Monday, August 31, 2015

Thomas Cobb

Thomas Cobb is the author of Crazy Heart, which was adapted into a 2009 Academy Award-winning film starring Jeff Bridges, and Shavetail, among other books.

Cobb's new novel is Darkness the Color of Snow.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Starting with the present and working back a couple of weeks, these are the books I’ve been reading.

Bodies Electric by Colin Harrison. This is an older book of Harrison’s, his second novel if I’m not mistaken. I’m only fifty or so pages in, but Harrison has already set the major conflict as Jack Whitman, who works for The Corporation tries to do a good deed for a woman he met on the subway. The Corporation would seem not in favor of doing good deeds. Colin Harrison is, perhaps, the best thriller writer we have. I always find things to admire in his books.

Go Down Together by Jeff Guinn. Jeff Guinn is the author of The Last Gunfight and Manson, and a personal favorite of mine. Go Down Together, the story of Bonnie and Clyde, is also an earlier work I’ve gone to because Guinn isn’t writing his new books fast enough to suit me. He’s a meticulous researcher and a very fine writer. Guinn sifts through legend to find the truth about Bonnie and Clyde, and comes up with a story that’s even better than the myths we know.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Kate Atkinson is my newest favorite writer. I first read her novel Life after Life and was dazzled that she was able to pull off literary effects so beautifully. Reading Atkinson is like watching a great magician. It’s a trick of course, but done so wonderfully, it’s better than reality. A God in Ruins is something of a sequel to Life after Life, and probably better read after Life after Life, but not necessarily so. Her accounts of bombers in World War II are breathtaking.
Visit Thomas Cobb's website.

The Page 69 Test: Shavetail.

My Book, The Movie: Crazy Heart.

The Page 69 Test: Darkness the Color of Snow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Shannon Grogan

Shannon Grogan is a 2nd grade teacher who writes at night, and at Starbucks or the library while her kids are at ballet and baseball, in a tiny logging town east of Seattle, WA. She holds degrees in education and graphic design/illustration. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she likes baking (gluten-free), shopping at Target, losing to her kids at Skip Bo or Apples to Apples, camping, or wishing she was on a beach. But usually she’s reading, or watching scary movies like Jaws, or reality TV like Cake Boss or Long Island Medium.

Grogan's new YA thriller is From Where I Watch You.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since I teach 2nd grade, I read for school, usually about 45 minutes a day to my class, and for fun at home, of course!

For my 2nd graders, I usually pick illustrated middle grade books with lots of humor for my classroom read-alouds, like Cecil and Anton: Cats at Sea, and Flora & Ulysses.

I also read picture books and usually pick ones I can use as mentor texts for our own writing. Our favorite this year, because we focused on opinion letter writing, was The Day the Crayons Quit. For both MG and PBs, humor and pictures definitely capture and keep my student’s attention. Good example: when Peach Crayon in The Day the Crayons Quit hides in the crayon box because he’s naked! Nothing gets attention and a laugh in a room of 7-8 year-olds like the word naked!

All books I choose to read in class have to have that the ‘we-can-read-it-over-and-over’!

For fun I’m all about YA!

I stick primarily to darker, pacier contemporary YA, but I love ‘quieter’ character-driven books too. I have too many favorites and favorite authors this year to name them all, but one of my favorite books, that I just finished was The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman.

I usually do not like multiple POV books, and Maggie’s had 4 POVs! But she did such a fantastic job of writing this so seamlessly that I was sucked into the story quickly and couldn’t put it down!

Right now I’m reading The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. It’s based on Grimm’s The Handless Maiden. Loving it so far!

Bottom line, whatever I read, I have to be captured by the characters to keep reading. The characters, no matter what book, will keep me reading!
Visit Shannon Grogan's website.

My Book, The Movie: From Where I Watch You.

The Page 69 Test: From Where I Watch You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 28, 2015

Matthew McGevna

Matthew McGevna was born and raised in Mastic Beach, Long Island. Born of Irish descent, he attended fiction and poetry workshops in Galway, Ireland, through the University of Arkansas Writing Program. He received his MFA in creative writing from Long Island University’s Southampton College in 2002. An award-winning poet, McGevna has also published numerous short stories in various publications, including Long Island Noir, Epiphany, and Confrontation. He currently lives in Center Moriches, New York, with his wife and two sons, Jackson and Dempsey. Little Beasts is his first novel.

Recently I asked McGevna about what he was reading. His reply:
Most recently I read Anthony Marra’s stunning debut A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. I first discovered Marra back when I subscribed to Narrative Magazine. They published his Pushcart Prize-winning short story “Chechnya.” I was profoundly moved by that short story. I have an older sister who moved out before we got a chance to really bond as siblings, and the delicate and fragile way Marra captures the dynamic between two sisters separated by circumstance was only enriched by the amazing education I received about Chechnya.

He continued that education of post-Soviet Russia with A Constellation. The dynamic between sisters, neighbors, father and son: it’s all there. Set against an unnerving backdrop of violence and uncertainty. The plot is somewhat streamlined, and that makes way for the characters to really fill out the panoramic view of the Chechen conflict, the struggle for survival, the way militancy and depravation can make little Judases out of all of us. And the closing image of the book will knock you over. I won’t divulge; you should run out and secure a copy of it. Some rainy days are coming.

Right now I’m reading This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Díaz, much for the same reason I read Marra’s work. I like works of literature that tackle serious human issues but are set in a time and place that is foreign to me. I like to learn from a book, not only how to live, but how people I’ve never met might live. I knew nothing about the Dominican Republic until I read Díaz. I’m that white person who was too white for his MFA experience. But isn’t that cultural discomfort, that chasm of misunderstanding among people the very thing fiction can be purposed to remedy? I’m thankful for having read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I’m grateful to Díaz for writing it. (Even if I still don’t know how to pronounce “Wao”) To me, it seems almost the purpose of fiction and the responsibility of art: to cause that tension of the mind and heart when we encounter a world that is not our own. It forces us to see familiar subjects with new eyes.

As a writer, I read fiction also to become inspired. A turn of phrase, a devastating image, a poignant section of dialogue—these can often send me running back to my keyboard. As we all know, writing is a solitary endeavor and sometimes I get damned near the point where I throw my hands up and wonder why I bother. Then I read these mentioned works, or the lyrical prose of Stewart O’Nan or the organic and rich storytelling of Louise Erdrich and I clap the book closed and say, ‘Yes, this is why we create works of art.’ Art is the celebration and I’m fortunate to be a part of that celebration.
Visit Matthew McGevna's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland's novels include The Fool's Tale; Revenge of the Rose; Crossed; I, Iago; and Godiva. She is married to actor Billy Meleady and owns Leuco, a dog of splendid qualities.

Galland's new novel is Stepdog.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m usually a serial monogamist in my reading – I lose myself completely in something, finish it, and then move on to the next. At the moment, though, there’s a pile on my bedside table, and I despair of getting through them all before the end of summer. It’s a pretty eclectic stack.

I’ll start with Malcolm Gaskill’s Between Two Worlds: How the English Became American. This is research for my next novel (which I’m writing in collaboration with Neal Stephenson). I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, which means I’d been to Plimoth Plantation several times and done all the historical walks around Boston, but there’s 150 years between “Behold! the settlers” and “Behold! the revolutionaries” and that gap generally isn’t covered in the pop-cultural sense of American history – one might almost get the impression the Pilgrims got off the Mayflower and a few years later were throwing tea into Boston harbor. This book fills that gap, and does a masterful job of showing the shifting mentality among the white settlers – toward the native population, toward Mother England, toward themselves as a new society.

Another current research book for that same writing project (which leaps between historical eras) is, weirdly enough, one of my own novels: Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. From the research I did while writing this novel (which is about a crusade so appallingly ill-conceived and corrupt that it feels like a Monty Python sketch), I know the material very well, but I needed a quick refresher of certain facts, and the most efficient way to review those facts was, somewhat ironically, to reread a segment of my own fictional application of those facts. So I’m in the middle of that, which is both delightful and unsettling. I’m relieved to report that, reviewing it 8 years later, I'm enjoying it. On the other hand, I don’t think a writer ever stops wanting to rewrite, so it’s a tad excruciating to read material I cannot change.

I just finished Cat Warren’s What The Dog Knows, about the practice of training dogs (her dog in particular) to be “cadaver dogs” - in a larger sense, the book is about the bond between humans and dogs and how dogs use their sense of smell to understand the world. It’s a perfect read for dog-lovers; she and I were on a dog-writer-themed panel together, and I read it so I’d know where she was coming from, but immediately got into the narrative for its own sake. If you’re a dog-lover who is into true crime stories, it might feel like she wrote the book specifically for you.

I’m now in the middle of LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s debut novel Jam On The Vine. LaShonda and I were just on a panel together about developing characters’ voices, so (as with Cat’s book) I initially bought the book out of respect for a fellow panelist (the other panelist was Geraldine Brooks, whose works I already own and love). I find myself sipping it like warm honey-water. Her use of language is so sumptuous and the story is heartachingly timely and timeless – about race and racism in America, set in and around the Red Summer of 1919 when race riots nearly tore America apart even worse than what’s happening right now.

There is also Jennifer Steil’s The Ambassador’s Wife, a novel I’ve been anticipating reading for about a year, since the ARCs came out. (I know Jennifer from A Room Of Her Own, a wonderful organization for women writers that has a biennial writers retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico). It’s a gripping story set in a fictional Middle Eastern country, hinging upon a kidnapping… but there’s more going on than that.

I also just read an unpublished novel manuscript by an unpublished young writer, a piece I absolutely adore but which I cannot contractually discuss. So maybe it’s a tease for me to even mention it, except that it is indicative of the kind of reading I often do: as a sideline, I love working as a developmental editor. I don’t advertise it or do it often (I only take clients when I have time, and who are recommended to me by people I trust), but I enjoy it so much and feel it’s so important to the future of good storytelling, that if I had the time and means to offer my services for free, I would just do it all the time.

And finally, I just bought Hilary Mantel’s universally lauded Wolf Hall, but I haven’t started it yet. That one, from what everyone has said about it, requires reading-monogamy, so it will be my one true love when I have finished all the others. Given it’s historical fiction set in an era and nation I am perennially fascinated with, I don’t even have words to express how excited I am that it’s waiting for me.
Visit Nicole Galland's website.

The Page 69 Test: Stepdog.

My Book, The Movie: Stepdog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Douglas Corleone

Douglas Corleone is the author of contemporary crime novels and international thrillers. His debut novel One Man's Paradise was a finalist for the 2010 Shamus Award for Best First Novel and won the 2009 Minotaur Books / Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.

Corleone’s highly acclaimed international thriller Good As Gone introduced former U.S. Marshal Simon Fisk, and was followed by Payoff, which Booklist called “a lean, mean, pedal-to-the-metal thriller.” Corleone's new novel, Gone Cold, is the third Simon Fisk novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
A food jag is when a child will only eat one item, meal after meal. I sometimes go through periods like that with authors. When I first discovered Lee Child, I’d read nothing but Reacher novels for months at a time. If I fall behind on prolific authors such as Stephen King, I do the same. My current author jag is Harlan Coben. I originally picked him up because I was feeling nostalgic for my home state of New Jersey. But once Coben sinks his hooks into you, it’s incredibly difficult to break way.

Over the past few weeks I’ve read a number of his standalones, including The Innocent, Hold Tight, The Woods, Six Years, and Caught. I’m presently reading No Second Chance, which may be my favorite of the bunch. For me, Coben’s tales of suburban nightmares are refreshing, particularly now after having spent much of the past few years writing international thrillers like Payoff, Gone Cold, and Robert Ludlum’s The Janson Equation. That Coben can set pulse-pounding suspense in the towns in which I grew up says a lot for his talent. His characters are vivid, his dialogue crisp, his descriptions spare yet cinematic – Harlan Coben’s standalone thrillers are the whole package, and for writers like myself, they teach as much as they entertain.
Learn more about the book and author at Douglas Corleone's website.

The Page 69 Test: Good as Gone.

My Book, The Movie: Payoff.

The Page 69 Test: Gone Cold.

My Book, The Movie: Gone Cold.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stephanie Clifford

Stephanie Clifford is a Loeb-award winning reporter at the New York Times, where she has covered business, media and New York City. She is currently a Metro reporter covering federal and state courts in Brooklyn. She joined the Times in 2008 from Inc. magazine, where she was a senior writer. Clifford grew up in Seattle and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son and two cats.

Everybody Rise is Clifford's first book.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Cristina Henríquez' The Book of Unknown Americans. Henríquez's details give such a vivid sense of her characters' lives - the rundown Delaware apartment building that the characters live in, one of the father's jobs at a mushroom-packaging factory where he has to work in the dark. It's about moving to America, and it's also about family and sacrifice and what you do for your kids.

Next up is V.V. Ganeshananthan's Love Marriage, which I somehow missed when it came out. Good things come to those who wait, though - I've heard wonderful things about the book. Sugi and I were on the college paper together, and she is such a smart storyteller - I can't wait to see what she does in fiction form.

I've been a reporter at the New York Times for about eight years, and a little over a year ago, I began covering Brooklyn courts, which is everything from Mafia cases to gang trials to people being cleared of decades-old convictions after spending most of their lives in prison. I've gotten very interested in criminal justice issues, writ large, as a result of seeing what goes on here every day. I'm in the middle of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, which makes a compelling argument about the effects of mass incarceration.

One of the things I started doing as I began writing Everybody Rise was memorizing poetry to help with phrasing and rhythm. I began with the likes of Eliot (I had Prufrock in its entirety memorized at one point), Keats, Christina Rossetti - and I'm now moving into the contemporary realm, reading poets like Carol Ann Duffy.
Visit Stephanie Clifford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Stephen Emond

Stephen Emond is the creator of the Emo Boy comic series, two illustrated young adult novels, Happyface and Winter Town, and Steverino, a comic strip that ran in his local Connecticut newspaper.

His new novel is Bright Lights, Dark Nights.

Recently I asked Emond about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m always reading a wide variety at the same time. At the moment I’m working on a historical fiction pitch and I’m knee-deep in research for that, so a lot of my reading is tied to that. I’ve also had an itch to draw lately, so I’ve been reading some comic books like Lumberjanes and Rocket Girl, and I just finished Wytches. I try to keep a foot in young adult at any time, so in the YA sphere I’ve been reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and really enjoying it! I also really want to read Miranda July’s The First Bad Man.
Visit Stephen Emond's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bright Lights, Dark Nights.

My Book, The Movie: Bright Lights, Dark Nights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 22, 2015

April Genevieve Tucholke

April Genevieve Tucholke is the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Between the Spark and the Burn, and the curator of the Slasher Girls and Monster Boys anthology.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

I adored the BBC series of the same name, and decided to pick up the book as well. It's a...peaceful book, one that provides a glimpse into rural English life before industrialization. It doesn't have a plot, per se, (unlike the mini-series)--it's more a series of sketches on nature and outdoor life. It makes me feel calm when I read it, in the same way as books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Another book that's been brilliantly adapted by the BBC. Simon Prebble narrates the audiobook and he is pure genius. This is the fourth time I've listened to it. I love this novel. Deeply. Clarke's dry wit, her imaginative footnotes, her understanding of fairy tales, her darkness...
Visit April Genevieve Tucholke's website.

My Book, The Movie: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bill Crider

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award finalist. An English college professor for many years, he’s published more than seventy-five crime, Western, and horror novels, as well as a number of children’s books.

Crider's new novel is Between the Living and the Dead, the 22nd Dan Rhodes Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished reading a big fat “flintlock fantasy” called Cold Iron. This isn’t my usual kind of reading, but I’ve known the author, Stina Leicht, for several years and I enjoyed her two earlier novels. I enjoyed this one, too. It’s the first in a trilogy, so I’ll now wait for the sequels. When I finished reading that over-600­-pages book, I read Gil Brewer’s Gun the Dame Down, which is part of a triple-­decker Brewer treat from Stark House. It’s only 60 pages long, which is more my kind of length. It’s a very hard-­boiled private-­eye novel that hits all the requisite notes. And right now I’m about halfway through Go Set a Watchman, the Harper Lee novel that’s been raising such a fuss. I’ve found a lot to like about it.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, Murder in the Air, The Wild Hog Murders, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen, Compound Murder, and Half in Love with Artful Death.

The Page 69 Test: Between the Living and the Dead.

My Book, The Movie: Between the Living and the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Randy McBee

Randy D. McBee is Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University.

His new book is Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist.

Recently I asked McBee about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club by Sonny Barger and Keith Zimmerman. Barger was a founding member of the Oakland chapter of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club in 1957 and would go on to be president of the club for many years afterwards. Barger would attract considerable attention as a Hell's Angel and especially because of the prominent role he played in Hunter Thompson’s famous book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. The book covers most of the post-World War II period and is as good as anything I’ve read about the Hell's Angels and the club’s role in shaping our understanding of so-called “outlaw” motorcycle clubs. I read this book when it was first published in 2001 but picked it up again after the shootings in Waco attracted national attention and as I tried to make sense of the media stereotypes of motorcyclists that have dominated headlines. Barger rarely directly confronts those stereotypes, but his take on the period, on the Hell's Angels, and on motorcycle clubs in general provides a much more complicated and nuanced look at these riders (and all riders) than what we’ve seen in the media over the last couple months.

I’ve also just started reading The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad For So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It by David Weil. Weil uses the term “fissured” to highlight the ways in which corporations, CEOs, and investors have fundamentally restructured employment, or as he puts it “shed activities deemed peripheral to their core business models,” including many of the workers that we as consumers interact with when we patronize those businesses. Weil effectively outlines a number of strategies corporations have used to accomplish this goal: subcontracting, outsourcing, franchising, and he has highlighted the ways in which these strategies have increased profits and reduced liability. Much of what Weil covers will be familiar to readers who have paid attention to corporate strategies over the past several decades But Weil’s look at the consequences of the fissured workplace and how it has destabilized work and contributed to the widening gap between pay and productivity is as thorough as any account of this shift, and Weil offers a number of interesting ideas to address the problem.
Learn more about Born to Be Wild at The University of North Carolina Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Born to Be Wild.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Naomi J. Williams

Naomi J. Williams was born in Japan and spoke no English until she was six years old. Her debut novel, Landfalls, is a fictionalized account of the 18th-century Lapérouse expedition that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, more than two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France.

Reecently I asked Williams about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m always juggling multiple books simultaneously. Currently I’m reading three works of fiction. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is my book club’s September selection; it’s just as compelling and mesmerizing a read as the hype had led me to expect. I’m also reading a local writer, Maceo Montoya. He’s a visual artist, fiction writer, and professor of Chicana/o Studies at UC Davis. His first novel, The Scoundrel and the Optimist (Bilingual Review, 2010), relates a pretty difficult family story in the most disarmingly light-hearted, even artless fashion.

The third book is Edward Seidensticker’s translation of The Tale of Genji. I’m in the middle of a project to read all the major English-language translations of Murasaki Shikibu’s sprawling classic. I read Royall Tyler’s 2001 translation earlier this year. After this one, I’ll read Arthur Waley’s version. And I understand there’s yet another new translation, by Dennis Washburn, so I’ll add that to the list.

My current poetry reading is Denise Levertov’s Candles in Babylon. Just this morning I loved this line from her “Eyes and No-Eyes”: “no one cares to be praised by mistake.” So perfect and true.

And finally, my latest non-fiction read, which I just finished this morning, is Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext, part of Graywolf’s miraculous “The Art of” series. It’s the third one I’ve read this summer. Next up is Sven Birkerts’ The Art of Time in Memoir.
Visit Naomi J. Williams's website.

The Page 69 Test: Landfalls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 17, 2015

Beth Cato

Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair outside of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

Her latest novels are The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
This week I have been reading a book that comes out soon, The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard. It's an amazingly fresh fantasy that takes place in a sort of post-apocalyptic Paris, long after the Great War was joined by fallen angels who destroyed much of the earth. The lead character is a Vietnamese man who has been stranded in the city. I love the unique new blend of religions and mythologies.

A few days ago, I finished up a nonfiction book: Mark Twain and the Colonel by Philip McFarland. This was a research book for me since my next steampunk series includes Theodore Roosevelt as a character. I still have a few more books on him to read, but this book ended up being enjoyable and quite useful since it took care to show both men in the context of the period, with all the good and bad (in our now-wiser eyes) that entails.

I also want to mention one of my recent reads that will probably be among my favorites for the whole year: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. It's a brilliant take on Regency England with magic and political drama, with two fantastic people of color as the leads. It was one of those books that made me genuinely sad when it ended. I didn't want to say good-bye to Zacharias and Prunella!
Learn more about The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown at Beth Cato's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Clockwork Dagger.

My Book, The Movie: The Clockwork Crown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Leslie Budewitz

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher.

Budewitz's latest novel is Butter Off Dead, third in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been doing a lot of driving around Montana this summer, with a big stack of audio books on the seat next to me. That raises the pesky question whether listening is reading. Yes, in my view, though it reading with my ears is a vastly different experience from reading with my eyes. I miss the ability to flip back and check a phrase I missed—or one I particularly liked. But there’s something wonderfully comforting about being read to. And I feel freer to choose books I might not pick up otherwise, because my sit-down-and-read time is limited. Audio books let me dip into other worlds beyond the light-hearted mysteries I write.

At the moment, I’m listening to The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I can’t remember the last time I read a book set in Australia—something more recent than The Thorn Birds, I hope! From the brief prologue about Pandora of myth—did you know she was given a jar, not a box?—and the opening lines of Chapter 1, I knew this book was going to be smart, funny, and filled with potential disasters of the heart. And so it is.

Before that, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Having seen the movie helped—the story is complicated, moving in and out of time and viewpoint. But oh, so beautiful and heart-rending. And the narration was so smooth and unhurried that I never felt lost in the story.

Each of Tana French’s novels focuses on a different member of the Dublin Murder Squad, and each audio has a different narrator. The Secret Place has two—one male, for the first-person detective chapters, and one female, for the third-person chapters that focus on the teenage girls whose secrets are the heart of the story. French travels to some dark places, and I’m glad I get to tag along—with the ability to punch the OFF button any time!

Audio is great for nonfiction, too, much of it read by the author. Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives hits just the right tone: lots of great research, in a practical package, without being too preachy. Or maybe just a teeny bit. I loved her confiding tone as she told us about some of her bad habits and her failed attempts to form better ones. And yes, I’ve formed some positive new habits as a result.

But one I’m not going to change is keeping an audio book in the car wherever I go.
Visit Leslie Budewitz's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Butter Off Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 14, 2015

Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi is an Afghan American pediatrician living in suburban Washington, D.C. She is the author of the international bestseller The Pearl That Broke Its Shell.

Hashimi's new novel is When the Moon Is Low.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've got a couple of books on my "nightstand" right now. In the last two or three years, I've forced myself to be more open to e-books and audio books which has allowed me to enjoy more stories than I would if I relied only on books I can flip through. I'm listening to State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I thought I would identify with Marina Singh, the protagonist, since she's also a physician but the novel has her traveling through the Amazon in a quest to find out why the Lakashi women remain fertile well into their golden years. That's a far cry from my work as a pediatrician in a Washington DC hospital but that makes it all the more intriguing. Patchett's majestic prose makes me pause and replay sections of this book for the gracefulness with which she describes the lush landscape ("thick walls of breathing vegetation") and Marina's headstrong medical school professor who has spent her professional life deep in the jungle entrenched in research.

On my e-reader, I'm enjoying Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. This is an evocative tale that, through a handful of vibrant and memorable characters, shows the reader how war and politics can change the course of an individual’s life. Set against the struggle for Biafran independence from Nigeria, the narrative demonstrates the gaps in how we learn and remember history and shows how we may incorrectly record political narratives as one dimensional stories. The rich backdrop is just as powerful and engaging as the individual characters as they grapple with the universalities of love, hope and identity.

And because I have a five and four year old who love books, my evening reading also includes Cat in the Hat and other works by the inimitable Dr Seuss. Confession: I love the tongue twisting rhymes just as much as they do.
Visit Nadia Hashimi's website.

The Page 69 Test: When the Moon Is Low.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 13, 2015

David Hofmeyr

David Hofmeyr was born in South Africa and lives in London and Paris. In 2012 he was a finalist in the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition, and in 2013 he graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University with an MA in Writing for Young People. He works as a Planner for Ogilvy & Mather in the UK.

Hofmeyr's first novel is Stone Rider.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Winter's Bone
Daniel Woodrell

Woodrell steeps you in a bleak and twisted landscape with prose that burns. I feasted on his words, reading slowly to prolong the joy. Every page has something to revel in. “Amid the harsh landscape of the Ozark Hills, sixteen-year-old Ree is taking care of her mother and two brothers. Her father has put their house up as bail and if he doesn't show up at court it'll be sold from under them. To save her family she needs to track him down but in a community riven with long-running feuds getting answers isn't easy.” This is a modern day fairy-tale. Ree heads into the woods on a primal quest to save her family and the ogres she encounters on the road are the in-bred redneck meth-burning criminals of the Ozarks. A brutal and gripping story. But there is beauty and majesty. Winter’s Bone throws you into an uncompromising world with raw power. I was with Ree every step of her journey. I’m still with her now.

Butcher's Crossing
John Williams

This is journey into the heart of darkness with a Cormac McCarthy western feel. Set in Kansas and Colorado in the 1870s it follows the story of four men on the trail of buffalo. There are allusions to barbarity everywhere and you know within the first few pages that darkness awaits. Told in clean prose that brings the land – the unending flat prairie of Kansas and the mountainous Colorado to cinematic life. This is a wild west on the brink of change – railroad lines are being laid across the land, the buffalo are being hunted to extinction and the Indians are few and feral. The characters are wonderfully evoked and the lead, Will Andrews, who leaves Harvard to ‘discover’ the west, is the perfect protagonist for this primal journey. They will be reduced to most basic urges and they will dig deep to survive. Genius!
Visit David Hofmeyr's website.

Stone Rider is one of Rachel Paxton-Gillilan's top five YA books for Mad Max fans.

My Book, the Movie: Stone Rider.

The Page 69 Test: Stone Rider.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nick Holdstock

Nick Holdstock's fiction and essays have appeared in a wide range of US and UK publications, including The London Review of Books, The Southern Review, n+1, Dissent, Vice, The Independent, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the author of The Tree That Bleeds: A Uighur Town on the Edge, a book about life in China's Xinjiang province, and China's Forgotten People (2015).

Holdstock's new novel is The Casualties.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve just finished reading William Vollmann’s new novel, The Dying Grass, a 1300 page novel about the Nez Perce Indian war in 1877. During this the US army pursued the Nez Perce Indians over three months, killing many of them in the process. Those that were captured were placed on reservations where they were further preyed on by missionaries and profiteers. I doubt I’ll read anything as good as this book for a while – it’s rich, formally daring and has consistently wonderful sentences. Like Vollmann’s other historical novels, it also has the virtue of being honest about what’s been made up, distorted, or lifted from historical sources, which actually makes the whole thing seem more believable. This is a book about something that actually matters – the uncomfortable legacy of dispossession and murder that our (supposedly) prosperous present is built on.

The other book I’m reading is a careful explosion of what most of us think of when we talk about ‘Satan’. The Origin of Satan by Princeton professor Elaine Pagels meticulously shows how the notion of the devil as the adversary of God was constructed by the early Christians – in Hebrew sources Satan was more like a lackey of God. When Jewish groups did refer to him, it was mainly while trying to demonise other groups. Our perception of Satan, one of our foundational cultural figures, is thus primarily the result of power struggles during the early history of the Christian church. I’m interested in this because I’m working on a novel set in the Middle Ages, and it’s rather hard to avoid talking about this fellow. I’m thinking it might be a nice opportunity for him to tell his side of the story.
Visit Nick Holdstock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tom Harper

Tom Harper has written a dozen thrillers, including The Orpheus Descent, Lost Temple, and Secrets of the Dead. He grew up in Germany, Belgium, and America, and studied history at Oxford University. His first novel was a runner-up for the CWA Debut Dagger Award.

Harper's latest novel is Zodiac Station.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been reading Maurice Druon’s The Iron King, the first book in his Accursed Kings series about the Capetian monarchs of France in the fourteenth century. I only needed one reason to pick it up: the cover quote from George RR Martin that said, ‘This is the original Game of Thrones’.

I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones, both the TV series and the books. As lots of people have commented, it’s really historical fiction about history that didn’t happen (with dragons) – with the advantage that as it’s made up, you live it forwards, rather than through the distorting lens of known historical outcomes. That gives it a shock value you don’t get with real history: it reminds you that at the time, no-one knew who was going to survive, let alone win. I never really felt I understood the Wars of the Roses until I read A Game of Thrones. In 1485, the battle of Bosworth must have been as surprising to contemporaries as the Red Wedding is to us now.

Druon’s books share some of that shock-factor, because unless you’re a bigtime medieval French history buff, the history is pretty much unknown (in fact, I did an essay on it at university as part of my history degree, and I still don’t remember how it turns out). The Iron King is more economical than Game of Thrones, with fewer characters and a much more focussed storyline (also: no dragons). The historical detail is used sparingly, but to vivid effect. Druon writes in a detached, almost ironic style, which makes the sex and violence all the more shocking when it comes. He has some dry character insights, and an elegant turn of phrase. Contrary to what you might expect from a member of the notoriously uptight Academie Francaise, the story cracks along, unfolding its crazed sequence of jealousy, revenge, torture, black magic, sex and death (sound familiar?) Even when it seems to linger on some unimportant scene, and you think the author’s taken his eye off the ball, a quick aside always tells you these inconsequential events will have devastating effects later. And so you read on.

It’s gripping stuff. At 330 pages, it’s also better for public transport and less likely to give you carpal tunnel syndrome than any of the Game of Thrones books. But it’s also fascinating to read it knowing its influence on Martin, trying to guess exactly where those influences took root. The queen who flirts with incest; the princesses shaved and shamed for their sexual misdeeds; the king’s small council riven with factions: they all have their analogues in King’s Landing. When one of Druon’s characters contemplates the untimely fates that can befall kings – ‘there were, too, such things as hunting accidents, lances that broke accidentally at tournaments, and horses that came down’ – you can’t help thinking that Westeros’ King Robert Baratheon was killed in a hunting accident, and his assassin then died skewered by a broken lance in the joust. Spotting the parallels, and wondering, is part of the fun.

But ultimately, literary parlour games only take you so far. The Iron King is a fantastic book in its own right, and deserves to be read by any fan of great historical fiction. I finished it last night, and I ordered the next two books in the series this morning.
Visit Tom Harper's website.

My Book, The Movie: Zodiac Station.

The Page 69 Test: Zodiac Station.

--Marshal Zeringue