Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she first got hooked on ancient Rome while watching "I, Claudius" at the age of seven. She wrote her first book during her freshman year in college, retreating from a Boston winter into ancient Rome, and it was later published as Mistress of Rome. A prequel followed, titled Daughters of Rome, and then a sequel--the newly released Empress of the Seven Hills--written while her husband was deployed to the Middle East.

Recently I asked Quinn what she was reading.  Her reply:
As a historical fiction writer, I naturally read a lot of HF. A new Bernard Cornwell novel or Margaret George saga is always an excuse to drop everything I have planned for the day, and give in to an orgy of reading. But I try to dip into other genres too, in the spirit of expanding my horizons, and I've found some great new books that way. My latest reads:

Fear by Michael Grant. I've never been hugely enthusiastic about YA dystopian novels, but I dipped into Grant's Gone series on a whim and was instantly glued. Think Stephen King's Under the Dome crossed with Lord of the Flies - a small southern California town finds itself in turmoil when an impenetrable dome slams down around it, expelling the adults and leaving only the 15-and-under crowd inside. Chilling, inventive, and harsh; with some thought-provoking things to say about leadership, violence, and children forced to grow up too young.

The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot. I picked up this high-medieval debut with some trepidation, since the author is a friend of mine and I wanted desperately to love it. What a huge relief when I did love it: the story of two Provencal sisters who end up respectively the queens of France and England. For twenty years their letters cross the Channel, talking of children and crusades and marital problems and bitchy mothers-in-law, as each Queen struggles to balance her own happiness with her royal duties. Even if you know nothing about the Middle Ages, the sometimes rivalrous, always loving give-and-take between these sisters will ring true.

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. It occurred to me lately that while I love Somerset Maugham and count his The Razor's Edge among my very favorite books, I had not yet read The Painted Veil, his tale about a frivolous erring wife dragged off by her doctor husband to fight an epidemic in China. I love Maugham's subtlety: he took what could have been a conventional love story (unfaithful wife learns to love her honorable husband instead of her caddish lover) but instead makes it all about the heroine's journey as she tries to get past her own shallowness and bring some honor to a life she recognizes as meaningless.

The Fear Index by Robert Harris. I first found Harris because of his Roman novels about Cicero, but he turns out taut spine-chilling thrillers too, and this is one of his best. An eccentric hedge fund billionaire goes through the day from hell as some mysterious enemy tries to destroy his life – and could it have anything to do with the fact that the world markets are taking a nosedive? Fascinating how Harris managed to take such a dry technical subject – the world of high finance stockbroking – and turn it into something so compulsively page-turning.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Not a book I'd ordinarily have picked up, but I like to read big bestsellers just to see if I can figure out what makes them so popular. This one resonated: the interlinked stories of three college grads and their subsequent struggles with love, career, and the meaning of life. Anybody who has ever graduated college with an English degree, no job prospects, and no idea what you want to do with your life will sympathize. And what a tender, unexpected ending.
Visit Kate Quinn's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue