Saturday, February 28, 2015

Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Weber loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.

Weber and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, the author spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.

Recently I asked Weber about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been burying myself in cozy mysteries lately, both because I love cozies and because I’m trying to improve my writing technique. What better way to learn than by reading my fellow (and I must say, awesome) writers?

Right now I’m particularly excited, because my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose, has been nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel. So, of course, I have to read the competition. Of the other four books nominated, I’m currently reading two: Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris and Finding Sky by Susan O’Brien.

These two novels are great representations of the genre. Although crime takes center stage (in one, a disappearance; the other, a murder) we also learn about the protagonists’ lives, professions, interests, and flaws. Tagged for Death involves a garage sale aficionado/divorcee who is trying to prove her ex-husband innocent of murdering his mistress. Finding Sky highlights the struggles of a single parent widow (who is also a PI-in-training) as she tries to locate a missing teen. To complicate matters, the teen is carrying a child for her best friend.

Both novels are very well written (which you would expect for Agatha nominees), but beyond that, the characters feel real, and the books blur the genre lines just enough to be interesting. I can’t wait to start the other two nominees, Well Read Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran and Circle of Influence by Annette Dashofy.
Visit Tracy Weber's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Weber and Tasha.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Strikes a Pose.

The Page 69 Test: A Killer Retreat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 27, 2015

Auston Habershaw

On the day Auston Habershaw was born, Skylab fell from the heavens. This foretold two possible fates: supervillain or scifi/fantasy author. Fortunately he chose the latter, and spends his time imagining the could-be and the never-was rather than disintegrating the moon with his volcano laser. He lives and works in Boston, MA.

Habershaw's new novel is The Iron Ring: Part I of the Saga of the Redeemed.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
So, my reading life is a complicated one. As a literature professor and a fantasy author, my reading time is split between three things: my love (fantasy and science fiction), my work (literary fiction), and my curse (student writing). In any given semester, I need to read between 6 and 12 novels for my classes and grade an additional 2400 pages or so of student writing. After that, I can squeeze in whatever reading for pleasure I can get. Because of this, my reading for pleasure list is way, waaaay longer than I have time for, unfortunately.

Nevertheless, here’s what I’m reading now:

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

This is a classic of hard-boiled detective fiction from the 1930s—one of the seminal works of the genre. I’m currently teaching it in my Modern American Writers class. If you haven’t read Chandler, you really should (even if you don’t care for detective fiction). What you’re learning here is style. Chandler’s voice is so unmistakable that it’s almost a cliché, but back then it wasn’t. Back then it was new, edgy, and very abrupt. The images stick to your ribs and the people are hard and dark and grim. It’s a perfectly realized, perfectly spare world.

Favorite Line: “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is my most recent pleasure-reading foray. This is a wonderful fantasy novel by an acknowledged master of the genre. Bujold creates a vivid fantasy world with overtones of 15th century Spain and implements an engaging and deeply interesting religion that colors and affects everything in the world. The main character, Cazaril, is brilliantly drawn and quite unique; I loved nearly every minute of this book and, if you care for fantasy or for theology at all, you should too.

Favorite Line: “So you’re saying that I could die at any moment!” “Yes. And this is different from your life yesterday in what way?”

Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

As you can see, I have a tendency to read the classics over the current. This is a classic, too—the basis for pretty much all modern military science fiction and a must read for fans of the genre. I teach this book every year for my Technology in Literature course, wherein we analyze this piece both for its vision of futuristic warfare (from the perspective of a writer living in 1959) and for its interesting social structure—a militocracy billed as a meritocracy yet with fascist overtones. A fascinating, if somewhat controversial, work that I highly recommend.

Favorite Line: The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion…and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself—the ultimate cost for perfect value.
Visit Auston Habershaw's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Ring.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is an editor, writer, and master procrastinator. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose. She's the author of a poetry collection titled Tending, and a handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Weldon's reply:
I usually have several books going at any one time. When I stumble on great ones I love to talk about them.

All the Light We Cannot See took author Anthony Doerr 10 years to write. His craftsmanship lifts this novel into the realm of art. The book's two main characters, who don’t meet until late in the novel, are entirely memorable. Maurie-Laure is a blind girl raised by her father. He has built her a perfect miniature replica of their neighborhood so she will never be lost. He takes her to work with him at the Museum of Natural History, where she learns eagerly. When the Nazis take over Paris, Marie-Laure and her father seek refuge in a walled seaside city. The novel's other main character, Werner, grows up in an orphanage. His intelligence is obvious as he teaches himself to fix radios and understand radio waves. His talent marks him for a privileged spot in an elite military academy. As the war builds, these children grow up in strikingly different ways yet both do their best to stay true to an inner light that leads them. There’s so much to discuss that this title is perfect to read with a book club. I'll be reading it again.

Strange Bodies leads the reader question identity, immortality, and what it means to be human. Author Marcel Theroux introduces us to a man in a locked psychiatric unit who insists he is someone else, a professor known as an expert in the work of Samuel Johnson. The impostor doesn’t look or speak like the man he claims to be, but knows every possible detail of his life. That’s impossible, because the person he claims to be is dead. So begins a tale of speculative fiction that leads from Silicon Valley to Soviet-era experimentation, all the while echoed by new words allegedly written by the reknown Johnson who has been dead for 230 years.

I normally avoid dystopian novels but loved Station Eleven. The author, Emily St. John Mandel, writes tenderly about the current world we take for granted. A world where small rectangles hold the power to connect us with people around the world, where metal cylinders transport passengers across the sky, where warm air flows at the touch of a button, and something magical called the Internet answers every question. In Station Eleven, this time has passed although it can be remembered through artifacts on display at the Museum of Civilization. This novel describes a future where 99% of the population has been killed by a horrific plaque. As expected, there are many dangers including the threat of survivalist gangs and cults. There's also a troupe of artists who travel from settlement to settlement playing Beethoven and performing Shakespeare. Their motto is lifted from Star Trek: "Survival is insufficient." Through storylines that stretch across decades, the reader comes to know all sorts of characters whose lives intersect in unexpectedly compelling ways.

Non-fiction wise I'm all over the map. Here are two of my recent favorites.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today is by Rob Dunn, an engaging writer who pulls together all sorts of fascinating science. In this book he shows how humans evolved in the context of hundreds of other species, including those we host in our own bodies. making each one of us not "I" but "us." Acting as if we're separate has dangerous consequences, from autoimmune disorders to ecological disasters.

Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers is the book I'd been planning to write for the last decade. I've got a whole desk drawer full of notes, not needed any more because author Marcy Axness has done a masterful job of pulling together what it takes to raise a generation "built for peace." She incorporates neuroscience, psychology, spirituality, and much more into compelling core principles (Presence, Awareness, Rhythm, Example, Nurturance, Trust and Simplicity). This is indeed a wise and good book, my go-to gift for new parents.
Learn more about Laura Grace Weldon's poetry collection, Tending, and her handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning.

Visit the author's blog, website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Laura Grace Weldon & Winston and Cocoa Bean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tom Santopietro

Tom Santopietro is the author of The Importance of Being Barbra, Considering Doris Day (a New York Times Editor’s Choice), Sinatra in Hollywood, and The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America, and Me. He has worked for the past twenty years in New York theater as a manager of more than two dozen Broadway shows.

His new book is The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing Von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Santopietro's response:
Right now I’m reading Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins, written by Jenkins’s son Bruce, a sportswriter who has been twice nominated for a Pulitzer.

Gordon Jenkins was one of Frank Sinatra’s two greatest musical collaborators- the other being Nelson Riddle- and it’s fascinating to read both about Jenkins trying to understand his elusive father, and the nature of Jenkins’s art as composer, conductor, and arranger. It was Jenkins who wrote that 2 a.m. of the soul ballad “Goodbye” which became Benny Goodman’s theme song, and Chris Jenkins’s description of the real life events which inspired his father to write the song is heart rending. Having written a book on Sinatra (Sinatra in Hollywood) I’m really interested in learning how Jenkins and Sinatra came to create their boozy, “set-‘em up Joe” noir masterpieces “All Alone” and “Where Are You.” Both men could be the life of the party while simultaneously carrying extraordinary sadness within them throughout their lives. That dichotomy is beautifully described by Jenkins.

I’m also reading the sprawling (600 plus pages) novel We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. The characters are complex, fascinating, irritating, annoying, and sympathetic in equal measure—in other words they are just like the people we encounter in life.
Visit Tom Santopietro's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Godfather Effect.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 23, 2015

Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman is a writer based out of Istanbul. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone among others. He is also a contributor to The Daily Beast, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. Prior to this, he spent eight years in the military as both an infantry and special operations officer.

Ackerman is a decorated veteran, having earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his role leading a Rifle Platoon in the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah and a Bronze Star for Valor while leading a Marine Corps Special Operations Team in Afghanistan in 2008.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ackerman's reply:
I’ve got this blue backpack I lug around with me. It’s the type of thing you probably kept a Trapper Keeper in during high school and I carry my laptop, a couple of Moleskin notebooks, and whatever I’m reading in it. Looking into my blue back pack right now, I’ve got a few things: first, is the novel Munich Airport by Greg Baxter. In it, an unnamed American is stranded in Germany due to a thick fog as he tries to repatriate the remains of his sister who starved herself to death. While the protagonist navigates the byzantine German bureaucracy with his father alongside, a dark family history is revealed which is at times humorous, tragic, and a moving meditation on one man’s struggle to find fulfillment in work, art, and his relationships.

Crammed next to Munich Airport, is Atticus Lish’s novel Preparation for the Next Life. This love story, between an Iraq War veteran and Chinese-Uyghur immigrant, is a beautiful read and the story it tells—of isolation, of contemporary America—is so undeniably of this moment. It’s one of these books which I could imagine someone reading a hundred years from now if they wanted a sense of what life was like in this second decade of the 21st century.

Lastly, crammed in the bottom of my bag, are a couple of slim volumes I always carry, opening them from time to time to read random passages. Dog-eared, with many torn pages from living in my backpack, I carry these books as talismans. They’re an individual copy of the Song of Solomon, one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful love stories—hard to believe it’s sandwiched between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah—as well as The Old Man and the Sea.
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Green on Blue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Victoria Scott

Victoria Scott is a teen fiction writer represented by Sara Crowe of the Harvey-Klinger Literary Agency. She’s the author of the Fire & Flood series published by Scholastic, and the Dante Walker trilogy published by Entangled Teen. Her first stand-alone young adult title, Titans, will be published by Scholastic in spring 2016.

Scott's latest book is Salt & Stone, the second novel in the Fire & Flood series.
I'm reading The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. It's my first read by her, and I'm really enjoying it. Though I write exclusively for teens, I love picking up the occasional adult title to study different voices and writing styles. This one is a win for me!
Visit Victoria Scott's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Collector.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright and the award winning, bestselling author of Gaslamp Fantasy‎ series such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, the Magic Most Foul saga and the new Eterna Files saga for Tor Books.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
It grieves me that I don't get to read much for pleasure these days, it's really only research material I have time for between my book deadlines, theatrical and film projects and other contracts. But on the research front, I'm currently loving a book titled Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead by Christine Wicker, that I bought on a research trip to Lily Dale itself. ‎As my books deal with Spiritualism, psychic phenomena, mediums and clairvoyance of all kinds, this book was a must, and it's compellingly written, a wonderful modern supplement to the historical texts I have steeped myself in to get a feel for the 19th century settings of my own work.

My latest, The Eterna Files, dives deeper into the questions of the human Spirit, the psychology around the paranormal, and the vulnerable, generous strength of those who are Gifted, while darker forces must be kept at bay by an elaborate host of quirky characters. Books like Lily Dale help give insight into actual mediums as I compare them to my own characters and their triumphs and vulnerabilities.
Visit Leanna Renee Hieber's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 20, 2015

David Handler

David Handler’s first book in the Berger and Mitry series, The Cold Blue Blood, was a Dilys Award finalist and BookSense Top Ten pick. Handler is also the author of eight novels about the witty and dapper celebrity ghostwriter Stewart Hoag and his faithful, neurotic basset hound, Lulu, including Edgar and American Mystery Award winner The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald.

His new mystery is Phantom Angel.

Recently I asked Handler about what he was reading. His reply:
I love to comb through used bookstores. There’s a terrific one near my home on the Connecticut shoreline called the Book Barn. I was pawing around in the murder and mayhem section there recently when I came across an old 50-cent Dell paperback from the early 1960s entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 14 of My Favorites in Suspense. I grabbed it. The reason I did is because one of those 14 favorites of his happened to be "The Birds," the 1952 short story by the great Daphne du Maurier that was the basis for Hitchcock’s breathtakingly brilliant 1963 movie. I love the movie. I love Daphne du Maurier’s writing. And yet, for some reason, I’d never come across the story before.

I just read it this morning. Have you ever read it? Oh, you must. It’s amazing. Not at all like Hitchcock’s movie. It’s a spare, simple tale about a quiet English coastal farmer named Nat Hocken who discovers one autumn day that he, his wife and children are suddenly being attacked by birds. Big birds. Small birds. All birds. The Hockens barricade themselves in their cottage and yet the birds keep coming, first breaking the windows, then pecking their way through wooden storm shutters. Nat has no idea why this is happening. He has no time to wonder why. He is too busy fighting to keep his family alive.

Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), invented most of the elements that we remember about the film version of The Birds. The meet-cute between Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor at the pet shop in San Francisco. Her impulsive visit to his family’s place in Bodega Bay with the pair of caged lovebirds. Rod Taylor’s clinging, disapproving mother, played by Jessica Tandy. The village schoolteacher, Suzanne Pleshette, who’s still carrying a torch for him. None of these things exist in the short story.

Yet the terrifying essence, which is that one day our feathered friends decide they don’t want to share this planet with us anymore, is exactly the same. And I swear it’s even more frightening in Du Maurier’s starkly simple telling. If you’re a fan of the movie you’ve just got to read it. You must.
Visit David Handler's website.

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2011).

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2012).

Writers Read: David Handler (August 2013).

Writers Read: David Handler (March 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee is the author of the novels Across a Green Ocean (Kensington) and Happy Family (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic). Happy Family was named one of the top ten debut novels of 2008 by Booklist and awarded an honorable mention from the Association of Asian American Studies.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I was walking through the neighborhood of Silver Lake in Los Angeles recently when I came across a Little Free Library and a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time: A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein. This novel is exquisitely plotted and reads like a psychological thriller. You just know that something monumental has happened to tear apart the protagonist’s seemingly well-ordered life, and Grodstein carefully sows the seeds until the very last page. I tried to pace myself but I was so invested in this story and these characters that I think I read the entire book in two or three sittings. It was just that good.

Another book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and finally did read, is Julie Orringer’s short story collection How to Breathe Underwater. I’ve been a big fan of Julie’s ever since her hugely ambitious and sprawling novel The Invisible Bridge, which is set in the years around World War II. In some ways these stories are the opposite of that novel—contemporary, intimate, as refined and delicate as poems. The first story in the collection, “Pilgrims,” which begins with two children on their way to a Thanksgiving Day dinner, has an ending that you never expected and will never forget.
Visit Wendy Lee's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Across a Green Ocean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Brenda Chapman

Brenda Chapman began her writing career in children’s fiction. Her YA novel Hiding in Hawk's Creek was shortlisted for the CLA Book of the Year for Children. Her first adult mystery, In Winter's Grip, was published in 2010. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Chapman;s new book is Butterfly Kills, the latest novel in her Stonechild and Rouleau mystery series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
One of my favourite pastimes is to find a well written mystery series and read every book in order. Two the authors that I follow are, Liza Marklund and Michael Connelly, whose latest in the Harry Bosch series, Burning Room, had me turning pages late into the evening.

Connelly’s writing is straight forward and tight, depicting the life of a cop in Los Angeles Police Department with gritty, realistic detail. Harry Bosch is the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with—an everyman at the end of his career, teaching Lucy Soto, his new young partner, how to navigate the political waters and work an investigation to get results. Connelly is very good at letting the reader in on Bosch’s innermost thoughts and feelings and becoming investing in the investigation, in this case, two cold cases that intersect ten years after the crimes. Bosch has no love for bureaucracy and skates close to the legal wire to further a case, sometimes too close. He’ll bend the rules or keep the higher ups in the dark when necessary. His dogged intelligence and intuition honed from years in the field, combined with a belief that everyone matters or nobody matters, make Bosch a formidable detective. His love for his daughter and thwarted love affairs make him humane and vulnerable. The early chapters of The Burning Room have more telling than action, likely because the cases are cold and Connelly had to find a way to fill in the background. The consequence is a slow-moving opening half with a more suspenseful and interesting finish. Yet, for those readers, like me, who’ve followed Harry Bosch through nineteen books, this novel is like comfort food.

Liza Marklund has created an equally sympathetic and intriguing protagonist Annika Bengtzon, a Swedish crime reporter who becomes embroiled in personal and professional chaos on a regular basis. I highly recommend starting this series from the beginning and working up to Marklund’s ninth offering Borderline, which promises “a violent hostage situation that shakes both Europe and East Africa.” I’ve been waiting for this latest instalment and will soon be tucked away, savouring the Stockholm landscape and living Annika's unpredictable and often dangerous journey vicariously from the safety of my armchair.
Visit Brenda Chapman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Butterfly Kills.

My Book, The Movie: Butterfly Kills.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Diane Stanley

Diane Stanley is the author and illustrator of more than fifty books for children, noted especially for her series of award-winning picture book biographies. Her novels for older readers include Saving Sky, Bella at Midnight, The Mysterious Matter of I. M. Fine, and the Silver Bowl Trilogy, The Silver Bowl, The Cup and the Crown, and The Princess of Cortova.

Stanley's latest book for young readers is The Chosen Prince.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot of books this year, many of them very good. But four books really stood out for me. The first was the wildly original and elegantly written magical-historical novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The story is so inventive and the characters so unusual, there’s no way to do the book justice in only a few words. Let me just say that this is not the World War II we are all familiar with. And the character who touched me the most wasn’t the blind girl, Marie-Laure, who “sees” with her fingers, but Werner, a student at the Academy for Hitler Youth and later a Nazi soldier. This book is deeply engaging, heartbreaking, surprising, and wonderfully satisfying.

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengetsu is (or seems) as simple in its structure as All the Light is complex, but if anything, it goes deeper. Two characters tell the story in alternate chapters: Isaac, a young Ethiopian who has escaped the violence and revolution of 1970s Uganda by gaining a US student visa to study at a small Midwestern college; and Helen, the social worker assigned to help Isaac adjust to the change of cultures, who becomes his lover. Isaac’s saga and the unveiling of his secrets are devastating and mind-opening. I remember thinking, there is no way on earth the author can possibly end this book without its being a terrible disappointment. No ending could be worthy of what had come before. Yet he did find a way, and his solution was so delicate and brilliantly perfect, I just sat there for about half an hour in awe.

A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman is lighter than the others on this list, but it was such a tender and clever delight I have to include it. An aspiring young writer, Slava Gelman, is asked by his grandfather, Yevgeny, to create a history and write a letter of application for restitution from the German government. Since Yevgeny doesn’t exactly qualify, this will be a work of fiction, loosely based on his late wife’s genuine Holocaust narrative. Soon every ageing émigré in South Brooklyn has heard about it and wants a story too and reluctantly, Slava is pulled back into the old neighborhood he thought he had left for good. The author finds a perfect balance of humor and pathos as Slava engages with one eccentric old man after another and contemplates their pasts and what remains of their futures.

Finally, I saved the best for last. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren is hardly a new book. It was published in 1946, won the Pulitzer Prize, and has long been considered one of the great novels of the 20th Century. But somehow I had never read it. I knew it was about the rise and fall of Willy Stark, a southern populist politician of the 1930s, based on Huey Long. But what I didn’t know, what no one had ever told me, was that this was a novel written by a poet who had served up a epicurean buffet of words, metaphors, and turns of phrase that had me gasping and laughing with delighted surprise all the way through a very long book. All the King’s Men is now on my top-ten list of all-time favorite books.
Visit Diane Stanley's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Princess of Cortova.

My Book, The Movie: The Chosen Prince.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 16, 2015

Frances Brody

Frances Brody lives in the North of England, where she was born and grew up. Brody started her writing life in radio, with many plays and short stories broadcast by the BBC. She has also written for television and theatre. A Woman Unknown is the fourth book in her 1920s series featuring Kate Shackleton, First World War widow turned sleuth, published by Minotaur Books. Murder in the Afternoon, third in the series, was named a Library Journal Best Mystery 2014.

Recently I asked Brody about what she was reading. Her reply:
Longbourn by Jo Baker was this month’s choice by my local library reading group.

The novel brilliantly reimagines Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants who wash clothes, cook and serve meals and drive the carriage for the Bennet family. You don’t need to have read Pride and Prejudice to appreciate the novel but there’s an added richness if you have. The author heads her chapters with lines from Jane Austen’s novel that dovetail with the drama going on in the servants’ quarters. The hard life of the servants provides a telling counterpoint to the ease of the Bennet girls’ lives. ‘If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’

There is a parallel love story, fraught with difficulties. Mysterious James Smith turns up looking for work and is instantly hired because having a male servant act as butler gives the household prestige.

Best of all, it is impeccably written with exquisite detail. An unexplained scene in the early part of the book creates tension and hints at secrets that would astound Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, and possibly even Jane Austen.
Visit Frances Brody's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dying in the Wool.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Brian Yansky

Brian Yansky is the author of Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences and its sequel, Homicidal Aliens and Other Disappointments, as well as Wonders of the World and My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World. His new novel is Utopia, Iowa.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Yansky's reply:
I’m often reading one or two books and listening to one. I read all kinds of novels—YA and adult; fantasy, SF, literary, and occasionally mystery. I’m probably most drawn to works that combine genres in satisfying and unexpected ways. I’m particularly drawn to writers who have a literary bent but wander into genre like Kate Atkinson, Elmore Leonard, Neil Gaiman, and Gabrielle Zevin—to name a few. Most recently, I finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and listened to Thud by Terry Pratchett.

Station Eleven is a novel that’s both literary and dystopian. Even though the plot sounded pretty familiar--another virus comes along and nearly everyone dies --I decided to try this one because I do like a good end of the world story and I’d heard good things about it. And it was great. What Emily St. John Mandel does is take this well-traveled plot line and makes it fascinating. She’s just a very good writer. The language is so specific and so full of life and the characters are the same. The story spends about as much time in the past before the fall of civilization as the world after but this is done so smoothly that the story feels fresh. On top of everything else, she’s very good at plotting.

I love all of Terry Pratchett’s novels and Thud is another excellent one. He’s clever and his social observation is always hilarious and insightful. They’re odd books. Somehow he can make commentary on vampires and werewolves and dwarves and trolls reflect back on our world and our social failures and successes as human beings—among other things. He’s kind of brilliant that way.
Visit Brian Yansky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 14, 2015

James Hider

James Hider is the South America Correspondent for The Times of London, based in Brazil. He is the former Middle East Bureau Chief for the paper and spent more than a decade reporting from the region on its long and violent conflicts. His first book, The Spiders of Allah was a critically praised memoir of those years. It won a Booklist Editors' Choice Award and was voted one of Mother Jones Top Books of The Year.

Hider's science fiction debut Cronix is the first in a planned trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hider's reply:
I just finished reading Jess Walter's novel Beautiful Ruins, which I loved: it has the feel of a summer beach book but is actually a wonderfully written and often wrenching love story, one that spans a youthful, nostalgia-laden moment in 1962 when a tiny Italian fishing port has a brush with Hollywood glamor, part of the fall-out of the making of the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton epic Cleopatra in Rome. The consequences of that collision of worlds, driven in large part by the brilliantly evoked seamier side of Hollywood, echo down the decades and the book is divided between the past – with flashbacks even further into World War II – and the present. What I really liked about this was the blend of evocative literary fiction with a highly irreverent sense of humor, so the writing can veer rapidly between the touching tale of war, missed opportunities and love and hilarious descriptions of raw Tinseltown carnality and crassness.

Another recent read that left a big impression on me was S.C Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon, the story of the Comanche nation's brutal war with the relentless western drive of American settlers. Having spent years as a journalist covering Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and now living in Brazil where it still a big issue, any description of such clashes of civilizations fascinates me, and the way the idea of manifest destinies translates into endless, deadly squabbles in places most people either never hear of, quickly forget about or over-romanticize. One remarkable fact I discovered in this book was that the Comanches – who had been relatively late in their rise to regional dominance, based in large part on their incredible horsemanship – had actually briefly reversed the westwards march of American settlers, having previously seen off the Spanish and the Mexicans. The brutality is horrifying, on both sides: no one is spared, although sometimes abducted youths and women are adopted across the front lines. One such fascinating character is Quanah Parker, born to an American woman whose family is butchered by the Comanche and who eventually straddles both the dying warrior culture and the new settled world of the modern west, as one civilization dies out and blends into the newly dominant one in a remarkably short period of time.

I was also very impressed by Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, which very methodically spells out the case for the disastrous impact we as a species are having on the environment, and not all of it through oil, capitalism and greed – our very global mobility is spreading diseases that wipe out entire species of animals we barely even notice, like frogs. It is a sobering read. But the chapter that really struck me was called 'The Insanity Gene,' suggesting that we actually might have been hard-wired to be impetuous, crazy and extremely destructive. After all, other early species of humans didn't do the insane things our ancestors did and which ultimately helped us dominate the planet, at vast cost to ourselves and the environment. You didn't seen Neanderthals, who actually had bigger brains than us, sailing off on rickety little rafts into the Pacific not knowing if there was actually anything out there. Yet we did, and we continue to eulogize harebrained, death-defying adventure across all our cultures. How many died terrible deaths so that we could settle Easter Island or New Zealand? How many people die scaling mountains every year, just because “it's there”? Our intrepidness borders on madness, but the theory suggests that there may be a competitive edge in a madness that sacrifices individuals but spreads the species.

On this issue, I would also strongly recommend Mark Pagel's book Wired for Culture, which looks at the way that memes – cultural ideas – have developed their own lives in the same that genes do, hijacking individuals and societies and shaping the very way we think. Pagel's explanations of religion are very revealing in that light: how the idea of a shared god – a useful father figure – helped small family groups early in human history transcend the strict biological limits of the kinship and built large, powerful trust groups. The book looks at the social uses of psychopaths – very handy for defending a society against it enemies – and even explains that weird urge people get to push strangers under subway trains. It also has cool things like suicide bomber ants, filled with acid, and the self-sacrificing habits of slime molds. The book puts often strange aspects of human society in a whole new light.
Visit James Hider's website and Twitter perch, and the Cronix Facebook page,

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cat Hellisen

Cat Hellisen is an author of fantasy for adults and children. Born in 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa, she has also lived in Johannesburg, Knysna, and Nottingham.

She sold her first full-length novel, When the Sea is Rising Red in 2010. Her children’s book Beastkeeper, a play on the old tale of Beauty and the Beast, is now out from Henry Holt and Co.

Recently I asked Hellisen about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have three books on the go at the moment. On my ereader is Ruth Frances Long's A Crack in Everything, which is a wonderful YA urban fantasy set in Dublin, drawing on Long's love of mythology and fairy folk lore. Issy and Jinx are great characters, and the darkness of the sidhe and their world will appeal to fans of Holly Black. Long stitches in all kinds of mythological elements, but it is Dublin that makes the book really come alive, like a secret character that weaves the story lines together. It's also something of a relief to read a YA urban fantasy that is not set in either a major US city, or London. The main character Izzy feels real to me in a way that most US teens don't, but I'm not sure if that's because the author is possibly closer in age to me, or because of the cultural gap being smaller.

For trains and beach reading I stick to paper and ink. Plus I'm a huge fan of my local library, which is tiny and friendly and an excellent way to subsidise my ridiculous book habit. Currently I'm about half-way through Lady in Gil by Rebecca Bradley. Fantasy is my number-one love, though I hadn't encountered Bradley’s work before, which is a shame, as this is a fun tale of a historian forced into heroism and taking to it in his own...uh...unique way. It has dark elements, but it is not as po-faced and miserable as the current crop of grimdark fantasy. I'll definitely be reading more of her books.

And in non-fiction I'm slowly working through Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, because I find the whole attitude of Aikido fascinating, and I will eventually remember more than one word in Japanese. I just recently started going to classes, and reading more about the harmony of the physical body and mental state is not only interesting, but is sparking ideas for future writing.
Visit Cat Hellisen's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Beastkeeper.

The Page 69 Test: Beastkeeper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper’s work has recently appeared in Oxford American, Boulevard, Gulf Coast, Mid-American Review, Willow Springs, and dozens of other magazines and journals. He lives in New Orleans, where he writes and teaches.

Cooper's newly released first novel is The Marauders.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Cooper's reply:
I’m about to reread The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner. It’s been about fifteen years. Sometimes the book’s in print, sometimes out. But more often out, which seems a crime. But it’s one of those books you see mentioned from time to time in author favorites lists. One of those books you can’t believe isn’t stocked in every bookstore. A gritty and realistic coming-of-age story, unvarnished by sentimentality.

What else? A lot of research on south Florida for a project I’m outlining. This great book of nature essays by Joy Williams called Ill Nature. A few old Patricia Highsmith books. Already Dead, by Denis Johnson, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read. Oh, and there’s this author Laird Barron, who writes these fantastic horror stories, some of the eeriest and well-written I’ve read for some time.

I guess you can say I try to keep my reading varied.
Visit Tom Cooper's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Marauders.

--Marshal Zeringue