Friday, June 30, 2017

Carlie Sorosiak

Carlie Sorosiak grew up in North Carolina and holds two master’s degrees: one in English from Oxford University and another in creative writing and publishing from City University London. Her life goals include traveling to all seven continents and fostering many polydactyl cats. She currently splits her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, hoping to gain an accent like Madonna’s.

Sorosiak's new novel is If Birds Fly Back.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Book Thief

I've had The Book Thief sitting on my shelf for seven years. For some reason, I wanted to wait until the "right" time to read it ... without knowing exactly what the right time was. Apparently it's this summer. The narration is so sumptuous. I can't put it down.

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City

Jodi Kendall and I share an editor at HarperCollins in the US, and I couldn't wait to read her middle grade debut. As a kid, I was obsessed with the movie Babe. Critics are calling Jodi's book the new Charlotte's Web, and I definitely understand the comparison.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

My mom picked this up for me for Christmas. I've never quite read anything like it. Sharp, emotional, perceptive. And it's short stories, so very easy to dip in and out.
Visit Carlie Sorosiak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Barry Lancet

Barry Lancet is the author of the award-winning international suspense series featuring Jim Brodie. The latest entry is The Spy Across the Table, which sends Brodie careening from Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to Japan, South Korea, the DMZ, and the Chinese-North Korean border, in a story that predates recent headlines. In one of the first advance reviews, Publishers Weekly said that "Lancet keeps the suspense high through the exciting climax."

The previous entry in the series, Pacific Burn, explores the tragic aftermath of the Fukushima quake-tsunami disaster and the real reasons behind the nuclear melt down. Japantown, the first Brodie adventure, won the Barry Award for Best First Novel, was initially optioned by J. J. Abrams, and is now under consideration at other studios. The second volume, Tokyo Kill, was a finalist for a Shamus Award for Best Novel of the Year and declared a must-read by Forbes magazine.

Recently I asked Lancet about what he was reading. His reply:
Here are three titles on the top my to-be-read or just-read stack, both of which are always threatening to scrape the ceiling.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee. This nonfiction account of one woman’s escape from North Korea is a stunner. I came across it when I was doing research for The Spy Across the Table. The prose is clear, crisp, and matter of fact to the point of understatement. And yet it’s gripping. Once Lee crosses over the North Korean border into China, a new set of trials begins. And they go on and on and then redouble at the point where you think she’s finally safe.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne. A long-time acquaintance, Karen first mentioned her thriller to me after her agent made a big sale to Putnam, as well as an impressive string of overseas sales. I’ve only just sampled it so far but the writing is clean and fluid and I am expecting great things from this one. Reviews have been stellar and comparisons to Room are common, but to my mind the novel, set in Michigan’s remote marshlands, promises to be earthier, grittier, and more complex.

The Song Dog by James McClure. Every once in a while I go back and reread a book I enjoyed. This is the last of McClure’s South African detective series featuring Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and Detective Bantu Sergeant Mickey Zondi, policemen during the Apartheid era. After The Steam Pig, this is my favorite of the eight-book series. The story opens with a man and a woman lying on a mattress on a hot night, in a shack on stilts edging a lagoon, with mangrove frogs and crocodiles about. In the dark, she swats an engorged mosquito, blood splatters on her thigh, and slowly it dawns on each of them that neither has been bitten. Who’s blood is it then? The writing is quirky, colorful, witty, and compassionate. McClure began his anti-Apartheid mysteries (with one white and one black detective) while the repressive regime was still in power, and I’m told he had to leave the country to continue the series. Kudos to Soho Press for re-issuing the books.
Visit Barry Lancet's website.

The Page 69 Test: Pacific Burn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jeannine Atkins

Jeannine Atkins is the author of several books for young readers about courageous women, including Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis; Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science; and the highly praised Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters. Atkins teaches children’s literature at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and writing at Simmons College.

Recently I asked Atkins about what she was reading. Her reply:
You’d think finishing a novel based on the life of Edmonia Lewis would mean I could let her go, but even while my writing days are now spent with another woman, I’m still preoccupied with the ways that the nineteenth century sculptor’s biracial background shaped her life.

Some of these tensions are beautifully expressed in The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. The novel works around an incident of a mother and her children falling from the roof of an apartment building, and the resulting deaths, a girl saved, and the mystery of how those falls came to be. Birds are always in the picture, too, and the ways memories mimic flight – veering, falling, rising again. We try to learn what “really” happened along with the young narrator, who misses her mother, a white woman from Denmark, and her father, an African American in the military, though we comes to believe that the truth may be less in what happened, than the voice shaped by attentive experience and unknowing.

Eula Biss also addresses some of these themes of identity and displacement in Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays. These essays are both deeply personal and political, as the author investigates where she comes from, who she loves now, where she lives, the students she’s taught, and more. She juxtaposes well-researched facts not usually shown together, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. For example, in the first essay she instructs us on telephone poles, explaining their history both as connecting people across land and their place in the history of lynching. Some essays mix her personal and family history with public stories. In “Land Minds,” the history of slavery is combined with memories of her experience teaching in public schools. Eula Biss discusses variously colored dolls, Toni Morrison, Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Conrad, and a contemporary custody battle in “Relations.” The book ends with a compilation of public apologies mixed with some harrowing history of racism.

The author’s reflections on New York City and California, as she moves from one city to others, offer a sort of conversation with Joan Didion, an essayist who has inspired her by the way she investigates story and place. In her theme of looking for home, Eula Biss veers from the outlooks of Joan Didion, and we find her at the end of the book in Chicago, making a home in the Midwest with love and uncertainty, represented by the baby she and her husband are expecting, but who’s yet to be named. It is hard to make one choice.
Visit Jeannine Atkins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mary Kubica

Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including The Good Girl, Pretty Baby, Don't You Cry and the newly released Every Last Lie.

A former high school history teacher, Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Kubica's reply:
The majority of the books on my nightstand are mysteries and suspense, like Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke’s The Good Widow, and Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie, which I’m so eager to read. Just this morning I finished The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens, an elegant and heartbreaking mystery about the great lengths one man, a Minnesota homicide detective, will go to find his wife’s killer and avenge her death. A thought-provoking and compelling read, I highly recommend fans of Eskens keep an eye out for this one when it arrives in October.

When I’m not reading mysteries, I enjoy historical and women’s fiction, and am currently immersed in Karma Brown’s In This Moment – about how a split-second decision alters one woman’s life – and Colleen Oakley’s Close Enough to Touch, a love story with a protagonist who’s both reclusive and allergic to human touch. I’ve loved Brown and Oakley’s previous work, and these newest releases are no different. Heartbreaking and humorous in their own way, they make the perfect summer read.
Visit Mary Kubica's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Elizabeth Anderson

Elizabeth Anderson is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Imperative of Integration and Value in Ethics and Economics. Her newest book is Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It).

Recently I asked Anderson about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since the stunning result of the Presidential election, I have been reading books that help explain what happened. At the top of my list is Jan Werner-Müller's brilliant What is Populism? Everyone knows that populist politicians back "the people" against "the elites." While this rhetoric is common to all populists, it cannot distinguish them from non-populist politicians, because nearly all politicians in democratic regimes talk this way. The key to populism is rather that "the people" is always defined exclusively, as a subset of the citizens and permanent residents of a state, and in contrast with those who are not "real Poles" (because they are Jewish or liberal), not "true Finns" (because they are Muslim, or have immigrant ancestry), not "real Americans" (because they are coastal city dwellers, Black, Muslim, Latino/a, or liberal), etc.. Populist politicians gain support from the "real" people by telling them that they are being taken advantage of, humiliated, or threatened by enemies, both foreign and domestic (where the domestic enemies are those citizens and/or permanent residents who don't belong to the "real people"), and that elites are to blame for this. Populism is inherently authoritarian and anti-democratic, because it rejects a core constitutive feature of democracy, which is the legitimacy of opposition. The "real" people can never be legitimately opposed, since their will exclusively defines the nation. Hence, opposition parties and politicians are always "corrupt," an independent judiciary is always "unfair" when it checks the power of the populist politician, an independent press is always lying when it corrects the lies of the populist politician, elections must be rigged if the populist doesn't win, but are legitimate if he wins, and so forth. Werner-Müller shows in detail how Trump, far from being a new type of politician, campaigned straight out of the same populist playbook as Silvio Berlusconi, Marine Le Pen, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Viktor Orbán. I consider What is Populism? an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand not just what has happened in the U.S., but why populism is affecting many democracies across the world, and what can be done to stop it.

