Monday, June 30, 2014

Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid is from Acton, Massachusetts. She graduated from Emerson College in Boston in 2005. She worked in entertainment and education before becoming a writer.

Her debut, Forever, Interrupted, was called a "stunning first novel," by Publishers Weekly. Kirkus Reviews called her second book, After I Do, "a must read."

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Reid's reply:
The book that I have been raving to everyone about lately is Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me. I always find that if you can't quite explain why you loved a book so much, it's a sign that it broke through your brain and got down into your heart -- which this book did for me. Shipstead is so young with two great books under her belt -- I'm hugely excited to see where her career goes next.

Beatriz Williams is another author that gets me right in the chest. A Hundred Summers was one of my favorite books last year. Between the New England summer location, the 1930's time period, and the wonderful love story, it kept me turning the pages, desperate to find out if I was right about Lily Dane and Nick Greenwald. I'm very excited to read The Secret Life of Violent Grant this summer.

Whenever I need to read a book that doesn't feel like effort, one where reading it is akin to spending time with your funniest friend, I pick up a book by Jen Lancaster. The Tao of Martha might take the cake for me. (Pun not intended but let's go with it.) Jen's attempts to emulate the lifestyle of Martha Stewart had me laughing out loud and embarrassed by how much I related.

And the pre-order I'm most eager to arrive is Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke's Your Perfect Life. They are the ladies behind the fantastic blog "Chick Lit is Not Dead" and this is their first novel together. A body-swapping comedy about best friends is a great set up so I am eager to see what they do with it! I have no doubt it will be a fun one.
Visit Taylor Jenkins Reid's website.

The Page 69 Test: Forever, Interrupted.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Katherine Harbour

Katherine Harbour is the author of Thorn Jack, the first book in a trilogy of dark fantasy novels released by Harper Voyager.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Harbour's reply:
I'm currently reading three books.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. This is the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which was fantastic. The story concerns a girl named Karou, who lives in Prague and her family are monsters called chimaera. She falls in love with a warrior angel named Akiva, who shares a mysterious past with her. The tension caused by the two warring races, the imaginative characters, and the world-building are all intriguing. The angels are a tyrannical, winged race, while the chimaera—half beast, half-human—are practiced in the magical arts. Karous is trying to save her people—the chimaera—and it’s a heartbreaking struggle.

The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz. I chose this book because I’m writing a trilogy about fairies. Published in 1911 and written by an American who received a Doctor of Science in Comparative Religion degree from Oxford, the book is a collection of essays and reports concerning the fairy folk of Great Britain. This book is fascinating, creepy, and has some interesting theories on fairy folklore.

WonderBook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. I’m reading this because it’s a book about writing speculative fiction and it was written by Jeff Vandermeer. The lessons on plot, inspiration, theme, and other story elements are instructive and fun. There are charts, bizarre illustrations, and appropriate examples. It’s a book I’ll be returning to again and again.
Visit Katherine Harbour's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 27, 2014

Barbara J. Taylor

Barbara J. Taylor was born and raised in Scranton, PA, and teaches English in the Pocono Mountain School District. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from Wilkes University. She still resides in the “Electric City,” two blocks away from where she grew up.

Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night is Taylor's first novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Taylor's reply:
As a writer and an educator, I’m always juggling books. My current pleasure read is Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, set around the turn of the last century. I read this novel twenty years ago and fell in love with bridges, New York City, and the protagonist, Peter Lake. I’m about a third of the way through, and so far, it’s as rich an experience as I remembered. In one particular passage, Helprin painstakingly describes the only photo ever taken of Lake’s nemesis, a man named Pearly Soames. It was a mug shot. Five police officers had to hold him down while Pearly screamed, clenched his eyes, and twisted back and forth away from the camera. Just as the picture was taken, a coat rack toppled into the frame. Helprin ends this spectacular paragraph with the line, “Pearly Soames had not desired to be photographed.” I became conscious of the power of understatement the first time I read that page.
Learn more about Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, and follow Barbara J. Taylor on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Erin McCahan

Erin McCahan's first YA novel, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, was a 2010 Cybils Finalist and a 2011 RITA Awards Finalist in two categories -- Best Young Adult Romance and Best First Book. It was also named one of the Best 100 Books of 2010 by Librarians' Choices.

Her new novel is Love and Other Foreign Words.

Recently I asked McCahan about what she was reading. Her reply:
I realize it is impossible to read more than one book at a time. It’s not like I’m sitting at my desk with two books open, reading one sentence in the one on the left followed by one sentence from the one on the right. So technically, I should say I always have several books around the house in various states of incompletion. But the simpler truth is I read more than one book at a time.

On my nightstand, I have at least one work of non-fiction – usually Victorian or Colonial era history – and one work of fiction. And I say nightstand because I read for pleasure at night. I write YA, so part of my workday includes reading YA novels. And it’s a great part of this job!

Lately at different times during the day – usually when I’m completely stuck on my own work-in-progress – I am reading E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, because I didn’t think enough people had heard about this one, and I really wanted to help boost sales. On deck is The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, which is middle grade and looks eerie and fabulous.

And at night, I’ve just started Death of an Empire: The Rise and Murderous Fall of Salem, America's Richest City by Robert Booth. My forebears settled in Salem in 1629, so anything about that city fascinates me. I actually think it’s in my blood. (Probably not a good idea to get me started on the topic of the Salem Witch Trials. I have issues with the “afflicted” and the “judges.” My husband will only agree to take guided tours of certain Salem houses with me if I promise not to argue with the docents.)

For bedtime fiction, I’m reading The House of Mirth, which I like, but which I’m not loving the way I loved The Age of Innocence.

And at the moment, I am 6 chapters into a fourth book I pick up sporadically – Outsmarting Cats by Wendy Christensen. It’s subtitle is How to Persuade the Felines in Your Life to Do What You Want, and I’m learning lots of interesting things, but I can’t say I am yet entirely in charge of Simon, my 3-year-old giant red and white cat. I’m trying to get him to play more, but most of the time playing is just my performing a floorshow for him. And he’s never terribly impressed. But I have lots more chapters to study, so maybe by the time I finish this one, I will have reversed the power imbalance that is my relationship with my cat.
Visit Erin McCahan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University and Stanford Law School.

Gardiner practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. She’s a former collegiate cross-country runner and a three time Jeopardy! champion. She divides her time between London and Austin, Texas.

Her new stand-alone thriller is Phantom Instinct.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gardiner's reply:
I’m a judge for the 2015 Edgar Awards, so am reading a fantastic selection of mysteries… about which I am sworn to confidentiality. Let’s just say that I’m lucky, and readers who love suspense novels have a wonderful selection of books to choose from this year.

I’m also reading Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. It’s a history of America’s nuclear weapons program, and it’s riveting. The Manhattan Project, the Cold War, the Strategic Air Command, the Cuban Missile Crisis—the book brings home how we’ve lived on a knife-edge for decades. The Damascus accident deals not with Syria, but with a Titan II missile buried in a silo in Arkansas. In 1980 a maintenance accident caused a leak of explosive fuel. The missile’s 9 megaton warhead had three times the explosive power of all the bombs dropped in WWII. The struggle to prevent catastrophe is grippingly told.
Visit Meg Gardiner's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kim Church

Kim Church's short stories and poetry have appeared in Shenandoah, Mississippi Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prime Number Magazine, the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has received fiction fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Millay Colony for the Arts, and Vermont Studio Center.

Born and raised in Lexington, North Carolina, Church earned her B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her J.D. degree from UNC School of Law. She has taught writing workshops in a variety of settings, from college classrooms to death row. She lives with her husband, artist Anthony Ulinski, in Raleigh, where she divides her time between writing and law.

Byrd is her first novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Church's reply:
I’m anxious. And I like toy monkeys wearing striped pants and holding cymbals (“Musical Jolly Chimps,” they’re called), like the one on the cover of Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety. Which is why I picked up the book. I’d never seen a memoir of anxiety. This one was supposed to be funny—“surprisingly hilarious,” according to People, though if a book’s cover announces it’s hilarious, isn’t the surprise over? Oliver Sacks “broke out into explosive laughter again and again.”

