Sunday, January 31, 2016

Carla Buckley

Carla Buckley is the author of The Deepest Secret, Invisible, The Things That Keep Us Here, and the newly released The Good Goodbye.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Buckley's reply:
Right now, I’m deeply engrossed in Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, the non-fiction account of the sinking of the Lusitania. I’m not one to read history, especially when I know the ending, but after my husband ploughed through it and decided it was so good he had to immediately reread it, I was intrigued. I stole his copy from his nightstand and I haven’t been able to put it down. Larson’s skill lies in his ability to bring that period alive through vivid character study, and he organizes his material so smoothly that it makes for an effortless read. We follow the captains of the Lusitania and the U boat that sunk her, the ill-fated passengers and crew, and the leaders on two continents and feel as though we’re in the same rooms (or cabins) with them. I’m almost finished and absolutely dreading reaching the end. The good news for me is that he’s got a terrific-looking backlist!
Visit Carla Buckley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife. Her new book, The Swans of Fifth Avenue is the #1 Indie Next Pick for February.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Benjamin's reply:
I’m not going to talk about the books I’ve started and not finished; I think I’m like most people today in that there are so many books, so little time. So I may be not as patient a reader as I used to be. But I recently read Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, and thought it was breathtaking. I love reading authors whose writing makes me think, “Boy, am I a hack!” And it’s not false modesty; I love to be blown away by talent, and inspired to work harder myself. Amy Bloom is the kind of author who inspires me in this way. I have recommended Away to so many people and now I will be recommending Lucky Us, as well. From a historical perspective I always learn so much from her books; her research is impeccable. But it’s the characters, of course, that resonate and make you care, and she always writes such intriguing female characters. The two protagonists of Lucky Us are step-sisters, so different in their desires and needs but equally compelling, and their relationship is entirely real and believable. The period—just prior to World War II, encompassing the war and then just a few years after—is so beautifully rendered; it’s the backdrop for the story of these two sisters figuring out how to survive in a world that throws them far too many curveballs.

As for nonfiction, which I love as well, I’m currently reading Carly Simon’s Boys in the Trees. It’s fascinating, and such a great insight into the process of a songwriter, as well as just plain fun to read for all the inevitable celebrity appearances. She had a lot to overcome herself, despite being born to privilege. That’s the common thread, I suppose, in most of the books I read and also write—surviving the life you were born to, even if that life was one of privilege, is always more challenging, and interesting, than it might appear on the surface. I think this is definitely one of the themes of The Swans of Fifth Avenue, as well as both of these books.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2016

Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, numerous short stories, a YA ghost novel and Write On!-a writers’ help book.

His new novel is The Locker, the first of a new series featuring private security operatives Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik.

Recently I asked Magson about what he was reading. His reply:
I recently caught up with one of my favourite authors – Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park and others and his character Arkady Renko), and read Tatiana, which I’d been meaning to get hold of for a while.

This time the put-upon and world-weary Russian investigator is looking into the apparent suicide of a young reporter, Tatiana Petrovna, and the murder of a billionaire mob leader.

Renko senses there must be a connection, and his persistent digging, in spite of his boss’s seeming scepticism, leads him to Kaliningrad, where another death has taken place.

The cast of characters is, as always, fascinating. Apart from Renko himself, and the various villains and walk-ons (who all have real depth), there’s Renko’s police colleague and sidekick, Victor Orlov, a sort of Russian Sancho Panza, and Renko’s adopted ‘son’ Zhenya, hell-bent on living his own life and disregarding pretty much everything Renko tells him, yet clearly relies on Renko as some kind of anchor in a stormy world.

He’s also a very bright kid and has a fairly meaty part in this case, bringing a solution to a puzzle that has Renko in knots.

It’s not a fast-paced book, but that’s the attraction. It allows the reader to get inside Renko’s mind and travel with him on his journey, risking death at the hands of the villains of the piece, and even worse from the authorities who seem to regard him as a minor nuisance. Then there’s his relationship with Zhenya and the occasional woman who strays into his life… or possibly the other way round; Renko’s not exactly a party animal.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tatiana and can strongly recommend it and the rest of the series.
Visit Adrian Magson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Locker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Elizabeth LaBan

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

She teaches fiction writing at The University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She also ghost writes a weekly column, and has ghost written two books.

LaBan's new novel is The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m reading The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. For those of you who haven’t read it, it is the story of Kate and what happens the month leading up to her wedding, though, as we know from the beginning, she is living that month for a second time. The first time around, which is where the book begins, Kate’s finance Max breaks up with her at their rehearsal dinner. Heartbroken, she finds her way home from Hawaii where the wedding was supposed to take place and, with the help of Facebook and what I think is a fairy godmother named Ruby (I am only halfway through, I can’t say for sure yet if Ruby really ends up in that role), she is able to go back in time and live that important month again. I am hooked, and actually didn’t begin writing this post until late this morning because I couldn’t stop reading.

I love a time-travel, have-a-chance-to-do-it-again, what-if kind of book. It reminds me of Jennifer Weiner’s short story "The Guy Not Taken" about a woman who changes her fate and gets a second chance to see what might have been by fiddling with her ex-boyfriend’s wedding registry. It also reminds me of our favorite, albeit sappy, holiday movie called Holidaze in which a high-powered executive who gave up small town life and love for her job returns to her childhood home for a visit. She hits her head and finds herself in an alternate reality, one in which she made all the opposite choices. It gives her the opportunity to see things more clearly, and finally find happiness. I have long thought about writing this type of book, one in which someone gets a second chance and a window into something that would otherwise be lost.

I would write more now, but I have to go see what happens with Kate and Max!
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

James D. Stein

James D. Stein is emeritus professor in the Department of Mathematics at California State University, Long Beach.

His books include Cosmic Numbers and How Math Explains the World.

Stein's new story collection is L.A. Math: Romance, Crime, and Mathematics in the City of Angels.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I'd love to find a mystery writer who writes like either Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, or Agatha Christie – with classic mysteries – but the authors I've read recently have way too much gratuitous violence for my taste. When I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I came to the torture scene and skipped it – how does that improve the book? Beats me. The mystery, and the characters, were so good that this wasn't necessary.

I'm currently starting Our Mathematical Universe, by Max Tegmark, who has come up with some incredibly intriguing ideas in cosmology. He had a treatment of parallel universes in Scientific American a few years ago which was utterly fascinating. I'm also reading Swings and Arrows, a recently discovered book by Victor Mollo, who wrote about the game of bridge using a charming collection of characters inhabiting a fictional London bridge club, the Griffins. I no longer play tournament bridge, but bridge is a wonderful game, and through it I met some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.
Learn more about L.A. Math at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 69 Test: L.A. Math.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bruce E. Baker

Bruce E. Baker is Lecturer in American History at the University of Newcastle. He is co-author, with Barbara Hahn, of The Cotton Kings: Capitalism and Corruption in Turn-of-the-Century New York and New Orleans.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Baker's reply:
I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that one of the things I am reading is about cotton: Sven Beckert’s prize-winning book Empire of Cotton. Barbara Hahn and I knew this book was on the way while we were writing The Cotton Kings, and we had read Beckert’s earlier articles, but as often happens, especially in academic publishing, his book came out after our manuscript had gone in to the publisher.

What we were doing was looking at one small but significant part of the story of cotton in a very narrow period of time at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, about twenty-five years, and trying to explain a particular thing about how the cotton trade worked. Beckert’s book is sort of the opposite. It takes the story of cotton from all over the world, starting literally thousands of years ago, and follows it to the present. More importantly, he uses that story to explain the development of capitalism in the West and also to provide a new interpretation of what historian Kenneth Pomeranz called the “great divergence” between Europe and Asia. There is a lot that is impressive about the book, but perhaps nothing more so than the way Beckert manages to combine extensive, exhaustive research in an incredibly readable book. He did research in probably dozens of archives on several continents, and yet the whole thing never feels heavy at all. It is really going to be one of those books that changes how we think about a lot of things.

I have a really bad habit of getting busy during the academic year and just not finding time to read fiction, so the breaks between semesters is when I tend to get around to the novels I have been meaning to read. I live in the Scottish Borders, and this Christmas we rented a cottage in the far northwest of Scotland near Cape Wrath. I took a copy of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s The Speak of the Mearns. Gibbon was one of Scotland’s greatest writers of the twentieth century, even though his career was cut short when he died at the age of thirty-four in 1935. His work reflects the rural world of the Mearns, a region of Aberdeenshire where he grew up, and his most famous novel, Sunset Song, describes a fictionalized version of his village as World War I brings change and destroys the old ways of life. The Speak of the Mearns was Gibbon’s last, unfinished novel, and it is similar to Sunset Song but rather than follow one central character, the main character is really the land itself and the entire rural community. What I find so compelling about Gibbon’s writing is his intense eye for the detail of rural life and his evocation of characters who seem as real as any I meet in daily life today. And he does all this in language that is an amazing blend of Scots words and idioms and literary English, a truly distinctive voice. I grew up in a semirural environment on the edge of a small town in South Carolina, and a lot of the history I write has to do with rural life, so I think that is part of the appeal to me.

And finally – because I always have several books on the go – I am reading a book from about a decade ago that relates to my next project, which is a study of the 1914 outbreak of bubonic plague in New Orleans and the public health response. Ari Kelman’s A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans was based on his Ph.D. dissertation and was published in 2003. It is a fascinating environmental history of the relationship between the Mississippi River and New Orleans from the time of the city’s founding in the early eighteenth century to the present. It was a great book and won a prize when it was published, but it got a lot more attention when Hurricane Katrina forced everyone to think about New Orleans and the river a lot more in 2005.

I haven’t read all of it yet because I skipped ahead to the chapter I was most interested in, which was about changes to the port’s infrastructure in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is important to what I am studying because ratproofing the port was one of the key challenges in the effort to prevent plague from taking hold in New Orleans. After thinking that no one besides me was much interested in obscure bits of urban infrastructure and administration like the Dock Board and the Public Belt Railroad, it was fantastic to find an interesting study that covers these things and pays attention to one of the sadly neglected figures in American history, Martin Behrman, who was mayor and political boss of New Orleans for seventeen years.
Learn more about The Cotton Kings at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Cotton Kings.

My Book, The Movie: The Cotton Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 25, 2016

Robin Epstein

Robin Epstein is a writer, runner, professor and astronaut* (*in her own mind). Beginning her career as a comic and television writer, Epstein was lucky enough to become head writer and on-air sidekick for a teen girl game show called Clued In, where she was known as "Guru Robin," an embarrassing nickname she's unable to shake. Her young adult novel, God Is In the Pancakes, was an official selection of the 2012 New York State Reading Association (NYSRA) Charlotte Award Master List. She's written for the New York Times, Marie Claire, Glamour, as well as other publications. A contributor to This American Life on NPR, she also writes video games and books for TV shows on the Disney Channel. Epstein attended Princeton University, got her MFA from Columbia University, and teaches at NYU.

Epstein's latest novel is HEAR.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica. Gaitskill’s new novel, The Mare, was published in November and I’d been embarrassed that I hadn’t read anything of hers before. I’m halfway through Veronica at this point and I’m stunned by the Gaitskill’s virtuosity. She seamlessly weaves story threads from various periods of the main character’s life paragraph by paragraph, and we voyeuristically follow our heroine through her youth and beauty, age and illness, restlessness and despair.

Because I like to alternate between fiction and nonfiction I read Elmira Bayrasli’s From the Other Side of the World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places before that. Bayrasli’s smart analysis shows that life is being made better by entrepreneurs in places like Turkey, Pakistan and Nigeria. The author argues that true innovation is taking place outside Silicon Valley at this point because it’s these far flung entrepreneurs who are focused on making a difference in people’s lives. Whereas that was once true for their California counterparts, today Silicon Valley entrepreneurs seem most concerned with making life more comfortable for the wealthy, e.g. Uber, HotelTonight, Giftly. I found it a truly fascinating and important read.
Visit Robin Epstein's website.

The Page 69 Test: HEAR.

My Book, The Movie: HEAR.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lawrence M. Schoen

Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Schoen lives near Philadelphia.

His new novel is Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Schoen's reply:
For the last several years, I’ve set myself a challenge over on my Goodreads page to read 50 books. I tend to focus on my favorite authors, writer friends, and highly recommended titles by readers whose tastes have been shown to parallel my own. But come November that sort of free will takes a backseat and I focus on reading for the year’s award nominations (specifically the Nebula first, and the Hugo after).

It’s an incredibly strong year and I think we’re going to see some fierce races. So what follows are some of the things that I’ve read in the last couple of weeks that really amazed and delighted me.

Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road is possibly the best thing she’s written to date. It features a strong female protagonist in a weird west setting, vivid imagery and compelling worldbuilding.

Debut novelist Fran Wilde’s Updraft is a different coming-of-age tale including wings, secrets, and invisible monsters; I think it’s a shoe-in for this year’s Norton award, and you can quote me.

An author that I’d somehow missed before now is Kelly Robson. Her novella “Waters of Versailles” was so deft that I think it may be the very best novella I’ve read all year.

Two novelettes really got my attention: Christopher Kastensmidt’s “The Discommodious Wedding” is the latest in his The Elephant and the Macaw Banner series and a vivid blend of European and New World sensibilities, while Keffy R. M. Kehrli’s “And Never Mind the Watching Ones” manages to be both surreal and breathtaking at the same time.
Visit Lawrence M. Schoen's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Clay Griffith

Clay Griffith is half of a married couple who have written together for nearly two decades. Their credits include novels such as the Vampire Empire series (Pyr Books) and the Crown & Key trilogy (Del Rey).

Their new novel is The Geomancer.

Recently I asked Clay Griffith about what he was reading. His reply:
Cairo and Its Environs by A.O. Lamplough and R. Francis -- I love travel journals and guides from the 19th century and early 20th century. As a reader, that world seems mysterious and romantic. And as a historian who studied colonialism, they also serve as documents detailing the colonial mindset. I find journals written after WWII are often more self-consciously about the writer than the locale, and the guidebooks are formulaic and less interesting. This particular book could well be research for a future book we’re writing, but even if it isn’t, it’s a unique taste of the Cairo region at the dusk of the Grand Tour era.

The Flash by Geoff Johns, Book 1 by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins, Angel Unzueta, et. al. -- Yes, it’s a comic book. I’ve read comics off and on throughout my life. And we’ve written comics too; I love the medium! The Flash is one of the DC heroes I’ve followed since I was a little kid. I was out of comics when these issues came out originally so now I’m catching up. My interest in the character has been reignited by the television show The Flash, and since Geoff Johns is considered one of the three or four best to work on the Flash over the character’s 75-year existence, I figured this was a good book to try. So far, it’s terrific. Imaginative. Character-driven. Not too dark. The art varies from cartoonish to realistic. It all works. Not sure it would serve as a starting point for someone completely unfamiliar with the character, but if you’ve got his speedy basics down, it’s a nice take on the Flash.

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad – This choice is a little different because technically I’m not currently reading it. I was reading it, but I quit. I’ve quit this book several times in my life. I like Conrad. I love Heart of Darkness and enjoyed some of his longer novels such as Almayer’s Folly. But Lord Jim is a monster that has clawed and ravaged me until I ran and hid, unable to stand against its literary fury. I like Victorian and early 20th century writing, but Conrad is another level. His sentences are long, very long indeed, with commas and parenthetical phrases, not simply to further the narrative but in fact to filter the reader’s perception through multiple characters and points of view, not just within a book or a chapter or a paragraph, but within a single sentence, a sentence so full of modifiers and shifting descriptions, that it is difficult to know where the sentence began at the point when the sentence ends, if it ever does end, perhaps next page. I don’t blame Conrad for my failure. I blame myself. One day I will attack Lord Jim again. But it will not be this day.
Visit Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Geomancer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 22, 2016

Alyssa Palombo

Alyssa Palombo has published short historical fiction pieces in Black Lantern, Novelletum, and The Great Lakes Review. She is a recent a graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively, as well as a trained classical musician.

Palombo's first novel is The Violinist of Venice.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Currently reading:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I recently listened to the cast recording of the musical Hamilton for the first time and, like many others, fell completely in love with it. Of course the music is incredible, but the story and the history behind it – history that I was only somewhat familiar with – fascinated me as well. So I got myself a copy of the massive Chernow biography of Hamilton that inspired composer Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical. I am slowly making my way through it, though it is written in a wonderfully engaging and readable style. I’m very much enjoying it and, obviously, learning a lot. And, as luck would have it, the novel that I recently started drafting is set in post-Revolutionary New York state, so this book is giving me just the political background of that period that I need.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I read a lot of YA literature – there are so many incredible books being written and published in that genre. I was a huge fan of Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, so I was very excited for this book, which is set the same world. I’m just loving it so far: the world building is extraordinary, the characters just crackle off of the page, and the fast-paced plot makes it hard to put down!

Recently read:

Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

I had been eagerly anticipating this historical novel, and it did not disappoint. Told from the point of view of Marguerite de Valois, princess of France and daughter of the rather infamous Catherine de’ Medici (Médicis in the French spelling), it is exceptionally well researched and brings 16th century France to bloody life on the page. Too, I did not know too much about this particular time period, and so I learned a great deal while reading it as well. I love when a novel can teach me something new at the same time as it tells a great story, and this book definitely did just that!

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I happened to be reading this book around the release date of The Violinist of Venice, and that turned out to be a very good thing. Gilbert’s book about creativity, inspiration, and living a creative life gave me a lot to think about and put into perspective some of the intense emotions that I was feeling around release time. This book has a prominent place on my shelf, as I know that I’ll be referring to it and rereading passages often in the future.
Visit Alyssa Palombo's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Violinist of Venice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Susan Griffith

Susan Griffith is co-author of The Geomancer: Vampire Empire. A Gareth and Adele Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Dragonvein by Brian Anderson -- One of my favorite stories growing up was Brian Daley’s The Starfollowers of Cormorande. Dragonvein reminds me of that breathtaking, fun ride. It is a cross-world tale where a WWII soldier is plucked off the battlefield and transported to a magical realm. Like John Carter of Mars and Gil MacDonald of Cormorande, we traverse a new land along with the main character, Ethan Martin, learning its secrets and marveling at its wonders. Brian Anderson gives a reader plenty of amazing things to explore along the way. From lost friends, forbidden magic, ancient races, and uneasy alliances. Dragonvein brought back all those wonderful reasons that made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place.

Five Ghosts by Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham – I’m a sucker for pulp. I’m a sucker for a cool hero (or heroine). And I’m a sucker for literary ghosts. Okay, that last one is a bit of a new addition, but the Five Ghosts graphic novel series traverses all three of those and makes me discover new things to obsess over. Fabian Gray is an adventurer possessed by five ghosts who grant him their powers in tight spots. The Wizard: Merlin. The Archer: Robin Hood. The Vampire: Dracula. The Detective: Sherlock Holmes. And the Samurai: Miyamoto Musashi. Like a good pulp hero, he’s trying to save his sister and find a way to rid himself of the spirits that possess him. The stories are epic and the characters intriguing. The art by Mooneyham is retro, harkening back to the days of Frank Miller’s Daredevil run and Joe Kubert on every good day. Each volume the stakes get bigger and the stories bolder. I’m definitely enjoying this homage to everything I love, and then some.

House of the Rising Sun by Kristen Painter – I devoured this book in one sitting. With tons of inner conflict for the characters and an intriguing plot, the story moves along at a quick pace as fae and vampires collide for control of New Orleans. We are introduced to Augustine and Harlow, a couple fated to be together but fighting it all the way. Well, Harlow is fighting it. She is mistrustful of all fae even though she carries it in her blood. She struggles to hide those aspects of herself, until the murder of Harlow’s mother brings the two occult races, as well as our protagonists, into conflict. However, this is totally Augustine’s story, from his troubled beginning with a mother deathly afraid of his fae abilities, to his brash wild days bucking authority, to his rise as one of New Orleans’s powerful Guardians. I loved him immediately, strong yet sensitive, and marred with flaws. I can’t wait to read more about them both as they grow into their new roles. A great start to an addictive and compelling series.
Learn more about the book and authors at Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Geomancer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rachael Ball

Rachael Ball is a cartoonist and a teacher. The Inflatable Woman, her first graphic novel, was a Guardian Best Graphic Book of 2015.

Recently I asked Ball about what she was reading. Her reply:
OK terrible guilty secret here but my reading habits have completely altered since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, (inspiration for the book.) I went from being an avid but eclectic reader of books to a veeery occasional reader. I used to read all sorts--such as Scandinavian detective novels with a human touch like Karin Fossum's, anything by David Sedaris (wonderfully witty New York chronicler of human foibles and his family misfortunes), the fantastically imaginative Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susannah Clark. I love the way she makes the fairy world so believable with the historical footnotes.

Then in a different mood I would read something sad and nostalgic like Alain Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. Anyway I think a lot of my treatments (steroids and such), made it difficult to watch TV or concentrate on a book for any period of time. Then working on The Inflatable Woman was so demanding I became the occasional reader I am today.

Since the book has been completed my reading habits are still not terribly sustained. I'm also more likely now to read philosophical texts like Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist monk); she has written several books to support people through change. When Things Fell Apart is a great example. My Mum died last year and reading texts by Pema has really helped me during this grieving time.

I also often check out Maria Popova's brilliant site Brainpickings. This has introduced me to many new and great writers such as Anne Lamott (Small Victories), which examines the spiritual in the everyday. A combination of working on my book and this site has also got me into poetry. A big passion of my Mum's. Poetry by Rilke I discovered after listening to podcasts by Joanna Macy (a Buddhist writer and activist). No doubt my reading habits will change again!

I'm still waiting for John Ajvide Lindqvist to write his next book. I think I could be sustained enough to read that!
Visit Rachael Ball's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Inflatable Woman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Michael Cobley

Michael Cobley was born in Leicester, England, and has lived in Glasgow, Scotland, for most of his life. He has studied engineering, been a DJ and has an abiding interest in democratic politics.

His books include the Shadowkings dark fantasy trilogy, and Iron Mosaic, a short story collection. Seeds of Earth and The Orphaned Worlds, books one and two of the Humanity’s Fire sequence, are his first full-length foray into space opera.

Cobley's latest Humanity's Fire novel is Ancestral Machines.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading the A Song Called Youth trilogy by John Shirley (aka the Eclipse Trilogy). I bought the omnibus edition of this a short while back and have at last buckled down to reading it. Essentially, it's a cyberpunk, near-future story set in a dystopian world suffering from the consequences of political and international conflicts not too different from certain embryonic clashes we are seeing today. I had a copy of the first part, Eclipse, back in the late '80s but never came across the other 2 books so when I learned of the omnibus I got my order in fast. Re-reading it now I can scarcely recall my first reading, and it feels curiously unlike what I was kinda expecting. But the unapologetic grappling with political aspects, and its bravura drawing together of disparate plotlines has kept my attention right through to the grandstanding climax at the end of part one.

My early short stories were heavily influenced by the cyberpunk writers, and I was long-ranging my short story efforts in the direction of a big, gaudy cyberpunk novel (whose putative title was going to be Ironheart Valve, or something similar), but personal experiences, relationships etc, drove me down the fantasy path and I ended up writing the Shadowkings trilogy, a dark heroic saga. And after that I found myself caught up in the space opera resurgence coming out from the likes of Iain Banks, Vernor Vinge, Ken Macleod, Dan Simmons etc. But my love of cyberpunk has never dimmed, and one of these days I am definitely going to write that grand and gaudy euro-cyberpunk novel which'll probably end up selling really well in Poland and the Czech Republic or somesuch.
Visit Michael Cobley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Ancestral Machines.

My Book, the Movie: Ancestral Machines.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 18, 2016

Larry D. Sweazy

Larry D. Sweazy's novels include Escape from Hangtown, See Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, Vengeance at Sundown, The Gila Wars, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil's Bones, The Cougar's Prey, The Badger's Revenge, The Scorpion Trail, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won the WWA (Western Writers of America) Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013. He also won the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for books the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer award in 2007 (for the short story "See Also Murder"), and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010. Sweazy was awarded the Best Books in Indiana in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. And in 2013, he received the inaugural Elmer Kelton Fiction Book of the Year for The Coyote Tracker, presented by the AWA (Academy of Western Artists). Sweazy has published over sixty nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year's Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys' Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and several other publications and anthologies.

Sweazy's new novel is A Thousand Falling Crows.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading A Fine Summer’s Day by Charles Todd. This is an Inspector Ian Rutledge novel, and a prequel to a successful series of mystery novels that I have to admit to not having read. I felt that this new prequel was the best place to start. Charles Todd is actually Charles and Caroline Todd, an American mother-and-son writing team, and I was curious to see if I would be able to tell if the novel had been written by co-authors. Plain and simple, I can’t tell at all. The writing is seamless, and the storytelling top notch.

Quintessentially British, Inspector Rutledge endeavors for Scotland Yard in a thorough and dogged way at the dawn of World War I in this novel. The series, however, takes place after the end of World War II, so there is a lot of experience to be gained and water under bridge between this novel and the series books that come after it. Which, after reading this novel, I will promptly put on my TBR (to be read) pile. As a side note, a friend of mine, who was born and raised in London, said this book was enjoyable and she was surprised to learn that it had been written by a pair of Americans. That in itself was enough of an endorsement for me.
Visit Larry D. Sweazy's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Larry D. Sweazy & Brodi and Sunny (April 2013).

The Page 69 Test: A Thousand Falling Crows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Loren J. Samons II

Loren J. Samons, II is Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. He has published widely on Greek politics and history and on the relationship between ancient and modern democracy. His books include What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship (2004), Empire of the Owl: Athenian Imperial Finance (2000), and (with C. W. Fornara) Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles (1991).

Samons's latest book is Pericles and the Conquest of History: A Political Biography.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve just completed two very different books, both non-fiction and both worthy, I think, of recommendation.

John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English presents a compelling and revisionist treatment of the language’s development by a practicing linguist. The book answers some interesting questions: for example, why does English employ “useless do”—“Did you see him?”— when other Germanic languages do not? The book doesn’t ask the reader to follow long, technical linguistic arguments but it also does not patronize. My only real criticism is that McWhorter, like most linguists, treats those interested in the “rules” of English grammar as mere pedants. But despite this minor annoyance, the book is compelling and a good example of how a scholar can write for a broader audience.

When I was in my twenties I became fascinated with T.E. Lawrence and read almost everything by or about him I could find. Today I finished Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Although centered on the figure of Lawrence, Anderson traces the careers of several other players—all of them young at the time—in the Middle Eastern theater of the First World War. For a Lawrence fan, the book does not provide the level of detail found in (say) Jeremy Wilson’s authorized biography nor is it a substitute for Lawrence’s own (failed but still compelling) Seven Pillars of Wisdom. But I think Anderson succeeds in placing Lawrence in his context through approaching certain issues and the times he confronted from several other angles (German espionage, American business/political interests in the region, and the Zionist movement).
Learn more about Pericles and the Conquest of History at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Pericles and the Conquest of History.

My Book, The Movie: Pericles and the Conquest of History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Nina Milton

Nina Milton is most well known for her crime fiction series The Shaman Mysteries Series, published by Midnight Ink Books: In the Moors (2013), Unraveled Visions (2014) and Beneath the Tor (2015).

She also writes for children and her short stories have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She works in the UK for the Open Collage of the Arts and is Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Milton was born, educated and raised her two children in Bristol UK but now lives in west Wales with husband James, where she grows veg and keeps chickens.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've chosen “Marmite books” for Writers Read. I'll explain: Marmite is the UK’s favourite yeast extract spread, and it is said that people either love or hate it. Some books gain a similar response from readers, and here are the ones that I loved reading in 2015, but some others hated. As a writer of crime, I’ve chosen three books that can broadly be described as ‘crime novels’.

I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers

Control. That’s one of the skills I admire in writer, and Owen Sheers fourth novel has it in ice cream scoops. I Saw a Man is a tantalizing and intriguing read. I noticed that reviewers can’t make up their mind about what this book is – billed from literature to crime thriller, it defies categories.

In the first sentence of the book, we’re informed that Michael Turner will experience ‘an event that will change all their lives‘ when he walks into his neighbour’s house, and the pages turn as if the wind is playing on them while I read on, slowly edging towards that discovery.

Michael needs to collect an item he loaned to Josh next door. He finds his neighbour’s backdoor open, and the family seem to be out, so he decides he’ll just take the item back. He steps cautiously, because he’s muddy from gardening, but as he goes, he suddenly smells the scent of his dead wife.

Michael is in search of tiny screwdriver – a marvellous allegory for the slow, persistent turn of tension within the story. By the halfway point I understood all Michael’s deepest hurts, an acute contrast to Josh’s life as a Lehman banker with an adorable family. I was desperate to know what happens in Josh’s house that changes Michael’s already shattered life and Josh’s perfect one.

By the apogee of the story, when Michael finally witnesses the cruelly unnecessary event, we have also met Daniel, a retired US officer who now operates drones and is wracked with guilt over the death of Michael’s wife. These two men become further entwined by their equal understanding of what secrecy and culpability can do to a person.

Sheer’s writing is lyrical and probing, it grips and entangles the reader. He is adept at using symbols to emphasis what he wants the story to be about – Michael is writing a biography on the neurosurgical location of empathy in the brain, and I felt that that wasn’t just because Daniel, Michael and Josh needed to learn that lesson, but because the reader needs to, as well. None of the men in this book are perfect. They are human. All three made a single horrifying mistake and are paying for it. I didn’t have to like any of them, but, because of that, I did.

So why Marmite? The shocking change that comes mid-way isn’t for everyone. To some, it seemed the novel fell apart after this point, as if the denouement foreshortened the story. I believe those readers were not able to see far enough into what Sheers was trying to do with his book, and I commend him for taking risks and avoiding using the usual formulas to make his point.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

A second thing I like to find in the crime fiction I read is originality. Maud, who relates her own tale, is a woman in her late eighties who is finally falling victim to dementia. She can still function, but things are getting confused in her mind. The mysteries of the past are connecting illogically to those of the present…the shocking disappearance of her newly married sister, Sukie shortly after the end of the second World War, seventy years ago…and the odd disappearance of her friend Elizabeth, who is now no longer living in her house.

This book was loved by many readers, but others found the plotting too simplistic and perhaps a bit implausible. Healey uses the device of Maud’s forgetfulness to allow Elizabeth’s story to extend even though the explanation for her disappearance is fairly obvious, and the solution to Sukie’s story is revealed despite the long passage of time. But as someone who has cared for two ‘mums’ with Alzheimer’s, I could identify with so many of the characters and their experience of this awful disease. It’s easy to be impatient with an elderly person who is clearly living in a fantasy world, and this story demonstrates that sometimes, they do know what they are talking about, even when it’s gibberish.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

This fiction is partially historic; gunmen did burst into Bob Marley’s grand, colonial house in the nineteen-seventies and rain fire on those inside, seriously injuring, among others, Marley and his wife. This posse went on to control the crack trade of New York and Miami. But this isn’t a simple recounting of the facts, mostly because the facts themselves, even before they were fictionalized, are not simple.

Reading this book is like entering a nightmare you hoped you’d never have again. It spans generations, countries, and political intrigues. So many voices, including a ghost, a hooker and members of the CIA. James delves into the slums of Kingston Jamaica like a midwife with birthing forceps, dragging amazing characters from that womb to make them…sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now…to quote the book.

There is a divide between the people who loved and hated this book, in my opinion; the latter just need to read it again. Or read it all, this time, because there is no doubt that this is a dense, complex, sprawl of a story. It is inventive and ambitious and, therefore difficult to read. As I’m not Caribbean, the Jamaican voices often defeated me, but I found playing Bob Marley classics in the background really helped take me there.

I’m reminded of the great classics of the past: War and Peace, Dr Zhivago, Beloved. I think A Brief History of Seven Killings will join these books. In fact, if you, like me, possess a copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, then you might watch and wait for the upgrade, 1002 Books...because this novel, so worthy of the prizes it’s won, should be in it.
Visit Nina Milton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2016

Alison Collis Greene

Alison Collis Greene is Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.

Her new book is No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Every three years or so around the holidays, I promise myself I’ll read some new fiction, but instead I end up going back to an old favorite. This time it’s Louise Erdrich’s The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. It is just a beautiful book in every way, and Father Damien is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. Louise Erdrich draws rich characters and complex worlds, she’s intense and hilarious and surprising, and her language feels so organically beautiful that you never see the effort that goes into some of the most perfect sentences you’ve ever read. And yet her writing is also utterly unpretentious. I’ve read all her books (Plague of Doves is my second favorite). I’d read her grocery lists. Best of all, whenever I read Erdrich, I call up my Uncle Mike, who lives back home in the North Carolina mountains and who is my preferred book-talking companion, and we retell our favorite parts back and forth, as if Nanapush and Lulu and Eli were our own family and friends. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, you should just go read all Louise Erdrich’s books.

I also have a three-year-old and an eight-month-old, and so I read children’s books every day as well. One of my many current favorites—strongly influenced by my boys—is Suzy Lee’s Wave. It’s a wordless story about a little girl encountering the waves at the beach. My oldest son and I take turns narrating it to each other, although he won’t let me deviate much from his favorite version. It’s a playful book, and we’ve loved it for many months now.

There’s a theme here, I suppose. I’m an introvert, and I read a lot. I read history books, but I inhale fiction (I’d write it if I could). In some ways reading is very private. I love a beautiful sentence and an infuriatingly human character. I look forward to learning the contours of someone else’s mental landscape and the cadences of their speech. But what I love most are books that I can talk about with someone. To me, the best books allow us to inhabit shared imaginary lands in ways that change how we inhabit the real world around us.
Learn more about No Depression in Heaven at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: No Depression in Heaven.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 14, 2016

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 Guilty as Cinnamon, the second Spice Shop Mystery.

Late last year I asked the author about what she was reading. Budewitz's reply:
Ever notice a hidden theme in your reading? In the last year, I read a dozen novels set in England, plus two set in Scotland, two in Ireland, one in Australia, and one divided between a post-war English village and Toronto. I didn’t plan to read my way through the UK and Commonwealth, but books have their own ideas.

Some are new installments in favorite series. I adore Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce, in Jayne Entwhistle’s delightful narration. Years ago, I took a mystery-writing workshop from Elizabeth George, and when I met her again at the New England Crime Bake, where she was guest of honor, I got to catch up on Lynley and Havers, with Just One Evil Act. (I’m saving the latest, A Banquet of Consequences, for after I finish the WIP, or work in progress.) Deborah Crombie’s To Dwell in Darkness digs into urban redevelopment and clueless young protesters, with—as always—an intriguing setting, London’s St. Pancras railway station. And how do Tana French’s publishers find such great readers? Her rotating cast means a different narrator for each book, and two in The Secret Place, a terrific novel about teenage girls, secrets, and justice.

At Crime Bake, I moderated a panel on historicals set in England: Dorothy Cannell’s Murder at Mullings features a smart, practical housekeeper whom I loved. James R. Benn assigned Billy Boyle, a Boston detective, to a special investigations post in the Allied Command; in The Rest is Silence, Boyle delves into a series of training mishaps in Cornwall coupled with a local murder. It’s fascinating to see how authors writing in the same era and locale give us very different stories: Veteran Kathy Lynn Emerson introduces Lady Rosamond, an Elizabethan spy, in Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, while newcomer Mary Lawrence takes us to London’s low-rent district with Bianca, The Alchemist’s Daughter. (It’s also fascinating to visit the same settings across time, making me feel like I know London, though I’ve only visited on the page.)

That intersection of war and crime resurfaces in two long-running series, both new to me. In A Pattern of Lies, by the mother-son team writing as Charles Todd, World War I nurse Bess Crawford probes a series of crimes in England and France. In Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear introduces an extraordinary young woman whom we meet as a thirteen year-old house maid, then follow her through the war—she, too, served as a nurse—and into a career as a private investigator, in 1929 London. The second book is already on my TBR pile, and I’m both daunted and delighted to know there are a dozen so far.

Scottish author Catriona McPherson writes historical mysteries (the Dandy Gilver series) and stand-alone psychological suspense. The Child Garden (2015) is a stunning study of childhood mistakes that trigger an evil response, countered by a fierce love. It will also expand your Scottish vocabulary. I predict many “Best crime fiction of 2015" listings and award nominations.

I’ve long thought that most good novels have an element of mystery to them, even if they live on other shelves, and that was true of both Longbourne by Jo Baker, set below stairs in the Bennett household readers met in Pride and Prejudice, and The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty, set Down Under. I knew early on where Moriarty was taking us, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the page—that’s the power of a really good literary trainwreck.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the books take me in 2016!
Visit Leslie Budewitz's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Butter Off Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue