Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mark Greaney

Mark Greaney’s debut international thriller, The Gray Man, became a national bestseller and was nominated for a Barry Award in the Best Thriller category. The follow-up Gray Man thriller, On Target was also nominated for a Barry Award in the Best Thriller category. Ballistic, the third in the series also received glowing reviews including a rave from the New York Times comparing flipping the pages of the Mark Greaney thriller to “…playing the ultimate video game!”

The newly released Dead Eye is the fourth book in the series.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. Greaney's reply:
Right now I am reading Midnight in Mexico, by Alfredo Corchado. He is a Mexican-born American journalist who has been reporting from Mexico for much of his career.

The book covers Mexico’s drug war, but it is more than a chronicle of the war itself, rather it is a first-hand account of what it is like to be a journalist in the crosshairs of the cartels. Corchado is luckier than many journalists in Mexico in that, as a U.S. citizen, he can head north into relative safety whenever things get too hot for him, but he often chooses to ignore his own safety in the pursuit of the story. There are instances in the book where he is flatly told he is on a hit list of one cartel or another, but he stays in country and does his best to soldier on as a reporter in one of the most dangerous environments for journalists in the world.

I picked the book up because I wanted to know a little about the mindset of the brave men and women on both sides of the border who campaign against the violence and the United States’ seemingly insatiable appetite for drugs. Journalists have been in the crosshairs in Mexico for a long time, and Corchado is not dismissive of the danger, instead he is man very much aware of the peril he puts himself in with every article he publishes about the various cartels. As the death toll in the region passes forty thousand, and as hundreds of journalists are killed, he continues to report and to watch his back, wondering each day if he will become yet another sad statistic in the drug war on the border.
Visit Mark Greaney's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Gray Man.

My Book, The Movie: The Gray Man.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Eye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 28, 2013

E. J. Copperman

E.J. Copperman is a mysterious figure, or has a mysterious figure, or writes figuratively in mysteries. In any event, a New Jersey native, Copperman has written for such publications as the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, American Baby and USA Weekend.

Night of the Living Deed is the first E.J. Copperman novel. It was followed by An Uninvited Ghost, Old Haunts, A Wild Ghost Chase, Chance of a Ghost, and the newly released The Thrill of the Haunt.

Earlier this month I asked Copperman about what he was reading. His reply:
E.J. Is not actually reading anything at the moment, but just finished Lisa Lutz’s The Last Word, the latest (and possibly last) in the Spellman series. I’m a fan of the series, wanted to check in on Izzy, Rae and the many characters in the books. I understand completely why Lisa might want to move on to something else, but if she does and concludes the Spellmans with this novel, I’ll miss them. I won’t feel cheated, though.
Visit E. J. Copperman's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Thrill of the Haunt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stefan Bachmann

Stefan Bachmann is a writer and musician. He was born in Colorado and now lives with his parents and siblings in Switzerland. He is currently studying film composing at the Zürich Conservatory, and writing his third book. His debut, The Peculiar, was published when he was nineteen years old. It is followed by the newly released companion novel, The Whatnot.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Bachmann's reply:
My to-be-read pile is basically a ridiculous, teetering jumble of books at the moment, and I'm just picking up the nearest one that won't send everything toppling. Which has been great, because I've been reading adult books, and children's books, and in-between books all mixed together, and it makes it super clear how they all have the same sorts of things that make them "work", make them touching or engaging or thrilling. Recently I've loved these three books, and am recommending them to everyone:

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

This one's so great. A semi-murder mystery based on actual events in early 19th century Iceland. It's dark, chilling, atmospheric, and so terrifically written. Great characters, great setting, stark and haunting. When I think about it, it's actually a quiet book - it doesn't have any big set-pieces or chases - but it reads like a thriller, and the suspense is always high. It kind of reminds me of Agatha Christie, only 300 times darker.

The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand

I've loved everything Legrand writes. Her first book The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls was one of my favorites from last year, and this one was so good, too. It's about a girl who is enlisted by a group of ghosts in her dad's old music hall to help remember the things that are keeping them from moving on. The back-stories of each of the ghosts are the highlight of this book, I thought. They become more and more heart-wrenching, right up until the hopeful, glowing finale. It's written for kids, but I think grown-ups who love ghosts and music will love it, too.

Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

OK, this one's a little bit obscure, and you may never have heard of it before, but it is so worth going on a million-mile quest over mountains and dales to find and read. I just finished the first book for the first time, and while it's a lot of "Harry Potter inherits a vault full of gold, and Harry Potter gets the best flying broom ever," it's written in such fun, charming, engaging way that you don't sick of it, and you kinda start wishing you got a flying broom, which I think is the appeal. Basically it's famous for a reason: because it's awesome. If you haven't read it yet, you should.
Visit Stefan Bachmann's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Peculiar.

Writers Read: Stefan Bachmann (April 2013).

The Page 69 Test: The Peculiar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nicholas Dawidoff

Nicholas Dawidoff is the author of four previous critically acclaimed books, including the bestselling The Catcher Was a Spy and The Crowd Sounds Happy. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Civitella Ranieri Fellow, a Berlin Prize Fellow of the American Academy, an Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University, and a Branford Fellow at Yale University. A Pulitzer Prize finalist (for The Fly Swatter), Dawidoff is a contributor to The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and Rolling Stone. His new book is Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Dawidoff's reply:
My two books previous to Collision Low Crossers were companion biographical memoirs about family. You can’t get more interior than that, so this time I aspired to look out into the world and take on a big American subject that had real urgency for many people. Also, I’d long hoped to write about a group of committed people engaged in challenging, interesting work that completely absorbed them to the exclusion of everything else. Which is how I came to spend more than a year all but living on the field (and mostly in the office) with a group of professional football coaches.

In contrast to the American national pastime of baseball, football has always been a challenging subject for writers. That may be because baseball is timeless, leisurely enough in its rhythms that it lends itself to reflection. We’ve all played some version of baseball, and since the game’s proportions are our proportions, most of us can see it clear and understand it. Football, on the other hand, is the national passion. Games are always on the clock, and play moves so quickly that no spectator really knows what the hell is going on out there. (It can be the same for coaches; they reserve Sunday judgments until reviewing the game film on Monday.) If there is a deliberately unfolding epistolary pace and feel to baseball, football is frenzy punctuated by pauses--has the start-stop-start metabolism of texting. The players are often enormous, always armored and masked, and the ball is sometimes difficult to locate amid all that fast-twitching bulk. But what really sets football apart is that everything depends on a secret portfolio of plays that the coaches develop over the course of the week before games. Deepening the recondite qualities of the sport, these game plans are set down in obscure jargon—a thieves’ cant for fullbacks. Since the essence of the game is the plan, most of the football life takes place at a remove from the public--in the team “facilities” that are essentially athletic safe houses. It was a rare and necessary privilege to be allowed inside.

These are some of the reasons why the books that most informed Collision Low Crossers were not football books. Wait! One was. Published fifty years ago, George Plimpton’s Paper Lion remains the best book I’ve ever read about football. Plimpton, a gangly and not terribly athletic man, solved the problems of accessibility that I’ve just described by arranging to go through training camp with the Detroit Lions as the last string quarterback. This was a stunt, to be sure, and an inspired one, because it gave him connection on many levels to the elusive game. What has made his book endure is Plimpton’s hilarious and moving account of personal (mis) adventures set in parallel with his vivid and humane character studies of the interesting Lions people he met on the fields and in the meeting rooms and dorms of a private school in suburban Michigan. Who could forget the various Lions rookies being forced at mealtimes to sing their school songs in front of the veterans? Or the unique noises defensive back Dick “Night Train” Lane made while he ran along in pass coverage? (Lane was married to the singer Dinah Washington, and Plimpton’s description of listening to her records with Lane in his training camp bedroom is one of the book’s many indelible set pieces.) Plimpton was such a good writer he could make memorable the way a man chewed a toothpick, reserved a dinner table, talked while gambling or daydreamed about lemonade on a sweltering summer day. It all added up to a nuanced portrait of the many human components that mesh into a violent and risky group endeavor.

The contemporary master of such participatory journalism is Ted Conover. He’s written several books about subcultures that he came to understand by living in them. All the books are excellent, though my favorites are Rolling Nowhere and Newjack. For the former, Conover, then still an Amherst college anthropology student, took time away from school to live as a hobo, riding the American rails. The itinerant vagrant life of jumping boxcars and sleeping in hobo jungles brought risks, and so did John Law. When Conover was arrested for loitering while passing through his hometown of Denver where his father had a law office, the writer did not relinquish his role and went off to the hoosegow. Then decades later Conover spent a whole year inside. In order to learn about American prisons for Newjack, Conover took a job as a guard at Sing Sing Prison. Intense is the word for that account. Both books are models of evoking a menacing, rarefied environment filled with dangerous men. They also remind a writer attempting a similarly immersive project of how difficult is the necessary toggle between becoming a part of the community you seek to describe, and keeping a foot in your real life. Your book won’t be any good unless you achieve an intimate and sympathetic knowledge of those you are writing about, but your final obligations are to your reader.

The best rendition I’ve read of how football coaches think is a book about the making of a painting—James Lord’s A Giacometti Portrait. Lord’s brilliant description of the great Swiss artist’s perpetually dissatisfied—enraged! tormented!--relationship to his work takes me right back into the New York Jets defensive coaching room where for hour after hour from day into night, the coaches would study the film of their own players while in the interminable grip of endless possibility. They aspired to an impossible ideal--to invent original patterns of defensive play. It was in these moments that I felt a certain kinship with the coaches. Building the game plan was their creative endeavor, and the slow, frustrating, probably fruitless process had much in common with the perfectionist methods of Giacometti who painted all day only to sponge the whole thing at quitting time: “I’m destroying everything with great bravery!” In that way, coaching and painting were a lot like writing. You could always aspire to do better.

Over time, I came to see that for many people in the NFL, a football team’s signal attraction is that it functions as a surrogate family. As one player put it, “Football is my father.” This was a powerful and enormously consequential revelation, and as I sorted through the implications, it helped to return to Ian Frazier’s masterpiece of memoir and personal history, Family. In the book, Frazier uses the story of his own ancestors as a means of thinking about the country, about the ways that people do and don’t make their way together, and about the institutions that bind them. It’s such a beautiful, inventive book that somehow you hear it speaking to you in its own distinctive voice as you read. Frazier’s approach meshes memoir, biography, straight history, oral history, travel writing, autobiography, creative nonfiction—so many genres. That sound—how can I explain? As I read Family I hear in the pages the resonant thrum of ancestral voices.

In the United States, country of feel-good films with happy endings, our most popular entertainment is ultimately about loss. In the end, only one football team can win, and because so many days and nights go into preparing for football games, football coaches become masters of losing. Thinking about these men who give up their homes, their children’s youths, their marriages, all for a doomed cause, I went back to James Joyce’s story “The Dead,” where it is said, “Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

There is in particular a grave, complicated, mortal, holiday feeling to the last Sunday of the football season. As I sat on the Jets team bus outside an emptying stadium in Miami, experiencing this unwanted finish firsthand, my memory went suddenly to Philip Larkin’s “The Whitsun Weddings.” When I got home, I opened up Larkin’s Collected Poems and reread the poem several times. Then I closed the book and began to write.
Learn more about Collision Low Crossers, and follow Nicholas Dawidoff on Facebook.

Check out Dawidoff's list of the five best baseball novels.

Writers Read: Nicholas Dawidoff (May 2008).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Renée Rosen

As clichéd as it sounds, Renée Rosen is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, the author loves all things old, all things Chicago and all things written.

Rosen is the author of Every Crooked Pot and Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Rosen's reply:
Two really wonderful novels that stand out in my mind are In Need of a Good Wife by Kelly O’Connor McNees and Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann. In Need of a Good Wife is about a mail order bride service after the Civil War. In a lot of ways it was the precursor to Match.Com and the online dating world that exists today. And oddly enough, you’ll see that not that much has changed. Men will still be men and women will be women. Astor Place Vintage braids a contemporary story together with a historical storyline and takes you into the world of the early department stores. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has adored it.

Both authors are extremely skillful at seamlessly working in their research so that it’s organic to the stories they’re telling. Long after I’ve put them on the bookshelf, these novels have stayed with me.
Learn more about Dollface at Renée Rosen's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Every Crooked Pot.

My Book, The Movie: Dollface.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Leslie Morgan Steiner lives in Washington, DC with her husband and three young children. Her 2009 memoir about surviving domestic violence, Crazy Love, was a New York Times bestseller, People Pick, Book of the Week for The Week magazine, and subject of the first TED Talk by a domestic violence survivor.

Her new book is The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy Is Transforming the American Family.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Steiner's reply:
Two of my favorite writers came out with new books recently: Pat Conroy's The Death of Santini and Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. I also was given a gem from the 1950s: Good Morning, Miss Dove. Lastly, my sister told me to read Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne, which I had somehow missed when it was originally published in 1992.

I loved all four books - and they couldn't be more different from one another.

I believe that Stephen King is the most underrated writer of my lifetime, and I am awestruck by his range, productivity, ability to work a plot effortlessly, and love of writing. Most recent King favorites include 11/22/63 and Joyland. I have been a Donna Tartt fan since she published The Secret History, which I read at least three times for its terrific, bizarre plot and memorable, chilling, fascinating characters. Every word of her third book, The Goldfinch, was a delight, almost making it painful to read, like the paradox of enjoying a square of delicious chocolate while agonizing the whole time, "But it's almost gone." I can't wait to read it again.

Good Morning, Miss Dove had that old library book smell that I recall from Minot-Sleeper Library in Bristol, New Hampshire -- where I spent most summers. I love the odd sensation of reading a book that seems so ancient, I wonder if anyone else I know has even heard of it.

Lastly, Pat Conroy. What can I say? The truth of Conroy's childhood was even worse than what shows up in his fiction. According to Conroy, his first editor told him he had to add good qualities to the Great Santini, or no one would find the character believable, and so Pat Conroy had to invent positive attributes for his abusive, terrorizing father. I love Conroy's fiction -- The Prince of Tides showed me the upside of having a crazy family, in that it provides great material. But I find his two memoirs even more interesting and intimate than his fiction.
Read more about The Baby Chase at Leslie Morgan Steiner's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Baby Chase.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Trish J. MacGregor

Trish J. MacGregor is the author of 36 novels and as TJ MacGregor won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for original paperback in 2003. Her new novel Apparition is the third book in the Hungry Ghost trilogy, and takes place in the mystical city of Esperanza, Ecuador, high in the Andes.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. MacGregor's reply:
Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. In the years since I read The Shining, I wondered what had happened to Danny Torrance, the traumatized kid living at the Overlook Hotel with his odd mother, crazy father, and all those awful ghosts. Now King lets us know and takes us deep into Dan Torrance’s adult life, which has certainly not been a picnic. He’s still got the shining, but considers it a curse, not a gift, until…well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Carol Bowman’s ground-breaking book, Children’s Past Lives. I read this book in the early 1990s and was struck then by how original the material was. Reading it now, it’s clear that she’s one of the pioneers in this area and that her focus has always been on how the recovery of past-life memories can heal. Bowman’s search into this area developed when her son, three or four at the time, developed a sudden, inexplicable fear of loud noises. The book is as riveting now as it was when I first read it.

Richard Martini’s Flipside: A Tourist’s Guide on How to Navigate the Afterlife. Martini is a Hollywood guy whose mystical search into life after death was triggered by the death of a woman he loved, whom he cared for during the last two years of her life. It’s heart-breaking, insightful, funny, and a wild ride.

The iPad is probably the best thing to come along for readers. When I travel, I don’t have to stuff my suitcase with 20 pounds of books I want to read while I’m away from home. I download them and slip my 1.44 pound iPad into my purse!
Visit Trish J. MacGregor's website.

The Page 69 Test: Esperanza.

My Book, The Movie: Esperanza.

The Page 69 Test: Ghost Key.

My Book, The Movie: Apparition.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

P.S. Duffy

P.S. Duffy is the author of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, a debut novel that takes place during the First World War in Nova Scotia and the Western Front in France. She lives in Rochester, MN, had a long career in adult neurologic communication disorders, and now splits her time between writing fiction and writing scientific papers for Mayo Clinic. She says that at her age she is happy to have the word “debut” applied to anything she does.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Duffy's reply:
Traveling Sprinkler, by Nicholson Baker.

For the past week, I’ve been keeping company with Paul Chowder, a 55-year-old poet and the narrator of Nicholson Baker’s latest novel. I say “keeping company” because from the opening line, I felt Chowder (he refers to himself by last name) was writing me a personal letter. “Roz called me to ask what I wanted for my 55th birthday,” he begins, and I nod, as if Roz is territory Chowder and I have covered many times before. I say “novel” even though Baker, by his own unapologetic admission, makes little effort to ascribe a narrative arc to Chowder’s meandering days, observations of the ordinary, outrage at drone warfare, and riffs on music (musical notes “can be long or short, and in real life they are always bending up and down like flexible Claymation figures;” measures “are little aquariums of time in which the notes must forever swim”).

Ostensibly, Chowder is at a turning point—away from poetry toward writing protest songs—while simultaneously trying to get Roz back into his life. I want movement and conflict in a novel as much as the next person, but can tolerate its near absence as long as I’m prepared up front and the words inspire, delight, and take me someplace new, which these often do. I’m about three quarters through, and there are times I’ve been irritated at Chowder for self-indulgence. It reminds me of a line about a teenage boy in Monument Road, a novel by Charlie Quimby: “He was in the phase of life when most experiences and thoughts seemed exceptional simply because he had them.” Grow up, I say to Chowder. I don’t care how well-chosen your words and original your syntax; drop these looping insider takes on Debussy’s harmonics and Talking Heads, on sharps and chord progressions and click tracks . But then he surprises and wins me back, as I suspect he will Roz. Re-reading a poem by Howard Moss that in its perfection made him despair as a young poet, Chowder now finds reading it “only makes me happy.” One of the joys of aging—beautifully and obliquely expressed.

Reading this book before sleep, I find my dreams, like the traveling sprinkler, wander slowly through green lawns, a relief from troubled nights.

Crucible of War: The Seven years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 by Fred Anderson.

Lately, for some reason I can’t quite explain, I’ve been drawn to what we used to call the “French and Indian War.” I read a fair amount of history, and this is one I’m taking my time with and have dragged, all 862 pages of it, on trips overseas. It’s dense yet accessible. Anderson’s thesis is that the American Revolution can only be understood in the context of the Seven Years’ War—that the Revolution’s origins lie not just in the seacoast colonies but deep in the Ohio Valley. On a global scale, France’s revenge against Britain for her loss of North America cost Britain resources, and Britain’s massive North American land-grab proved too much to control from an ocean away. Equally crucial were the miscalculations of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, who were respected by colonials and European powers as sophisticated diplomats and negotiators in ways that are difficult to imagine given our humiliating treatment of them ever after. Having just written a novel that takes place during the Frist World War, the causes of which are still hotly debated and about which there are some 25,000 publications in English, I’m attracted to a recasting of common assumptions about war—especially one as intensely studied and often glibly understood as the Revolution. It wasn’t all Stamp Act, tea parties, noble ideals, and material aspirations, as Anderson’s refocus on critical context so well demonstrates. It might take me seven years to finish it, but I’m fine with that.

Bossy Pants by Tina Fey.

Tina Fey. Need I say more? This book makes me laugh out loud, and by that I mean actual laughter, not just “LOL.” Thanks, Tina, I needed that.
Visit P. S. Duffy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jordi Punti

Jordi Punti is a writer, translator, and a regular contributor to the Spanish and Catalan press. Punti is considered one of the most promising new voices of contemporary Catalan literature. In 1998 he published his first book of short stories, Pell d’armadillo (Proa, 1998) that won the Serra d’Or Critics’ Prize.

Lost Luggage is his first novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Punti's reply:
As a writer, one of my interests is the destiny of displaced people, or people who live on the edge of two different cultures, countries, languages etc. This is the reason I picked up This Is How You Lose Her, the story collection by Junot Díaz. His way of portraying human relations through the lives of American characters with a Dominican background is always very funny, touching and full of literary grace. He has a special touch for combining the daily troubles of normal people with storytelling that is at the same time poetic and very close to ourselves, like someone we could meet at the supermarket.

I recently reread La plaça del Diamant [In Diamond Square], by Mercè Rodoreda, one of the most important Catalan writers of the 20th Century. Written in a luminous style that enchanted Gabriel García Márquez when living in Barcelona in the 70's, it tells the story of a couple in a lively neighborhood in Barcelona, and how both lives changed when the Spanish Civil War strikes. Focused on the ways of surviving for Natàlia, the main character, her endurance of life grows loveless and full of doubts against a society that is changing with the war and its aftermath. This is an intense novel that inhabits the reader in every page.
Learn more about Lost Luggage at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ed Kovacs

Ed Kovacs is the author of the critically-acclaimed Cliff St. James mystery/crime series published by St. Martin’s Press. He spent two and half years living in New Orleans beginning in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and he co-founded a security company there that taught defensive tactics and other techniques. Kovacs has studied martial arts, holds many weapons-related licenses, certifications and permits, and is a certified medical First Responder. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, American Legion Post 299, the International Thriller Writers association, and the Mystery Writers of America.

Late last month I asked Kovacs about what he was reading. His reply:
I've been in a brief pause between projects: I'm prepping for the release of Burnt Black:, #3 in the Cliff St. James series; St. Martin's Minotaur just accepted my manuscript launching a new conspiracy/espionage thriller series; and I'm about to start writing a stand-alone thriller spec novel. Hence it was a good time to read a book.

My agent suggested I read a novel written by one of his other clients, F.J. Chase, a.k.a. William Christie, called Darkness Under Heaven. An American security consultant working in China, Peter Avakian, gets into a lot of trouble during an international crisis and has to fight his way out to avoid imprisonment.

Sounded interesting, so I downloaded it onto my e-book reader. It's a straightforward, page-turning action/adventure thriller with a keen understanding of how the Chinese police/military apparatus thinks and operates.

There was a lot more banter than I was expecting; make no mistake, the dialogue is snappy and often funny, but I was shocked by the amount of repartee that didn't advance the plot. This wasn't a problem, but would have been if Chase weren't so good with patter.

I wasn't shocked to learn that the author is a former US Marine, considering how the hero Avakian operates. While he's a complete gentleman and PC in his romantic relationship, he's totally un-PC when it comes to eliminating any obstacles to his escape from the Chinese authorities.

Since there is no war between the US and China in the book, I can't see how some of the killings and actions committed by Avakian wouldn't constitute outright murder and terrorism. I don't have the balls to write my heroes doing those kinds of killings, but Marines have balls to spare!

This book is clever, and Avakian employs plenty of textbook escape and evasion guerrilla tactics against the overwhelming Chinese forces who keep tightening the noose around him.

For those who are ultra-Politically Correct concerning violence, this might not be the novel for you, but it's a good, fun read for the rest of us. Darkness Under Heaven is a rich, well-written thriller that I recommend.
Visit Ed Kovacs's website.

My Book, The Movie: Storm Damage.

The Page 69 Test: Storm Damage.

The Page 69 Test: Good Junk.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2013

Christopher M. Davidson

Christopher Davidson is reader in Government and International Affairs at Durham University, a former visiting associate professor at Kyoto University, and a former assistant professor at Zayed University in the UAE. He is the author of several books on the politics and international affairs of the Gulf states, including Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond, Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, and The Persian Gulf and Pacific Asia: From Indifference to Interdependence.

His new book is After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies.

Last week I asked the author about what he was reading. Davidson's reply:
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Taleb makes clear distinctions between 'fragile' and 'anti-fragile' life patterns, allowing us to insulate ourselves better from the turbulence of the modern world, and making seemingly random and chaotic events work in our favour. Should we save or spend? How should our society and economy achieve more sustainable growth? These and many other questions are addressed, the answers to which - without exaggeration - have implications for mankind itself.

Cry Havoc by Simon Mann

A gripping autobiographical account from veteran British SAS captain and long-time mercenary Simon Mann. With his weapons-laden plane intercepted enroute to Equatorial Guinea, Mann was incarcerated in Zimbabwe before being extradited to EG itself. Soon aware of the dirty politics around him, including foreign bankers, British grandees, and big power games, Mann makes claims that the CIA itself was also involved, eventually subverting his coup as part of an effort to strengthen America's position in the oil-rich mini state.

In Defence of Leon Trotsky by David North

Picking apart the 'mainstream' biographies of Trotsky penned by western historians such as Thatcher and Service, North sets about resurrecting the image and rehabilitating the reputation of Trotksy. Not only as the architect of proletarian internationalism, but also as one of the greatest writers and thinkers of the twentieth century. Comprising a series of lectures and other presentations, North's short book is an excellent alternative introduction to Trotskyism.

Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady

With talk of surveillance culture, 'shadow governments', and a new generation of 'leaker heros' now entering into mainstream Western debate, it has never been a better time to publish a book on the existence, or otherwise, of a 'deep state.' Just what traditional, neo-patriarchal, or crony-based powers continue to exist underneath the veneer of institutions that the Western democracies have carefully built up and maintained over the past few centuries?
Visit Christopher M. Davidson's website.

The Page 99 Test: Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stephen V. Ash

Stephen V. Ash is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Tennessee. He is the author of Firebrand of Liberty, A Year in the South, and other books on the Civil War era.

His newest book is A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year After the Civil War.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ash's reply:
Although I’m a historian, when I read for pleasure I’m more likely to pick up a novel than a work of history; and when I do pick up a work of history, it’s usually not one in my field (American Civil War and Reconstruction).

The most interesting book I’ve read lately, which caught my eye as I was roaming the aisles of a used-book store, is neither fiction nor history. It’s a work of journalism published more than half a century ago: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.

In 1959, as the Civil Rights crisis roiled the South, Griffin--a white magazine reporter--conceived the daring idea of disguising himself as a black man, traveling through the South, and writing about his experiences. After undergoing a medical treatment that temporarily darkened his skin, he set out on a six-week odyssey, walking, hitchhiking, and riding buses through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Unobtrusively he kept a daily journal, a gripping account of the casual humiliations, deliberate insults, and frightening threats he endured from whites and of the pervasive fear, grim poverty, and narrowly constricted horizons that characterized black life in the Jim Crow South.

Published soon after, Griffin’s narrative was a smash success and helped open the eyes of millions of non-Southerners to the hideous reality of race relations below the Mason-Dixon line. It’s still in print today, although not as well known as it deserves to be. Reading it now, one gains a deeper appreciation of the obstacles and dangers that the Civil Rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s had to confront, and thus a deeper admiration for their courage. For me, personally, the book is also a forceful reminder that many of the issues Americans grappled with in the Civil War and Reconstruction were still unresolved a century later---and, indeed, are still unresolved.
Learn more about A Massacre in Memphis at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Firebrand of Liberty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Richard Toye

Richard Toye studied at the Universities of Birmingham and Cambridge, and is currently Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. His books include Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness, Churchill's Empire: The World that Made Him and the World He Made, and Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction. His new book is The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill's World War II Speeches.

Last week I asked the author about what he was reading. Toye's reply:
I’ve been reading a lot about Watergate lately. Forty years on, this epic abuse of power still has the power to fascinate. At the moment, I’m in the middle of the diaries of H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff who was forced to resign because of his involvement in the scandal. Clearly there’s an issue about how far you can trust the journal of a proven liar (Haldeman was eventually convicted for obstruction of justice). Still, there’s much that can be corroborated from the White House tapes that recorded the president’s conversations. I was quite struck by how inefficient Nixon’s working methods were. At one point Haldeman comments that he (the President) spent more time complaining about not having time to do things than he did doing the things which he claimed he didn’t have time to do.

I’m also reading a good deal on the history of news, for a course I teach at the University of Exeter with my colleague Dr. Sara Barker. I was at the Newseum in Washington DC last weekend and at the airport on the way home I picked up a copy of Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying. It’s a powerful expose (written from experience) of the corrupt intersection between marketers, bloggers and mainstream news organisations; I’ll definitely be recommending it to my students.
Read more about The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill's World War II Speeches at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Churchill's Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Carl Deuker

Carl Deuker participated in several sports as a boy. He was good enough to make most teams, but not quite good enough to play much. He describes himself as a classic second-stringer. "I was too slow and too short for basketball; I was too small for football, a little too chicken to hang in there against the best fastballs. So, by my senior year the only sport I was still playing was golf." Deuker still loves playing golf early on Sunday mornings at Jefferson Park in Seattle, the course on which Fred Couples learned to play.

Combining his enthusiasm for both writing and athletics, Deuker has created many exciting, award-winning novels for young adults, including the latest, Swagger. Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Deuker's reply:
I'm presently reading A Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell. It's a 12 volume work, and I'm with Jenkins as he finishes up his school days in England. The other book I'm reading is Smoke by Ivan Turgenev, the Russian novelist who exists in the shadow of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Why these books? I was an English major, and I learned to revere the classics ... too much. As I've grown older, I've come to realize that the "great" writers aren't the only ones who write great books. More, I've come to think that at least a part of the "greatness" attributed to the canonized writers is simply a result of conformity. So I seek out the books that live in a sort of purgatory. These days I'd rather read Trollope than Dickens; Turgenev than Tolstoy. And then, when I get tired of being serious, I find myself a good Jack Reacher novel and thoroughly enjoy the action-packed violence that it promises ... and delivers. Those are great books, too.
Visit Carl Deuker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mary Anna Evans

Mary Anna Evans has degrees in physics and engineering, but her heart is in the past. Her series character, Faye Longchamp, lives the exciting life of an archaeologist, and Evans envies her a little.

Longchamp's growing list of adventures include Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates, Strangers, Plunder and, new this month, Rituals.

Last week I asked Evans about what she was reading. Her reply:
When I was asked to write this piece, my first thought was to distinguish the books I read for work from the books I read for pleasure. Then I realized that there is no distinction between the two. I’m a writer. My work is my pleasure.

As my newest book, Rituals, makes its way into the world this week, my thoughts turn to the books I read while I was writing it, but this just drives home the notion that my work isn’t work at all. To craft a story about psychics who may or may not be the real thing, I needed to know what kinds of miracles honest psychics believe they can wreak and I needed to know how someone dishonest might fake those miracles. This brought me to Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions by James Randi and Isaac Asimov, and reading it was unadulterated fun. If you want to know how Victorian Spiritualists made tables fly and horns sound, come to me and I shall tell you.

To portray characters who deeply believe in Spiritualism, I needed to know more about their faith, so I visited Cassadaga, a tiny Florida town where anyone at all can attend a Spiritualist church service, and anyone able to pay the necessary fee can receive a private reading from a practicing psychic. This brought me to a fascinating book on how a religious movement rooted in 1800s New York could have taken root so deeply in the Sunshine State: Cassadaga: The South's Oldest Spiritualist Community by John J. Guthrie Jr., Phillip Charles Lucas, and Gary Monroe.

And because Rituals takes place in another small town, one that isn’t far from Seneca Falls, the site of the convention where women made themselves heard with conviction in 1848, I read those women’s Declaration of Sentiments. There is a bit of time travel in reading historical documents. Putting myself in the high-topped shoes of ladies who wanted the most basic of rights for themselves and their daughters was an eye-opening experience. I recommend it. And as you read it, give yourself some personal historical scale. For example, when my grandmothers were born, women did not have the right to vote, and I’m not that old. There are women alive today who were born before 1920. If you hold that thought as you read the Declaration of Sentiments, you may get a sense of the rollicking passage of time.

My books about archaeologist Faye Longchamp are a way I reach out and share that sense of time passing with my readers. Faye and I, together, like to look at the present and the past as a way of making sense of our baffling world. Faye knew her grandmother, and her grandmother knew her own great-grandmother, who had been a slave. I remember watching human beings walk on the moon for the first time. And my grandmothers remembered the day when they realized that they were going to be able to vote in the country of their birth.

Time moves on, and books help us mark its passing.
Visit Mary Anna Evans' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Floodgates.

The Page 69 Test: Strangers.

My Book, The Movie: Strangers.

The Page 69 Test: Plunder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lisa Black

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

The Price of Innocence is Black's latest novel featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean.

Late last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Black's reply:
Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial Institutions--And Themselves, by Andrew Ross Sorkin

I may be writing this blog under false pretenses, because I’ve been reading this book since, I think, 2009--back when I had a publisher who sent me on book tours. Short book tours, and only within my home state, but Florida is long and spread out and it required a lot of driving, so books on tape helped the miles fall away. So I haven’t even been reading it, but listening to it. I no longer go on long book tours, but I do spend (as I had before) hours upon hours sitting in front of a computer screen looking at fingerprints, which is exactly as titillating as it sounds. But I recently discovered that I could download audiobooks from the library onto my phone--hence, I took up again with Too Big to Fail. I had left off between the Bear Stearns bailout and the Lehman Brothers fiasco, and now I’m up to where both Bank of America and Merrill Lynch are dashing about looking for help.

The fact that I’m reading (or listening) to this book at all would probably astound anyone who knows me, since I’ve never taken any interest in the business or financial worlds. Perhaps something about the aging process--with retirement looming in the not-distant-enough future--has made me more interested in money, a force as cold, indiscriminate, unpredictable and yet life-giving as the seas. Perhaps somewhere along the line I cottoned on to the fact that the tales of high industry can be as tempestuous and suspenseful as any murder yarn.

However, that doesn’t mean I can explain margin calls, overnight financing or why our economy ‘suddenly’ melted down. And I wouldn’t presume to, except to say that it wasn’t sudden, really, and probably resulted from a long series of missteps as well as the overall tendency of human beings to always push for more. In science that might mean we send a probe to Mars. In business, it means as soon as we saw off one financial limb, someone will find another to dash out on--because the money is just too good not to.

The personalities involved are each a story in themselves, of course. The image, it seems, of Wall Street brokers as utterly ruthless, driven SOBs who work 18 hour days and live to make money seems to be…largely true. They are ruthless to the point that when A describes B as a ‘really nice guy’ you assume that means that B is what the rest of the world describe as a first-class a-hole. Because everyone in their world is, so niceness is extremely relative. But that said, it is an egalitarian society. They don’t care about your resume, education, age, gender or race (not that the last two are necessarily equally represented there). Whether you graduated from Harvard cum laude or a dropped out of high school makes no difference to them. All that matters is, can you make money? If you can make money, you can stab people in the back, have a parent in jail, or call your boss any name in the book and they won’t fire you. Which makes complete sense--for example you could have a PhD in baseball, but if you can’t swing a bat you’re not going to get signed to a team. Because on the field, swinging a bat is all that matters.

At any rate, I recommend the book highly to anyone with a passing curiosity as to what happened to our national economy. Just be prepared for an investment of time, because it’s 640 pages. Or 21 hours, if you have long trip coming up.
Visit Lisa Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Price of Innocence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 8, 2013

Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.

Recently I asked Gladstone about what he was reading. His reply:
Fall for me means genre reading. I'm never far from the genres, but between convention season and Halloween (a huge pivot on my personal psychic calendar), I end up reading more books about wizards, zombies, mafoisi, and starships than usual.

The first book on my list is explicitly seasonal: Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October. Zelazny is, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers of the science fiction and fantasy genres, and A Night in the Lonesome October is an overlooked classic. Set in the late 19th century England of the Strand and so many pulp adventure novels, this book is narrated by Jack the Ripper's dog Snuff, and describes the complex game he and his master are playing against a number of creepy characters (including Count Dracula and Sherlock Holmes) to destroy, or possibly save, our universe from Creepy Crawly Horrors From Before the Dawn of Time. And yet it's… sweet? Heartwarming? Fun? Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes best captures the horrors behind Halloween, but A Night in the Lonesome October highlights the more lighthearted spirit of the holiday.

A friend of mine loaned me his big hardcover of John Layman and Rob Guillory's CHEW Omnivore, which is a wonderfully demented comic series about a post-avian-flu-pandemic FDA inspector who can see the past of any food he eats—including people. Twisty and twisted, with a vivid and expressive art style that reminds me a little of Sam Kieth's vicious, brilliant The Maxx. This was my first exposure to CHEW, and I look forward to following the series in the future.

On Stina Leicht's recommendation, I recently picked up Adrian McKinty's Dead I Well May Be, a noir novel that starts off being about a young Irish gangster in 1980s New York, and ends up… everywhere. McKinty uses short, sharp sentences like scalpels, and has a demented and expansive imagination. The book as much a poem as a crime novel.

And beyond that I have a stack of books I'm excited to tear into when I get the chance—I've been busy working on the launch for my new novel, Two Serpents Rise, which is great but cuts into reading time. Some items on the list: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear, and Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon.
Visit Max Gladstone's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Two Serpents Rise.

My Book, The Movie: Two Serpents Rise.

--Marshal Zeringue