Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New Jersey whose short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads. She is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program.

Milchman's new novel is Cover of Snow, her debut.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
First I should say that it is a shock (to me anyway) that I am reading fiction now at all. That’s because I am in the throes of writing a new novel, and when I write a first draft, I usually don’t read fiction. For a few reasons: fear of my voice getting clogged or diluted; the feeling that if deprived of fiction, that frustration winds up as energy in my own story. But mostly this practice of avoiding fiction is due to a superstitious belief that it is somehow important to my process. So when an opportunity arose that compelled me to read not just some fiction, but a lot of it, I decided to challenge my tendencies to knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, and…not read fiction.

Well, when I challenge a superstition, I really challenge a superstition. I’m not just reading one novel, dipping my toes into the fictive waters as I write. Instead I’ve read or considered almost 300 over the past couple of months. Yes, I am judging a contest. Clearly, I can’t say much about this, but I will describe one book that stands out in my mind. Breed by Chase Novak made me cry out loud. COL. (You know, instead of LOL?)

In some ways this is a book we’ve seen before—those of us who have read Rosemary’s Baby at least—but it delivers such a twist on the idea of woman-carrying-an-evil-fetus that it is really its own book. It’s also an exploration of the cultural trend toward having babies later in life, and the fertility risks that carries. Like all the books I love most, Breed takes something very real and turns it just one notch beyond the possible. At least, I don’t think the events it describes are possible. Please read it and decide for yourself.
Visit Jenny Milchman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Cover of Snow.

The Page 69 Test: Cover of Snow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Roberta Gately

Roberta Gately, author of The Bracelet, has served as a nurse and humanitarian aid worker in war zones ranging from Afghanistan to Africa, about which she wrote a series of articles for the BBC World News Online. She is also the author of the novel Lipstick in Afghanistan.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Gately's reply:
I am currently reading The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. The main character, at 22 years old, is both a newlywed and a widow, and as the story opens, we find that she is also on trial for her life. Set in 1914, The Lifeboat tells the story of a shipwreck and the band of diverse and not so merry survivors crowded into a single lifeboat. It is an emotionally gripping and intense tale of the will to live and the fight to survive even if others must die. Rogan's prose pulses with the authenticity of her tale, and the plot keeps me so intrigued that I find I am reluctant to put this book down. I am, sadly, nearing the end of this riveting read, and have slowed my pace, reading and then re-reading a page in order to stay lost in this dazzling story of humanity at its best and at its worst.
Visit Roberta Gately's website, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

Writers Read: Roberta Gately (November 2010).

The Page 69 Test: Lipstick in Afghanistan.

My Book, The Movie: Lipstick in Afghanistan.

My Book, The Movie: The Bracelet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kate Watterson

Kate Watterson grew up on a steady diet of mystery/suspense novels. If it involves murder and intrigue, she is bound to be hooked. Watterson also writes award-winning historical novels as Emma Wildes.

Her new novel is Frozen.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Watterson's reply:
Well, don’t faint with surprise, but I'm reading John Sandford’s Storm Prey. I was born in Minnesota and grew up vacationing in Wisconsin, so his stories always draw me. I’m a huge fan. Lucas Davenport is an interesting hero, too. The imperfections in his character are very realistic and human, and what I really admire about Sandford in general is his ability to be very gritty but in a way that does not keep me awake at night.

Part of the reason I do not watch the evening news if I can help it.

But I love to read…well, everything. I recently revisited Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave. A woman writing in first person from a male point of view…really? And done so brilliantly. It was written many years ago but there is a reason we call unforgettable books classics.

The novel sitting next to my desk right now, begging for my attention? A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield. On a second reading, I do find I take away more from a book. Littlefield in general has a compelling voice and a wicked sense of humor I really like. And if you haven’t read Hank Phillippi Ryan’s suspense novels, word of advice, you are missing out…
Visit Kate Watterson's website.

My Book, The Movie: Frozen.

The Page 69 Test: Frozen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mitchell Scott Lewis

Mitchell Scott Lewis has been a practicing astrologer and teacher in New York City for more than twenty years. His Starlight Detective Agency mysteries are Murder in the 11th House and the recently released Death in the 12th House: Where Neptune Rules.

Recently I asked Lewis about what he was reading. His reply:
I just recently read Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo, a fellow Poisoned Pen Press author and psychologist who adds the element of the workings of the mind perfectly into his mystery novels. I am currently reading Sixkill, the last Spenser book written by Robert B. Parker shortly before his death. I always enjoy Parker’s characters and crisp style.

Another favorite writer is James Swain, author of the Tony Valentine Novels. I recently finished Deadman’s Poker. I love the casino settings and Swain’s sense of humor and fun characters.

I am also just finishing a wonderful book I stumbled upon called Island in the Sea of Time, by S.M. Sterling. It’s a time travel story with a terrific twist and historical point of view. In it the entire island of Nantucket is swept back in time three thousand years. I am just beginning to reread Isaac Asimov’s I Robot and subsequent Robot books, a series I find more pertinent with each passing year as artificial intelligence becomes more a reality. Asimov is one of my favorite writers of any genre. I haven’t planned much ahead. I prefer to meander through book stores and see what grabs my attention.
Visit Mitchell Scott Lewis's website.

My Book, The Movie: Death in the 12th House.

The Page 69 Test: Death in the 12th House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been is Melanie Benjamin's first historical novel; The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is her second.

Her latest book, The Aviator's Wife, is a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading.  Benjamin's reply:
I’ve long been a fan of quintessentially British novels, particularly those written between the wars, such as The Provincial Lady series, and the Mapp and Lucia novels. There’s something so dry and witty and comforting about those novels, to me; I just lose myself in them, perhaps because they’re so different than the novels I write. And when I’m writing, I do tend to read novels that are completely different and restful; “comfort food,” in a way. So imagine my delight when I recently discovered a charming series of these British novels, reissued under the umbrella of The Bloomsbury Group, all with matching, colorful covers. I’ve bought them all, and am in the midst of devouring them: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, Miss Hargreaves, Love's Shadow, A Kid for Two Farthings, Mrs. Ames, Let's Kill Uncle, The Brontes Went to Woolworths, Henrietta's War, and Henrietta Sees It Through … all very much in the vein of the novels I first mentioned; gentle comedies of manners, generally set in small English villages between the wars. I can’t recommend them enough.
The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 25, 2013

Leigh Evans

Leigh Evans was born in Montreal, Quebec but now lives in Southern Ontario with her husband.

Her newly released novel The Trouble with Fate is the first book in her Mystwalker series.

Not so long ago I asked Evans about what she was reading.  Her reply:
It’s always fun to fib. And truly, I did entertain the thought of telling you that I was re-reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace just for sheer devilry, but then someone might ask me a penetrating question about the plot and I’d have one of those unfortunate deer-in-the-headlight moments. So, I’ll be honest. I’m slogging my way through deadline hell which means I’m only going to read something guaranteed to entertain me.

Thus, no Tolstoy. On my bedside table right now is this anthology: An Apple for a Creature, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner.

Now, Charlaine and Toni have quite a few of these anthologies under their belts and they’ve really perfected the recipe for combining authors of interest. Which is very, very good—there are a variety writing styles to enjoy. However, I have a major beef with these women. They keep slipping new authors into the mix. Which—no matter how you slice it—is an essentially evil thing to do to a person with book issues. Have a heart, girls. One day, it’s entirely possible the fire department is going to find my desiccated body buried beneath the collapsed tower of my TBR stash.

Despite that worry, before I toddle off into the land of nod tonight, I’m going to read Amber Benson’s story, “Callie Meet Happy”. Between you and me, I’m really, really looking forward to it. First, Ms. Benson is a good writer with an engaging voice. Second? My inner-geek is going to come out for one, long, protracted squee.

For those of you who somehow missed the ‘90s, Amber played Tara on Buffy, and in my list of the ultimate cool, that’s way cool. I’m not sure but it might even quality for six degrees of separation because (a) I’ve watched every episode of Buffy and (b) I’ve read Amber’s story. See? That’s an obvious connection. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll change my twitter name to ImAmbersbuddy.

You know what else I love about anthologies? Each story is like one of those fancy chocolates that thin women eat. You know—the type of bonbon that comes wrapped in gold foil?

Theoretically, that means you’re supposed to consume just one per day.

Just one.

Ah, the hell with it. Who eats just one chocolate anyhow?
Visit Leigh Evans's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Trouble with Fate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nicholas Montemarano

Nicholas Montemarano is the author of the novel, A Fine Place (2002), and the short story collection If the Sky Falls (2005), a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice.

His new novel is The Book of Why.

Earlier this month I asked Montemarano about what he was reading.  His reply:
By now I’m afraid that people think I’m related to Richard Ford or on his payroll—that’s how often and with such enthusiasm I’ve been telling everyone to read Ford’s latest novel, Canada, the best book I read in 2012 and one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I keep it on my desk along with other favorites just so I can look at its spine and be inspired.

Listen to this: “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.”

From this first brief paragraph, just four sentences, I was hooked. The narrator gives away plot points many novelists would not in the first few sentences, but in doing so he raises other, more compelling questions: Why did his parents commit a robbery? Where? What murders, and how are they related to the robbery? What courses did his and his sister’s lives follow?

And then there’s the narrator’s voice, which exerts its authority with the first three words: “First, I’ll tell…” Ford is saying, “I’m in complete control of this 418-page novel you’re about to read. I know exactly how I’m going to tell it and in exactly what order. I’ve thought it all through—no need to worry, just sit back and listen.”

I read Canada slowly, rereading some chapters several times before continuing. I wanted my experience of reading this novel to last as long as possible. That’s the greatest compliment I could ever give an author.

I can give the same compliment to Claire Keegan after reading her short book Foster—really a long story, which appeared in abridged form in The New Yorker in 2010. It’s the most recent book I read, and I can’t shake it. It’s about a girl in rural Ireland who spends a summer with her childless aunt and uncle because her mother is expecting yet another child and can’t afford to support all her children. The word-by-word precision of this story is astounding. Every detail matters. You must pay attention: Keegan is subtle and trusts in your patience and intelligence. I read Foster in one long sitting in a coffee shop. I was reading beside my wife. Every few pages I would remove my glasses, put them on the table, and sigh. My wife asked what was wrong. “Nothing at all,” I said. “It’s this story—it’s perfect.”

Both Canada and Foster are first-person stories in which narrators look back on pivotal childhood events. But the similarities go beyond that—the controlled prose, the gradual revelation, the precise details. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Richard Ford had selected Foster as winner of the 2009 Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award. Ford had recognized Keegan’s brilliance, and somehow this validated my coupling of these two incredible writers.
Visit Nicholas Montemarano's website, Facebook page, and Twiiter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Why.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal's first novel Shades of Milk and Honey was a loving tribute to the works of Jane Austen in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence. This magic comes in the form of glamour, which allows talented users to form practically any illusion they can imagine. The sequel to Shades, Glamour in Glass, follows the lives of main characters Jane and David Vincent, with a much deeper vein of drama and intrigue.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Kowal's reply:
I just finished reading The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke and absolutely loved it. It's a science fiction novel that is about a young girl who is raised with an android for a tutor. What I find remarkable about the book is that the story stays intimate and never veers into The Fate of the World. In many ways, it feels more like mainstream women's fiction than classic SF. At the same time, it uses the SF lens to explore real issues of self and personhood in ways that I don't think would be possible without the science-fictional concepts in it.

By focusing so tightly on one person and her journey, it gave a real sense of the wider world. Plus, I thought the language was hypnotic, which is always welcome. It just pulled me through the book.
Visit Mary Robinette Kowal's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Glamour in Glass.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 21, 2013

Adam Mansbach

Adam Mansbach’s books include the number one international bestseller Go the Fuck to Sleep, the California Book Award– winning novel The End of the Jews, and the cult classic Angry Black White Boy. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, and The Believer, and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

Mansbach’s new novel is Rage Is Back.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.  His reply:
I just took the first vacation I can remember – a week in a remote part of Mexico with my family – and when we got to the hacienda, The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons was sitting on the library shelf, just waiting for me. 700 pages of obsessive, irascible, deeply-committed arguments about the history, the future, and even the what-ifs of professional hoops. Simmons is from Boston, like me, and he grew up reading the same great Boston Globe scribes I did, guys like Bob Ryan, Peter Gammons, and Leigh Montville. Then, Simmons redefined the scope of modern sportswriting, by injecting it with irreverence, frenetic pop culture references, personal anecdotes, and a kind of totalizing worldview that doesn't hold sports up as a metaphor for life so much as posit life a metaphor for sports. The way Simmons argues about basketball is like the way hip-hoppers argue about MCing: he goes fifty pages debating the point-by-point merits of Wilt vs. Russell, we go three hours discussing Rakim vs. KRS-One. Anyway, the book is captivating and often hilarious, and my vacation went something like this:

"Oh, my God – Adam, look! A humpback whale just breached! It's gotta be less than a mile offshore!"
"Mmm-hmm." (turns page).
"Wow, another one – this is amazing!"
"No kidding."
"All you've gotta do is look up."
"Holy shit!"
"You saw that one? He must have been thirty feet out of the water."
"No, no – I can't believe how low Simmons has Earl Monroe ranked on his 96 Greatest Players Pyramid, is all."(tense silence)
Visit Adam Mansbach's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rage Is Back.

The Page 69 Test: Rage Is Back.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Amanda Lee

Amanda Lee is a pseudonym Gayle Trent uses for her cozy mystery series featuring a heroine who owns an embroidery shop. The series is set on the Oregon Coast and features Marcy Singer, a spunky, thirty-something, entrepreneur who is handy with a needle. The fifth novel in the series is the newly released Thread on Arrival.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading.  Lee's reply:
What is Amanda Lee currently reading? I’m reading Lavender Morning by Jude Deveraux. As a mystery writer, most of my reading tends to be in the mystery/thriller/suspense genre. I recently ran across a book sale and saw this book by Jude Deveraux. I thought, “I haven’t read any of her books in a long time.” This, even though she was one of my favorite authors. After staying up two nights in a row until the wee hours of the morning, I remember why Jude Deveraux was—and is again—a favorite author. The woman can tell a story!

Ms. Deveraux has a way of pulling her reader into her characters’ world…making the reader understand and care for each character…wanting desperately to know what will happen next while not wanting the book to end yet either. Any author would benefit by studying Ms. Deveraux’s expert characterization and plotting skills.
Visit Gayle Trent's website.

The Page 69 Test: Thread on Arrival.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sam Thomas

Sam Thomas has a PhD in history with a focus on Reformation England and recently leaped from the tenure track into a teaching position at a secondary school near Cleveland, Ohio.

His new novel is The Midwife's Tale.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Thomas what he was reading.  His reply:
In the last year or so, I’ve fundamentally changed my reading habits. The biggest change is that I’ve gone from writing history to mysteries, so I’m now free (obligated!) to read far more fiction than in the past.

Earlier this year I gazed in horror at my To-be-Read list, and realized that I would have to change the way I read. As a result, I’ve been starting many more books than I finish, and if a work doesn’t compel me to return, I move on. I realize that this means I am denying myself the pleasure of some books that are slow to develop, but if I don’t go this route, I’m going to struggle through some pretty mediocre works and life is way too short for that.

The most recent book I read which I absolutely loved was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I know I’m kind of late to the game on this one, but it was worth the wait! I fell for Girl for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a sucker for unreliable narrators, and without spoiling too much, I think it’s safe to say that both of Girl’s narrators fit that description.

Second, Flynn sticks the landing. I know some readers detested the end of Gone Girl, and it took me a few days to make my peace with it, but it is perfect. While justice might (or might not) have been served, I would argue that every character got exactly what s/he deserved. While this is no mean feat in books where the Good Guys and Bad Guys are clearly delineated, Gone Girl so thoroughly muddies these waters that Flynn’s success is truly magical.

The other noteworthy book I recently read is The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen. While it is a more straight-forward thriller than Gone Girl, there are a number of similarities. Like Flynn, Laukkanen tells the story from the perspective of two sets of adversaries – this time cops and criminals, rather than husband and wife – and manages to engender sympathy for both. And, also like Flynn, he brings the book to a satisfying conclusion, which is no mean feat given that he has the reader rooting for both cops and crooks. The sequel to The ProfessionalsCriminal Enterprise – is due out soon, so if you haven’t read The Professionals now is the time.
View the trailer for The Midwife’s Tale, and learn more about the book and author at Sam Thomas's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Midwife’s Tale.

The Page 69 Test: The Midwife's Tale.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ben Schrank

Ben Schrank published his first novel, Miracle Man, in 1999. The New Yorker selected it as one of six debut novels in that year’s fiction issue, saying “As the ethical lines blur, Schrank makes New York seem sharp and new.” Time Magazine called it a “brilliantly observed story about the desire to live in an egalitarian world.” In 2002 Schrank published his second novel, Consent. Leonard Michaels wrote of Consent: “It is a very serious story, and, in places, it is hilarious. As for the woman at the center, she is unforgettable.” Schrank has taught at the MFA program at Brooklyn college. He was for some years the voice of "Ben’s Life," a fictional column for Seventeen magazine.

Schrank's new novel is Love Is a Canoe.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I loved Jim Gavin’s upcoming collection Middle Men. I got the galley at the NCIBA tradeshow in Northern California when I was there promoting my own novel, Love is a Canoe, back in the fall. NCIBA hosted this year’s event at a venue out by the airport in San Francisco. After I signed my galleys at the cocktail party on that Saturday night, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express next door and I ate a chicken quesadilla and drank beer alone at the bar at the Houlihan’s. I won’t lie. I loved meeting all those booksellers at the signing. But that Holiday Inn Express was a little bleak. So when I got back to SFO and boarded the plane to go home, I was particularly open to the kind of west coast male lostness and sadness that Jim Gavin writes about so beautifully in the stories in Middle Men. Gavin’s characters get older as the story progresses, but the Southern California backdrop stays largely the same, and by the time I was happily lost in the plumbing supply store world of the last story, "Costello," I wished my plane would circle JFK forever and I wanted those stories to never end. Gavin doesn't write perfect stories. They are all a little cracked in places and sometimes the sadness spirals into the clinical, but that’s welcome. He’s not trying to please anybody. I don't think there are enough stories like these out there right now. Jim Gavin’s Middle Men filled a need for me. When it comes out next month, I will buy the hardcover and read Gavin’s stories all over again.
Visit Ben Schrank's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dean Crawford

Dean Crawford worked as a graphic designer before he left the industry to pursue his lifelong dream of writing full-time. An aviation and motorcycle enthusiast, he lives with his family in Surrey, England. His novels include Covenant, Immortal, and Apocalypse.

Recently I asked Crawford what he was reading.  His reply:
I've recently read a non-fiction book called Paranormality by Professor Richard Wiseman, which does a fabulous job of blowing away some of the greatest myths of humanity. Mediums, psychics, spoon benders and all manner of charlatans all get a hammering from the voice of common sense and scientific endeavour. Although my novels all have a slightly paranormal edge to them, I prefer to stay grounded in reality.

I also read Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson, a superb "what-if?" novel about machines taking on mankind in a war for control of our planet. Remarkable ideas and cautionary tales perfectly bound together in a way that always inspires me as a reader: the more reality there is in a novel, the more believable it becomes.

Currently I'm not reading anything - I'm up to my neck in edits for the latest Ethan Warner novel!
Visit Dean Crawford's website and blog.

Writers Read: Dean Crawford (October 2011).

My Book, The Movie: Covenant.

The Page 69 Test: Covenant.

The Page 69 Test: Immortal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Haywood Smith

Haywood Smith's novels include Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch, The Red Hat Club, Red Hat Club Rides Again, Wedding Belles, Ladies of the Lake, Waking Up Dixie, and Wife-in-Law. Her latest novel, Out of Warranty, is out this month.

Late last year I asked the author about what she was reading. Smith's reply:
I'm currently re-reading De Toqueville's Democracy in America.

Also, I just finished and enjoyed Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven. (I met her at Moonlight and Magnolias Conference and was very impressed.) Accurate historical epics are my favorites, but I have almost no free time to read for pleasure these days. Also, because I judge so many contests and do critique, it takes a really good author to get me out of editorial mode and transport me into the story, so I'm always looking for easy-to-read, complex stories with positive resolutions. Years ago, I read a lot of heavy dramas and non-fiction, but now that I've buried a few loved ones and faced a few tough challenges, I'm looking for books that make me feel good in the end, so that's why I write funny books with heart.
Visit Haywood Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2013

Scott Kenemore

Scott Kenemore's books include The Zen of Zombie; Z.E.O.; The Art of Zombie Warfare; The Code of the Zombie Pirate; Zombies vs. Nazis; and the horror novels Zombie, Ohio, his debut, and Zombie, Illinois.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading. Kenemore's reply:
I'm pleased to be asked to write a little bit about some books I've recently read. I tend to read about 50% horror, and 50% non-horror/literary works. An interesting thing about being a horror writer (or, subset of subsets, a "zombie writer") is that only about 40% of what I write is about zombies and horror...but of that 40%, nearly 100% gets published. And of the other 60% of my writing-- which is about a variety of non-horror topics-- only about 10% gets published. Consequently, when I read books, one of the things I like to notice is the way the writer I am reading has been-- or has not been-- categorized and labeled.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

I'm on page 750 of Fall of Giants, a sweeping epic novel about WW I (and the third novel I've read by Follett). When he's at his best, Follett's books are like wrapping yourself up in a warm blanket. Of history. They contain gripping tensions and fascinating historical facts you may have missed in school. (I, for example, was not aware that the head of the British conservative party during WW I was named "Bonar Law." Zounds!) But for all of his gifts, I sometimes struggle with the way Follett writes about sex. Something in the back of my mind (and in the packaging of his books) makes me think that there are aspects here intended for women exclusively. (For whatever reason, I consistently come away with the feeling of: "That sex scene was not written for a man.") Can one read Follett's annals of Medieval or early-20th century paramours and ever feel entirely masculine? I am still figuring that one out...

Inheritance by Joe McKinney

Joe is another "zombie writer" I know from the circuit, and is probably best known for his "Dead World" series of zombie novels. His new horror novel Inheritance was the best small press book I encountered in 2012, and one of the finest books I read all year. Inheritance is a ghost story about the dark family secrets that haunt a police officer in contemporary Texas. It reads like Clive Barker meets Martin Preib, or Stephen King meets James Ellroy. Effectively scary and exciting, it works as a police procedural to boot. (In "real life" Joe is a detective for the San Antonio PD.) Joe is one of the greatest living "zombie writers," and with Inheritance shows that he can also write very fine general-interest horror fiction.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

I'm a huge Hugo fan. The Man Who Laughs and Ninety-Three are two of my favorite novels of all time. I'd read excerpts of Les Misérables before this year (and seen the musical a few times), but never sat down to tackle the whole thing until late 2012. It was deeply rewarding. I think you have to really love Hugo's overrwriting and hyper-descriptive style (which I do) to get this book. You also learn buckets of French history. (For example, that Frenchmen who disliked Napoleon made sure to pronounce his name "Bo-na-PAR-tay" to emphasize that he was Italian-born and an outsider...perhaps just as some of our contemporaries make a point to say "Barack Hussein Obama.") There are also wonderful (and brutal!) details left out of the musical we all know so well. (The one that sticks with me is Thenardier leaving for America to become a slaver.) It was a pleasure to finally read this work straight-through, cover to cover.

The Penguin Book of Horror Stories edited by J.A. Cuddon

There are few things I look forward to reading more than a well-edited collection of ghost stories or horror stories. This was one of the best I've read in a while. In a meticulously detailed introduction, J.A. Cuddon provides a fascinating look at the portrayal of horror across the years-- tracing, for example, the movement of horrific events occurring offstage (as in plays of the ancient Greeks) to gradually moving onstage in the time of Shakespeare. There were a few lousy stories in this collection-- including one by John Lennon that wasn't scary and made no sense--but most were satisfying and at least adequately frightening. My favorite was "The Waxwork" by A.M. Burrage, about a reporter who spends the night in the "Murderer's Room" of a wax museum on the same night a real murderer is on the loose...
Visit Scott Kenemore's blog.

Kenemore's Zombie, Illinois made Paul Goat Allen's list of the 13 best zombie fiction releases of 2012.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Walter Greatshell

Walter Greatshell's books include Xombies: Apocalypticon and Xombies: Apocalypse Blues.

His latest novel is Terminal Island.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Greatshell's reply:
At the moment I’m re-reading a book I loved years ago, called Dino, by Nick Tosches. It’s a wonderfully gonzo (in the true Hunter S. Thompson sense of the word) biography of Dean Martin, a performer I mainly knew of from his sloppy, lascivious TV appearances in the ‘60s and ‘70s. To me, Dino was a prime example of the hideous drunken misogyny that passed for sophistication in the ‘50s, a hipster dinosaur that refused to go extinct.

Dino captures Dean Martin’s rise and fall by going deep, not only into the place and time, but into Martin’s terrifying pit of a soul, which derived fleeting satisfactions from booze and broads, but only really craved the sweet release of death. This sounds depressing, but there is also something so inherently hilarious about such a ghoul being forced to share his career with Jerry Lewis (can there be a more exquisite vision of Hell?) that we can’t stop laughing. However fairly or unfairly Tosches portrays Martin’s inner life, he deserves credit for at least making the man interesting. If only all celebrity bios did as much.
View the video trailer for Terminal Island, and visit Walter Greatshell's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Terminal Island.

My Book, The Movie: Terminal Island.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Christine Wade

Christine Wade is a researcher and writer who fell in love with the Hudson River when she first attended Bard College and has lived on its shores in New York City and the Catskill Mountains ever since. Seven Locks, her first novel, won a James Jones Fellowship Award for an unpublished novel in 2009.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Wade's reply:
Well, it is not hard for anyone to imagine that when you are researching and writing a novel you can only read books that pertain to it. But what surprised me as a first-time novelist is that during the production year it is also difficult to read randomly or at all. At times I like to read in a focused way: all of one century, all of Bloomsbury or The Beats, all of one author. But at other times I like to read randomly and jump around to books as I come upon them. It is interesting that even then reading themes emerge.

Both of my recent picks just happened to be about New York in the 70’s: Just Kids by Patti Smith and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Both books were standing upright among the librarian’s choices on the display table at my local library, albeit on different weeks. As a cruise through that era I definitely preferred the novel, which was much broader and ultimately deeper. It depicted many aspects of those times that Smith didn’t touch, and I think it said more about relationships too. I found Smith a little cagey---stylistically upfront and casual, seemingly honest but ultimately a low revealer. She writes well though and a tour through the downtown streets and art scenes of the day was worth the trip.

Let the Great World Spin had me hooked by page 60 because it quoted Rumi so joyously from the mouth of a character unlikely to read Persian verse and made her poetic outburst seem entirely authentic. McCann can make the unexpected believable: He is able to channel his inner sex worker from the Bronx and his radical liberation theology priest from Ireland and his enterprising single mother from Guatamala all in equal measure. And others too. He is a weaver in the way that epic story tellers are. And he connects the many threads that comprise a day in the not so distant, but distant enough past, to the cloth wrapped around our post 9/11 present. We have been here before and know the place, and are delighted to be here again. Though I barreled through the book to the finish, days later the voices of his cast of characters are still whispering to me as I walk the streets of New York, looking up between the tall buildings to the sky.
Visit Christine Wade's website.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Locks.

My Book, The Movie: Seven Locks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 11, 2013

Marilyn Yalom

Marilyn Yalom was educated at Wellesley College, the Sorbonne, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. She has been a professor of French and comparative literature, director of an institute for research on women, a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, and the author of numerous books and articles on literature and women's history. In 1991 she was decorated as an Officier des Palmes Académiques by the French Government.

Yalom's books include Maternity, Mortality, and the Literature of Madness, Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women's Memory, A History of the Breast, A History of the Wife, Birth of the Chess Queen, The American Resting Place, and How the French Invented Love: 900 Years of Passion and Romance (2012).

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Yalom's reply:
Robert Massie’s Catherine the Great lives up to its best-selling hype. It really is meticulously researched, artfully crafted, and immediately compelling. Surprisingly, this massive biography reads like a novel seen from the point of view of its heroine, the very great Catherine, who comes across as exceedingly human, even approachable, as she ascends to power and learns to command a vast empire. Massie seems to have entered into her skin and given her voice.

Unlike many other rulers, male and female, Catherine left behind a treasure trove of personal as well as state documents. Written in French, Russian, and her native German, these documents give us rare access into Catherine’s mind as she corresponded with French philosophes like Voltaire and Diderot, as she beckoned her lovers in intimate missives, and as she took it upon herself to write a new set of laws for her empire. How this offspring of minor German nobility made her way to Russia as a teenager, was married off to the hapless heir to the Russian crown, learned Russian, changed her religion from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy, got rid of her husband and replaced him, and then ruled successfully for almost four decades makes for a gripping, sprawling, exciting epic.

As a female monarch, Catherine ranks right up there with Elizabeth I of England, and was arguably even more influential than Cleopatra, Maria-Theresa of Austria, and Queen Victoria—all legendary rulers. Several years ago, when I was writing Birth of the Chess Queen, I discovered that Catherine, like Elizabeth I, was a fine chess player, and it was because of her renown that the chess queen ultimately made its way onto the Russian chess board. Whereas other European nations had been using the chess queen as a replacement for the Arabic vizier since the year 1000, it took the Russians 800 years longer to allow a female figure onto the board. Had it not been for Catherine, the Russians might still be playing chess with all masculine or animal figures. It’s high time for another major female figure to make her way into the Russian political scene!
Visit Marilyn Yalom's website.

Yalom's How the French Invented Love is one of Publishers Weekly's top nonfiction books of 2012.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fiona Halloran

Fiona Deans Halloran teaches history at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her new book is Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons.

Last year I asked the author about what she was reading. Halloran's reply:
My reading these days veers wildly between books that interest me for some reason and books I’ve assigned to students. One price of teaching such smart, thoughtful young people is that I have to keep up. I don’t mind – even with books I’ve read before my school-related reading introduces me to new ideas and reminds me of my favorite stories in American history.

One such book, which I finished for the third time last week, is John Mack Faragher’s Daniel Boone. Tracing Boone’s life from his origins in a Quaker-dominated village settled by his grandparents to his death in Missouri, Faragher encouraged me to watch the settlement of Kentucky from a variety of perspectives. For Boone, it was an adventure, a challenge, a business and a vocation. For many settlers from North Carolina and Virginia, Kentucky represented freedom from planter domination. Native people, especially the Shawnee, feared the aggression of white settlers and sought to protect hunting lands. Faragher’s greatest strength lies in his ability to celebrate cultural conflict as the result of cascading, interconnecting accidents. But for this, everything might have been different. But for that, Boone might not have found himself trapped inside a besieged fort, dodging bullets and sympathizing with his daughter Jemima (who had been shot in the rear end).

I love American history. I’ve loved it since I learned to read. But European history is like a guilty pleasure. It’s that secret slug of eggnog you grab when no one’s looking. Whenever I can steal some time from my work-related and research-related reading, I reach for something European.

Right now, I’m reading Douglas Smith’s Former People. Tracing the lives of aristocrats during the Russian Revolution, the book reveals a side of early Soviet history I’ve never encountered. He builds the book around two families – the Sheremetovs and the Golitzyns – but the cast of characters rivals The Forsyte Saga. They all suffer. Many die. Some sympathize with the Revolution, some resist it. Some escape, others remain in Russia for honor, stubbornness, or patriotism. Smith can explain complicated ideas (like the bizarre and unpredictable reconstruction of “class” by the Soviet government in the 20s) with admirable clarity. But his sensitive tone and obvious sympathy for his subjects helps bring them back to life.

It’s such a sad, terrible story that at times I have to put it down. And of course, like so much history, there ain’t no happy ending.
Learn more about Thomas Nast at The University of North Carolina Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Thomas Nast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Carola Dunn

Carola Dunn is the author of 20 Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, set in
England in the 1920s, three Cornish mysteries, and over 30 Regencies.
Her latest books are Gone West (Daisy) and The Valley of the Shadow (Cornwall).

Not so long ago I asked Dunn about what she was reading.  Her reply:
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

An old Chinese proverb says: Women hold up half the sky. Until recent years, China didn't do very well at observing the implication, that women's contribution to society is as important as men's.

Nicholas Kristof and his wife, intrepid journalists, have been all over the world documenting the condition of women. Their book starts out with some appalling stories of horrible things done to women just because they are women, so appalling I wasn't sure I could go on reading. But gradually they introduce ways of helping to change how societies treat the female half of humanity. They end on a hopeful note: Things are changing, will change, and while never perfect can be much improved. They suggest ways the reader can contribute to positive change.

Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf

This is a fascinating story about how scientists from all over Europe travelled all over the world in the 1700s to measure the rare transit of Venus across the face of the sun. It occurred twice in that century then not again until the late 1800s. This measurement would allow calculation of the dimensions of the solar system and be of inestimable value to navigation. The scientists faced all the difficulties and dangers of travel at the time; among others, a war between France and England. Though astronomers from both countries took part, they were not immune to getting involved in naval battles.

On the lighter side, I've been rereading some Edmund Crispin (aka Bruce Montgomery) mysteries from the '40s and '50s. His protagonist, Gervase Fen, an Oxford lecturer, is one of my favourite amateur detectives. He gets involved in the most extraordinary adventures. For instance, in The Moving Toyshop he figures out how and why a toyshop found in one part of Oxford one night miraculously reappears in another part of the city thereafter. Not to mention what actually happened in the shop and who is responsible.

Also for fun, I've read the recent books of a couple of favourite fluffy/cozy authors, Marian Babson (No Cooperation from the Cat; The Cat who Wasn't a Dog) and JoAnna Carl (The Chocolate Cupid Killings; The Chocolate Cupid Clue). As you can see, Marian's books tend to favour cats, whereas I'm a dog-person, but she's a good writer. JoAnna (aka Eve) sets her stories in a chocolate shop, instant success as far as I'm concerned.

At present I'm reading Wealth and Poverty of Nations, by David S. Landes, because it was cited by Kristof and sounded interesting—I've always had an interest in geography's influence on culture [If I remember correctly, I wrote in one of these blogs about Jared Diamond's Collapse, which contrasts the environmental fates of pairs of apparently similar societies]. Purely as a writer, Landes is by no means as good as Kristof, much of whose prose is crystalline. But Kristof is a journalist (not that that guarantees good writing!) and Landes is an economic historian.

And I just finished it. Landes gets a bit over-polemical as he reaches modern times, but I was sorry that, having written it in the late '90s, it didn't cover the past 15 years or so. I would have liked to see what he made of them.
Learn more about The Valley of the Shadow at Carola Dunn's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Carola Dunn and Trillian.

The Page 69 Test: The Valley of the Shadow.

--Marshal Zeringue