I didn’t, though I did chuckle a few times, like when Smith compared his anxious mother to a squirrel. Squirrels are funny.

Most of the book is a painstakingly detailed description of Smith’s symptoms, which are more extreme than any I’ve ever had or imagined. That he can joke about them at all earns him an A for effort. That the jokes aren’t very funny makes them more endearing somehow.

Monkey Mind is a good traveling companion for the anxious. You’ve got to believe that if someone as nail-bitten and sweat-soaked and generally rattled as Daniel Smith could find the wherewithal to write a book—a bestseller, no less—then there’s hope for us all.

Next up: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, a writer who can make me care about absolutely anybody, and Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn’s first novel—a creepy pleasure.
Visit Kim Church's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Marie Manilla

Marie Manilla is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Calyx Journal, SouthWrit Large, and other journals. Her novel Shrapnel won the Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. Still Life with Plums: Short Stories was a finalist for both The Weatherford Award and ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year.

Manilla's new novel is The Patron Saint of Ugly.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Manilla's reply:
Okay. I’m totally cheating, since these may not be books I’m reading for the first time, but I’m probably re-reading one of them at any given moment. For me, they are my “how-to-write-a-novel” primers.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’m lumping them together because they were my introduction to magical realism, after which my reading and writing were never the same. I mean, who doesn’t love a novel where the blood from a nosebleed drips out as rubies, or where the blood of a dying spouse trickles out of the house, down the street, and around the corner, to announce the termination of a soul? Both novels grapple with large issues: revolutions and coups and countries splitting, but there is also lightness and levity and myth, ingredients I cannot get enough of.

I spent a lot of time dissecting Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex to discover what made me relish it so. I loved dipping back into the family’s history to find that culprit hermaphrodite gene. I loved following the young sibling-couple to America and watching life unfold for them and their DNA-damaged heirs. I loved the way Eugenides wove actual history around his imagined family. So skillful. So dazzling.

I am a slow, slow reader, and it’s difficult to read other writers’ work while I’m crafting my own. Thus, I’m often years behind what is au courant. I was nearly a decade behind on David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but I’d heard about the great divide. Folks either fancied it or they didn’t. I did. I loved all of the voices and genres, from the nineteenth-century sea journal, to the 1930s epistolary Belgium section, to the noir San Fran entry, to the futuristic Neo Seoul interview. I loved the way the book physically unfolded: each interconnected book chopped in half, the endings told in reverse chronological order. I admire any writer who takes great risks, and for me, this one paid off brilliantly.

I borrowed a copy of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and read it so thoroughly and hard that I had to buy the lender a new copy. Snippets. Images. Vignettes. Collage. Who knows what to call this thing? I sure don’t, but I love its richness, its bold flavors, and its big-big heart.

I waited too long to read Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Funny. Odd. The town is also a character, and the characters are characters, particularly the Greek, and John Singer, the deaf-mute who becomes everyone’s confessor. So haunting.

If the writing is sure and authoritative, I’m willing to go almost anywhere the author takes me. That’s what happened with Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Initially I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was happy to go along for the ride. I loved the fractured world Atkinson created. I loved the endless possibilities. Haven’t we all wondered about alternative lives? If we’d done this instead of that. If Mom hadn’t saved us that day we nearly drowned. If we’d turned left instead of right and never bumped into fill-in-the-blank.

Neo App (New Appalachia): Laura Long’s Out of Peel Tree, Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia, Glenn Taylor’s The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart. Like me, these authors are West Virginians who present a broader view of our state to the world. We are so much more than the stereotypes and worn-out punchlines. One of my goals as a writer from this much-maligned state is to create a new mythology for West Virginia, but not in an exotic, banjo-picking, Deliverance, kind of way. The West Virginia that Long, McClanahan, and Taylor present to readers is one I actually recognize, and that is so refreshing.
Visit Marie Manilla's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Jonathan Holt

Jonathan Holt read English literature at Oxford and is now the creative director of an advertising company. He lives in London.

Holt's new novel is The Abduction, the second book in the Carnivia Trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Holt's reply:
I find I can’t read fiction when I’m writing it – mainly because I get ‘talent envy’ and immediately try to turn my book in to the book I’ve just read. Instead, I read around the subject I’m writing on. So right now, as I’m in the middle of writing the third in my trilogy of conspiracy thrillers set in Italy, I’m reading non-fiction about real-life conspiracies in Italy.

A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial by Steve Hendricks is a brilliantly-written account of an ‘extraordinary rendition’. In 2003 the CIA bundled a radical Muslim cleric called Abu Omar off the streets of Milan into the back of van, then flew him to Egypt, where he was tortured on their behalf by the Egyptian intelligence agency. Unusually, a dogged Italian magistrate decided to track down the CIA agents responsible and charge them with conspiracy to kidnap. In doing so, he laid bare the details of how the CIA worked, and their attitude to the law enforcement agencies of other countries. Hendricks writes with a wry, dispassionate, waspish cynicism, with a biting undercurrent of anger at what’s being done in the name of America’s citizens, and the effects that has had on how the US is perceived. It’s a reminder that the War on Terror has also brought forth some of the best US journalism since Vietnam.

NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe by Daniele Ganser takes us back to an earlier War on Terror. Back then, the enemy was not Islamic fundamentalism but communism. But many of the tools used to combat it were the same, as were the justifications when the truth slipped out. Operation Gladio was an attempt by NATO to train several thousand right-wing extremists – mostly in Italy, but eventually in other countries as well – so that, in the event of a communist invasion or victory at the ballot box, and a NATO retreat, there would be a ready-made army of resistance able to rise up and harry the invader. Unfortunately, when the invasion never materialized, the ‘gladiators’ got bored and started using their NATO-supplied explosives and ammunitions to carry out atrocities that were then ‘claimed’ by radical left-wing organizations such as the Red Brigades. It seems astonishing that it really happened, yet the evidence was so overwhelming that, slowly, cases were brought to court and convictions achieved.

God’s Banker: The Life and Death of Roberto Calvi by Rupert Cornwell tells the story of a very different conspiracy. In the early 1980’s a ‘secret’ Masonic lodge was uncovered in Italy, which listed amongst its members hundreds of establishment figures, from government ministers to intelligence chiefs and even a budding media mogul called Silvio Berlusconi. One of them was a banker, Roberto Calvi, whose Banco Ambrosiano had links to the Vatican bank. He ended up hanging by his neck under Blackfriar’s Bridge in London, in what was either a very elaborate suicide or a ritualistic killing. Cornwell, a former Financial Times journalist, makes a very good case for the latter. Although this was written long before the banking crisis, the fraud and corruption it describes are eerily prescient.
Learn more about the book and Jonathan Holt at the Carniva website.

The Page 69 Test: The Abduction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kate Quinn

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

Quinn made the jump from ancient Rome to Renaissance Italy for her fourth and fifth novels, The Serpent and the Pearl and The Lion and the Rose, detailing the early years of the Borgia clan. She also has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with a small black dog named Caesar, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

Recently I asked Quinn about what she was reading. Her reply:
Some of my favorite books of the year so far . . . and as a writer of historical fiction, it's no surprise that HF is a big part of this list.

The Red Lily Crown, by Elizabeth Loupas. I read an ARC of this to see about giving it a cover quote, and I was absolutely delighted to do so. I'm a fan of Loupas's anyway (her The Second Duchess and The Flower Reader are superb) and Red Lily Crown might be my favorite yet: a tough-as-nails street urchin in Renaissance Florence who ends up serving a mad-as-a-hatter Duke obsessed with alchemical experiments. She gets a lot more than she bargained for, and a front-row seat to the world of Medici madness, murder, and blood-lust. A subplot of poison and addiction gives everything the sheen of a dark fairy tale, the kind where the fair maiden might just get eaten instead of rescued.

Daughter of the Gods, by Stephanie Thornton. Ancient Egypt this time! Thornton's books are terrific if you're tired of all these wafty princesses and moony queens who inhabit historical fiction. The heroine here is Hatshepsut; an unashamedly ambitious badass who took Egypt's double crown for herself and ruled as Pharoah in her own right rather than be content with a role as First Wife. Her adventures are huge good fun.

Prince of Shadows, by Rachel Caine. I know nothing about Caine except that she has a YA vampire series, so this book was an expected shock of deliciousness: Romeo and Juliet retold with a surprising twist. The hero and heroine here are Benvolio (Romeo's steady best friend) and Rosaline (Romeo's first love, ditched for Juliet). This pair is smarter, older, and far more savvy than their more famous counterparts, and they struggle to stop the inevitable - all the while feeling like the "curse on both their houses" may be a literal catalyst for all this disaster, and not just a poetic conceit. And the story is far more firmly set in the realities of Renaissance Verona than Shakespeare's play, which basically used the Italian setting as short-hand for "not-England."

Odin's Wolves, by Giles Kristian. I found Kristian's Viking series after going into serious withdrawal from Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories, and it doesn't disappoint. This story of a boy named Raven swept up into the crew of a Viking longship is everything you want from guts-and-glory historical fiction: bone-crunching shield-walls, pulse-pounding adventures, and prose of blood-stirring action and sometimes lyrical beauty.

Lexicon, by Max Barry. It's not all HF on my reading shelf, and Lexicon is a modern thriller with fantasy elements - and one to delight anyone who loves words. We all know that "words have power," but Barry takes it a step further, showing a secret society where the verbally gifted are trained to use words that are literally weapons. Two halves of the story unwind; a young con-artist undergoing her word-training, and two men on the run from . . . what she eventually becomes? Nothing is as it seems, and it'll have you thinking a long time about that old "words have power" saying.
Visit Kate Quinn's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Kate Quinn and Caesar.

My Book, The Movie: Empress of the Seven Hills.

The Page 69 Test: The Serpent and the Pearl.

The Page 69 Test: The Lion and the Rose.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jason Goodwin

Jason Goodwin is the Edgar Award–winning author of the Investigator Yashim series. The first four books—The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, The Bellini Card, and An Evil Eye—have been published to international acclaim. Goodwin studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and is the author of Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, among other award-winning nonfiction.

His latest novel is The Baklava Club, the fifth book in the Investigator Yashim series.

Recently I asked Goodwin about what he was reading. His reply:
For a writer who pitches my tales in the 19th century, I am ashamed to have never read any Turgenev novels – until last month, when I was lucky enough to pick up Fathers and Sons in an idle hour. It tells of how two boys from university, Arkady Kirsanov and his friend Bazarov, go home for a few weeks in the summer after being away in St Petersburg. They are determined young nihilists, outraging and delighting their families: Turgenev is brilliant at revealing character through dialogue, the story zips along, and it is by turns extremely funny, poignant and acute. I immediately went on to read The Home of the Gentry, which I enjoyed only a shade less. I tend to avoid books that end badly, but Turgenev is an exception.

I was in a foreign hotel and read Inferno, by Dan Brown. I like the way Brown just gets on with it – if he needs a character to cross the globe very, very fast he simply invents a new kind of aeroplane. With Inferno I became a new kind of reader, reading very, very fast by skipping three out of four pages. It’s like scrolling through Wikipedia at gunpoint. Angels and Demons worked better for me.

Today I’m starting the second of James Heneage’s Mistra Chronicles, set in the dying days of the Byzantine Empire. It’s a part of the world I know and love, and Heneage brings it to life: right now we’re in a nomad camp somewhere out on the steppe, and our hero may be starting to fall in love.
Visit Jason Goodwin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Snake Stone.

The Page 69 Test: The Bellini Card.

My Book, The Movie: An Evil Eye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens is the author of Still Missing and Never Knowing.

Her new novel is That Night.

Recently I asked Stevens about what she was reading. Her reply:
I hadn’t been reading much this year, which was bothering me. But by the time I’m done writing all day, I just want to watch TV in the evenings. In April I went to Mexico with my husband, loaded with books, but once we got there I found my mind still didn’t want to read anything serious. I ended up reading Tina Fey’s memoir and dipping into a few others, but I nothing was grabbing me. I missed that feeling of being completely absorbed in a story. A month ago someone suggested Elizabeth Berg to me, so I tried one of her books, Talk Before Sleep, and loved it. Her use of language and descriptions, the way she captures relationships and emotions is just amazing. Since then I’ve read a few of her books: The Year of Pleasures, Open House, and We Are All Welcome Here. It’s been wonderful to discover an author who has been around so long as I have many books I can read! I also really appreciate how she takes time in her books to notice what really matters, love, friendships, savoring life. I don’t just enjoy her books, they also make me reevaluate my own lifestyle, and remember what is important.
Visit the official Chevy Stevens website.

My Book, The Movie: Still Missing.

The Page 69 Test: That Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mark Troy

Mark Troy is the author of Pilikia Is My Business, a private eye novel published in 2001 and republished in 2010. Pilikia was nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America for Best 1st P.I. Novel. Game Face, a collection of short stories featuring P.I. Val Lyon, was published in 2011. The Rules, the first story in the Ava Rome series, was published as an ebook and audiobook in 2013.

Troy's new book is The Splintered Paddle, the latest book in the Ava Rome series.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm reading two books at present. No-No Boy, a novel by John Okada, University of Washington Press, 1979, was originally published in 1957. It tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a young man who returns to his home in Seattle after World War II. Ichiro had been away four years—two in camp and two in prison. The camp was a concentration camp in an isolated location where he and his family were sent for the crime of being Japanese, even though Ichiro was American by birth. The prison was a military prison where Ichiro was sent for refusing to be drafted into the army.

Ichiro was a "No-no." In early 1943, the U.S. government required all detainees to fill out a questionnaire to determine their eligibility to leave the camps. Two questions became known as the "Loyalty" questions. Question 27 asked if the respondent would serve in the armed forces. Question 28 asked the respondent to forswear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. The questions were confusing, not only in their wording, but in the consequences. They divided the Japanese community. An answer of "no" to one was considered an answer of "no" to both, as was a refusal to answer, or a qualified answer. The "No-nos" were moved to a segregation camp. There were thousands of them.

After the war, the detainees returned to their homes, if they had homes left—many did not. Their lives were harder after the war than their lives in the camps. Now, the fabric of the Japanese-American community had been torn by the answers to the loyalty questions.

No-No Boy had gone unnoticed when first published. Okada died believing the book was a failure. Since its republication in 1976, it has become a cornerstone of Asian American literature. I am reading the book on the recommendation of a docent at the San Jose Japanese American Museum, which I had visited to do research for a novel in progress.

The other book I'm reading is simply fun. Black Pulp is a collection of original short stories that run the gamut of genre fiction from gangster to western to jungle fantasy to sci-fi. The stories are written by some of the great names in genre fiction today and edited by Gary Phillips. The common denominator is that all the stories feature characters of African origin or descent.

The stories in Black Pulp hearken back to the era of writing in cheap pulp magazines. As Walter Mosley writes in the introduction to this volume, "People read these stories and novellas for fun. There was a hero, a chance for romance, possibly some magic, or maybe a world of science that we imagined and hoped for. Sometimes there was just a man or a woman against nature in the wilderness of our recent or far flung past."

As I said, this book is simply fun. And exhilarating. Each story liberates the imagination.
Visit Mark Troy's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Splintered Paddle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 13, 2014

Daniel H. Wilson

Daniel H. Wilson is the author of the New York Times bestselling Robopocalypse and seven other books, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising, A Boy and His Bot, and Amped. In 2008, he hosted The Works on the History Channel. He earned a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as Masters degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

Wilson's new novel is Robogenesis.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
My reading list took a violent left turn recently after an amazing thing happened – I was hit with a double whammy invitation by DC Comics to write a weekly comic book series and an original graphic novel. Both are new territory for me (although I have dabbled) and suddenly necessitated a deeper understanding of graphic novels and comics. How terrible, right? As a result, I have thrown myself into reading comics, especially the DC universe, including Earth 2, World’s Finest, Justice League 3000, and Injustice: Gods Among Us. On the graphic novel front, I’m doing a tour (and sometimes a revisit) of the classics, including The Sandman, Watchmen, Preacher, From Hell, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
Visit Daniel Wilson's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Boy and His Bot.

The Page 69 Test: Robopocalypse.

My Book, The Movie: Amped.

The Page 69 Test: Robogenesis.

My Book, The Movie: Robogenesis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

David Pilling

David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times.

His new book is Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival.

Earlier this month I asked author about what he was reading. Pilling's reply:
With my own book – Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival – now safely published, I've had the chance to read more both for leisure and for my job as a FT journalist covering Asia.

As usual, and not necessarily by choice, there's been more non-fiction than fiction, though I did get round to reading a book that's long been on my reading list: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. This was quite simply one of the best books I've ever read. Written in the form of a letter from a dying pastor, the novel has the magical quality of a eulogy as the narrator scans his own life for meaning. It is a simultaneously sad and joyous book, one that pulses with an appreciation for the lovely things in life – the water from a fountain, the sky, the friendship of a child and the love of a woman. But there's also a sense of lost opportunity and impending death. Perhaps more than in any piece of writing I've read, each word seemed absolutely right and somehow larger than itself as though it radiated a separate meaning by virtue of its placement in relation to other words. In that sense the novel reads more like poetry than prose. But it is crystal clear in its meaning, like looking at stones through clear blue water. Quite extraordinary.

Another book that I enjoyed immensely, despite its difficult subject matter, was Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers about life in a Mumbai slum. Boo spent years researching the book and has an uncanny ability to get inside the head of her characters - child garbage pickers and slum matrons alike. The book ought to be a reprimand to anyone who believes that if only people work hard they can escape their circumstances. It also demonstrates that those who do escape sometimes do so by trampling on their fellow human beings. I have many Indian friends who regard it as one of the best books written on their country by a foreigner – though equally a lot of Indians I know don't like it because they feel it dwells too intensely on poverty and misery. I for one loved it.

I've just finished another book on India, which I came across during a recent trip to the country ahead of the general elections subsequently won by Narendra Modi. It's called India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century and it's an examination of social relations that are, according to its author Ira Trivedi, "in a state of molten confusion". What happens when hundreds of millions of people move from conservative villages to enormous and anonymous cities? The book is brave, surprising and even, at times, hilarious. In pursuit of her theme, Trivedi - a young woman - attends a swingers' party, visits prostitutes and poses as a marriage broker's assistant. She also grapples with the dark side of India's sexual revolution: rape, domestic violence and "honour" killings against women who dare to break convention by marrying for love across caste lines. It can be a distressing book, but there's also sense of a country forging ahead and breaking the shackles of the past.

I've also read a couple of books on North Korea, a country I have never had the opportunity to visit. One written by someone who was a kind of poet laureate to Kim Jong-il describes the life of a North Korean propagandist before he escapes to China (and finally South Korea.) It's called Dear Leader and is written by someone with the pen name of Jang Jin-sung. It's a strange book, full of odd revelations about the North Korean leader and the about the dysfunctional North Korean state. The escape part of the book reads more like an adventure story as our hero evades his pursuers as he makes his way through an unknown country, China, towards exile. I also read Paul French's North Korea: State of Paranoia. It's quite dry (for a writer who can write quite brilliantly – see Midnight in Peking), but a good introduction to a country that, by the sounds of it, is at once more mundane and more bizarre than we can imagine. French is very knowledgeable on the subject and spends quite a lot of time writing about half-hearted attempts to reform the economy. He concludes that Chinese-style reform is a practically impossible task since the legitimacy of the regime is so tightly bound up with the (failed) economic model. Sudden collapse, at some uncertain time in the future, seems more likely.

Finally, I'll mention Diane Coyle's GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Coyle looks at what we mean by GDP, a measure of economic output that has come to dominate our thinking. She argues that it is an artificial construct and that we should be aware of its limitations when we use it. Since the book was published it has been "revealed" that, by one measure, China is now the biggest economy in the world because goods and services are cheaper than we originally thought. It has also "emerged" that the British economy is 5 per cent larger than we thought - all you have to do is count the economic activity of prostitutes and drug dealers to get that result. In other words, GDP is a slippery and ill-defined measure. But Coyle concludes that, in the end, it may be the best measure we have got.
Learn more about Bending Adversity, and follow David Pilling on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue