Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Carola Dunn

Carola Dunn is the author of Heirs of the Body and many previous mysteries featuring Daisy Dalrymple, as well as numerous historical novels. Born and raised in England, she lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Earlier this month I asked Dunn about what she was reading. Her reply:
Salaam Brick Lane: A Year in the New East End , by Tarquin Hall. The author is a British journalist who worked for several years in India and married an Indian. On his return to Britain, he couldn't find a job so he lived very cheaply in the East End of London. His acute and funny observation of the Indian/Pakistani immigrants now living there is fascinating.

I've also been reading the same author's mysteries set in India "from the files of Vish Puri, India's most private investigator": The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken and The Case of the Missing Servant. They're good mysteries as well as an interesting peek into today's India.

David Rosenfelt's Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure, is the extraordinary story of how he and his wife started their own dog rescue organization. They ended up adopting a lot of the rescued dogs. When they moved from LA to New England, taking the dogs with them turned into a major enterprise. Funny, sad, amazing... every emotion you can think of that comes with the interaction of canine and human.

David Crystal. The subject may sound dry, but for word nuts like me, David Crystal makes a good tale out of a complicated history.
Visit Carola Dunn's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Melissa Walker

Melissa Walker is a writer who has worked as ELLEgirl Features Editor and Seventeen Prom Editor. All in the name of journalism, she has spent 24 hours with male models and attended an elite finishing school for girls in New Zealand, among other hardships.

She co-founded I Heart Daily with fellow ex-ELLEgirl Anne Ichikawa in 2009. It’s a daily newsletter about likable stuff.

Walker is the author of Unbreak My Heart, Small Town Sinners, Lovestruck Summer, and the Violet on the Runway series. Her latest book is Ashes to Ashes.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Walker's reply:
The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten. On the surface, this is the story of a girl pining after a boy who broke up with her--but the book has amazing depth. Underneath the plotline is an understanding of longing, fear, friendship and what we look for when we fall in love--the pages are filled with wise gems and sparkling insights into human relationships.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. A hilariously human adventure story filled with twists and turns and personalities that crackle with smarts and heart. I'm late to read this one, but am so glad I didn't miss it. A true pleasure.
Visit Melissa Walker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 27, 2013

M. A. Lawson

M. A. Lawson is the author of nine novels in the Joe DeMarco thriller series (writing as Mike Lawson) and the newly released Rosarito Beach.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Lawson's reply:
Not long ago I finished Martin Cruz Smith’s Tatiana and I’m currently reading Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt. Both authors are obviously great based on their popularity alone, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the stark difference in writing styles. Smith’s plots are never straightforward. He dishes out information in bits and pieces so you’re always trying to catch up with where the book is going. His protagonist, Arkady Renko, is unique and quirky, and I love this character. With Connelly, his protagonist, Mickey Haller, is more down to earth – you can see him as a “real” person – and the plots of Connelly’s books – although filled with twists and turns – are not told in the down-the-rabbit hole style used by Smith. But what I’m always amazed by in Connelly’s books is the effort he makes to explain the legal and police procedural stuff, and you just know he got it exactly right. I’m sure Mr. Smith does a lot of research on his books as well, but with Connelly, you can literally see the sweat he puts into getting all his facts straight. Anyway, two successful writers with totally different styles, yet both are a pleasure to read.
Visit Mike Lawson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Anna Humphrey

Anna Humphrey is the author of Rhymes with Cupid and Mission (un)Popular, both novels for teens.

Her new book, Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea, is her first novel for middle graders.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Humphrey's reply:
The Night Guest, by Fiona McFarlane

I picked up this book because it was included on some kind of Oprah list as one of the best suspenseful books of the year, and honestly, I’ll do just about anything Oprah Winfrey tells me to. She introduced the world to Spanx, mail order pie and those shoes with the red soles on them. When has she ever steered us wrong?

The Night Guest, it turns out, is no exception. It’s the story of Ruth, an elderly widow who lives by herself near the ocean. One day a stranger appears, looking as if she’s been blown in from the sea. She claims to be a government worker assigned to help Ruth with daily tasks... but is she really? Aside from being absolutely gorgeously written, this book kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen. It also got me thinking about the darker sides of aging and dependency. Bonus: It starts with a tiger.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

This is the kind of YA book I wish I were brave and edgy enough to write. It’s the story of Greg Gaines, a teenage boy who does his best to blend into the background at school... that is, until his mother ruins everything by thrusting him into the spotlight when she forces him to become friends with Rachel, a girl who’s dying of leukemia. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and his friend Earl (two of the most delightful jerks you’re ever likely to meet) decide to make a film for her. What ends up being the “Worst Film Ever Made” also ends up being a turning point in both of their lives.

This is one of the funniest, rudest, and most honest books I’ve ever read. Jesse Andrews does an amazing job of depicting the lows of high school life, and he doesn’t for a second give in to the temptation to force some kind of beautiful message about life and/or death down our throats—as books with this kind of plot tend to do. After all, in real life, when people die tragically and way too young, it mostly just sucks. End of story. That said, there’s so much humour and subtle hope here that you won’t close the cover feeling like a wrung out dishrag, either. Warning: There’s a description in this book that totally ruined hummus for me. I may never eat it again.

Monster Trucks: High Octane Machines that Crush, Crash and Roar! by Nancy W. Cortelyou

I read this book every day... sometimes several times. It’s just that good! Okay, not really... but I have a three-year-old son. And because I believe whole-heartedly that kids should always be allowed to choose their own books, I’ve condemned myself to the near constant reading of this particular work of non-fiction. (I mean, I like monster trucks—they’re so crazy and huge and sometimes they’ve got flames shooting out the back!—but nobody likes them that much... unless they’re a three-year-old boy.) Fact: There’s a monster truck that’s shaped like a giant lobster. It’s called Crushstation. Amazing, right?
Visit Anna Humphrey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Gail Oust

The author of the Bunco Babes mystery series, Gail Oust is often accused of flunking retirement. Hearing the words "maybe it's a dead body" while golfing fired her imagination for writing a cozy. Ever since then, she has spent more time on a computer than at a golf course.

Oust's new novel is Rosemary and Crime.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Oust's reply:
Any time someone rattles off a title and tells me it’s the best book they’ve ever read, I’m curious. An avid reader I met recently told me about The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. The premise of a four year old child abandoned on a ship bound for Australia intrigued me. The novel was a gracefully layered tale told from multiple points of view and with multiple locales and time periods. It was a woman’s search for identity. I was particularly interested in the journey since, I am the mother of two grown children who are adopted.

After reading The Forgotten Garden, I was in the mood for a change of pace. I’m currently enjoying James Patterson and Maxine Paetro’s, Private: #1 Suspect. The plot is twisty, the characters interesting, and the short chapters make for a quick and easy read especially with less time with the holidays rapidly approaching.
Visit Gail Oust's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rosemary and Crime.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jonathan Miles

Jonathan Miles's first novel, Dear American Airlines, was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. A former columnist for the New York Times, he serves as a contributing editor to magazines as diverse as Field & Stream and Details, and writes regularly for the New York Times Book Review and The Literary Review (UK).

Miles's new novel is Want Not.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Keeper of the Moon: A Southern Boyhood by Tim McLaurin

I plucked this memoir from the shelf of a friend at whose house I was bunking while on book tour last month, thinking I’d revisit it. (Book tours, I’ve found, are usually best for re-reading, not reading; all that travel renders my brain too jangly & vulnerable for any additional new sensation.) But this, as I realized by the second page, was a trick of the mind. I interviewed Tim McLaurin (1953-2002) almost twenty years ago, about his novel Cured by Fire, and because we shared mutual friends, for whom trading outrageous Tim stories was a common pastime, I must’ve absorbed enough McLaurin lore to trick me, when I saw this book’s spine on the shelf, into thinking I’d read it. I hadn't.

Letting Keeper of the Moon slip by me would've been a tragic error, I see now, having just emerged from the book with dumbstruck awe. You could call it a country song of a memoir, the kind of country song you play when you’ve driven your truck down by the lake and opened the doors and popped a beer—except no, scratch that, it’s less a song than an entire country album, because the book veers from rockabilly set pieces (memories of dogfights, cockfights, barfights, fumbly backseat sex, drunken tangles with state troopers) to haunting ballads (suicides, reckless deaths, an alcoholic father, a grueling battle with cancer) to passages that transcend my cheap FM-dial analogy (a brother’s heart-cracking note after donating his bone marrow, that brute father’s riveting moment of grace as he dispenses small mercies to a flock of doomed farmyard ducks).

This is a memoir of McLaurin’s life—his hardscrabble, star-gazing boyhood in Fayetteville, N.C., mostly, with glimpses of his later life as a professional snake handler, Marine, Peace Corps volunteer, and writer—yet it’s less about McLaurin himself than it is about the place and time in which he grew up, and about the folks he grew up with: people for whom, “if you loved hard enough and worked hard enough and filtered each failure through either God or whiskey, you just had to come out ahead in the end,” though of course many didn’t. McLaurin’s lush eloquence doesn’t mask or conceal the painfully raw honesty here; in fact it heightens it, the way certain finishes intensify wood grain. The book rattles, disturbs, confounds, just like the South of the 1950s and ‘60s that it depicts. But the spell it casts is profound and unshakable: here are the scars of a region and its people, fearlessly examined. “I have told you of home,” is how McLaurin ended it, and though the book appears to have dropped out of print, I’m surely not the only one who, having read that last line, felt an immense surge of gratitude.
Read more about Want Not at Jonathan Miles's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Maureen Ogle

Maureen Ogle is a historian and the author of several books, including Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.

Her new book is In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. That book’s a perfect example of the way “mood” can affect one’s reading choices: When the book came out in 2012, I read maybe ten pages and put it down. I suspected, without digging too deep into my psyche, that I wasn’t in the mood for what Mitchell had to offer and mentally filed the book under “Try later.” I’m glad I did. This time, Mitchell instantly transported me to late 18th century Japan, and kept me there, hostage to his extraordinary ability to capture the moments that make up life. In tone and complexity, Thousand Autumns is akin to Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies). As astonishing achievement and one of those books that makes me, a hack historian, want to stop sullying the English language with my own words.

I also just finished reading Elizabeth George’s new book, Just One Evil Act. I’m a life-long reader of mysteries, devouring Agatha Christie as a kid and Dorothy Sayers as a teenager. Both authors taught me that mysteries are literature (Gaudy Night is one of the best feminist novels of the twentieth century) and as an adult reader, I gravitate toward mysteries that are novels first and mysteries second. I’ve read all of George’s books and I admire her fearlessness. She’s first and foremost a “writer” and it’s been a pleasure over the years to watch as her style has changed and grown. An example: Barbara Havers started as a sidekick character and now commands a lead role in George’s novels. In a million years, I never expected Havers to become the complex, passionate person that George has created.

And on the subject of writers taking chances: J. K. Rowling. I trudged through two of the Harry Potter books before I gave up: Rowling’s clunky prose got in my way. So I had no interest in her first “adult” novel, The Casual Vacancy . But then I read an interview with Ann Padgett who said that she thought it was brilliant and couldn’t understand why the critics panned it. Intrigued by her comment, I gave it a try. Five thumbs up, folks. I never would have guessed this is the same writer whose characters mumbled and snarled, adverbially speaking, through the many pages of Potter and company. Rowling’s new book is barbed but witty, peopled with a complex cast of characters, and laced with rich insight and observation. Bonus: The plot is first rate. I’m now tempted to read the last Potter novel to see how Rowling’s writing style in that book compares to CV. If it’s more like the first HP book than CV, I wonder: Was Rowling edited in order to maintain a similar tone, voice, and style throughout that series? Because it’s hard to imagine that her writing changed that much from last HP to CV.

But reading both George and Rowling also prompted this thought: Why do readers and critics often object when an author reaches higher? I gather, for example, that over the years many of George’s readers have objected when her books don’t fit the standard detective-solving-case model. Her best book, What Came before He Shot Her, is a brilliantly grim dissection of urban life on the fringe; it’s anything but a conventional mystery. And then there was the brouhaha over Rowling’s new book, The Cuckoo's Calling, which she published under a pseudonym. Many people, especially writers, objected. Some argued that Rowling was slumming and when the book sales weren’t high, she outed herself. To which I say: Huh? I don’t blame Rowling for the pseudonym. She wanted to expand her reach. Good writers constantly reach for more.

Which is another way of saying that my three most recent reads have had the effect of both challenging me and wanting me to destroy my own books. It doesn’t get better than that.
Learn more about the book and author at Maureen Ogle's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Ambitious Brew.

The Page 99 Test: In Meat We Trust.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Helen Douglas

Helen Douglas graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in economic history. After a stint as a subeditor in London, she moved to California, where she worked as a theatre director, then as an English teacher. She now lives in Cornwall with her husband and children.

Her new novel is After Eden.

Recently I asked Douglas about what she was reading. Her reply:
I like to read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, and as a writer of young adult books, I usually have a YA read on the go as well.

I have just finished reading an ARC of a soon-to-be-published YA medical thriller called Control by debut author Lydia Kang. Control tells the story of a group of teens who have to hide from the authorities because they are genetic ‘mistakes’. There’s a character with four arms, another with two heads and yet another with the power to heal himself from injury. The main character, Zel, ends up in a safe house with these misfits, but her younger sister is captured by a sinister group who want to exploit her difference for their own gain. While this book is a page-turner with lots of action and suspense, it is at heart about growing up different – and explores the fact that one person’s deficiency is another person’s ability. I loved it.

I have just started reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, is one of my all-time favourites, so I have been anticipating this one for a while. The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo, a thirteen year old boy who miraculously survives the accident that kills his mother. The one link that Theo has to his mother is a small painting, The Goldfinch. This painting draws the adult Theo into the underground of the world of art. It’s a long book – 800 or so pages – and I am less than a quarter of the way through it at this time. So far I’m really enjoying it: she manages to combine brilliant prose that has just the right telling detail to make a scene come alive, with a page-turner of a plot.

I am just about to start a non-fiction book called The Astronaut’s Guide to Life by Chris Hadfield. I happened to hear about five minutes of it when it was featured on BBC Radio 4s Book of the Week programme. That snippet was enough to intrigue me: I love anything to do with space and/or exploration. A few days later I came across the book in my local bookstore and I read the opening page. I was hooked right away.
Visit Helen Douglas's website.

The Page 69 Test: After Eden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Roland Merullo

Roland Merullo is the author of the Revere Beach trilogy, A Little Love Story, Golfing with God, and Breakfast with Buddha.

His new novel is Vatican Waltz.

Late last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Merullo's reply:
I used to read a lot of fiction, but these days I read only a few novels a year and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s especially strange because I write novels—mostly—and because I love the novel form. Maybe it’s that I feel like, after 15 published books, I know the tricks, and if I get even the smallest sense that the author is showing his or her hand, drifting away from full sincerity, then the book loses its reality for me, what John Gardner referred to as “the unbroken dream.” I want a novel that speaks to what I think of as “the big questions”: what are we doing here? What is the point of this complex drama in the middle of which we find ourselves?

Instead of novels, I find myself reading a lot of psychology and religion—though more the broad-minded mystics than the narrow-minded, rules-bound religious material. I loved Thomas Keating’s Intimacy with God. I like to re-read Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I think Primal Wound by Ann Gila and John Firman is an absolutely brilliant study of the roots of addiction and self-hatred.

Novels I have read—and loved—recently were Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner, and two books by good friends of mine—Craig Nova’s All the Dead Yale Men, and Sterling Watson’s The Calling. They all have a certain psychological/spiritual depth to them, and that’s what matters to me now, though that can come from books that never directly address matters spiritual. I felt that in The World at Night, Alan Furst’s fine novel. I want books that dig hard into the mystery of being. That, to me, is what the novel is supposed to do, and when I find a great book that does that, well, there’s no feeling like it.
Visit Roland Merullo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jennifer Michael Hecht

Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of four history books, including the best-selling Doubt: A History, and three volumes of poetry. Her work has won major awards in intellectual history and in poetry. Hecht teaches in the Creative Writing Program at New York University and The Graduate Writing Program of The New School University.

Hecht's new book is Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Hecht's reply:
I’m reading The Great Enigma: new collected poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton. Tranströmer won the 2011 Nobel in literature, though he’s still not that well known in the US. I teach a course in the graduate program at the New School called “Poets and Philosophy” and this year it centers on psychology. Tranströmer’s poetry is deeply concerned with the hidden workings of the mind, and he himself worked as a psychologist, so he was perfect for our reading list. Now rereading the poems on this cold blue-skied day I’m moved not only by his insight but by his patience. He’s impatiently patient, he’s patient only because there is no other choice. What we want comes slowly, if ever. “Often I have to stand motionless/ I am the knife-thrower’s partner at the circus!” (“The Gallery”)

I’m also reading David Lehman’s New and Selected Poems which just came out recently. It’s great and melancholy and honest, rings lots of my bells. I love this one poem where he sits in the sun and thinks, among other things, about the pesto sauce concocted by his wife Stacey, and thinks about a boy who wants nothing but to sit in the sun, but keeps arriving too late to do so – even though he, the poet, is actually sitting in the sun. So even when we make it, we miss it.

What else? Erin Belieu’s One Above and One Below, which is also poetry. I don’t always only read poetry, I just happen to only be reading poetry right now. Belieu’s poems are scary and sharp, they stick in my head. There’s one near the front of the book that says “the drowning man doesn’t drown” and she empathizes. As do I. I, for instance, am almost always drowning, and yet haven’t drowned at all.
Visit Jennifer Michael Hecht's website.

The Page 99 Test: Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ian Tregillis

Ian Tregillis lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he works as a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is a member of the George R.R. Martin Wild Cards writing collective and the author of The Milkweed Tryptich Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War and Necessary Evil.

His new novel is Something More Than Night.

Late last month I asked Tregillis about what he was reading. His reply:
I frequently have several books going at any one time, because I always have a book to read on the bus (my commute to and from work is about 2 hours/day), a book to read for fun at home, and often I'll also be reading something related to my current writing project.

My commute reading right now is Snuff by Terry Pratchett. I have been a devoted fan of the Discworld novels since I stumbled upon #2, The Light Fantastic, in a bookstore in the late 1980s. It was the funniest thing I had ever read at the time; I remember reading excerpts from it to anybody who would listen. It was amazing stuff that seemed to have come out of nowhere. From then on I grabbed each new Discworld book as soon as I could, and I've been doing that for 25 years; Snuff is #39 in the series. Nowadays, I'm a little wiser than I was back then, and so I always leave one unread Discworld book on the shelf -- so that no matter what's going on in my life, I always have at least one book to look forward to.

The Discworld books are in that rare category of works that can be relied upon to make me laugh aloud in public. (Certain Douglas Adams books and Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man are also in this category.) But I think sometimes the series doesn't get enough credit (in spite of the critical acclaim it has received in more recent years) because it's always seen in the light of its earliest entries -- as farcical parodies of second-world fantasy tropes. But as the series has evolved over the years, I've watched the books grow longer, deeper, and wiser. They're still incredibly funny, but now I read them just as much for the way they're plotted, for what they say about the human condition, and for some truly lovely turns of phrase. They have heart in equal abundance to their wit. The Discworld books are great not because they're hilarious, but because they're hilarious while still somehow being about something meaningful.

My at-home reading is A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin. I've been waiting for what seems like forever for this to come out in paperback -- it was intended as my commute reading, and since I don't use an e-reader, I didn't want to lug the equivalent of a small hardcover dictionary on the bus with me every day! Though it turns out the paperback is still so big that it's a bit impractical for my commute. I've just started it, and I'm eager to dive in and get caught up on the latest installment in the Song of Ice and Fire. I think this is an amazing series, and utterly worthy of all the praise and acclaim it has received.

My writing-related reading at the moment is A Financial History of the Netherlands, edited by Marjolein 't Hart, Joost Jonker, and Jan Luiten van Zanden. Worldbuilding is a strange and imperfect practice; for me, it usually means running around like a headless chicken while (1) panicking, and (2) trying to patch the countless holes in my knowledge that I continually trip over while trying to write a novel.
Visit Ian Tregillis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 6, 2013

Gerry Bartlett

Gerry Bartlett is the author of the Real Vampires series. Real Vampires Know Size Matters, the tenth book in the series, is now out in bookstores.

Recently I asked the author about what she has been reading. Bartlett's reply:
I’ve been reading some great Young Adult series lately but I’m also still a fan of mysteries. John Sandford is my go-to favorite mystery author. He never disappoints me and his latest Virgil Flowers novel was no exception. I loved Storm Front. The added element of a relationship for Virgil with fascinating female character Ma made me laugh out loud. The mystery of a stolen artifact from the Middle East gave the book a nice change of pace from a typical Sandford tale.

I’m currently reading Patricia Cornwell’s Dust but haven’t finished it yet. I’m a sucker for a Kay Scarpetta book.

As for the Young Adult books? My favorite this year was The Paladin Prophecy. Written by Mark Frost who was the co-creator of Twin Peaks, the TV series, this book blew me away. Will West, the hero, is being chased by men in black sedans and runs to an exclusive school when his parents disappear. There he finds out he has special abilities. Such a clever book and it has all the mystery, action and suspense that made this book a page turner. I can’t wait for the sequel.
Learn more about the Real Vampires series at Gerry Bartlett's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Real Vampires Have More to Love.

Coffee with a Canine: Gerry Bartlett and Jet (September 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Real Vampires Know Hips Happen.

The Page 69 Test: Real Vampires Know Size Matters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Camille Minichino

Camille Minichino is a retired physicist and math teacher and the author of numerous mysteries as well as short stories and articles. She’s also Margaret Grace, author of the Miniature Mysteries, and Ada Madison, author of the Professor Sophie Knowles Series.

The latest Sophie Knowles mystery is The Quotient of Murder.

Last month I asked Minichino about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually read only dark, unless a book club, class presentation, or the threat of a lost friendship requires me to read light. Dexter (the Jeff Lindsay books) is my friend. Send me to bed with a serial killer or a hit man and I'm in reading heaven.

Imagine my surprise that a light book, The California Roll, by John Vorhaus, has captured my attention. The endorsements alone should have turned me off: "hilarious," "entertaining," "very funny." But Vorhaus's humor is not cheesy, not just there for a laugh. He plays with words, laughs at them, makes them up, all for the sake of his wonderful character, bafflegabber (see what I mean) Radar Hoverlander, con-artist supreme. I loved spending time with Radar, known by many other names, and practitioner of cons, one more interesting than the other.

The great game of the book is to get to know all the characters and figure out who's conning whom. Highly recommended!
Visit Camille Minichino's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

William C. Dietz

New York Times bestselling author William C. Dietz has published more than forty novels including Andromeda's Choice, the latest volume of Dietz's popular Legion of the Damned™ series.

Hundreds of years in the future, much has changed. Advances in medicine, technology, and science abound. Humanity has gone to the stars, found alien life, and established an empire. But some things never change...

All her life, Lady Catherine Carletto (called Cat) has lived for nothing but the next party, the next lover, and the next expensive toy. Then, as part of a murderous power grab, Princess Ophelia and her cadre of synth assassins murder her brother the emperor, and go on to purge the galaxy of his friends and supporters—including Cat’s family.

Now Cat, the only surviving Carletto, is on the run. And, like countless others before her, she seeks refuge in a military organization that's home to society's most dangerous misfits. The Legion of the Damned.

Cat Carletto vanishes and Legion Recruit Andromeda McKee appears in her place. A woman with a mission—to bring down Empress Ophelia—or die trying.

The preceding volume is titled: Andromeda's Fall.

But in spite of the fact that Dietz writes science fiction--that isn't what he's been reading. His reply to my recent query on that subject:
The last book I read was The Pride And The Anguish by Douglas Reeman. I love his World War II naval fiction, as well as the Richard Bolithio stories, are set during the Napoleonic Wars--and were written under the pseudonym Alexander Kent. I think they and are every bit as good as C.S. Forester's Hornblower books and that's saying something.

If that seems like a strange reading list for a science fiction writer it's important to remember that I am primarily a military science fiction writer, so I gravitate to the type of books that I'm interested in, regardless of the time period.

I am however vicariously reading a biographical book called Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I say vicariously because although I haven't read a single page of the book myself, my wife Marjorie is in the process of reading it, and provides me with a detailed book report every day at 4:00 PM. That's when we sit down for a couple of gin and tonics (Tanqueray-Rangpur in tall glasses) and speak of many things, some of which are important, and most of which are trivial.

The full title of Strayed's book is, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. As the title would suggest the book is about a physical as well as psychological and emotional journey. And based on what I've heard so far Wild shares some similarities with Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, has undertones of Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer, and contains enough technical stuff to keep readers thumbing through the latest REI catalog.

Or so it seems to me... Remembering that I haven't read the book--but am basing my report on Marjorie's enthusiastic briefings. Oh, and did I mention that Wild is a huge bestseller? The kind that authors such as myself can only dream of? I need to find those hiking boots.
Visit William C. Dietz's website.

The Page 69 Test: Andromeda's Fall.

My Book, The Movie: Andromeda's Fall.

The Page 69 Test: Andromeda's Choice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jennifer duBois

Jennifer duBois’s A Partial History of Lost Causes was one of the most acclaimed debuts of recent years. It was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, winner of the California Book Award for First Fiction and the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and O: The Oprah Magazine chose it as one of the ten best books of the year.

Her new novel is Cartwheel.

Recently I asked duBois about what she was reading. The author's reply:
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, David Fromkin

Fromkin’s seminal account of WW1-era Great Gamesmanship reveals the shocking arbitrariness of some of the 20th century’s most important decision-making: its bluffs, feints, taunts and imposters; its choices made via games of chicken and communicated via games of telephone; its overarching blend of credulity and paranoia. Reading this book makes the endless conflicts of the modern Middle East seem not only explicable—but in retrospect, nearly inevitable.

Tenth of December, George Saunders

The stories in Saunders’ brilliant National Book Award nominated collection are hilarious and wise and dark, and bottomlessly compassionate, and perilously sad; they unfold in a world that is a lot like our own, just a little more so.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman’s account of an epileptic Hmong child and the culture clash that impeded her medical care is as gripping as it is enlightening. With clear-eyed empathy, Fadiman offers a rare perspective on the most common kind of tragedy—that which arises when two sets of good intentions meet and do not recognize each other.
Visit the official Jennifer duBois website.

The Page 69 Test: A Partial History of Lost Causes.

My Book, The Movie: A Partial History of Lost Causes.

The Page 69 Test: Cartwheel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mark Haskell Smith

Mark Haskell Smith is the author of five novels, Moist, Delicious, Salty, Baked, and Raw: A Love Story, as well as the non-fiction book Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Smith's reply:
I always juggle a couple of books, alternating somewhat randomly between fiction and non-fiction. Right now I’m reading Nigerians in Space, the debut novel by a writer named Deji Olukotun. It’s one of the first books published by Ricochet Books, a boutique publishing startup in Los Angeles. (The book is officially available in January 2014.) It’s a strange and entertaining ride, kind of a spy thriller -- if Nigeria had a spy agency like MI-5 -- that involves stolen moon rocks, abalone smugglers, and rebel fighters all swirling around in the African diaspora. The characters are great and it’s a fast and funny read with sharp political subtext about identity and exile. I’m really digging it.

For my money, Canadian Lisa Moore is -- along with Jess Walter, Tom Drury, and Elizabeth Crane -- one of the most interesting writers working right now. Her novel Alligator was, on the surface, about the collision between an amateur environmental activist, a filmmaker, a psychopath, and a hot dog vendor set in a small Newfoundland town, and yet it was narratively bold, soulful, strange and beautifully written. Pretty much all the things I look for in a book, with the added bonus that she subverted my expectations. So I was very excited to get an advance reader’s copy of her new book, Caught, which is about an escaped convict on the run. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do with something that might be called a “thriller.” (Caught comes out in February 2014.)

For non-fiction I have Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto sitting on my desk. I spent a lot of time in Amsterdam writing my non-fiction book Heart of Dankness and I’ve developed a real fondness for the city. This will be my way of going back for a visit without having to sit on a KLM flight for ten hours.
Learn more about Raw at the author's website.

--Marshal Zeringue