Friday, January 31, 2014

Phillip M. Margolin

Former trial attorney Phillip Margolin has been writing full-time since 1966. All of his many novels have been New York Times bestsellers.

His new novel is Worthy Brown's Daughter.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. Margolin's reply:
I am addicted to reading and I usually read one to three books a week. I also read books of all types. Not long ago I read Master of the Senate, book three of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography. All three books are riveting and I’ve got number four, The Passage of Power, on my book shelf.

Lest you think I’m an intellectual, my most recent book was Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth, the third book in the President’s Vampire series.

I would also recommend The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson if you liked Forrest Gump and enjoy side splitting comedy, The Terror by Dan Simmons and Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which won back to back Booker prizes.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

Read: "You might enjoy Phillip Margolin's new novel if...".

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin is the award-winning author of several fascinating books on American history, including The Notorious Benedict Arnold, which won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for nonfiction. His book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—The World's Most Dangerous Weapon was a Newbery Honor Book, National Book Award finalist, and winner of the Sibert Award as well as the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. He lives in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Sheinkin's new book is The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
As usual, a lot of what I’m reading is related to the subject I’m trying to research for my next book, these days the Vietnam era. I’ve been working through the massive RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, and, no kidding, it’s pretty good, far better than LBJ’s memoir. Of course it’s not a complete picture of the man, but Nixon doesn’t shy away from describing moments of defeat and embarrassment, and even shows flashes of insight into his own troubled character.

At night or while traveling, when I pick up books for fun, they’re often somehow related to what I’m writing; usually fiction that helps me capture the mood I’m going for in my nonfiction. I’ve been loving The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, the second in the groundbreaking Martin Beck series of crime novels from Swedish wife-and-husband team Maj Sjowal and Per Wahloo.

I’m also halfway through The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb. It’s a YA adaptation of his adult nonfiction book, Hunting Eichmann, about the badass Israeli spies who tracked down the notorious Nazi in Buenos Aires and, well, in case you haven’t read it, I won’t tell you what happened. The Nazi Hunters does a great job of making the story accessible to younger readers, without dumbing anything down. Nonfiction that reads like a thriller, exactly my kind of thing.
Visit Steve Sheinkin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 27, 2014

Myke Cole

Breach Zone is the new novel in Myke Cole's Shadow Ops series.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. Cole's reply:
I'm currently reading Naomi Novik's latest installment to her fabulous Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants. The series reimagines the Napoleonic Wars with dragon mounted aerial corps on both sides of the conflict. Novik is a bona fide Jane Austen scholar, and her knowledge of the period shines through in the incredibly detailed authenticity of the pieces.

But the greatest strength of the series are the dragons, whose character is so compelling that it absolutely carries the story. Novik develops her dragons with every bit as much care as her humans, and it is in the intersection between the two that we see her writing at its best. She takes the existence of highly intelligent, morally developed, giant fighting reptiles and extrapolates to conclusions that are at once shocking and completely logical.

She begins the series with the dragons of the main belligerents (France and England), and examines country after country in each successive volume (and dragons society, like that of humans, is different in every one!). Blood of Tyrants introduces us to dragons in Japan and Russia, with delightful results.

I've just finished Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet. This is a stunning work, and an important one, and I don't doubt it will find a place in literary canon over time. I've always said that plot is secondary to character, and that novels with invisible plots and amazing characters are the best kind.

Save Yourself is this in spades. It's simply a collection of incredibly well realized characters put under pressure and bumping into one another. It's an examination of adolescence, identity, grief, and the lengths to which we will go when we feel trapped. It unfolds organically and utterly believably, and Braffet's intensely honest and sympathetic grasp of what it's like to move from your teens to early twenties will resonate with any audience.

Save Yourself is absolutely amazing. Read it. You'll thank me.
Visit Myke Cole's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Control Point.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jenny Hubbard

Jenny Hubbard is a poet and playwright. Pat Conroy called Paper Covers Rock, her debut novel, “one of the best young-adult books [he's] read in years.”

Her new novel is And We Stay.

Recently I asked Hubbard about what she was reading. Her reply:
A Long Way from Verona, by Jane Gardam.

A quirky, fresh coming-of-age story for adults, especially those who always knew they would grow up to be writers. It was first published in England in 1971 and reissued recently by Europa Editions, which has introduced me to a goldmine of foreign authors.

Abel’s Island, by William Steig.

For the past year or so, I’ve been re-reading books I loved as a child. William Steig indubitably stands the test of time. His use of language charms me still, as do his illustrations. His books prove that we need more grown-up novels with pictures.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker.

I’m a Jane Austen freak, and this novel, told from the point of view of servants in the Bennet home, delicately manages to channel Pride and Prejudice while telling a story all its own.
Visit Jenny Hubbard's website.

My Book, The Movie: Paper Covers Rock.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jenny Hubbard and Oliver.

My Book, The Movie: And We Stay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 24, 2014

April Smith

April Smith has traveled to every location she writes about in her books, from the Dominican Republic to Siena, Italy, to Meuse-Argonne, France. She takes pictures and talks to people and just wanders. Back home, she outlines the story on a white board, stepping back to see the whole, and then begins writing chapters, often out of order, according to what presents itself that day. It’s a process of both intuition and will that can take from two to twenty-five years, as was the case with her new novel, A Star For Mrs. Blake.

Aside from her newest work of historical fiction, Smith is the author of the FBI Special Agent Ana Grey novels, a standalone thriller featuring a woman baseball scout, and is an Emmy-nominated writer and producer of dramatic series and movies for television. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Santa Monica, California.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Smith's reply:
I’d hate to tell you all the books I’ve abandoned over the past year. Not wanting to badmouth fellow authors, I won’t, but it is appalling how many novels peter out after fifty pages or compromise the ending because they’re poorly conceived from the beginning. It’s rare to finish one and be happy, but I did like the mind-blowing originality and twisted daring of Swamplandia by Karen Russell, and was a huge fan of Many Rivers to Cross, a saga of Katrina as you’ve never seen it before, by my good buddy Tom Zigal. So far I’m hanging in with &Sons by David Gilbert because the writing is lovely and I’m intrigued by the portrait of A.N. Dyer, the quintessential “male American novelist” in all his narcissistic glory.

One of the best books I’ve read recently is Elsewhere, a moving but acerbic memoir of life with a crazy mother by the elegant Richard Russo. Revisiting the classic Up Country by Nelson DeMille was a pleasure. But the most stunning of all was the audio version of Lolita, a superb performance by Jeremy Irons. I’d read it decades ago but hearing it was a revelation in terms of the prose. Could be the best novel of the twentieth century.
Visit April Smith's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Star for Mrs. Blake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker Trilogy, an acclaimed epic supernatural love story that’s been published in over a dozen languages. The third book, The Descent, was published January 7, 2014 (Gallery Books). She has an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins. She is former career intelligence officer and currently works for a think tank.

Early this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Katsu's reply:
My reading is usually a mix of research for the next novel and something for pleasure.

My work-in-progress is a historical novel set in England in the Georgian period, so I’m deep in research mode right now, juggling four reference books. I’ll spare you the details on those, but thought you might be interested in the novel I’m rereading specifically to inform my writing of the WIP, and that is The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. I was lucky enough to interview Faber when the book came out and we had a long discussion about how he handled point-of-view in it, and it’s stuck with me ever since. He did this interesting thing with multiple third person within a single passage—not quite omniscient and very tricky, like a narrative high-wire act and something I’d love to try my hand at. Take a look at The Crimson Petal if you don’t believe me.

The book I was reading for pleasure is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. To say I was “reading” it is a stretch because I listened to it on audiobook. If you had told me I’d enjoy a book about the life of a young boy after he steals a painting from a museum I wouldn’t have believed you. Tartt really is, oh I don’t know, an alchemist with words or the Rumpelstiltskin of the novel, making gold out of clay or straw or whatever’s at hand. Everyone is raving over it for good reason.

I’m going to digress a bit to go back to the previous point about research. The book of mine that’s just come out, The Descent, is a take on underworld myths and, as such, involves characters going into the next world and confronting entities that are larger than themselves, e.g. “gods”. The novel that I turned to for inspiration for a fresh way to handle this was John Banville’s The Infinities. I just wanted to go on record as saying this. If you’re looking for a smart way to think about forces greater than ourselves (or maybe not so great) you couldn’t do better than this novel.
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website and blog.

Writers Read: Alma Katsu (October 2011).

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

Writers Read: Alma Katsu (August 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 20, 2014

Michele Zackheim

Michele Zackheim is the author of four books. Born in Reno, Nevada she grew up in Compton, California. For many years she worked in the visual arts as a fresco muralist, an installation artist, print-maker, and a painter. Her work has been widely exhibited and is included in the permanent collections of The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.; The Albuquerque Museum; The Grey Art Gallery of New York University; The New York Public Library; The Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum, and The Carlsbad Museum of Art. She has been the recipient of two NEA awards, and teaches Creative Writing from a Visual Perspective at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Of her transition from visual artist to author she writes: “Over time, random words began to appear on my canvases…then poems…then elaborate fragments of narratives. I began to think more about writing and less about the visual world. Finally, I simply wrote myself off the canvas and onto the lavender quadrille pages of a bright orange notebook. This first book, Violette’s Embrace, was published by Riverhead Books.” That book is a fictional biography of the French writer Violette Leduc. Her second book, the acclaimed Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl (Penguin Putnam, 1999), is a non-fiction account of the mystery of the lost illegitimate daughter of Mileva and Albert Einstein. Broken Colors (Europa Editions, 2007) is the story of an artist, whose life takes her to a place where life and art intersect. Her fourth novel, Last Train to Paris, was published in January 2014. Zackheim lives in New York City.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Zackheim's reply:
It’s hard to put this book down. To be honest, it’s also hard to hold this book up! Antonio Muñoz Molina’s In the Night of Time, translated from the Spanish by the esteemed Edith Grossman, is 641 pages long, with small borders and not a pica of wasted space. But it’s not only dense visually; it’s solid with ideas and generous and astonishing writing.

Here is part of my favorite paragraph so far: He extracted a match from its box with care, as if he were removing a dried butterfly whose wings could be destroyed if handled too casually, held it between his thumb and index finger, showed it to the students, raising it in a somewhat liturgical gesture. He pondered its qualities, the delicate, diminutive pear shape of the head. When he struck the match, the tiny sound of the match head running along the thin strip of sandpaper was heard with perfect clarity in the silence of the hall, and the small burst of flame seemed like a miracle.

You will have to read the book to find out what happened after the professor lit the match....
Visit Michele Zackheim's website.

My Book, The Movie: Last Train to Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Whitney Strub

Whitney Strub is an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark. His first book, Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right, recently arrived in paperback, alongside his new book, Obscenity Rules: Roth v. United States and the Long Struggle over Sexual Expression, which combines a legal history of obscenity doctrine with a cultural history of the poet, publisher, and pornographer Samuel Roth, whose 1957 Supreme Court established the obscenity doctrine that still fundamentally governs American sexual expression today.

Not long ago I asked Strub about what he was reading. His reply:
Most of what I read these days is in the form of scholarly journal articles—important stuff, but I’m not sure how riveting it is to anyone to hear about, myself included (to wit: Monica Prasad’s recent Journal of Policy History article “The Popular Origins of Neoliberalism in the Reagan Tax Cut of 1981” offers a fresh new perspective on the incessant, economically idiotic tax-cuts-forever policy of the GOP for the past three decades, though it could perhaps use a slightly more enticing title. “Laffer Curves Without Learning Curves,” I was thinking, or “Slash and Don’t Learn”).

I travel more than I’d like, and try to offset the misery of airports and flying by reserving that for pleasure reading, mostly in the form of crime fiction. Donald Westlake, one of the masters of the genre, makes for perfect travel reading: wry, cynical, but lightweight enough that interruptions prove less jarring than they would for the more emotionally fraught novels of, say, Jim Thompson, where sustained tension is more central to their impact. Westlake works at a more airy register, but is no less a masterful genre craftsman for it. Most recently, his 1975 Two Much surprised me with its lecherousness; Westlake is usually a fairly chaste writer (aside from his anomalous but great Kahawa), but this story of a man wooing twin sisters while pretending to himself be twin brothers is as sleazy, convoluted, and sharp as a Restoration comedy. You rarely get this sort of thing in peer-reviewed form.

Otherwise, I’m reading as much as I can about Newark, where I teach. I’m endlessly frustrated by the sensationalized media narratives that have dominated broader understandings of the city since the 1967 riots; Newark has been hit hard by deindustrialization, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and crime, but it’s also the home of a vibrant, resilient, diverse community that continues to struggle mightily against great structural obstacles. Right now I’m working through No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark, written by investigative journalist Ronald Porambo in the early 1970s. It’s a tremendously researched work—unlike virtually anyone else in the media, Porambo actually bothered to talk with locals who witnessed and participated in the uprisings of the late 60s, and he presents a frankly irrefutable argument that the riots were caused by poverty, racism, and police violence. At the same time, the book is marred by his tendencies to skew toward some overly macho Norman Mailerisms in his prose (when it comes to the New Journalism, I’m Team Didion, all the way). Still, this is an important book that lays bare the struggles of ordinary people in the 1960s and 70s. It’s saddening to see how little some of these issues, particularly the quest for food, shelter, work, and basic human dignity, have changed in the four decades since—something that reflects poorly on our society, I’m afraid.
Visit Whitney Strub’s blog.

My Book, The Movie: Obscenity Rules.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Beverle Graves Myers

Beverle Graves Myers is the author of Whispers of Vivaldi and five previous mystery novels featuring Tito Amato, the 18th-century sleuth with a stellar talent for sleuthing. A former psychiatrist, Myers divides her time between Louisville, Kentucky and southwest Florida.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Myers' reply:
Sometimes I read for entertainment, sometimes to inform myself on the trends in my chosen genre, which is, of course, historical mystery. It’s a joy when these two activities merge into one delicious read. Several recommendations:

A Woman of Consequence: The Investigations of Miss Dido Kent by Anna Dean. If Jane Austen had turned her hand to mystery, she might have created Dido Kent. I’ve been hooked on this series since Bellfield Hall introduced the inquisitive, puzzle-bending spinster—Dido is barely thirty-five, but unmarried, and thus a spinster dependent on the generosity of her family. Fortunately, her mind remains independent and highly observant. Much of the series’ appeal, besides the perfectly comprehensible Regency-inspired prose, is Dean’s seamless integration of the manners and culture of the period with the mystery plot. All carried off with wit and charm. I drop a curtsy in admiration.

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley. This series is a near perfect example of the reasons I read historical mystery. Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year old sleuth and accomplished chemist, provides the freshest narrative voice I’ve come across in a long time. The setting of the English village and crumbling manor house suffering post-World War II privations is fully realized through the eyes of an unsettlingly precocious child. Each installment of the series contains a well-constructed mystery and also makes reference to the overarching question: what really happened to Harriet, Flavia’s mother rumored to have died in a mountain climbing accident? Like Flavia, we don’t believe that fluff for a moment. Suspend your disbelief in Flavia’s powers and romp through this series like the Nancy Drew books of yesterday. Start at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

The Devil in Music by Kate Ross. This is an older book, sadly the last by its brilliant author who was lost to an early death, but worth revisiting or reading for the first time. The appeal to me is obvious—Northern Italy, opera, a cultivated sleuth with a pragmatic, loyal sidekick. The plot, melding the political with the musical, is complicated and secondary characters plentiful, but all is handled so deftly that the reader is never confused. Unless Ross is misdirecting with a purpose, a technique she mastered to perfection. Like all of the Julian Kestrel mysteries, this is a quality read. Highly recommended.
Visit Beverle Graves Myers' website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

John Katzenbach

Three of John Katzenbach's novels have been made into feature films: In the Heat of the Summer (adapted for the screen as The Mean Season), Hart's War starring Bruce Willis, and Just Cause starring Sean Connery. His other books include the New York Times bestseller The Traveler; Day of Reckoning and The Shadow Man. Katzenbach was a criminal court reporter for The Miami Herald and Miami News and a featured writer for the Herald’s Tropic magazine.

His new novel is Red 1-2-3.

Recently I asked Katzenbach about what he was reading. His reply:
Recently I have been ensconced in student papers. I teach what I consider a boutique undergraduate course at the University of Massachusetts called: Journalists in Film. My modest qualifications for this position are: I was once a journalist; my books have been filmed, including one about a journalist and a killer. The curious thing about student papers is that some of the "Utes" (to quote both Joe Pesci and the late, great Fred Gwynne from My Cousin Vinny) don’t realize how much skill and talent they actually possess. Anyway, the final assignment was to correlate All The President’s Men to Mark Slouka’s wonderful and profound essay "Arrow and Wound." For students accustomed to tweeting and Googling, the movie is a revelation, and the essay provocative.

All that said, the two novels I have recently found astonishingly insightful are Anita Shreve’s Stella Bain which is incredibly sophisticated, almost poetic, about injury, trauma and the infancy of psychoanalytic inquiry, and William Bayer’s Hidden in the Weave, which ostensibly is about a prep school death, but is actually about how we develop as artists, and how we can be trapped by emotions – all in the guise of a thriller. Two books I recommend highly. Both of them made me jealous, wishing that I’d written each. They are wonderfully constructed and passionately thoughtful.
Visit John Katzenbach's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Red 1-2-3.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Alex Bledsoe

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He has been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls.

Bledsoe's new novel is He Drank, and Saw the Spider.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Since my Tufa novels (The Hum and the Shiver, Wisp of a Thing and the forthcoming Long Black Curl) involve the deep South both culturally and musically, I tend to always be reading books about both.

Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South by Patrick Huber was a brilliant, revelatory exploration of aspects of music I had never really explored: the birth of urban country, with sales driven by those former rural folks who migrated to the cities looking for work. Through this book, I learned about Fiddlin’ John Carson and his daughter Moonshine Kate, who will appear in Long Black Curl.

Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race, and New Beginnings in a New South by Mark Kemp covers the years just prior to my own awakening to the world of popular music, the late 60s and early 70s. One of its central observations took me totally by surprise: that, prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., music in the South was actually less segregated than it would be afterwards. King’s death, among its many other cultural ramifications, inspired black musicians to become their own producers, managers, songwriters and session musicians, something that had often been done by white people prior to that.

British author John Collis’s book Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran: Rock 'n' Roll Revolutionaries is an in-depth look at the two original rock and rollers, including a hugely detailed, almost show-by-show depiction of their final tragic UK tour (both were in a car wreck that killed Cochran and injured Vincent). This book actually changed what I had in mind for the plot of Long Black Curl, luckily before I’d written very much of it.

But I don’t read just nonfiction. And because I write books about music and musicians, people are always recommending other books about those topics. Roxy Gunn, a singer/songwriter/actress from Las Vegas, suggested Riding with the Queen by Jenny Shortridge. About a musician battling her demons and trying to reconnect with her family, it features a touch of the supernatural in the ghost of an old blues diva only the protagonist can see, and is so well-written that it just flows. I highly recommend it.

Another novel that had been recommended multiple times, but that I only just got around to reading, was Emma Bull’s classic War for the Oaks. It uses a lot of the same concepts I do--music as magic, fairies existing in the contemporary world--but in a wholly different way (and of course, she did it first). I’d put off reading it because I didn’t want to be influenced by it, but it does its own thing with such style and emotional impact that I’m sorry I waited so long.
Visit Alex Bledsoe's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Blood Groove.

The Page 69 Test: Burn Me Deadly.

The Page 69 Test: Wisp of a Thing.

Writers Read: Alex Bledsoe (June 2103).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kathleen George

Kathleen George is the editor of Pittsburgh Noir and the author of Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, The Odds (Edgar finalist, best novel), Hideout, Simple, and the newly released A Measure of Blood. The novels are set in Pittsburgh. The author teaches theatre and writing at Pitt.

Last month I asked George about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I recently read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and while I was reading I marveled at the way she kept narrative questions going. I kept talking back to the novel—“But he’s forgotten X!” “Or why doesn’t he just do Y?” This ability to maintain a narrative drive is one of her skills and it, along with a ton of research and her facility at close observation, makes her work complex and enjoyable.

I’m always asking what rivets me to a book. One of those answers is: when a writer makes me care about a character who happens to be not so good at caring for him or herself. Certain books put us in a helpless parental position. We see the trouble from a distance and can’t intervene.

This worry-reaction is happening to me now with a novel I’m in the midst of by author Charles McCarry who has been compared to Le Carré. He writes amazing spy novels. The Shanghai Factor has a protagonist who is a spy, drugged by sex, unaware of what he is in the midst of, seemingly a plaything for a number of people. Will he defend himself? Will he survive intact? And ... what is intact, after all?

Both these novels, the one I finished and the one I am reading now, use a first person narrator who humbles himself and makes us fret and worry and keep turning pages. This is one of the great delights of reading. Getting upset about a life that is being lived beyond our control. Funny, isn’t it?
Visit Kathleen George's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nicholas Carnes

Nicholas Carnes is assistant professor of public policy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He has worked as a cashier, bus boy, dishwasher, receptionist, and construction worker.

Carnes's latest book is White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Carnes's reply:
To be honest, I probably haven’t read any fiction in over a decade. A few years ago, I started a job as a professor in a public policy school, and before that I was in graduate school getting a PhD in political science. Somewhere along the way, I just stopped reading novels.

That changed a few weeks ago. Over the holidays, I was trying to recharge after a busy fall semester. My girlfriend recommended Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis’s 1954 comedy novel about a young lecturer at an English university.

It was just what I needed. Amis wrote the book six decades ago, but his satirical depiction of college faculty—the egos, the cynicism, the politics—probably still gets a lot of laughs from college professors today. And the book’s cynical take on higher education reminded me that of how fortunate I am to be at a university and a policy school where I have so many great friends and colleagues who care about rigorous analysis and real-world problems. Lucky Jim was a good reminder of how lucky I really am.
Learn more about White-Collar Government at the University of Chicago Press website, and follow Nick Carnes on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: White-Collar Government.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Laura Levine

Laura Levine is a former sitcom writer whose credits include The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, The Jeffersons, The Love Boat, Three’s Company, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. As an advertising copywriter, she created Count Chocula and Frankenberry cereals for General Mills. Her work has been published in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

In her latest (and favorite) incarnation as a mystery novelist, she has been an IMBA paperback bestseller and winner of the RT Book Reviews award for Most Humorous Mystery.

Levine's new novel is Killing Cupid.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Just finished reading Pork Chops of Death, a wonderfully funny comedy mystery by former Simpsons writer and producer Frank Mula. Mula has come up with a very appealing protagonist in his P.I. Zolly Michelangelo, who plies his trade while munching zeppoles on the Jersey shore. The plot zips along with lots of laughs on every page. As a former sitcom writer, I really appreciated those laughs. They’re not easy to write, and Mula does it with great skill.
Visit Laura Levine's website.

The Page 69 Test: Killing Cupid.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tj O'Connor

As an international security consultant and former government agent, Tj O'Connor has conducted security consulting, investigations, and anti-terrorism operations around the world. Today, he provides independent security consulting to government agencies and private businesses.

O'Connor's new novel is Dying to Know.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Time is precious these days—I’m a security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism by day and writer by very early mornings and late nights. I often find it difficult to find the quiet time for one of my passions—reading. I’m a mystery and thriller reader when I’m not reading technical material, the world’s news online, or “how not to get killed by terrorists” for my consulting practice. My reading always includes the oldies like Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane, and Raymond Chandler. More modern is Nelson DeMille, Patterson, and Baldacci. Limited time keeps this list often dust covered.

My reading list had a real little hiccup this year. A few months ago, after my agent told me I had sold my first book as a series, I was stunned to find out I was a “cozy writer.”

My response to her was, “A whut?”

Sorry, but I have to admit I didn’t know what a cozy was until I wrote one. And that was a fluke. You see, I had been writing thrillers and darker mysteries trying to get an agent and get published. I wrote Dying to Know—a cozy mystery about a dead detective—after two decades of recurring nightmares about my own murder during an anti-terrorism operation in Greece. I wrote my dream and it grew into a novel. Despite two other thrillers and a darker mystery, I landed an agent based on Dying to Know. Then, we landed a publisher and a book series.

Poof, I was a cozy writer. A little research and I understood. Silly me. Sure, if it gets me a contract and readers like my work, I can be a cozy writer—hey, I can multi-task. Mysteries, thrillers… cozies.

The first thing I realized was that I better read a few cozies and see what this genre is about. Hence my hiccup. I had no cozies in my large den library.

I fixed that post haste.

So now, stacked on my credenza are an army of cozies I’m reading—several all at once. Now, I’m reading my new genre colleagues like Lizbeth Lipperman’s Heard It Through The Grapevine, Karen MacInerney’s Brush With Death, and Shannon Baker’s Tainted Mountain—all pals from my new best friends at Midnight Ink. They’ve all written newer novels, but I have to catch up first! I’ve also added a few not-so-cozies like Maegan Beaumont’s Carved in Darkness, Colin Campbell’s Jamaica Plain, and Terri Nolan’s Burden of Truth, too. With each of these books, I’ve read a few chapters and marked my place, moved to another and did the same. I’ve completed none I’m sorry to say, because I can’t find time to complete any one read. So I’m nibbling my way through two or three at the time.

What I have read of these stories is good stuff. Heard It Through The Grapevine is a fun read about sisters trying to solve a murder—Tessa’s—one of the sisters! A similar theme to my Dying to Know, but with a different format for the storytelling and Tessa’s dead character. Brush With Death is one of Karen MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn Mysteries. These stories are traditional cozies set in Maine, and, at several pages, I expected Angela Lansbury to pop in for tea. And one of the new Midnight Ink authors with me is Shannon Baker with Tainted Mountain, a story rooted in Arizona, which blends in Hopi Indian lore with a well-crafted murder.

For the non-cozies, Carved In Darkness is a taut story. Maegan’s story about a former violent crime victim-turned detective is a nightmare-grabber from the beginning. I have to say, switching from the cozies to Maegan’s book takes a little practice and a lot of nerve.

Next on my list will be Jamaica Plain, a crime novel about a British cop careening about in Boston, and Burden of Truth about an investigative journalist hunting her boyfriend’s murderer. I am very much looking forward to getting back to finish these!

It’s tough working a 60-hour week and trying to caress a new opportunity as a writer. Now, it’s even tougher to squeeze in a couple hours here and there to read just for the hell of it. But I do find the time and my pals above have given me plenty of books to keep me busy. Now, if they’d just slow down a little so I can catch up on their books…
Visit Tj O’Connor's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Tj O’Connor & Toby, Mosby, and Maggie Mae.

My Book, The Movie: Dying to Know.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lisa Shearin

Lisa Shearin is the national bestselling author of The Raine Benares novels, a series of six comedic fantasy adventures. Her new series—The SPI Files—is an urban fantasy that’s been described as Stephanie Plum meets Men in Black. The Grendel Affair, Book1 in the series, is now available.

I recently asked the author about what she was reading. Shearin's reply:
My TBR stack still takes up an entire bookshelf, but I have managed to decrease its population a little over the past few months.

Right now, I’m reading Project Maigo by Jeremy Robinson, which is the sequel to Project Nemesis which I read back in the fall. They’re in the same Kaiju genre as Pacific Rim.

I also discovered two really fun series. While both are written in the style of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, the first series by Liliana Hart (Whiskey for Breakfast, Whiskey Sour, and Whiskey Rebellion) is lighter in tone. The second (January Kills Me, A Bomb in February, and A Violet March) by Evan Katy is a bit darker. Both series pack plenty of laughs.

Last month, I re-read The Sentinel, before reading its recently released sequel The Raven by Jeremy Bishop. How could you not love books with thousand-year-old Viking vampire/zombies? Toss in whales, walruses, and a polar bear that have also been infected with an alien zombie virus, and Greenland has more trouble than it can handle.

I’ve also read Deadly Heat by Richard Castle, the latest in the series based on the TV show Castle. And I’m plowing through quite a few of the books based on the TV series Supernatural.

James Rollins is one of my favorite authors. And his Sigma Force series as well as his standalone books are top notch. I’ve recently finished his Bloodline and The Blood Gospel. Last week I finished Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I’m a huge fan of their entire Agent Pendergast series, as well as their standalones. Last month I finished Carpathian, the latest in David Golemon’s Event Group series. The Event Group is a secret government agency tasked with chasing down the hidden (and potentially world-altering) truths behind the myths and legends told throughout history.

Though if I had to pick a favorite of everything I’ve read lately, it’d have to be Mur Lafferty’s A Shambling Guide to New York City. It’s a mixture of a travel guide for supernaturals, and the adventures of the woman who wrote it. Sheer genius. I can’t wait for the sequel, which I think is due out in April: A Shambling Guide to New Orleans.
Visit Lisa Shearin’s website, blog, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue