Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christine Husom

Christine Husom is the national bestselling author of Snow Way Out, the first in the Snow Globe Shop Mystery series, as well as the Winnebago County Mysteries, also set in central Minnesota. She served with the Wright County Sheriff’s Department and trained with the St. Paul Police Department, where she gained firsthand knowledge of law enforcement procedures.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I finished Unidentified Woman #15 by Edgar Award Winning author David Housewright last night. I was happy to sit down with it a few late evenings this week, not just because David has become a friend of mine, but also because he’s a fine writer who knows how to weave together the elements that make a great mystery tale. Unidentified Woman #15 continues the bestselling Mac McKenzie Mystery series.

Rushmore McKenzie is driving on an Interstate in the Twin Cities during a snow storm when a young woman, who is bound, is dumped from a truck he’s behind. Mac avoids running over her, but when he comes to an abrupt stop, cars start piling into his car and other vehicles. The truck and its occupants, however, get away. The young woman is badly injured and spends weeks at a hospital being brought back to health. But it seems she’s lost her memory. Mac, a former police officer, is drawn into the case and uncovers not only the woman’s identity, but also the reason some people wanted her dead. Mac is the kind of first person narrator you want to spend time with.
Visit Christine Husom's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Iced Princess.

The Page 69 Test: Secret in Whitetail Lake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Julia Knight

Julia Knight is married with two children, and lives with the world’s daftest dog that is shamelessly ruled by the writer’s obligatory three cats. She lives in Sussex, UK and when not writing she likes motorbikes, watching wrestling or rugby, killing pixels in MMOs. She is incapable of being serious for more than five minutes in a row.

Knight's new book is Warlords and Wastrels, the concluding volume of the Duelists trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
One book I finished reading recently and loved is Claire North’s Touch. I don’t read an awful lot of science fiction but the premise grabbed me straight away, along with the writing. The basic idea is that Kepler can jump from one body to another via touch. S/he usually ripples through life seamlessly until someone is after them and happy to kill any body they’re wearing to do it.

The promise of this scenario has been fully thought through, the problems that could arise from how Kepler lives, how it would be possible to track them and the result is a fast paced thriller that kept me glued.
Visit Julia Knight's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Julia Knight & Frek.

The Page 69 Test: Warlords and Wastrels.

My Book, The Movie: Warlords and Wastrels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Roger Crowley

Roger Crowley read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul. He has traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging interest in its past and culture, as well as in seafaring and eyewitness history. He is also the author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, and City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas. His new book is Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire.

Recently I asked Crowley about what he was reading. His reply:
I write history but read a lot of travel literature for pleasure. Three books in particular have stood out for me in the past year, all of them I guess little known, all about worlds that are not remote to us in distance, but are now either vanished or largely unvisitable.

A book that has obsessed me so much that I read it twice, almost back to back in translation, is The Way of the World by Nicholas Bouvier. Two young French Swiss, Bouvier and his friend Thierry Vernet, set out from Belgrade in 1953 in a tiny Fiat on a road trip to Afghanistan. They have an accordion and a guitar and they play music with the gypsies; they paint and write and see the world afresh, as if for the first time. Bouvier is a philosopher of journeying and he travels slowly, savouring those intensely special moments that travel brings. Here’s a brief sample: the Turkish plateau at night on the edge of autumn:
East of Erzurum the road is very lonely. Vast distances separate the villages. For one reason or another we occasionally stop the car, and spend the rest of the night outdoors. Warm in big felt jackets and fur hats with ear-flaps, we listened to the water as it boiled on a primus in the lee of the wheel. Leaning against a mound, we gazed at the stars, the ground undulating towards the Caucasus, the phosphorescent eyes of the foxes.

Time passes in brewing tea, the odd remark, cigarettes, the dawn came up. The widening light caught the plumage of quails and partridges...and quickly I dropped this wonderful moment to the bottom of my memory, like a sheet anchor that one day I could draw up again. You stretch, pace to and fro feeling weightless, and the word ‘happiness’ seems too thin and limited to describe what happened.

In the end the bedrock of existence is not made up by the family or work or what others say or think about you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love. Life dispenses them parsimoniously; our feeble hearts could not stand more.
In 1938-9 the Australian Alan Villiers, a master mariner in the last days of sail, spent six months on an Arab dhow, sailing from Kuwait, down the coast of East Africa and back again. Sons of Sindbad records the voyage. He lives on deck with the crew, helps with the hard, enduring life of the sea and learns Arabic. Villiers does not romanticise the voyage but he was enthralled by the experience. He appreciated the extraordinary skill, fortitude and dignity of the crew and their captain, their handling of the ship and the timeless rhythm of the voyage that cost almost nothing beyond the labour of the men and a Spartan diet. Villiers was observing the end of a maritime life stretching far back into antiquity. The ancient cosmopolitan trading patterns were slowly being extinguished by steel ships with diesel engines and the oil boom in the Gulf States that would take men away from the seafaring life.

Lastly more recent travels: Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker. In 1989 Blacker gets in a car just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and goes to Romania. He ends up in the region of Maramureș, a remote, unchanged peasant world on the edge of the Carpathian mountains, where bears and wolves are a constant threat, people till tiny fields by hand and weave magic spells into their Christian faith. A childless village couple invite him to stay as long as he likes: ‘In the end I stayed four years’, entering into the cycle of peasant life, planting and harvesting, the round of village festivals, courting rituals, births and funerals. Along the way he falls in love with the gypsies, with serious consequences. It’s an intensely human story of transcendent beauty and terrible tragedies. It made me laugh and cry by turns.
Visit Roger Crowley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 25, 2015

Laurie Cass

Laurie Cass writes the Bookmoble Cat Mysteries, set in northwest lower Michigan. The latest volume is Pouncing on Murder, the 4th book in the series.

Recently I asked Cass about what she was reading. Her reply:
For months, I’d been resisting the recommendation of a friend of mine to read a certain book. “You’ll love it,” she kept insisting, but it was set in a post-plague world and I figured I’d read enough of those. I didn’t want to read it and get one of those post-book hangovers that left me depressed for days.

But I finally gave in. And you know what? She was right. I did love it. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It is set in a post-plague world, and parts of it are downright depressing and even frightening, but…but I won’t say anything else other than that it was outstanding. I could never in a million years have written anything like that and I bow to St. John Mandel’s amazing powers.

While I’m on the treadmill, I listen to books on CD, and I just finished Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. This is a biography by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman and it’s flat out fascinating.

I’m also in the middle of An Imperfect Spy, by Amanda Cross. This mystery series features Kate Fansler, an English professor who likes to thumb her nose at the Establishment in very elegant and erudite ways. Amanda Cross was the pen name of Carolyn Gold Heilbrun, who was also an English professor. Write what you know.

Plus I’m reading The Promise by Robert Crais, the latest in the Elvis Cole private detective series. Crais started his writing career as a scriptwriters for TV; Quincy, Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, all shows I enjoyed watching, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy his books, too.
Visit the official Laurie Cass website.

The Page 69 Test: Pouncing on Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mario Erasmo

Mario Erasmo is Professor of Classics at the University of Georgia specializing in the Legacy of Classical Antiquity. He is the author of several books, including Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy and Reading Death in Ancient Rome and the volume editor of A Cultural History of Death in Antiquity. His historical walking guides, Strolling Through Rome: The Definitive Walking Guide to the Eternal City and Strolling Through Florence: The Definitive Walking Guide to the Renaissance City, take visitors step-by-step through the eras and areas of the cities to experience first-hand the sites and art that have played an enormous role in shaping Western Culture.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Erasmo's reply:
Charles Spencer, Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I (Bloomsbury, 2014).

In this gripping book, Charles Spencer traces the fascinating series of events leading to the trial and execution of Charles I, the fate of participants in the trial, and the consequences to the Stuarts and Bourbons. I was drawn to the subject from the perspective of the Medici as players on the world stage of politics. Many people are familiar with the ancestry of Charles I but many do not know that Henrietta Maria of France was a Medici. In many ways the marriage between Charles I and Henrietta Maria, the daughter of Henry IV of France and Navarre and Marie de Médicis, the granddaughter of Cosimo I Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I was a successful dynastic match that brought the Stuarts closer to the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs through their Bourbon relatives. From the perspective of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, this cast the shadow of Catholicism and Absolutism of the Continent closer to the shores of England. Aesthetics also mattered and communicated political affinities - the classically restrained Palladianism was a visual rejection of the absolutist excesses of the Baroque personified by the Pope in Rome and the Sun King Louis XIV, the nephew of Charles I. The trial and execution of Charles I anticipate the rejection of the doctrine of the divine right of kings during the French Revolution and the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Following the Restoration of the Stuarts with her son Charles II, Henrietta Maria returned to England and secured important marriage alliances with France through her daughter Henrietta whose granddaughter Anne Marie d'Orleans was the grandmother of Louis XV, making Henrietta Maria's mother Marie de Médicis an ancestor of most European royal families and many peers of the British nobility today including the author Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer.
The Page 99 Test: Death: Antiquity and Its Legacy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Derek Wilson

D. K. Wilson is one of Britain's leading popular historians and is a highly regarded expert on the Tudor period. His history books include Charlemagne, The Uncrowned Kings of England, and Peter the Great. The Traitor's Mark is his first novel published in America.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Wilson's reply:
My next two books – Superstition and Science – Renaissance to Enlightenment, a non-fic study of 16th-17th C thought, and The Devil’s Chalice – No.3 in the Thomas Treviot series of Tudor crime novels – are taking me deep into the world of the Renaissance magi. This is well-populated territory but, at the moment, I am particularly enjoying Philip Ball, The Devil’s Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science and Allan Chapman, Stargazers: Copernicus, Galileo, the Telescope and the Church.

Keeping up my reading on my core area of expertise, life in Reformation England, has introduced me to two super new biographies. Lauren Mackay’s Inside the Tudor Court is an investigation of the life and work of Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador at the court of Henry VIII, and The Lost Princess by Alison Weir offers a new look at royal affairs in England and Scotland through the eventful life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox.

As a Christian, I am a great fan of Tom Wright, one of our leading theologians, and I am waiting to get into Paul and His Recent Interpreters.

All that just allows me a little time for writing, eating and sleeping.
Visit D.K. Wilson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 21, 2015

David A. Bell

David A. Bell is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton. Born in New York and educated at Harvard, Princeton and the École Normale Supérieure, he previously taught at Yale and Johns Hopkins, where he also served as Dean of Faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of three prize-winning books, most recently The First Total War (2007).

Bell's new book is Napoleon: A Concise Biography.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
For work, I’m currently reading sources on the Haitian Revolution, including Marcus Rainsford’s fascinating early history of the events. Rainsford was a British army officer who spent considerable time in Haiti during the Revolution, and came to know and admire Toussaint Louverture.

As I’ve spent the past few years trying to learn Russian, I’m also working my way through Leo Tolstoy’s fascinating short Sebastopol Sketches, which were based on his experience in the besieged town during the Crimean War of the 1850’s. Many of the observations of battle he made in these early stories were later reworked (at considerably greater length) in War and Peace.

Finally, for pure relaxation I usually fall back on detective stories. I recently came across Michael Connelly’s terrific Harry Bosch series, and have been zooming through them at the rate of one a week or so.
Visit David A. Bell's Princeton University webpage.

Learn more about Napoleon: A Concise Biography at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 69 Test: The First Total War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Jonathan H. Ebel

Jonathan H. Ebel is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a former naval intelligence officer. He is the author of Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the First World War and the co-editor, with John D. Carlson, of From Jeremiad to Jihad: Religion, Violence, and America.

His new book is G.I. Messiahs: Soldiering, War, and American Civil Religion.

Recently I asked Ebel about what he was reading. His reply:
Shortly before 9pm last December 11, my dad called to tell me he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died on April 7 after four months of treatment, suffering, and decline. They told us it would be a rollercoaster. It wasn’t.

Almost from the beginning, friends and family told me that I should read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. I agree with them. I really should. It is sitting on my nightstand between the clock radio and the reading lamp. I’ll get to it. For the moment, though, I’m aiming lower, or maybe just differently. I am finishing The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I am halfway through A Farewell to Arms, two books that wrestle with being mortal in ways that feel easier to me.

There are few better times to purge closets, drawers, and the recesses of one’s basement than the aftermath of a painful loss. My father is gone. What the hell do I care about CD cases, VHS tapes, an old toaster oven, and sweaters that I haven’t worn in a decade? I’m very sad. The question that Marie Kondo requires me to ask of every possession, “Does this spark joy?” all but answers itself. Old jackets? Hell no. Notes from college? Are you kidding? If we’re talking about the emotion to which Beethoven wrote an ode, then almost everything in my life that doesn’t have a pulse is heading to the curb. My life has not yet been touched by a changing magic, but there is less shit in it. And my sock drawer is gorgeous. If there is a good reason to spend three hours reading up on the theory and practice of tidying, it is to learn how to make your sock drawer look like a tray of Smartwool and Wigwam sushi.

I am now on page 152 of A Farewell to Arms and the tone has just shifted. A few pages ago the love affair between Catherine and Frederic was in full blossom. He, almost fully recovered from war wounds, had received orders back to the front and permission for a convalescent leave. They were making plans to spend that leave together. A baby was on the way. Then came Frederic’s jaundice, a vindictive nurse’s discovery of his liquor stash, an accusation of self-sabotage, the cancellation of leave, and Frederic’s departure for the front. Life changes. Plans evaporate. Things once possessed become irretrievable.

Reading Hemingway is good for my soul (and perhaps for my writing) in ways that reading David Foster Wallace is not. Why has A Farewell to Arms made its way to my nightstand while Infinite Jest languishes in my Kindle, twenty-two percent read? Hemingway’s world isn’t less complicated than Wallace’s, nor was he less tortured by it. Hemingway’s characters aren’t easier to embrace. I think it comes down to this: Hemingway is edifying because he gives me space. Wallace is not because he crowds me out, clutters the page, clutters my head. And in a year defined by diagnosis, prognosis, and detailed explanations of growing tumors, therapy regimens, and failed blood thinners, I want less. In fact, I love less.

When Hemingway has Catherine tell Frederic that she’s pregnant, she expresses concern that he might feel trapped. He responds, “You always feel trapped biologically.” The truth is that we don’t always feel trapped biologically. It seems more accurate to say that we feel untouched by biology until, in a moment, we don’t. It occurs to me now, though, that the trap that sprung on my dad and my family last December has led me to read with an awareness of mortality and with a related impatience. Just as we don’t need surplus possessions to decorate our lives, I don’t want surplus words to embellish a narrative. I’m “reading mortal.” Kondo and Hemingway have been oddly good for that.

I’m sure that Gawande will be too.
Learn more about G.I. Messiahs at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2015

Michael A. McDonnell

Michael A. McDonnell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America (Hill and Wang, 2015), Remembering the Revolution: Memory, History, and Nation-Making from Independence to the Civil War (2013), and The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia (2007), winner of the 2008 New South Wales Premier’s History Prize. His work was included in the Best American History Essays 2008 and he won the Lester Cappon Prize for the best article published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 2006. He has received numerous research scholarships and grants in the United States and Australia and has served as a distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his family.

Recently I asked McDonnell about what he was reading. His reply:
Funny enough, I’ve just been reading the work of two great Australian historians - who happen to be married to each other. One of the wonderful things about teaching here in Australia is that it forces you to read widely and think comparatively, if only to keep up with the varied interests of amazing colleagues.

Recently, we took a trip up to Magnetic Island, just off the east coast of Australia and within the Great Barrier Reef. I took along a copy of Iain McCalman’s The Reef: A Passionate History, that relates the human history of the Reef in a series of brilliantly told biographies from Captain Cook to Charlie Veron – an environmental activist trying to document the shocking effects of climate change on the Reef today. I don’t normally read non-fiction while trying to relax, but Iain’s book was a compelling and delightful read. He brings to life in vivid detail Cook’s claustrophobic and near- deadly encounter with this uncharted wonder, different Aboriginal communities’ relationship to its nurturing grasp, and the science (and scandals) surrounding the study of corals and reefs. Now heading up the Sydney Environment Institute, Iain is turning his considerable passion for the Reef into a cross-disciplinary conversation to understand the complex relationships between human communities and the natural world, and to solve some of the key environmental questions of our time.

In turn, since getting back to work, I’ve been revisiting Kate Fullagar’s remarkable book, The Savage Visit: New World People and Popular Imperial Culture in Britain, 1710-1795,
to ready myself to write an introduction for an edited collection we are putting together, called “Facing Empire: Indigenous Experiences of Empire in a Revolutionary Age.” We are keen to explore the similarities and differences in experiences and the connections between Indigenous peoples in North America, the Cape, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans between about 1750 and 1840. Kate is one of the few scholars who has put theory into practice and written a stunning transnational history of indigenous visits to Britain from around the globe. In compelling prose and introducing a dizzying cast of intriguing characters, Kate’s book makes an important argument about the influence of indigenous peoples on British politics, and specifically imperial debates. The evidence shows a growing ambivalence about the enterprise of empire among an increasingly nationalistic home population in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It is a bold and breathtaking view of indigenous peoples and empire at a critical moment in British and world history and deserves a wide audience.
Visit Michael A. McDonnell's website, blog, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Paullina Simons

Paullina Simons is the international best-selling author of novels such as Tully, Red Leaves, Eleven Hours, The Bronze Horseman, and Tatiana and Alexander.

Her latest novel is Lone Star.

Recently I asked Simons about what she was reading. Her reply:
“There’s a panther stalks me down. One day I’ll have my death of him.” So writes poetess extraordinaire Sylvia Plath, the day after meeting England’s future poet laureate and her future husband Ted Hughes in February 1956. They fell in love and three months later married. Seven years later, in another frozen February, her premonition came true. She was thirty years old when she kneeled in front of the gaslit oven, while her two small children slept nearby, and put her head inside.

Lately I’ve been consumed by all things Plath/Hughes. Who was this man who drove his passionate heartbroken wife to suicide? And why did tragedy continue to follow him down the road of life? Many years later his only son also committed suicide. I re-read Ariel, the book of poems Plath wrote in the six months before her death. Ted Hughes was the love of her life, but he had fallen for another woman. He left Sylvia Plath, abandoned her and his children to travel joyfully abroad with his new lover, a childless yet married Assia Wevill (rhymes with devil not evil).

While they gamboled, Plath nursed her wounds and her babies and wrote Ariel, arguably one of the best poem collections of the twentieth century. And after she was done writing, she glanced around and Ted wasn’t back. She was still alone, and his new lover was pregnant. Plath may have known this. Or the winter of 1963 may have been too cold and too long for her, the burdens too heavy, the future too bleak. Who knows. Not even Ted Hughes knows. This, according to the books I read.

I read Sylvia Plath: Letters Home, followed by Her Husband by Diane Middlebrook, and Assia Wevill, Lover of Unreason, by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev. I read Sylvia Plath: The Unabridged Journals. Not stopping there, I read The Savage God, a study of suicide (mainly hers) by their mutual friend, the critic Al Alvarez.

But it was two books of poetry by Ted Hughes himself that brought me to my proverbial knees. One is Birthday Letters. The other is Crow. He started writing the former just after Plath died—as a series of letter-like poems addressed to her—and continued writing for twenty-five years. Having been mute on the subject of his dead wife, he didn’t publish Birthday Letters until 1998, months before his own death and thirty-five years after hers. Crow, a small volume of raw suffering was written right after Assia, the lover he left his wife for, killed herself in 1969, also by oven, along with their four-year-old daughter. A short while before she died, she wrote to a friend, “There can never be another man for me. Never.”

She might have been able to compete with a live woman but she could not compete with Plath’s ghost. Having read Birthday Letters and Crow, I conclude that Assia was right. Ted Hughes never recovered from the devastation of his wife’s death. “With all her babes in her arms, in ghostly weepings, she died,” he writes, and he has been haunted by her ever since. “What would he do, do, do without me?” Sylvia Plath asked in Ariel. As it turned out, to this last breath he was never without her.

“What can I tell you that you don’t know of the life after death?” he says in one wrenching poem in Birthday Letters. “[I was] dropped from life.” And “two babes who have turned, in their sleep, into orphans.”

To read these two books is to look almost too deeply inside the black heart of anguish. Hughes calls the word “grief” a euphemism.

“Who is stronger than hope?” he asks in Crow, in “Examination at the Womb-door.”
“Stronger than love? Death.
“Stronger than life? Death.
“But who is stronger than death?”
And replies: “Me, evidently.”

Maybe, as Sylvia Plath wrote in her last poem, “The Edge,” “the moon has nothing to be sad about,” but the human hearts were permanently broken.
Visit Paullina Simons's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lone Star.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Emily Ross

Emily Ross received a 2014 Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist award in fiction for her novel Half in Love with Death. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in Boston Magazine, Menda City Review, and The Smoking Poet. She is an editor and contributor at Dead Darlings, a website dedicated to discussing the craft of novel writing. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Massachusetts Boston, and is a 2012 graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator program.

Recently I asked Ross about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently read the science fiction novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis. I was a huge fan of the 1976 movie version. Directed by Nicolas Roeg, it featured David Bowie in his film debut, playing Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who travels to Earth to save his dying planet. This movie has an unforgettable mythic quality, and I’ve always been curious to see if the book measured up – and it really did!

Newton is not your typical green-skinned, bug-eyed alien. Tall, slender, and frail, he easily disguises himself as a human, and only in the privacy of his own home does he remove the lenses concealing his golden, cat-like eyes.

On a desperate mission to find food and water for his war-ravaged planet, Newton comes to Earth with plans for technical inventions that ultimately turn him into a billionaire and the CEO of a giant corporation. But earthly success brings him no happiness. Lonely for the world he left behind, he meets Betty Jo, an alcoholic who introduces him to gin. An uneasy friendship develops into an unlikely love story as the well-meaning Betty Jo triggers Newton’s destructive descent into alcoholism and despair.

Any science fiction story runs the risk of becoming out-of-date, given the lightning speed of technological change. For example, Newton’s invention of self-developing, high-quality film might have seemed remarkable when the book was first published in 1963, but the rise of digital photography renders it mundane to us in 2015. This hardly matters, however, as the book raises the always timely questions about who we are and how technology changes us. Shy, feral Thomas Jerome Newton, who shares a last name with one of the most influential scientists of all time, is an alien who makes us think about what it means to be human.

Tevis is the author of other novels, including The Hustler and The Color of Money (both became great Paul Newman movies). Now that I have discovered this remarkable writer, I’m primed to read more of his work.
Visit the official Emily Ross website.

The Page 69 Test: Half In Love With Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2015

David Drake

David Drake (born 1945) sold his first story (a fantasy) at age 20. His undergraduate majors at the University of Iowa were history (with honors) and Latin (BA, 1967). He uses his training in both subjects extensively in his fiction. Drake entered Duke Law School in 1967 and graduated five years later (JD, 1972). The delay was caused by his being drafted into the US Army. He served in 1970 as an enlisted interrogator with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Blackhorse, in Viet Nam and Cambodia. He has used his legal and particularly his military experiences extensively in his fiction also. Drake practiced law for eight years; drove a city bus for one year; and has been a full-time freelance writer since 1981, writing such novels as Out of the Waters and Monsters of the Earth.

Drake's new novel is Air and Darkness.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Drake's reply:
I'm reading Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, a 1942 memoir (in Skinner's first-person voice) of the European trip the two young ladies took twenty years earlier when they were just out of Bryn Mawr. The decision to read it was a sentimental one for me.

One of my classics teachers at Iowa had done the same thing with a friend at what must have been the same time. I recall with pleasure her stories of being guided through the ruins of Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans, who had discovered the site. For an undergraduate who had never traveled, it was as different a time as Samuel Johnson's London would have been.

In addition to those memories from my youth, my friend Manly Wade Wellman was a great fan of the collections of myths and legends by Charles M Skinner. Skinner was a journalist, not a folklore professor, so his focus was on the story itself. That was also Manly's interest as a working writer.

Manly read one of his later mountain-set stories to me and Karl Wagner before he sent if off--The Dakwa. He'd taken it directly from Skinner.

When I recently opened my copy of Myths and Legends of Our New Possessions (1899), I saw that it was "affectionately dedicated to Cornelia Otis Skinner, our new possession." She was Charles Skinner's granddaughter.

I picked up Cornelia's memoir which I recalled being offered in a scholastic book club when I was 14 and in 9th grade. I'm laughing a great deal, but it's also a way back into a variety of warm memories.
Visit David Drake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Triss Stein

Triss Stein is a small-town girl who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York City. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident which she uses to write mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. Brooklyn Graves is the second Erica Donato mystery, following Brooklyn Bones.

Stein's latest novel is Brooklyn Secrets, the third Erica Donato Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Most writers are readers, and if they are not, what the heck are they doing in this game? And most mystery writers like me are also mystery fans. I think we read a little differently than other fans, though.

There are certainly some mystery authors whose work I have read and loved for years. Even at their weakest moments their books are interesting,
perceptive, clever, funny, surprising. I will always enjoy reading something by them. Those are the people I read like a fan.

The mystery world has expanded so much in the last decades, one could read only mysteries and never run out of new experiences. Reading just the books on my nightstand right now, or recently, I could go back in time and find entertaining fluff about a cash-poor debutante in 1930’s London, or a sobering story about crimes set against the military in World War 11, or a rollicking story about a kind of law enforcement in Elizabethan London. Or I could read about political turmoil that is modern Greece in a book that could have been written yesterday. I could read The Fever. (Because. Megan Abbott. And it’s about time!)

However, after my fan reading, a lot of my mystery reading is because I want to see how an author handles a setting or topic, to see if they have something to show me or teach me, to see what the excitement is about. (That is how I came to read Gone, Girl, which, by the way, I thought was brilliantly plotted.) Sometimes I learn what I need by the first half or less, and if I am not captivated, I stop reading. That is reading like a writer.

There are mystery lovers who sneer at “literary” fiction. I am not one of them. A book of beautiful language and perception, where nothing much happens, can be a way to grow. I recently read Alice McDermott’s Someone, a brief novel which yet seemed to encompass a whole life. I’m still trying to figure out how she did that miracle. A book that takes apart the narrative and splinters it into a funhouse mirror can be a rewarding challenge. I have loved Kate Atkinson’s work since before she wrote mysteries but I did think that Life After Life might be too much experimenting for me. Instead, I could barely keep breathing as I read it.

And I like to do some oddball non-fiction reading. My love of reading about history’s obscure corners is subsumed these days by research for my own books, but I find travel writing and books
about food and cooking to be oddly fascinating…and they won’t keep me up if I read them at bedtime.

But right now, I am deep in When Books Went to War by Molly Gupthill Manning, the story of the Armed Services Editions books that helped the American troops of World War 11 stay sane before, after, and in-between combat. Sounds boring?

How could any book be boring when it tells me that FDR said, “In this war, books are weapons?” That two of the most popular books in the program, ever, were A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Forever, Amber? That men read until the “pages of each book were so dirty you can’t see the print?” That they wrote “thanks for everything from Zane Grey to Plato?”

A perfect book for any book reader, book writer, book lover.
Visit Triss Stein's website.

The Page 69 Test: Brooklyn Secrets.

My Book, The Movie: Brooklyn Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is a former English teacher, naval officer, Philadelphia taxi driver, customs officer, and motivational trainer.

His new novel is Thunderbird.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m scheduled to do a presentation on Mark Twain for the St Simons Island Literary Guild in a few weeks, so I’ve been reading every Mark Twain book I can find, other than novels, most of which I’ve already read. Just finished The Library of America edition of his Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches,& Essays, 1852-1890. I’ve been discovering that, while he deserves his reputation as America’s Great Humorist, he also has a dark side. It’s evident that he believes life is too painful to be worthwhile, not only for humans, but for everything else on the planet. I’m also reading The World As It Is, by Chris Hedges, which examines the issues currently plaguing the effort to create a stable civilization across the globe. I suspect Hedges, though he limits his analysis to culture, politics, and war, would be much in agreement.
Learn more about the book and author at Jack McDevitt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Firebird.

The Page 69 Test: Thunderbird.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Andrew Pettegree

Andrew Pettegree is a professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews, where he was the founding director of the St. Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. He currently serves as the vice president of the Royal Historical Society. His books include The Invention of News, The Book in the Renaissance, which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010, and Emden and the Dutch Revolt.

Pettegree's latest book is Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe--and Started the Protestant Reformation.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
City of Wisdom and Blood by Robert Merle

Even though so many of the world’s people now speak English, it is a happy fact that Anglophone readers have access to an even increasing range of non-English literature. The astonishing success of Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin, or the Suite Française of Irène Némirovsky's, has emboldened publishers to seek out other unknown gems: and never more productively than with the decision of the Pushkin Press to take on Robert Merle’s extraordinary sage of the French Wars of Religion, Fortune de France. This project originated as a labour of love of its translator, Jefferson Kline, Professor of French at Boston University. Kline recognised the extraordinary beauty of Merle’s creation, a chronicle of French society in war and peace, seen through the eyes of its swashbuckling young hero, Pierre de Siorac. The son of a minor noble in the south of France, Pierre follows his father into the faith of the French Protestant minority, the Huguenots. He also shares his father’s roving eye; Merle being French, there is plenty of sex, but described with a suggestive delicacy evocative of its sixteenth-century narrator. The first volume, The Brethren, is now followed by City of Wisdom and Blood, which follows Pierre in his medical studies at Montpellier, where he cannot escape the consequences of his impetuous compulsion to stand up to bullies and of his varied amorous conquests. The third of the series, Heretic Dawn, is set in 1572, among the turbulent events of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. This is promised for April 2016, and I for one can’t wait; and there are ten more to come.
Learn more about Brand Luther at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Book in the Renaissance.

The Page 99 Test: The Invention of News.

The Page 99 Test: Brand Luther.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 7, 2015

Stephanie Thornton

Stephanie Thornton is a writer and high school history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. Her first two novels, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora and Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt, focus on two of history's forgotten women: Theodora of the Byzantine Empire and Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Her third novel, The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan, is the story of Genghis' wife and daughters.

Thornton's new novel is The Conqueror's Wife.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm currently reading a whole slew of books for research on my next book, but for fun I'm reading three very different books. There's always a historical fiction book on my list so right now I'm thoroughly enjoying Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler which provides a closer look between the notoriously wild couple that was F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife.

At night I'm reading Into the Wild by Erin Hunter to my daughter, the first in the Warriors series about feral cats. (Side note: My daughter adores these books and has almost the entire series. Highly recommended for third graders!)

I'm also re-reading 1984 by George Orwell for the high school Government class I teach and am attempting to understand A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.
Visit Stephanie Thornton's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Conqueror's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Jean Flowers

Camille Minichino received her Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University, New York City. She has published over twenty novels and many short stories and nonfiction articles. Her new novel, writing as Jean Flowers, is Death Takes Priority.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I always have several books going at the same time, some paper copies, some on my e-reader.

Here's my current stack and the excuses to read them:

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson, for a nonfiction book group that has been meeting monthly in my home for more than 20 years. Like all his narratives, Larson's detailed presentation of the WWI disaster reads like the best fiction. Here the characters are a luxury ocean liner and a German U-boat. I'm always amazed when a writer can accomplish suspense, even when we all know the outcome.

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, by Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Kalili. Heavy! This one will take a while to finish. Biology is so much more complex than physics (five simple equations and you're done).

Guilt by Degrees, by attorney Marcia Clark, for the next meeting of the Castro Valley Library Mystery Book Club, another longstanding group. The story, or "case", is interesting, the author's many years reading police reports obvious.

The Water's Edge, by Karin Fossum, my new favorite thriller writer. For me, the darker the better when it comes to reading crime fiction.

Assorted magazines: The New Yorker (of course; makes feel like one); Science & Technology Review (to stay connected); Writers Digest and Publishers Weekly (to feel like a writer); Real Simple (makes me feel organized); the Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (to enter a different world); and miniatures magazines (makes me feel crafty).

And, finally, just for fun:

Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, by Sam Roberts. Probably my favorite place on earth, and probably because I grew up with the radio show long before I ever saw the terminal. What can be more exciting to listen to while ironing than the crossroads of a million private lives?
Visit Jean Flowers/Camille Minichino's website.

--Marshal Zeringue