indeed: in a Lewis Hine Photograph of “Idiot Children in an Institution” Barthes’ punctums are the collar on a boy and a bandage on a girl’s finger, or in the “James Van der Zee Family Portrait” he notices the strapped pumps on the mother. His punctums may not be my punctums, but Barthes gets close I believe to what really impacts us in a photograph beyond issues of form and technical mastery.

A very different photographic book is Images of Music by Eric Auerbach. Unlike the Barthes, a small thin paperback, this is a large hardback whose main appeal are the many photographs. The text, in three languages, English, German, and French, gives biographical and personal information about the musicians. Mostly black and whites taken in the 60s and 70s, they show conductors and soloists at work, in rehearsal, concerts and teaching. The images are candid and intimate, reminiscent of Henri Cartier Bresson. They present the many moods of artists engrossed in act of music making so vividly I feel and hear their music as I look at the photographs.
Learn more about Beethoven in America at the Indiana University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Beethoven in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Derek Haas

Derek Haas is the author of the bestselling novel The Silver Bear. He also co-wrote the screenplays for 3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, and Wanted, starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, and Angelina Jolie. His forthcoming film, The Double, starring Richard Gere and Topher Grace, is directed by his screenwriting partner Michael Brandt and will be released in 2011.

Haas's latest novel is Dark Men.

His reply to my recent query about what he has been reading:
I've been all over the place with my reading this winter. First, I picked up Brown's Requiem by James Ellroy, because it was his first novel and it was .99 on Amazon as an e-read. Living in Los Angeles and an avid golfer, I dug the LA-centric references and appreciated the book's dark twists. He's done better work since, but it was a good beginning.

Then I read Charles Bukowski's Post Office which I picked up in a London bookstore as I was visiting. Don't know why I picked it, mainly because I'd never read him and felt I should. I loved it. It felt like the kind of snark that fills up internet message boards these days, only done better and forty years before.

Now, I'm reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks which the talented actor Ben Barnes gave to me. The book is fascinating… bringing to life the horrors of tunneling during WWI.
Visit Derek Haas's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dark Men.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ed Kovacs

Ed Kovacs has worked for many years as a private security contractor deploying to challenging locations worldwide. He is a member of AFIO, Association for Intelligence Officers, the International Thriller Writers organization, and the Mystery Writers of America.

His new novel is Storm Damage.

Last month I asked Kovacs what he was reading. His reply:
I am trying to read The Kite Runner. I say trying because I’m currently working 13.5 hours a day, six days as week as a private security contractor in Central Asia, and my main concern in my free time is to get some writing done and catch more sleep. The whole team here is pretty tired. So I’m reading just a few pages as I can.

It must be a story of redemption because I really don’t care for the protagonist! Our hero is growing up rich, pampered, privileged, and sniveling in pre-Taliban, pre-Soviet invasion Afghanistan, and Kabul is portrayed as almost idyllic (as long as you’re rich). A good set-up, no doubt, for some tough life lessons to come.

I was attracted to the story since I’m working in “the Neighborhood” and since there are almost no English language books available where I’m quartered; another guy was rotating back to the States and he gave me the book, saying it was good. I’m sure he’s right, but it’s too soon to be definitive.
Visit Ed Kovacs's website.

My Book, The Movie: Storm Damage.

The Page 69 Test: Storm Damage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Larry Karp

Larry Karp grew up in Paterson, NJ and New York City. He practiced perinatal medicine (high-risk pregnancy care) and wrote general nonfiction books and articles for 25 years, then, in 1995, he left medical work to begin a second career, writing mystery novels. The backgrounds and settings of Karp's mysteries reflect many of his interests, including musical antiques, medical-ethical issues, and ragtime music.

His new novel is A Perilous Conception.

A few weeks ago I asked Karp what he was reading. His reply:
My daughter claims I can't read for pleasure. She shakes her head at the way I go through a book slowly, thinking, considering, and reciting particularly apt lines aloud. I tell her, well, that is my pleasure. "Chacun à son goût."

I recently finished Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French. 77-year-old Marylou Ahearn has fantasized for years about killing the doctor whose experimental radioactive cocktail was responsible for the death of her 8-year-old daughter. Finally, she decides to put her plan into action. She moves to the neighborhood where the now-retired doctor lives with his daughter, her husband, and their three children, a dysfunctional family if there ever was one. But when Marylou confronts the doctor, she realizes he has early Alzheimer's, and has no recollection of his crime. What would be the purpose of killing him now, if he'd have no idea who she was and why she was killing him?

But Marylou can't let go of her fury. She shifts focus to try to destroy the doctor's family. Problem is, she gets to feel real affection for her targets, and, to the surprise of characters and reader, the story takes off in several directions, like a fireworks display out of control.

Much of my pleasure from this book came from the superb manner in which the author gives rein to her very odd characters, but never permits them to go over the edge and smother the story. And aside from their eccentricities, all the characters (with one exception) are complex and fully-developed, and the reader comes to care about them, and about the family. (That one exception is a right-wing fundamentalist preacher with a taste for young girls, who comes to a very satisfying end.)

No trouble seeing that in the hands of a lesser writer, this book would have been unreadable, and why that would have been so. In addition to the singular characters, the plot, involving as it does an unusual medical situation and very adroit blending of tragedy and dark humor, gave me a good deal to think about as I plan my own work. A real pleasure.
Visit Larry Karp's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: A Perilous Conception.

The Page 69 Test: A Perilous Conception.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 12, 2011

Brian Clegg

Brian Clegg is a British popular science writer. His books have included The God Effect, Before the Big Bang, and Inflight Science.

His latest title is How to Build a Time Machine.

Recently I asked Clegg what he was reading. His reply:
My reading involves a lot of popular science for research and reviews, and most recently I’ve enjoyed The Quantum Universe by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. Cox has recently received a lot of media attention in the UK, becoming the best-known TV science presenter after David Attenborough, which is reflected in the book’s sales, pushing into the bestseller list. I loved the book, but a lot of those readers are going to be dissapointed. This isn’t the light and fluffy popular science of a TV show, it’s real, in-depth and gritty stuff. Allegedly many of those who bought Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time gave up pretty quickly. By comparison with The Quantum Universe, Hawking’s book is an easy bedtime read. I think the ideal use of this book would be as a primer for someone about to do a physics degree. It has a lot of meat – but it’s not really popular science.

I try to alternate with something lighter. Often this is fiction, but the most recent bit of light relief was the non-fiction title The Etymologicon. As the name suggests it’s a book about the origins of words, but it’s nowhere near the yawn that this topic might suggest. Author Mark Forsyth piles in the fascinating factoids and keeps the whole thing light and entertaining. He opens up many surprising origins of words (did you know that the game of pool got it’s name from the French word for chicken?) and keep up a relentless flow of new information that made me want to read ‘just one more’ time and again. It’s clearly formatted as a gift book, but this is a book I’d happily give to myself.
Follow Brian Clegg on Twitter, and visit his website and blog.

Writers Read: Brian Clegg (September 2009).

Coffee with a Canine: Brian Clegg and Goldie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Leighton Gage

Leighton Gage has spent many years in Brazil where he maintains a home. He also lives in Miami and spends part of the year in the Netherlands.

His new Chief Inspector Mario Silva Investigation is A Vine in the Blood.

A few weeks ago I asked Gage what he was reading. His reply:
The civilized little country of Iceland has a population of slightly more than 300,000 people and a homicide rate akin to that of Japan – only about 0.5 murders per 100,000 people per year. And those (less than) two murders are usually alcohol-related and quickly solved.

Why, then, do they have so many crime writers? More to the point, why do they have so many good crime writers?

Maybe it’s something in the water. Or the fact that they have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Or the fact that nobody reads more books, per year, than your average Icelander.

Whatever it is, I’m glad of it, because I just love Icelandic crime novels. And I particularly enjoy the work of Yrsa Sigudardottir, whose undark side you can sample every Wednesday on Murder is Everywhere.

Yrsa’s fourth book to feature the exploits of Reykjavik lawyer, Thora Gudmundsdottir, won’t be launched in the United States until the end of March, 2012, but I was fortunate enough to snag an Advanced Reading Copy – and, as is usual with Yrsa’s books, it kept me up all night.

On the 23rd of January, 1973, a volcanic eruption struck Heimaey, the only populated island of Iceland’s Westman Archipelago. The population, almost 5,000 people, was evacuated without the loss of a single human life, but almost a third of the village was covered by a thick layer of lava and ash. In June of 2005, an archeological dig began with the objective of uncovering some of the 400 homes and buildings buried for more than three decades.

That much is fact. But then Yrsa’s rich imagination takes over: corpses are discovered in the cellar of one of the houses being excavated. Multiple murders have been committed, and in one case, severe mutilation of one of the victims. It’s quickly determined that the dead aren’t islanders, and that their deaths took place at the time of the eruption.

Who are they? Who killed them?

The police don’t know, but they have good reason to suspect Markús Magnusson, Thóra’s client. And then Magnusson’s life is further complicated by the murder, back in Reykjavik, of his childhood sweetheart.

