Thursday, April 30, 2015

Carol Berkin

Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Emerita at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, First Generations, Jonathan Sewall, and Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.

Her new book is The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America's Liberties.

Recently I asked Berkin about what she was reading. Her reply:
After a long day reading Congressional debates from the 1790s for my next book, I like to turn to a good mystery novel or some science fiction. Having just finished all of Louise Penny’s beautiful, lyrical Inspector Gamache mysteries, I have now turned to an eerie tale, The Devil’s Detective, about murder in the bowels of Hell. I have to confess, however, that I am eagerly awaiting the next and final episode in James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series— who doesn’t love these stories of a group of young people who have been experimented on my evil scientists and given wings?-- and Lincoln Child’s new book. My one requirement for all my “break from research” reading is that the books are well written; no plot line, no matter how complex, can make up for dull or cliche writing!
Learn more about The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America's Liberties.

My Book, The Movie: Wondrous Beauty.

My Book, The Movie: The Bill of Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jan Elizabeth Watson

Jan Elizabeth Watson was raised in Maine, where she currently lives, writes, and teaches and which also serves as the backdrop for her novels Asta in the Wings (Tin House Books) and What Has Become of You (Dutton). Her third novel-in-progress is set partly in Maine and partly in Ireland.

Recently I asked Watson about what she was reading. Her reply:
I never read fewer than three books at a time because I like having different kinds of irons in any given fire. Currently on my nightstand is Outline, by Rachel Cusk. With this novel I believe Cusk is putting herself in the company of such writers as Calvino and Nabokov and Kundera, whom I envy and adore.

I am also reading Ballerina, Ballerina, which is an adolescent stream-of-consciousness novel by Slovenian writer Marko Sosič, and Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens. I have made it my personal goal to read every novel Dickens wrote within the next two years. Some literary highbrow types dismiss him as a populist, but for my money, any writer could learn something from the way he develops scenes and characters.
Learn more about the book and author at Jan Elizabeth Watson's website.

The Page 69 Test: What Has Become of You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jan-Philipp Sendker

Jan-Philipp Sendker, born in Hamburg in 1960, was the American correspondent for Stern from 1990 to 1995, and its Asian correspondent from 1995 to 1999. In 2000 he published Cracks in the Wall, a nonfiction book about China. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, his first novel, was an international bestseller. He lives in Berlin with his family.

Sendker's new novel is Whispering Shadows.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading, actually just finished two books, a novel and a non fiction book.

Ghana Must Go is a novel set in the USA and Africa. It was recommended to me by a friend whose taste in books I actually respect a lot. However, I was reluctant to pick up the book first and I don’t know why. The title? The cover? The story line? When I started I fell in love with it right away. The writing is simply fantastic, the rhythm, the style, the intensity. Chapeau! Same with the characters, a family searching for its roots and secrets between Africa and the USA. Highly recommended.

The other is Ten Billion a non fiction book by a British scientist about climate change. It was an eye opener for me. Recommended by my 18-year-old son I started reading in the evening and did not put it down before I had finished it in the early morning. It is a short book, it explains in plain sentences, with a few numbers and examples what we have been doing to this planet and what the consequences will be for us and our children and grand children. A must read for everybody.
Visit Jan-Philipp Sendker's website.

The Page 69 Test: Whispering Shadows.

My Book, The Movie: Whispering Shadows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 27, 2015

Shelley Stamp

Shelley Stamp is Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A leading expert on women and early film culture, she is author of Movie Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon and founding editor of Feminist Media Histories: An International Journal. Stamp also provides audio commentary for DVDs, curates film programs, and consults on film preservation projects.

Stamp's new book is Lois Weber in Early Hollywood.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just started reading two books that I’ve been excited about for a long time: Tami Williams’ study of early French filmmaker Germaine Dulac, Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations, and Mary R. Desjardins’ book Recycled Stars: Female Stardom in the Age of Television and Video. Dulac is an incredibly interesting figure, a pioneering surrealist, film theorist, and feminist activist, whose legacy has been unjustly neglected in histories of French filmmaking. Williams spent years combing French archives for lost film prints and details about Dulac’s life and career and she provides a stunning re-reading of Dulac’s accomplishments. I’ll be teaching Dulac’s work in few weeks and can’t wait to update my lecture with all of this new information. Desjardins’ work is a model of feminist media history, for she places her deeply historicized readings of how women’s images circulate in popular culture within detailed accounts of movie fan culture, industry business, lawsuits, scandals, and histories of then-new technologies like television and video. She has found an amazing array of material – everything from Gloria Swanson’s 1948 TV talk show to Lucille Ball’s family scrapbooks circulated on CD-ROM.

In the fiction department I just finished Sarah Waters’ novel The Paying Guests, a psychological thriller set in London after the first World War. Waters is always phenomenal. I have read every one of her books as they have come out. What astounds me is her ability to bring to life everyday subtleties in women’s lives during quite distinct historical periods – Victorian England, the Edwardian period, the Blitz – while spinning slow-burning tales of violence and intrigue. The Paying Guests manages to paint a vivid picture of class and gender inequality in post WW I England while winding up to an unbearably tense finale. I spent a recent Sunday afternoon happily engrossed in the final chapters, oblivious to family life around me.

With my 9-year-old daughter I am reading I Am Malala. I keep expecting that she will be terrified, as I am, by the events described in the book, but she remains resolutely focused on Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinary courage, never wanting to skip passages or look away, while my voice cracks as I struggle to read the passages aloud. How lucky she is to have such a feminist role model so close to her own age. And I’m re-reading Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting with my 11-year-old boys after having already gobbled it up with my daughter. It’s an exquisitely written story that combines many of my favorite ingredients: striking historical detail, a strong heroine, psychological nuance, and a central mystery slowly unraveled. It’s something of a cross between Anne of Green Gables and The Hunger Games, if that makes any sense. The book came as a gift. We have all loved it so much that we now plan to go back and read every one of Babbitt’s books together. It’s rare that we are all so passionate about the same book, so we won’t waste this opportunity.
Learn more about Lois Weber in Early Hollywood at Shelley Stamp's webpage and the University of California Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Lois Weber in Early Hollywood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cynthia Riggs

Cynthia Riggs is the author of Poison Ivy, the 11th volume in the Martha's Vineyard mystery series. She was born on Martha's Vineyard and is the eighth generation to live in her family homestead which she runs as a bed and breakfast catering to poets, writers, and other creative people.

Recently I asked Riggs about what she was reading. Her reply:
At the moment, I, Cynthia Riggs, am re-reading Donald Westlake’s What's So Funny? featuring John Dortmunder, a burglar who manages to bungle most of his jobs in highly creative ways. I’ve read most of the Dortmunder books, and catch myself laughing out loud at times at the complicated capers that Dortmunder undertakes. In this book, an ex-cop blackmails Dortmunder with a photo of Dortmunder heisting a computer. The ex-cop wants Dortmunder to steal a valuable chess set stored in an underground bank vault several floors beneath a high-rise office building. Where I am now, Dortmunder and the ex-cop are casing the secluded and abandoned country house where the chess set, if Dortmunder is successful, will be stashed. However, a teenage wanna-be crook and his moll have broken into and are living in the house and overhear enough about this valuable chess set for the reader to see complications coming. Further complicated by the fact that Dortmunder and his ally, Andy, plan to substitute a fake chess set, assuming they succeed in stealing the original. And this is only a third of the way through the book.
Visit Cynthia Riggs's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ed Kovacs

Ed Kovacs is the author of the critically-acclaimed Cliff St. James mystery/crime series published by St. Martin’s Press. Kovacs has studied martial arts, holds many weapons-related licenses, certifications and permits, and is a certified medical First Responder. Using various pen names, he has worked professionally around the world as a screenwriter, journalist, and media consultant. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, American Legion Post 299, the International Thriller Writers association, and Mystery Writers of America.

Kovacs's new novel is The Russian Bride.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished reading Michael Gruber's Tropic of Night. A private editor I sometimes use, Ed Stackler, recommended it to me as one of his favorites. I wasn't familiar with Gruber, either as a ghostwriter or on his own, but he's a hulluva writer.

He painted the story like some kind of impressionist, deftly weaving elements of sorcery, privilege, and alternative explanations of things. He riffs on love, joy and other building blocks of life that make us think twice about how we really regard them, and he does it all within the framework of a clever mystery. Simply great stuff written by a master.
Learn more about the book and author at Ed Kovacs's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Russian Bride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 24, 2015

Brian Fagan

Brian Fagan was born in England and spent several years doing fieldwork in Africa. He is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of New York Times bestseller The Great Warming and many other books, including Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World, and several books on climate history, including The Little Ice Age and The Long Summer.

Fagan's new book is The Intimate Bond: How Animals Shaped Human History.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m flitting from book to book at the moment, partly because I’ve been traveling a great deal. There are now so many interesting books to read that it’s getting harder and harder to choose from the shelves of new releases—and old ones.

I don’t normally read books on archaeology for pleasure, since that’s my daily diet, but Jason Thompson’s Wonderful Things: A History of Egyptology, Volume 1: From Antiquity to 1881 (Oxford University Press, 2015) is a captivating account of treasure hunters, antiquarians, and archaeologists along the Nile that is both definitive and a nice read. Thompson, the author of a biography of the Victorian Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson, brings to life both major and especially lesser known figures in the occasionally flamboyant beginnings of Egyptology. This is a book to savor, to browse, and to read again and again.

Christopher Morris’s The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples (Oxford University Press, 2012) has given me great pleasure, especially his perceptive analysis of the future of the Lower Mississippi, which should be required reading for anyone concerned about rising sea levels. Very readable and beautifully researched, this is a book by an author who wears his impressive learning lightly.

Another book that has captivated me is James H.S. McGregor’s Back to the Garden: Nature and the Mediterranean World (Yale University Press, 2015), which is a marvelous essay on traditional agriculture in the Mediterranean world and its sustainability. Then, in the eighteenth century, we humans got to work and separated the natural and agricultural worlds. As McGregor points out, we are living with the consequences of our ending of what he calls “sensibility” after many centuries. This book really made me think about the ecological history of the cradle of Western traditions. Beautifully written, persuasive, and thought provoking, I advise reading this before you go to Mediterranean shores.

Finally, I’ve been rereading Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler and drinking in, once again, its delicious wisdoms. The latest edition, edited by Marjorie Swann, reached my desk in 2014 (Oxford University Press). I dip into it before going to bed and it gives me a nice tranquility. Walton is like Chaucer: an author I revel in.
Visit Brian Fagan's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fagan's The Great Warming.

The Page 99 Test: The Attacking Ocean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Brendan Duffy

Brendan Duffy is an editor and author of the new novel, House of Echoes. He lives in New York, where he is at work on his second novel.

Recently I asked Duffy about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently three-fourths of the way through Joe Hill’s short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, and find myself rationing the remaining pages to make them last. I’ve enthusiastically devoured Hill’s novels—Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2—but this collection reveals a whole new side to him. Anyone familiar with his work knows he has a top-rate imagination, but I was unprepared for how sensitive and sweet a writer he can be. To reveal such depth in as tight a format as a short story wildly impresses to me.

As for books I’ve recently read and loved, Kelly Braffet’s Save Yourself is a stand-out. Braffet’s novel is populated by characters who are flawed, unique, and deeply sympathetic. It’s dark and surprising and magnificently affecting: a real gem.

The Bone Clocks has brought me dangerously close to becoming a bona fide David Mitchell fanboy. Like many of his books, The Bones Clock would be, if nothing else, astonishing for its structure and ambition. The way it connects and relates his previous work is a special treat for longtime fans. But I most loved the way Mitchell commits to his many first person POVs. An impulsive teenaged girl, an arrogant Cambridge sociopath, a jaded middle-aged writer: Mitchell nails all of them. The way that the narrative unfurls and then comes together is a thing of beauty.
Visit Brendan Duffy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Santa Montefiore

Born in England in 1970 Santa Montefiore grew up on a farm in Hampshire and was educated at Sherborne School for Girls. She read Spanish and Italian at Exeter University and spent much of the 90s in Buenos Aires, where her mother grew up. She converted to Judaism in 1998 and married historian Simon Sebag Montefiore in the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha in London.

Montefiore latest novel is The Beekeeper's Daughter.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

I bought it because I read her brilliant and moving The Invention of Wings over Christmas and I loved it so much – really, it’s one of the most touching, beautifully-written and fascinating novels I have ever read – that I wanted to read more of her! My mother read The Secret Life of Bees and raved about it (and she’s very hard to please) so it’s on my bedside table, waiting to be started. It’s set in South Carolina in the sixties and rather like The Invention of Wings, is about two young women: a white woman and a black slave. Reading the short blurb about the story on the back of the book I know that I am going to love it. These two courageous young women flee together when racial tension explodes ones afternoon and Rosaleen, the slave, is arrested and beaten, and find sanctuary in the house of three beekeeping sisters. You would have thought I might have picked it up before seeing as my latest novel is about a beekeeper’s daughter! Anyhow, I know I’m going to adore it – Monk Kidd’s writing is stunning, profound, poignant and wholly compelling.

The Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor

My new project is a trilogy based in Co. Cork, Ireland, so when my husband picked this book out of the library in the hotel we were recently staying in on the island of Mauritius, I knew it would at least be helpful for my research. I didn’t count on it being so gripping! It’s really brilliant! It tells the tale of various characters all travelling to New York on a ship from Ireland. It is 1847 and they are all fleeing the famine in Ireland. Among the hundreds of refugees a camouflaged killer is stalking the decks with the intention of murdering one of the passengers. As the personal stories of the main characters are slowly and intriguingly revealed, you begin to realise that these people are all connected. The ending is a total surprise and I was left guessing right up until the final paragraph. I adored every bit of the journey, both on the ship and into the pasts of the characters. It is plotted and constructed in a rather unusual way and it was only at the end that I realised why...but I’m not giving anything away! clever, brilliantly plotted and gripping – while at the same time giving me an invaluable history lesson about Ireland’s past. I couldn’t put it down, not simply because of the compelling plot but because it is so well-written!

Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin

I am so obsessed by the TV drama series that when the last series ended last spring I couldn’t wait for the following one (out in the UK next week) so I bought the boxed set of books and read them all. George R R Martin is a genius! Really, to invent all those characters with their family histories, elaborate pasts and incredible adventures you have to have an extraordinary mind! The world he invents is as plausible as the one we live in – in the same way that Tolkien invented Middle Earth, George R R Martin has created a world that one believes in. I suppose it’s rather like a mixture of the English Wars of the Roses (up north), ancient Venice (south) and Greek myths and legends (east)... but then you have the strange dead who walk and other magical creatures beyond the Wall (further north). As a writer I am in awe of his talent! Unlike most series of books the plot doesn’t get smaller as you reach the end, it just gets bigger... the world expands, a bit like the universe... and you are sucked deeper and deeper into the many many characters’ lives and stories. In essence it is a fight for power – a struggle for the Iron Throne – and I have no idea who is going to win it, although I have my favourite character who I want to win it! Tyrion Lannister being my most favourite... I suspect he is Martin’s alter ego (just a hunch) and Daenerys Targaryen. If you love the series on TV, or haven’t even begun, read the books; they’re even better!
Visit Santa Montefiore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

John Renehan

John Renehan was born in Boston and raised in California. He worked as an attorney for the City and State of New York, and was a field artillery officer in the Army. He lives in Virginia with his wife and children. The Valley is his first novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Renehan's reply:
For Homework: Lord of the Flies, Peter Pan

When I’m sketching a new project (he says with exactly one book under his belt), I end up assigning myself a lot of background reading. Sometimes it’s simple research, and sometimes I can’t really articulate why a book wants to be read. Usually it ends up being fruitful, though I’m not sure which is the cart and which is the horse there. Right now I’m re-reading these two classics while I’m working on a second war book. (Don’t ask; it makes sense to me.) I last read Lord of the Flies in middle school. Turns out it’s a grown-up book. I know it’s still taught in middle/high schools, and at the time I thought I understood its symbols and themes, but reading it now at 42, and as the parent of a son, I see that I wasn’t really equipped as a teenager to appreciate it. I got the boys wrong, too. Ralph is not the self-possessed, tough-but-comfortable-in-his-humane-rationality, Christian-Bale-in-Reign-of-Fire leader I remembered him being. He’s a scared kid who’s in over his head, and he’s got a cruel edge to him that I’d forgotten. And Jack is not the simple malevolence I remembered him as. He’s not a sociopathic personality (though there’s one of those on the island, which I’d also forgotten about). Each boy is an outlier in his own way, but each falls within the range of normal humanity, which of course was Golding’s point.

I last read Peter Pan in the fifth grade, but by then cartoons and the early-’80s Broadway run with Sandy Duncan had already corrupted my perceptions. Boy is it darker (and naughtier!) than I remembered. In most tellings nowadays Peter is a basically positive force who rules through the power of his sheer exuberance and self-confidence; he’s simply the most boy of all the Boys. J. M. Barrie’s original Peter is something else – a violent and efficient killer, irredeemable narcissist, and consummate manipulator (and possibly a sociopath, speaking of) whose power over the children of “the Neverland” is drawn in no small part from his tangible and total lack of interest in or concern for any of them. (He can’t even be bothered to remember Wendy’s name.) To the extent he has a conscience it is largely a voice that tells him his current course of action will fail to get him exactly what he wants at that moment. (Oh, and note to the Disney Junior channel: the imposterous “Peter” who pays the occasional visit to one Jake and his so-called Neverland Pirates needs to watch out, because the real Peter is going to show up and kick his ... anyway.)

And Wendy! Well.

For History: Hobey Baker, American Legend (Emil R. Salvini)

Few who aren’t associated with Princeton University know much anymore about Hobey Baker, the impossibly gifted young man who utterly, effortlessly dominated two sports (hockey and football) at the dawn of the era of mass interest in intercollegiate athletics, later serving – and dying – as a fighter pilot in the First World War. The centenary of that war is a fine time to read about Baker and the world that the Great War shattered, for he stood as the unquestioned paragon of that world’s masculine ideal, the gentleman-scholar-athlete. Abandoned by his mother and raised on the edges of Philadelphia Main Line society, Baker rose to become “first man” of Princeton society through a combination of unmatched physical prowess, supreme self-confidence wedded to social humility, utter devotion to sportsmanship and honor, and boyish naivete. He was Peter Pan, Ferris Bueller, John F. Kennedy, and Jim Thorpe at once.

Then, unable to reconcile himself to office life on Wall Street, he joined the civilian air corps and found his way ultimately to the skies above France, dying under permanently mysterious circumstances on a training flight a few weeks after the war’s end. As Gilded Age optimism gave way after the war to Jazz Age newness and decadence, Baker remained a fixed ideal in the imaginations of his contemporaries, who seemed universally to regard him as the most fascinating and inspirational, as simply the best, human being they’d ever encountered. His memory lived for generations among that set. Classmates named sons after him; F. Scott Fitzgerald, who met him once when he was a Princeton freshman and Baker a senior, idolized Baker and remained haunted all his life by what Baker was and he was not. (Baker appeared under another name in This Side of Paradise.) It is difficult today to conceive of a single individual carrying such deep and long-lived influence over his own segment of society, his own world, if only because the sort of world that could be so influenced by a person such as Baker is itself so difficult to conceive of, a hundred years later.

For Fun: I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised a Timid Son (Kent Russell)

There’s a lot more than fun in this virtuosic collection of essays, reportage, and self-reflection, but boy is some of it funny – like its author. I met Kent last week at the Oxford Conference for the Book (at Ole Miss, not in England), where he was called before a raucous and demanding crowd of inebriated book nerds at The Lyric Oxford to do a reading for Mississippi Public Radio . . . profanity-free. It’s one thing to write an essay as funny as “American Juggalo” (in which Russell goes undercover, sort of, at the 11th annual gathering of the human turbulence that churns in the wake of the hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse); it’s another to do it radio-clean and somehow make it even funnier. He killed it.
Visit John Renehan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 20, 2015

Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes is a former police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner, Dark Tide, Human Remains, and Under a Silent Moon, the first installment of the Briarstone crime series.

Her latest book is Behind Closed Doors, the second novel in the Briarstone series.

Recently I asked Haynes about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have just finished reading Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, a novel in which the protagonist is an American called Anna who is living in Zurich, Switzerland with her Swiss husband and children. In part, the story is an exploration of how it can feel to be an ex-pat – belonging to the community by marriage and residence and yet still remaining detached from it.

Anna’s detachment becomes more obvious as the reader progresses through the book. She seems happy enough and yet her behaviour – indulging in increasingly risky and apparently unfulfilling sexual liaisons – demonstrates otherwise. The narrative shows Anna’s disconnected life through snippets of scenes from her past, as well as brief interludes of her sessions with Jungian psychoanalyst Frau Doktor Messerli. It becomes apparent that Anna’s flighty affairs are as much to do with her retaining her free spirit as they are about her need to remain in control.

It’s this seeming paradox that kept me intrigued by Anna and sympathetic to her. I know from reviews of this book that some readers found it hard to connect with Anna, thought her unlikeable because of her apparently casual betrayal of her distant and yet not unkind husband, Bruno, and because she happily leaves her young children in the care of her mother-in-law while she gads about on the Zurich public transport system.

What struck me most deeply, however, possibly because of the detachment and how well it was shown through Anna’s behaviour, was that she was deeply, desperately unhappy.

I felt complete empathy with her because of this – as if she were a real, breathing person and not a character in the book. As a result, when Anna’s infidelities are brought to light in the most hideous of ways, the nightmarish destruction of the stable household that has facilitated Anna’s lifestyle is really quite traumatic.

I found the last twenty pages or so of Hausfrau both impossible to put down and very difficult to read. Without giving anything away, I wished and still wish for a different ending. It’s interesting to consider in a very general sense what is to be done with a character who transgresses; there should be opportunities for redemption as well as punishment, but finding the right ending for such a character is an undeniably difficult thing.

Even several days later I find myself thinking of Anna and her family, working my way through her story in my head and wondering how I would have told it. For a writer, Hausfrau is a masterclass in showing a character fragmenting through a developing crisis. For a reader, it’s a beautifully written, deeply unsettling and thrilling narrative exploring the nature of belonging – and I can highly recommend it.
Visit the official Elizabeth Haynes website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Haynes & Bea.

The Page 69 Test: Under a Silent Moon.

The Page 69 Test: Behind Closed Doors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Joyce E. Salisbury

Joyce E. Salisbury is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. She is the author of Perpetua’s Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman and The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages.

Her new book is Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire.

Recently I asked Salisbury about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot of books. I won’t describe the ones that informed Rome’s Christian Empress directly because the bibliography of the book does that. Here’s some of the books that I’ve read while waiting for my book to appear. I unrepentantly love mysteries, and the more complex the better. I’ve recently read Philip Kerr’s books whose protagonist is a non-Nazi detective in Nazi Germany – most recently, If the Dead Rise Not. I also really liked Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm, and the complex and riveting Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. To be honest, I also read every Jack Reacher novel as Lee Child cranks them out. (Tom Cruise was entirely too small to play the character in the movie!) I think I’m drawn to mysteries because to me the past is a puzzle that needs unraveling, though it’s never as tidy a resolution as a mystery novel.

I’ve also been traveling as I lecture on the British ship, Voyages to Antiquity, and I like to read novels that take place in the places I’m traveling. I enjoyed Rosanna Ley’s Return to Mandalay – plot was a little contrived, but it made me appreciate Myanmar more as we landed there. Preeta Samarasan’s Evening is the Whole Day is perfect when traveling in Malaysia. These books remind me to write about the setting of the past – not just the events.

Finally, right now I’m rereading some Dickens, which I do every now and then. I’m reading Little Dorrit because I don’t remember reading that one before. I occasionally like 19th century novels to remind me to take my time when I write and when I read. Sometimes a story is best savored, whether it is being told or read. Though I will never write so long a book as Dickens – I tend to tell the tale and move on to the next one.
Learn more about Rome's Christian Empress at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Rome's Christian Empress.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jon Land

Jon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor.

His new novel is Black Scorpion.

Recently I asked Land about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading Revival by Stephen King and loving it. I read authors, not just books. King is at the top of my list and Revival has all the elements that explain why. First and foremost, King is a great storyteller. And reading his stories when I was in college made me want to be a writer. Two of the best books I read last year were Doctor Sleep and Mr. Mercedes, both King tales that were entirely different from each other but both were wondrously entertaining. King invests you in the plight of his characters, makes you feel what they’re feeling. Revival features an ex-preacher obsessed with electricity whose path crosses for a second time with a man he knew as a young boy. It’s kind of a play on the classic Frankenstein-theme, a vision wholly realized and entirely satisfying. And that’s the thing that defines a book’s greatness: how much did it live up to the expectations I had going in? The ability of a writer like King to still scare the living hell out of me (Doctor Sleep), make me forget I’m on an airplane (Mr. Mercedes) or keep me up into the cold hours of the morning (Revival) is exactly what I aspire to do in my own books like Black Scorpion.
Visit Jon Land's website.

The Page 69 Test: Black Scorpion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2015

Joy Fielding

Joy Fielding is the New York Times bestselling author of Charley’s Web, Heartstopper, Mad River Road, See Jane Run, Shadow Creek, and other acclaimed novels.

Her latest thriller is Someone Is Watching.

Last month I asked Fielding about what she was reading. Her reply:
What am I reading? The unfortunate answer at the moment is "not very much." I've been so busy with my visiting grandchildren that my reading list consists mostly of books like An Armadillo in Paris and Are You My Mother? I did manage to finish two books of suspense - The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, both of which were okay, but not great - and I've started All the Light We Cannot See, which came highly recommended, and which I'm enjoying, although it's not like I can't wait to get back to it. I seem to be more in the mood for magazines these days, and I'm enjoying the new issue of Vanity Fair.
Visit Joy Fielding's website.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow Creek.

My Book, The Movie: Shadow Creek.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Adam Mitzner

Adam Mitzner's books include A Case of Redemption and A Conflict of Interest.

His new novel is Losing Faith.

Recently I asked Mitzner about what he was reading. His reply:
Unfortunately for me, most of my reading is either drafts of my next book, or briefs written by other lawyers in cases that I’m handling during my day job as a New York City lawyer. But, when I’m lucky enough to read for pleasure, my reading breaks down into three categories.

Books in my genre. I just finished The Girl on the Train, which I absolutely loved.

Books my wife recommends. These are usually a bit more literary. Right now, number one on her list for me to read is Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. It’s a long one, and so I may only read the first 200 pages or so, which I do with a lot of books and enjoy the beauty of the writing more than getting caught up in what is going to happen next. On the other hand, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (also by Chabon) weighed in at over 600 pages, and I loved every word of it. Of course, that might be because it had to do with comic books.

Books I read to my daughter before bed. Alice in Wonderland is presently on her nightstand.

All three types greatly aid me in my own writing. The Girl on the Train has me fascinated with the stories that revolve around unreliable narrators. The books my wife recommends almost invariably have a richness in language that I can only dream about duplicating someday, and reading to my daughter provides me with the daily reminder that there’s nothing more powerful than a good story.
Learn more about the book and author at Adam Mitzner's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Conflict of Interest.

My Book, The Movie: A Conflict of Interest.

The Page 69 Test: A Case of Redemption.

My Book, The Movie: A Case of Redemption.

The Page 69 Test: Losing Faith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Holly Robinson

Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir and the novels Beach Plum Island and Haven Lake. Her articles and essays appear frequently in The Huffington Post, More, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places.

Recently I asked Robinson about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a child, I read any book that fell into my hands. Ours was a small town, with a library the size of a postage stamp, so my mother and grandfather—also avid readers—would troll flea markets for used paperbacks and bring them home. Often, these were mysteries that were completely inappropriate for a child, so naturally I loved them. In this way I developed a thirst for any book with a mystery at the heart of its plot—anything from psychological thrillers to detective fiction, from cozy mysteries to emotional family mysteries like my new book, Haven Lake, with cobwebbed skeletons tumbling out of every closet.

When I find an author I love, I often binge read, devouring the books in order. My latest find is Ann Cleeves. She has been around for a while and has a couple of different series. Currently I'm following in the footsteps of her Inspector Vera Stanhope, most recently in the novel Telling Tales.

What do I love about these novels? Nearly everything, but let's start with the character of Vera Stanhope. Vera is the sort of detective who gets on with things. She is bossy, overweight, has eczema, can't stand weak or egotistical people, mourns her lack of romantic possibilities, and follows her dead-on instincts. Oh, and she loves a whiskey or two at the end of a day.

I'm also impressed by the authority with which Cleeves writes about the legal system—she has worked as a probation officer—and by how cleverly she creates a wild assortment of quirky peripheral characters. Her characters are all multidimensional, believable and apt to be flawed. I hardly ever guess the murderer's identity because the plots and characters are so complex.

Perhaps Cleeves's greatest skill, though, is her ability to describe settings in ways that amplify the emotions in her books. Again, this might be due to her background—she has worked as a bird observatory cook, and was with the auxiliary coastguard before she started writing—but she has a real sense of the natural world and how it impacts people who have to cope with the whims of nature. Even the smallest weather details are written with care, in a way that lets us know that trouble is brewing, like these descriptions for Telling Tales:

“Outside it was still raining, but a persistent drizzle. He thought this part of the country had more shades of grey than anywhere he had ever been in the world.” p. 75

Or: “The quiet spell of weather was over. There was a piercing east wind and rain with shards of ice in it, sharp and grey as flint.” p. 184

Her descriptions also give us a strong sense of what life is like in marginal towns where the economy has tanked along with the weather. Here's a great example of that:

“The tide was out when they arrived at the river. There were acres of ridged sand and mud, which seemed to stretch almost all the way to the Lincolnshire coast. A cloud of small wading birds, gathered like insects into a swarm, rose in a cyclone above them then settled back onto the mud. The hull of a clinker-built boat rotted upturned on the shore. There was a rough car park containing a red telephone box, a notice board, which might once have given details of how to contact the coastguard but which had faded into illegibility, and a white wooden post with a lifebelt attached.” p. 275

Ann Cleeves makes me believe that evil lies in the hearts of even the most seemingly well-adjusted small town residents. I want to go along with Inspector Vera Stanhope as she finds out who did what, and why. Then I want to sit in the pub with her and raise a glass of whiskey to cheer her on for being fearless, clever, and apt as not to speak her mind.
Visit Holly Robinson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wishing Hill.

The Page 69 Test: Beach Plum Island.

Coffee with a Canine: Holly Robinson & Leo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Claire Kells

Claire Kells was born outside Philadelphia and has lived in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco since graduating from Princeton University in 2005. An English major, she didn’t start writing fiction until her first year of medical school. Now a second-year resident, she spends her free time writing stories about love, loss, and adventure.

Her debut novel is Girl Underwater.

Recently I asked Kells about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I just recently finished this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Well-plotted, well-paced, with intriguing characters that kept me guessing until the end. I would definitely recommend this to fans of psychological and/or domestic thrillers.

The Martian by Andy Weir. I started this book about a month ago, and I can’t help but appreciate the depth of research that must have gone into creating such a vivid, realistic portrayal of life on Mars. The protagonist has a very distinctive voice, which really draws me into his world. Overall well-researched, well-written, well done.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. Clearly I’m a fan of the domestic thriller! I loved this author’s writing style—spare but sure, which kept the story moving. Oftentimes I’ll read a book written from multiple POV’s and find it hard to differentiate the characters from one another, but that was not the case here. I’m really looking forward to her next one.

On my TBR shelf (not yet released):

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio. I’ve heard such wonderful things about this book, which is about an intersex teenager struggling with her identity. This author is a urologist and therefore more than qualified to write about this challenging subject.

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I don’t often read fantasy, but I always love it when I do. This one sounds a little different than the standard dystopian fare.

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews. This author’s debut, Red Sparrow, was the best book I read last year. I can’t wait for this one.
Visit Claire Kells's website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Underwater.

--Marshal Zeringue