I have also been reading J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance narrates a critique of his own group--poor white Appalachians--through a compelling and sympathetically drawn account of his own dysfunctional family and of the similar families in his community. One way to interpret this book is as an application of the conventional conservative culture-of-poverty story to poor rural whites rather than blacks: he's saying that white Appalachians are lazy, welfare-dependent, alcoholic and drug-addicted, disdainful of education, prone to violence, domestic conflict, and divorce, with unstable family relationships, fathers who have sired and left multiple children with different mothers, and mothers who cast off one male partner after another. On this reading, government isn't the problem and can't help solve the problem; what's needed is for the community itself to reform its values, and for individuals to study and work hard and climb up through personal grit and determination. This certainly captures a strain in his book. But it's not the only one. Another way to read the book is to reflect on Vance's deep sympathy and love for those he criticizes. In the larger public discourse, conservative culture-of-poverty narratives are used to whip up white resentment against blacks, who are the public face of poverty, and who are depicted as wholly to blame for their own problems, and wholly deserving of scorn, rejection, and state neglect on that account. But Vance shows how resentment, scorn, rejection, and neglect are morally stunted and inhumane responses to distressed communities. People are complicated. They deserve sympathy for their problems even when they bring some of those problems on themselves. Moreover, the same people who behave badly also have powerful virtues that deserve recognition. His grandmother, who, like many in her community, regularly escalated conflict out of all proportion, in conformity with Appalachian honor culture (she once poured gasoline on her husband and lit him on fire to get the better of him in a domestic conflict), also loved Vance deeply, provided the key source of stability in his life, and insisted that he study hard. If only white America viewed poor blacks with comparable sympathy and admiration for their virtues, we would have a very different country. Vance, who draws explicit analogies between poor Appalachian whites and poor blacks, invites all Americans to view the latter in the same light with which he views his own community. A third way to read the book is to appreciate his sociological awareness. He shows through his own experience how the ability of children to overcome their disadvantages through personal striving can be severely undermined by domestic conflict and unstable relationships with adults. Childhood trauma is real, and it undermines agency, sometimes in ways that radically restrict the opportunities a child will have in adulthood. He also shows through his own experience how individual success is predicated on "social capital"--having access to networks of trusted others, outside one's own disadvantaged community, who can open doors of opportunity and teach one the informal norms of more advantaged social classes, mastery of which is needed to join them. No one succeeds wholly on his own. He thereby invites those who were born into functional families with great parents and lots of social connections to discount their own pride and appreciate how much they owe their success to good luck and the assistance of others. Definitely worth reading for insights into what a humane conservatism can look like.
Learn more about Private Government.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cynthia Eden

Award-winning author Cynthia Eden writes dark tales of paranormal romance and romantic suspense. She is a New York Times, USA Today, Digital Book World, and IndieReader best-seller, and a three-time finalist for the prestigious RITA® award. Since she began writing full-time in 2005, Eden has written over eighty novels and novellas.

Her new book is Wrecked (LOST Series #6).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Eden's reply:
I’ve accidentally returned to required summer reading days… The very last book I read was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. My son had this title on his required reading list, and after reading the blurb… I was curious. I’ll confess—blurbs always hook me. I can’t turn away from a good blurb, and The Westing Game lured me in fast. Before I knew it, I’d just done some required summer reading—only it hadn’t exactly been required for me. But, sometimes, taking a walk with a book outside your genre can be fun.
Visit Cynthia Eden's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tristan Donovan

Tristan Donovan is a British author and journalist. His books include Replay: The History of Video Games and Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World. His writing has appeared in BBC News Online, The Atlantic, The Times of London, Stuff, Wired, The Guardian, Eurogamer, and Kotaku, among other publications.

Donovan's newest book is It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Donovan's reply:
I’ve just finished reading Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things.

It’s a nonfiction book and examines how the web has gone from being this exciting, utopian beacon of hope to a nightmare of hate mobs, intrusive advertising, and domineering corporations like Google and Facebook invading our privacy.

Taplin does a good job of clearly charting how we ended up here. From the cynical attempts of tech companies to dismantle the protections of copyright law to how social media has undermined the quality and trustworthiness of news and empowered online hate mobs.

It’s familiar criticism, but no less powerful or important for that. However, Taplin’s remedies to the problems he identifies aren’t nearly as convincing - not least his call for the US to create a tax-funded broadcaster modelled on the BBC, which seems about as likely to catch on as chocolate teapots.

But sometimes it’s nice to read a book that reaffirms what you think is wrong with the world, right?
Visit Tristan Donovan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Gail Godwin

Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including Violet Clay, Father Melancholy's Daughter, Evensong, The Good Husband and Evenings at Five. She is also the author of The Making of a Writer, her journal in two volumes (ed. Rob Neufeld). She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Godwin's new novel is Grief Cottage.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Jonathan Cott's There's a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak. I was going to take it on my book tour with me, but it's too beautiful. Mr. Cott takes us on a rare tour of the inner workings of a complicated and profound artist. It will be waiting for me when I return. So I am packing Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, which couldn't have come at a better time. To think that a person of humor and purpose and values is actually serving as a United States senator in this crazy sideshow of our history gives me more hope and delight than I can express.
Visit Gail Godwin's website.

My Book, The Movie: Grief Cottage.

The Page 69 Test: Grief Cottage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 18, 2017

David Housewright

David Housewright is the Edgar Award and three-time Minnesota Book Award-winning author of the Rushmore McKenzie and Holland Taylor novels as well as other tales of murder and mayhem in the Midwest.

His new novel is What the Dead Leave Behind.

Recently I asked Housewright about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been reading Your Oasis on Flame Lake by Lorna Landvik I’m embarrassed to say that like a lot of guys, I was very dismissive of what many called “chick lit” even though I have read very little of it. But I read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and now realize that I have been missing out on some terrific writing. I’ll try to be less prejudiced in the future.
Visit David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Leave Behind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 16, 2017

April Henry

April Henry is the New York Times bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including the YA novels Girl, Stolen and The Night She Disappeared and the thriller Face of Betrayal, co-authored with Lis Wiehl. She lives in Oregon.

Henry's new novel is Count All Her Bones, the sequel to Girl, Stolen.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just read a great book called Wildman by JC Geiger.

“Geiger” is German for violin, and JC Geiger plays the reader like an instrument in this marvelous first novel. The book is about Lance Hendricks, high school senior, who has a mantra he repeats any time he has doubts:
You are valedictorian.
You are the first-chair trumpet player.
You have a full-ride scholarship.
Miriam Seavers is in love with you.
Lance is driving 370 miles home to what promises to be the best night of his life, an epic graduation party where he will finally get to spend the night with Miriam. But then his ’93 Buick breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the kind of place Lance, who is a worrier, thinks probably has meth labs and Bigfoot. Not only does he end up missing the party, Lance ends up stranded, waiting for his beloved Buick, which once belonged to his dad, to be fixed. And in a tiny town, Lance find himself outgrowing than the labels he has pasted on himself. The locals call him Wildman, and a girl named Dakota opens Lance’s eyes to the wider world - and to the fact that he’s more than he ever thought.

The writing is really marvelous in this book. I underlined so many parts, such as:
“Tow, he said, tasting the word’s weight. Three letters full of lost time.

Waiting for Dakota felt like warming up in the orchestra pit on opening night. Everyone tuning up their instruments. That awful, giddy flutter before a show.

All these words he'd been tossing out like candy from a parade float.

Lance pictured Bend High School's football coach/guidance counselor hunching over his computer with bent little arms like a Tyrannosaurus rex on a tricycle.
And the most amazing description of a first kiss:
He's holding this glass, moving so slow, so careful-but now their foreheads are nearly touching. Frozen time thaws to a rush and they're running downhill, the ground tipping forward, still tipping, and Lance's feet pedal air, and his stomach drops and he loses the Earth and presses his lips to her. Their mouths open to receive each other and everything is spilling, everything, everywhere.
Wildman is Geiger's debut novel. It's just been released.
Visit April Henry's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Girl, Stolen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sarah Creech

Sarah Creech is the author of two novels, Season of the Dragonflies and The Whole Way Home.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Just yesterday I cracked open Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan—I was a little late to the Kwan trend when he first published Crazy Rich Asians. Of course, I’d heard of his debut just like everyone else, but I hadn’t yet made that far down on my reading list. I took a trip to New York City to visit my agent. While I was sitting in her office before a sushi lunch, she swept her arm back to her bookcase and said, “Choose whichever title you want.” The kid in the candy store cliché fits here: I immediately spotted Kwan’s book and I held out my hands and gestured with “gimmee” fingers. I read the book on the plane ride home and I was an immediate fan. I appreciate any author who transports me to an unexpected, highly original world. In this case, Kwan forces the reader to acknowledge the massive amount of wealth in Asia, and consequently, gross inequality on a global scale. And it’s more entertaining than any tabloid you could pick up at the grocery store. In this way, Kwan delivers much needed medicine in a spoon of honey.
Visit Sarah Creech's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Whole Way Home.

The Page 69 Test: The Whole Way Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Elizabeth J. Duncan

Elizabeth J. Duncan has just won the Bloody Words Light Mystery Award for Murder On the Hour (2016), published by Minotaur. The next book in the Penny Brannigan mystery series set in North Wales, Murder Is for Keeps, has just been published. Duncan is also the author of a second series, Shakespeare in the Catskills mysteries (Crooked Lane Books).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading two books at the moment: a police procedural, and an autobiography.

The Slaughter Man, by Tony Parsons is the second in the DC Max Wolfe series. It’s gritty, dark, and fast paced. While Wolfe investigates an unimaginably brutal crime involving the gruesome death of a well-to-do family, he’s raising his adorable five-year-old daughter, Scout. Parsons puts the reader at the heart of a serious crimes investigation, and in his protagonist has created a conflicted but dedicated detective whose love for his daughter rises above all else. They live in London’s Smithfield Market area, and Parsons captures the rhythm of the city beautifully.

Musicians in general, and rock stars in particular, lead interesting lives. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen is great reading – and I haven’t even got to the best bits. Springsteen’s honest yet sympathetic descriptions of his eccentric upbringing in a working class New Jersey family are engaging, and his recounting of the early gigs playing up and down the Jersey Shore are entertaining. He’s an excellent writer, as the lyrics of his songs demonstrate. The audio version of the book is narrated by Bruce himself, so I’ve ordered that from the library and I’ll switch over to that to learn about the glory days with the E Street Band. I like the idea of Bruce reading to me.
Visit Elizabeth J. Duncan's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth J. Duncan and Dolly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 12, 2017

Alison Taylor

Alison Taylor is a Teaching Fellow at Bond University. In 2014, she received the Dean's Award for Outstanding Research Higher Degree Theses at the University of Queensland.

Her new book is Troubled Everyday: The Aesthetics of Violence and the Everyday in European Art Cinema.

Recently I asked Taylor about what she is reading. Her reply:
I’m gradually working my way through Michel Surya’s astonishingly detailed account of the life and writings of Georges Bataille (Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography). It’s a fantastic insight into a thinker I’ve always found intriguing (anyone who was judged too surreal for the surrealists is inevitably intriguing) and is filling in the gaps between the bits and pieces of Bataille’s own work that I’ve read over the years. While fascinating, it is a monster of a book, and not really conducive to long commutes, so while Bataille remains by my bedside, I have a less cumbersome book on the go.

Currently, this is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a beautifully composed mixture of memory and fantasy about one man’s experience of the Second World War. Vonnegut’s approach is one of graceful simplicity; the book reads like the world-weary sigh of someone who has seen too much, while still maintaining a sense of humour and humanity.

And, forever open is Amy Hungerford’s wonderful study of American literature, Postmodern Belief. This work examines the centrality and importance of belief for its own sake, rather than specifically tied to any one doctrine, in the works of great writers including Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, and Allen Ginsberg. McCarthy’s invocation of biblical prose across his works, and his imagery of the illiterate kid who carries a bible regardless towards the close of Blood Meridian are key examples. I say this book is forever open, because it’s the book I dip into before I write anything, and the book I return to when I have writer’s block. Beyond content, Hungerford possesses such a command over her material and argument that I hope such elegance will transmit to my own writing, even if only by osmosis.
Learn more about Troubled Everyday at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with The Alice Network. All have been translated into multiple languages.

Quinn and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson. A real classic of wartime literature: a squadron of RAF fighter pilots making their way first through the idyllic boredom of the "Phony War," and then being plunged headlong into the Battle of Britain. Tragedy and humor and spine-tingling action run side by side; Robinson pulls helpless laughter out of you with the high-jinks of his adrenaline-junkie young heroes, then turns the pace on a dime and has you mopping your eyes as the cruel odds of aerial battles against enemy Messerschmitts sends the irrepressible fliers you've come to love spiraling one by one to their deaths. Just a heart-breaker.

Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin. My good friend Donna's first installment in the "Da Vinci's Disciples" series takes you on an irresistible headlong adventure: a ruthless assassination rocks Renaissance Florence to its core, and a secret sisterhood of women artists band together to save one of their own from the bloody reprisals. Illicit plots, mysterious paintings, and a young Leonardo da Vinci all have their part to play; it's a deliciously heart-pounding tale with plenty of painterly details for an art-loving reader. I'm rereading this with huge pleasure, as her second in the series (The Competition) was just released.

The Conclave by Robert Harris. A sensationally gripping book covering the tense few days between the death of one pope and the election of another. Who will it be? Harris makes these quiet scenes of old men casting ballots in a locked room unbearably tense, and his hero--a thoughtful Italian cardinal with no desire to be Pope--is a humble, lovable Everyman we can all root for. Definitely making my year-end top-ten list.
Learn more about the book and author at Kate Quinn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kate Quinn and Caesar.

The Page 69 Test: The Alice Network.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 9, 2017

Alan Drew

Alan Drew’s critically acclaimed debut novel, Gardens of Water, has been translated into ten languages and published in nearly two-dozen countries. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded a Teaching/Writing Fellowship. An Associate Professor of English at Villanova University where he directs the creative writing program, he lives near Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

Drew's new novel is Shadow Man.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I run the literary festival at Villanova University, so in the spring I start reading books from authors I admire and might like to bring to campus. I’m currently reading, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. This is a collection of short stories about Nigerian immigrants and their families, which is set both in America and Africa. There’s an element of magical realism here and stories which work as science fiction parables, but mostly these stories have moments of incredible emotional resonance and insight that often leave me incredibly moved.

I just finished teaching Jennifer Haigh’s Heat & Light, which is set in a central Pennsylvania town that is profoundly altered by natural gas fracking. Haigh is an incredible writer, with beautiful, richly nuanced sentences. But what really stands out here is her ability to enter into the points of view of 15+ characters, all with their own distinctive voice and narrative arc. A truly stunning feat of writing.

I’m doing some research for my next novel, which will be a follow up to Shadow Man. In the next book, I want to explore the intersection of a couple of developments in the Orange County of the 1980s: the growing Vietnamese refugee population and the rise of the skinhead neo-Nazi movement. I grew up next to the now closed El Toro marine air station. El Toro was the first landing point for many Vietnamese escaping the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. The story of how the first wave of refugees escaped Saigon is harrowing and little told. But a book titled, The Lucky Few by Jan K. Herman chronicles this escape, focusing on the amazing story of the USS Kirk, a destroyer on which escaping Vietnamese military pilots landed their helicopters far out in the Pacific Ocean, unloading their families on the ship in hopes of a better life elsewhere.

Dipping into the door-stopper text book Forensic Science, An Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques 3rd Edition, edited by Stuart H. James and Jon J. Nordby. I need to understand how DNA evidence works, so it’s school for me.
Visit Alan Drew's website.

My Book, The Movie: Shadow Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mark Powell

Mark Powell is the author of four previous novels, including The Sheltering. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, and in 2014 was a Fulbright Fellow to Slovakia. In 2009, he received the Chaffin Award for contributions to Appalachian literature. He holds degrees from Yale Divinity School, the University of South Carolina, and The Citadel.

Powell lives in the mountains of North Carolina, where he teaches at Appalachian State University.

His new novel is Small Treasons.

Recently I asked Powell about what he was reading. His reply:
I always seem to be reading too many books, piling them on the nightstand or the floor, forgetting one, picking it back up. My side of the bed is my wife’s waking nightmare.

Right now, I’m finishing up a novel set primarily in Eastern Europe so a lot of what I’m reading is background on the region. Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain, Peter Conradi’s Who Lost Russia?, Tim Judah’s In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine, Misha Glenny’s giant history of the Balkans titled—wait for it—The Balkans.

I’m also rereading Denis Johnson. Along with Robert Stone, no one’s work has meant more to me not only as a writer but as a struggling, often-disbelieving religious believer. My favorites—though it’s akin to picking a favorite child—are Resuscitation of a Hanged Man and The Name of the World.

Two more recent reads, one old and one new: Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus is a nineteenth century novel (in the best sense) written in the twentieth century—a gorgeous book. David Joy’s The Weight of This World is a book both brutal and tender—what more could you ask for than that?

I’m also in a long-standing tussle with John Caputo’s The Weakness of God.
Learn more about Small Treasons.

The Page 69 Test: The Sheltering.

My Book, The Movie: The Sheltering.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett is Professor of English at Baylor University, where he teaches classes in fiction and screenwriting, literature, film and popular culture, and theology. The author or co-author of twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, Garrett is (according to BBC Radio), one of America's leading voices on religion and culture, and a frequent speaker and media guest on narrative, religion, politics, literature, and pop culture.

Garrett's new book is Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Garrett's reply:
I’ve been reading a lot of works about race and prejudice for my next nonfiction book for Oxford University Press, and a lot of that has been compelling (James Baldwin rocks!), but the last thing I read purely for pleasure was Stephen King’s It, which I just finished. It kept me awake. As some of you may know, It is about a group of kids (later, their adult selves) who stand in the gap against a monster that long ago took over their Maine town and that kills people—especially kids and the helpless—every twenty-some years before hibernating. Or something.

I was prompted to return to the book by the super creepy trailer for the new film adaptation coming out soon, and I had originally read it decades ago when it was first published. I went through a stretch in my late teens and early twenties where I read a ton of Stephen King, thinking I might just be a horror writer, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this book held up on re-reading it. I’ve gone on since my first reading to write my own novels and to become a teacher and critic, but the things that are good about It are still really good. When people ask me if King is a talented writer, I tell them he has a lot of insight into character and point of view. In novels like It and The Stand, he can juggle a whole lot of characters, and we get a strong sense of their backstory and their brokenness, two things that make it possible for us to identify with characters from the get-go. In the opening chapters, he introduces us to a big cast, but they’re so well differentiated that it’s never a problem keeping them straight.

Now, the thing that troubled me originally—the reveal of the monster in the last section of the novel—is still really bad. H. P. Lovecraft instinctively knew that the less you show of the monster, the scarier it is (think of this, perhaps, as The Jaws Rule, after the long-delayed reveal of the shark in Steven Spielberg’s movie). When the monster It is appearing in different guises—especially as Pennywise the Clown—this book is drop-dead scary. At the end, when it’s revealed as a Cosmic Creature from Beyond the Stars, we keep reading because we love these characters, but the frisson that kept us turning pages is gone.

Ultimately, though, what I loved about reading It again was re-connecting with old friends. I’ve been through some rough weather myself in the years since I last saw these character, and I felt like I knew them better, knew myself better, and could appreciate their stories and their journeys more now than as a young man. Stephen King is not a great writer, but he is a compelling storyteller, and I really lost myself in this long book for a long time!
Learn more about Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Entertaining Judgment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 5, 2017

Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden.

Her new novel is Not A Sound.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gudenkauf's reply:
Currently I’m reading Lisa Unger’s The Red Hunter. It’s an absolute page turner. It’s about two women, both victims of violent crimes. Claudia handles the aftermath by throwing herself into raising her daughter and renovating an old house while Zoey immerses herself in the martial arts as well as some darker past times. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’m also just started reading Eggshells by Caitriona Lally. Set in Dublin, Ireland, Vivian Lawlor grew up being told by her parents that she was left to them by fairies. Now all grown up, Vivian wanders through Dublin in search of the world she believes she came from. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m already in love with Vivian’s quirky, engaging voice.
Visit Heather Gudenkauf's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf and Maxine.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf & Lolo.

My Book, The Movie: Not A Sound.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Kiera Stewart

Kiera Stewart is the author of three novels: Fetching, How to Break a Heart, and The Summer of Bad Ideas.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Stewart's reply:
I’m currently living in Granada, Nicaragua, and took a last minute trip to Leon, another city a few hours up the Pacific coast. I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the trip, so I soon found myself alone in a new city where I didn’t really know anyone. And with nothing to read.

Books in English aren’t incredibly plentiful in Nicaragua, but Leon is a college town. Luckily, there was a used bookstore a walkable distance away. My biggest surprise was the cost of the books. In the states, we take for granted that we can get a used paperback for under a dollar. Here, in this used book store in Leon, the loved-and-left Danielle Steel and James Patterson paperbacks were selling for the equivalent of $5/US! But still, I sorted through the stacks and was thrilled to find one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors: Open House by Elizabeth Berg.

I read this novel more than a decade ago, so while I’ve forgotten all the details, I remember really enjoying the experience. And I’m happy to report that I still do. Open House is a story about a woman who is adjusting to an unexpected post-divorce life, raising an eleven-year-old son (Travis), and taking on boarders to help pay the mortgage. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts so far, in which, although devastated about her husband’s leaving, she is daydreaming about having a more elegant, more sophisticated life without him:
I go into the family room…and turn the stereo on to the classical station. Ah, Mozart. Well, maybe not Mozart. But close enough. It’s one of those guys. I’ll take a music appreciation class. Somewhere. Then, getting ready to sit down to dinner with Travis some night I’ll say, “Some Verdi, perhaps?”

“That’s an idea,” he’ll answer. “But maybe Vivaldi would be better with lamb.”

“You know, you’re absolutely right,” I’ll say. I will have taught him this exquisite discrimination. As a famous man, Travis will say to the interviewer, “My mother changed wonderfully when my father left us. Our circumstances actually improved. Naturally I owe her everything.”
I love so many things about this book. I love the vulnerability and sincerity of her characters: I love the gentle and funny honesty in her writing. Somehow, every time I read one of her novels, my heart grows a little.

I guess that’s one of the great things about good writing, like Berg’s. It gives us the opportunity to experience a situation through someone else’s head and heart. Good writing makes it easy to feel things from the inside-out – via a character’s thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. And personally, I believe this leads to a deep sense of human connection and compassion in a way that no other medium can quite deliver.

If you haven’t read any of Elizabeth Berg’s novels*, you’re in luck because there’s a lot of great ones to choose from. You will probably laugh, you might possibly cry, and you’ll very likely end the book with the satisfying feeling that you’ve made a new friend.

*Available in new and used bookstores all over the world. And totally worth the Nicaraguan sticker shock.
Visit Kiera Stewart's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kiera Stewart & Casper.

--Marshal Zeringue