For which crime, too, he comes under suspicion.

I don’t think I’ll be giving away too much if I tell you that Markús is innocent.

As to who’s guilty, here’s an extract from the last page of the book:
“And who was the bad guy?” (Thóra’s) daughter asked eagerly. In her simple, childish world, criminals were easy to spot, like Robbie Rotten or the Beagle Boys in the books Thóra read to her.

“It was the one that I thought was the good guy,” replied Thóra…
Sigurdardottir’s latest book takes the form of a complex, intriguing puzzle, a puzzle Thóra is unable to solve until the very end.

But Ashes to Dust is more than just a mystery. Fans of the series are going to enjoy catching up on the continuing exploits of Bella, Thóra’s disagreeable secretary, and discovering how the lawyer’s love affair with Matthew, her German boyfriend, is progressing.

This one is, if anything, even better than Sigurdardottir’s previous novels.

And that is no mean trick, because Last Rituals, My Soul to Take and The Day is Dark are all seriously good books.
Visit Leighton Gage's website and the Murder is Everywhere blog.

Read more about A Vine in the Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 9, 2011

Brian Ruckley

Brian Ruckley's books include the fantasy trilogy The Godless World, which consists of the books Winterbirth, Bloodheir, and Fall of Thanes.

His latest novel is The Edinburgh Dead.

Last month I asked Ruckley what he was reading. His reply:
I'm a bad reader. I've become constitutionally incapable of reading a single book, from start to finish, without getting distracted by some appealing new prospect. As a result, I've always got at least two or three books sitting at the bedside, which I'll dip into as the fancy takes me. Means it takes me a long time to finish a book, but at least it has the virtue of keeping things varied and interesting, I suppose.

Anyway, right now, three books I'm working my way through bit by bit:

Mussolini, A New Life by Nicholas Farrell. An intimidatingly thick, dense biography of Il Duce. I'm an incurable fan of all sorts of history, from cavemen to the 20th century, and this was a rather random pick at the library. By its sheer weight it looked certain to cure my ignorance of the guy who pioneered Fascism. And it's certainly doing that: a fascinatingly detailed look at his life and the amazingly chaotic state of Italian politics in the 1920s. It's more sympathetic to Mussolini than you might expect, which is interesting, though I'm not sure yet whether I'm entirely convinced.

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. One of my favourite authors, when it comes to the fantastical, and so far this is delivering what I've come to expect. An interesting adaptation of real world history to a directly analogous imagined setting (in this case, it's Kay's version of medieval China), with a focus on characters and their inter-relationships. The basic idea of the plot is a clever, simple one: our hero is given a gift - two hundred and fifty of the world's finest horses - so absurdly generous that it immediately makes him both immensely powerful and a target for killers, manipulators and conspirators.

Capital Caricatures, by Sheila Szatkowski. Etchings by John Kay. An obscure one, this, which I was given as a present. My most recent book, The Edinburgh Dead, was set in Edinburgh in the 1820s, and this collection of etchings, with historical commentary, of some of Edinburgh's most famous and eccentric inhabitants just before that date struck someone as a suitable gift. They were right, too, as it's fascinating and fun. It's an entertaining reminder of something all writers of historical fiction do well to remember: for all the distance between us and them in time, our forebears were really not so very different from us in their preoccupations, their vanities and foibles and oddities, or their hopes and aspirations. Human beings have been, and no doubt always will be, very human in their failings and their virtues alike.
Visit Brian Ruckley's website.

Ruckley's books include the fantasy trilogy The Godless World, which consists of the books Winterbirth, Bloodheir, and Fall of Thanes.

My Book, The Movie: the Godless World trilogy.

The Page 69 Test: The Edinburgh Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mignon F. Ballard

Mignon F. Ballard grew up in a small town in Georgia, and now lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

Her new novel is Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause.

Ballard's reply to my recent query about what she was reading:
Although I’m not currently reading this author, I do come back to him from time to time – especially when my spirits need a boost. I’m speaking of everybody’s favorite Yorkshire veterinarian, James Herriot. While adept at making fun of himself in just about any situation, he could also touch your heart. Unfortunately, he died several years ago so we fans have to be content to read his books over and over.

I’ll admit it – I’m an Anglophile, and Herriot’s tales place me right smack in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside with all those wonderful plainspoken characters. The relationship he shares with his eccentric co-workers never fails to involve some kind of complicated and comical dilemma that makes me forget my own problems because I’m laughing so hard at his. And I doubt if I’ll ever need to put this experience to use, but after reading Herriot, I do believe I might even be able to at least assist in delivering a calf!

Several years ago my husband and I had the good fortune of meeting the author during a trip to England. With a long line of others we were received and welcomed to his surgery where we had an opportunity to visit, and he was every bit as genial as I had thought he’d be with his warm smile and impish sparkling blue eyes. Before leaving the village of Thirsk, I donated a copy of one of my books to the local library and much to my surprise and delight, received a “thank you” note from James Herriot himself on our return home. I will treasure it always.

One day if I find myself faced with a serious illness, I plan to read again the works of James Herriot, and if they don’t cure me, at least I’ll die laughing!
Visit Mignon Ballard's website.

My Book, The Movie: Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause.

The Page 69 Test: Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tom Lowe

Tom Lowe's Sean O'Brien mystery/thriller series includes A False Dawn, The 24th Letter, and The Butterfly Forest.

Recently I asked Lowe what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading Feast Day of Fools, by James Lee Burke. Burke is a lyrical storyteller, with a good sense of the human psychological condition and how close evil can live under the skin of some people.

The book I finally got around to reading is the first in the Stieg Larsson "Millennium Trilogy," The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I picked up because I'd seen the film trailer starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. Yep, the cross-promotion can work. I think Larsson did a solid job with this novel. It's well paced, believable plot, and it features a book-end of two characters that draw sustenance from one another in a unique, symbiotic way.

Crusading journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, is hired by a rich, elderly man to find his niece, a woman who disappeared forty years earlier. Blomkvist brings in a tattooed, spiked hair, punk prodigy with more spunk than a dirty bomb. Lisbeth Salander is a woman with a calculated, brilliant mind that can walk through computer firewalls and into the dark heart of her past abusers, giving her the fuel to take no prisoners in the present.

Blomkvist and Salander begin to look for the needle in the corrupt haystack. And corruption only begins to set the tone of a story that leads to massive corporate greed infused with skeletons hidden not in closets, but rather in a torture room.

There are many subplots woven in a story that reaches deep inside the dark crevices of sexual and physical abuse. The nightmare history gives Salander a smoldering reticence of revenge that hits you in the face like the door opening to a blast furnace. You understand her motivation and find yourself wondering if the next pierced, tattooed young woman you see on the street broke away from the same deviant traps of abuse. And that makes a novel like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo even darker because its real world counterparts, its victims, are not fiction.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Lowe's website.

The Page 69 Test: The 24th Letter.

My Book, The Movie: The Butterfly Forest.

The Page 69 Test: The Butterfly Forest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 5, 2011

Matt Rees

Matt Rees is an award-winning crime novelist and foreign correspondent. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed Omar Yussef crime series, including The Collaborator of Bethlehem. He is also the author of Cain’s Field, a nonfiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society.

His latest novel is Mozart's Last Aria.

Rees's reply to my recent query about what he was reading:
The Confession – Olen Steinhauer

I’ve read a few of Steinhauer’s excellent thrillers over the years, but after getting into The Nearest Exit, his best and most recent, I decided to fill in the gaps with this one. Given that I’ve written about Bethlehem and Gaza and Nablus during times of conflict in my Palestinian crime series, as an antidote to the usual journalistic perspective on them, I enjoy Steinhauer’s approach to Eastern Europe during the turbulent mid-1950s: it’s a period I’ve often read about in history books, but history like journalism tends to focus on politics instead of human interactions. For me, the big political picture was never really enough; I was more interested in the fact that Hungary, 1956, led my grandfather to quit the Communist Party. Steinhauer does a great job of making the Communist bloc of 50-plus years ago seem like today.

The Quality of Mercy – Barry Unsworth

There’s no historical novelist alive who’s even a patch on Unsworth. He’s now 80, so we should cherish every new word from him. He was part of the inspiration for my new novel MOZART’S LAST ARIA, because I wanted to make historical characters seem as vibrant and immediate as he does. This new book is the sequel to Sacred Hunger, a novel set on a slaveship which won the Booker Prize 20 years ago. Sacred Hunger was, in my opinion, on a par with War and Peace for the drama and humanity of its portrayal of a historical period. This one, I’m delighted to report, is just as good.

Travels with my Aunt – Graham Greene

This is the only Greene novel I haven’t read, so I recently decided it was time. Usually I love the mordant darkness of seedy old Graham, but this is a wonderfully comic novel (it’s still pretty seedy). The narrator’s Great-Aunt laments the departure of her West Indian lover by commenting that “his knackers were magnificent.” Not what you’d expect from Greene, but a fine testimony for anyone, I’d say.
Visit Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Mozart's Last Aria.

The Page 69 Test: Mozart's Last Aria.

--Marshal Zeringue