Thursday, August 31, 2017

Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody is the author of over fifteen novels for teens, tweens, and adults. Her new contemporary YA novel is In Some Other Life.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Brody's reply:
The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones

About: The author of the New York Times bestseller The Plantagenets and Magna Carta chronicles the next chapter in British history—the historical backdrop for Game of Thrones

Why I Love It: So, I just got back from London where I religiously visited every Plantagenet and Tudor landmark I could find in eight days. After reading The White Queen and The White Princess by Philippa Gregory, it's safe to say, I was a little obsessed. And after I learned that the War of the Roses was the real-life inspiration for George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, I had to seek out a non-fiction account of these crazy times. The best part about this book is that Dan Jones writes it like a novel. It almost reads like Game of Thrones. It's that compelling. I'm loving it.
Visit Jessica Brody's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Mary Miley

Mary Miley grew up in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel and business topics.

Miley's fourth Roaring Twenties mystery is Murder in Disguise.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Miley's reply:
I just returned from a long trip overseas, during which I polished off several good books. For me, one of the pleasures of travel is reading at night and I can only endure the long airplane rides if I can lose myself in a good story. Call me a Luddite—I prefer the word traditionalist—but I read only real books. I don’t own an e-reader. When traveling, I take along paperbacks, which I discard as I go. No, I don’t throw them out—that would be sacrilegious—I leave them wherever we are staying, on shipboard libraries or on the bookshelves in the castles or historic homes we rent.

On this most recent trip, we visited Ireland and Scotland for pleasure and a bit of business—research for my next novel. I read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, which was excellent. I also enjoyed, in a different way, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which I read after visiting his amazing estate outside Edinburgh, and Lynne Banks’s Dark Quartet, the story of the Brontës who lived in Yorkshire, a short drive south into northern England. These two related directly to my travels and provide insight into the places we visited as well as the times. I also read a disappointingly dull contemporary mystery by an author who should have done better, but that will remain unidentified.
Visit Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in Disguise.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Disguise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Zoë Sharp

Zoë Sharp is the author of fourteen novels so far, either in the Charlie Fox crime thriller series, standalones or collaborations, as well as moonlighting as an international pet-sitter and yacht crew. When she’s not doing that, she dabbles in self-defence and house renovation. (If she visits don’t tell her to make herself at home or she’s liable to start knocking walls out.)

Sharp's latest novel is Fox Hunter.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to read quite a bit of nonfiction for research, which I prefer to do in print format, as it’s easier to stick Post-It notes to the appropriate pages. Today’s mail brought a paperback edition of Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, the story of a small band of Special Forces soldiers who rode to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan on horseback. The time and place of this story appealed to me, as well as the horse involvement. It promises to be a combination of cavalry tactics and modern technological warfare. Invaluable when writing about an ex-soldier like Charlie Fox.

I’m also re-reading an old favourite, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, as I’ve been asked to contribute to an anthology called For The Sake of the Game, which are all stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes. The story has taken shape, but now I need to get my head into the right mind-set. As one of the longer Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles has been just perfect to inspire me to Get On With It. And the opening chapter, where Holmes and Watson predict the life story and habits of an absent visitor by studying his abandoned walking stick, is classic Conan Doyle.

I’ve been so up to my neck since the beginning of the year that I confess I’ve fallen woefully behind with my reading. I did, however, have the pleasure of reading the latest Rosie Claverton novel, Terror 404, about the abuse of vulnerable adults in supposedly ‘safe’ places. It was an atmospheric and affecting novel that lured me in and kept me turning the pages.

I’m currently feasting on Lee Child’s last Jack Reacher thriller, Night School, which is as gripping and outwardly baffling as always, following Reacher and Frances Neagley as they work their way towards the denouement with their usual mix of logical intelligence and brute force. Always a winning combination.
Learn more about the author and her work at Zoë Sharp’s website, blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Fox Hunter.

The Page 69 Test: Fox Hunter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 25, 2017

Beth Cato

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager.

Her newest novel is Call of Fire.

Cato is a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Cato's reply:
I recently read a fun forthcoming debut novel by Joseph Brassey, entitled Skyfarer. I first saw it described as "Star Wars meets Final Fantasy," and that's pretty accurate. There are a lot of space opera-like elements, but it's entirely set on a fantasy world abounding with powerful magic. There are genre tropes aplenty, but they gave the book a cozy feel, and Brassey kept subverting the tropes in delightful ways. I also must add that this book has one of my favorite covers for the whole year. Skyfarer comes out in September!
Visit Beth Cato's website.

The Page 69 Test: Breath of Earth.

The Page 69 Test: Call of Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Whitney Strub

Whitney Strub teaches history at Rutgers University-Newark, where he co-directs the Queer Newark Oral History Project. His latest book is Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s, which he co-edited with Carolyn Bronstein.

Recently I asked Strub about what he was reading. His reply:
Like many Americans, I’m still trapped in a sort of Nightmare Groundhog’s Day in which I keep returning to that awful moment last November, when the most toxic, hateful aspects of U.S. history coalesced to give us this rancid Trump administration. I spent 2016 devouring all of Toni Morrison’s novels, too many of which I hadn’t yet read. Shortly after the election, I found myself staring down the harsh truths of Paradise, her story of the women who set up an autonomous household in rural Oklahoma and the men who punish them for it. I’ve read a lot since then in 2017, but nothing I’ve read, nor any of the activism I’ve seen and participated in, has stopped this from haunting me:

“A backward noplace ruled by men whose power to control was out of control and who had the nerve to say who could live and who not and where; who had seen in lively, free, unarmed females the mutiny of the mares and so got rid of them.”

That’s Donald Trump, that’s Mike Pence, that’s Jeff Sessions, and as a U.S. historian, I reluctantly add, that’s much of U.S. history writ large. The sheer magnitude of its horror is simply staggering.

And so, in a desperate attempt to understand what went so wrong, I recently read Wayne Barrett’s Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth, originally published in 1992 but reissued last year. It’s an astonishingly well-researched compendium of the narcissism, greed, racism, corruption, incompetence, and belligerence that define Donald Trump, a man with effectively zero redeeming qualities. Barrett is meticulous when it comes to detailing the repeated failures of Trump’s early career, from New York City development to football schemes to Atlantic City; over and over again, he was bailed out by his wealthy father or saved by his willingness to resort to sociopathic levels of aggression, rather than talent or smarts. When the book was originally published, its title was actually Trump: The Deals and the Downfalls—he was already washed up by the time Bill Clinton took office, before his counter-miraculous reality-TV reinvention.

The whole book is stupefying (I had to read it in daily ten-page doses), but if one small anecdote stands out as the perfect apotheosis of Trump’s utterly corrosive personality, it’s a minor moment in 1986 where he does one of the few good things he’s ever done, the renovation of the ice-skating rink in Central Park. All he has to do is hold a press conference, share credit with city officials, and smile, and he’ll win good press and repair his fraught relations at city hall. His advisers beg him to take the high road. Of course, he can’t do it, can’t find it in himself to deliver a few short moments of graciousness, and so instead he smirks, he gloats, he brags—and he alienates Mayor Koch, who says, “If you’re dealing with Donald Trump, you’re gonna get screwed.” Koch was right, we’re all stuck dealing with him now, and Barrett’s book unexpectedly resonates with Toni Morrison’s in offering two very different lenses on the same deep ugliness at the center of American history.

Next I need to read about Audre Lorde or Noam Chomsky or Michael Stipe or Fannie Lou Hamer to remind myself of the other side of that history, the one worth fighting for!
Visit Whit Strub’s blog, and read more about Porno Chic and the Sex Wars at the University of Massachusetts Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Porno Chic and the Sex Wars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lindsay Hunter

Lindsay Hunter is the author of the novel Ugly Girls and the story collections Don’t Kiss Me and Daddy’s. Her new novel is Eat Only When You’re Hungry.

Recently I asked Hunter about what she was reading. Her reply:
Stephen Florida, Gabe Habash

Strange, funny, frightening, dark. Like a yawn that turns into a laugh, but there's the sting of tears in your eyes. It's one of those rare books whose construction embodies its soul and vice versa. Every sentence feels purposeful and fucked up and I was delighted and afraid. I recently read an interview with Habash where he said he seeks out writers "who can consistently start a sentence and you don’t know where it’s going to end." This book is like that every step of the way. And you know who else writes like that?

Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt

I'm in the middle of this amazing book right now. Read this sentence and die along with me. "Her fingertips will buzz, freedom in there, for Nat and her, lovely as the sun through a bottle of old pee." Come on. I feel personally challenged to be a better writer as I read this novel. I love that feeling.
Visit Lindsay Hunter's website.

The Page 69 Test: Ugly Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Abdi Nazemian

Abdi Nazemian is a screenwriter, director, and author.

His debut YA novel is The Authentics.

Recently I asked Nazemian about what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and absolutely loving it. It's the story of a journalist who gets mysteriously chosen by a legendary movie star to write her biography. I am obsessed with classic Hollywood stars, so this book was pretty much made for me. When I first heard about the novel (through a comment on my Instagram, proof that social media can encourage reading), I rushed out to buy it. In the beginning of the book, I was caught in a game of wondering which mythic star most inspired the fictional Evelyn Hugo. She has a lot of Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth in her, and pieces of Lauren Bacall and Natalie Wood, among others. But about a hundred pages in, I found myself lost in the fictional world, no longer caring who inspired Evelyn because she herself felt completely real to me. I'm not done yet, but it's a page turner and I stayed up too late last night reading it. I'm a little tired, but that's also my favorite kind of book, the kind that keeps you up at night.
Visit Abdi Nazemian's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Authentics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rachel Kadish

Rachel Kadish is the award-winning author of the novels From a Sealed Room and Tolstoy Lied: a Love Story, as well as the novella I Was Here.

Her latest novel is The Weight of Ink.

Recently I asked Kadish about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m a huge James Baldwin fan, but somehow until now I’d never read The Fire Next Time. It’s riveting—and Baldwin’s bracing view of America is particularly helpful and timely right now.

There’s something about Baldwin’s voice: the largeness of his perspective, the clarity of his view, the sheer power in his cadences. That power is something I associate with religious text and religious speech, and when a writer is able to harness it for a non-religious my view, that’s as good as it gets. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Baldwin, in both his fiction and his essays—the way everything he writes is lit up and suffused by that moral capaciousness and that music, and somehow also a very rare and precious kind of joy.

Here are three quotes from The Fire Next Time.

“…as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.”

“…a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

“For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.”
Visit Rachel Kadish's official website.

The Page 69 Test: Tolstoy Lied.

My Book, The Movie: The Weight of Ink.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Edgar Cantero

Edgar Cantero is a writer and cartoonist from Barcelona who works in Catalan, Spanish, and English.

He is the author of The Supernatural Enhancements and the newly released Meddling Kids.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Cantero's reply:
I recently moved houses (actually, moved cities, from Barcelona to New York), and I was forced to leave all my books behind. All of them. If you wonder about their fate, I was supposed to rent a storage unit, but in the end, a good friend offered me the attic of his family’s house in his hometown in Pla d’Urgell. There they are, sleeping inches below the roof under a scorching sun.

I’ve been living in Brooklyn for eighteen days now, and in my room there are already five books.

John Le Carré’s Call From The Dead (1961) I read on the plane to the US after forgetting to send it to my friend’s attic with the rest. I could have abandoned it in Spain, but I liked the edition too much. It’s a Spanish translation printed like a pulp magazine. I knew Smiley already from the recent film with Gary Oldman, which I loved. I liked Le Carré’s style too: so melancholic, so anti-007.

Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016) I bought at The Astoria Bookshop because Hendrix’s novels and mine always seem to be best friends in recommendation lists, so I was curious. And the paperback cover is amazing. All I can say about the book is that one scene is absolute genius. (If you have read it, you know which one. I doubt we’re thinking different scenes.) I will never forget it.

John Cheever’s Falconer (1977) I found in The Birch, a coffee shop in the Upper East Side. I always wanted to check out something else from Cheever after I read The Swimmer in college (I took one class on American contemporary literature, and I enjoyed it so much). Compared to the Cheever I remembered, Falconer was less magic and very bleak at first, but surprisingly ingenuous and powerful in the end.

Just this morning I found a collection of Stephen Crane’s writings sitting on a sidewalk on Lafayette Street, along with three other books. I picked up Crane’s because I’ve heard that The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is sort of a compulsory reading, and sometimes I fall for these things.

And in the afternoon I bought John Wyndham’s Chocky (1968) at Books Are Magic, in Cobble Hill.
Visit Edgar Cantero's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Supernatural Enhancements.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

James Abel

James Abel is the pseudonym for Bob Reiss, an accomplished author and journalist who has written extensively on the Arctic. He lives and works in New York City.

Abel's new novel is Vector.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Just now I've got three books on my table, all written by favorites, all there for different reasons, all there so I can learn.

Don Winslow's Dawn Patrol, like all his books, has fantastic speed to it. Somehow Winslow manages to give us fully fleshed out characters, a complex plot, and a tour of a new area...all without losing pace.

T. Jefferson Parker, in Crazy Blood, and his other books, manages to keep it sensitive without losing thrills.

Douglas Preston's Blasphemy incorporates science and fact and educates without...again...losing pace in a thriller. I admire all these guys.
Visit James Abel's website.

My Book, The Movie: Vector.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bill Crider

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

Crider's newest novel is Dead, to Begin With, the 24th Dan Rhodes Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Crider's reply:
I read a lot of older books by writers that most people don’t remember or haven’t heard of, and my current reading is no exception: The Body Beautiful by Bill S. Ballinger, his second novel about private-eye Barr Breed (somebody sure seems to like the letter “B”). It was published in 1949 and while it’s dated, it’s still fun to read and has quite an interesting showbiz background.

Ballinger went on to write quite a few crime novels, including two nearly forgotten classics, The Tooth and the Nail and Portrait in Smoke. In the 1960s he wrote a series of spy novels about a CIA agent named Joaquin Hawk. He also wrote a lot for TV, on shows like Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. And now you know more about Ballinger than you probably ever wanted to.
Visit Bill Crider's website and blog.

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

Learn about Crider's choice of actors to portray Dan Rhodes and Seepy Benton on the big screen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 14, 2017

Glen Duncan

Saul Black is a pseudonym for Glen Duncan, the author of By Blood We Live, I, Lucifer, and many other books. He was chosen by both Arena and The Times Literary Supplement (London) as one of Britain's best young novelists.

His new novel is LoveMurder.

Recently I asked Duncan about what he was reading. His reply:
It’s a relief to be able to write this post. Or at least to be able to write it honestly. About four years ago I lost the ability to read. Nothing wrong with my eyes, nothing wrong with my brain. But something very wrong somewhere, in some embarrassingly ethereal region of my being. Heart? Mind? Psyche? Spirit?

All Catholics, whether they describe themselves as ex-Catholics or failed Catholics or lapsed Catholics (or as I suspect is my own case closet Catholics) remain Dualists, deep down. Therefore I’m thrown back on the language of the allegedly non-material: Something was wrong with my (imagine the next word uttered in a trembling and shameful whisper) soul.

Allow the drama-queenliness for a moment, gentle reader. I assure you it’s looked back on now with an indulgent smile of fond superiority, as would be childhood misdemeanour. But in the grip of his grand crisis your author enjoyed no smiles, indulgent or otherwise. For reasons too personal to enumerate here he was Not Happy. Worse, he was Not Happy With Himself.

The antecedents, I repeat, will remain grandly in shadow. All you need to know is that I was incapable of an imaginative life. Of which the obvious corollary was that I was incapable of a reading life.

I tried. Many times. My efforts culminated, spectacularly, in an attempt to re-read Don Quixote. I got almost to the bottom of the first page before rushing to the bathroom to vomit. After that I gave up. I took to watching television. Not good television, either. In fact, the badder the television the better. I became a devotee of The Millionaire Matchmaker and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I gorged on Come Dine With Me and basked in the warmth of A Place in the Sun. Some hilarious and perhaps satirical vestige of character kept me from Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex, but these two exceptions only added the charge of hypocrisy to the long roll of my shortcomings.

It was a dreary four years, and the truth is I have no idea why it ended, only a few months ago. But end it did. Inexplicably, one day, I found myself picking up The Odyssey. I say ‘found myself’ very deliberately. I wasn’t aware of deciding to pick it up or intending to pick it up or forlornly mulling over the pointlessness of picking it up. There was, as far as I can tell, zero premeditation. One minute I was deep in Dinner Date Simon’s difficulties with his crème brûlée, the next I was switching the television off and picking up Homer.

When I think of that moment now I think of it as a rogue neural twitch in a corpse—with the difference that in this case the corpse turned out to be alive after all. I began reading. Water. Fire. Blood. Stone. Iron. Fire. Meat. The nouns held the atoms of their original objects. The verbs were clean engines. In the old story language was curiously nude and unencumbered. Here was a tale (poem, rather) that gave solace by conceding that the world has no solace to give. Love and death presided over by gods with genitals and hangovers, no better than ourselves. I had read The Odyssey before, but only under the germy blanket of academic obligation. This time around I read it in a state of laughable bliss. I did laugh—not just at the narrative’s lighter moments (when its characters aren’t busy fornicating or getting their guts run through) but at its casually accomplished miracle of word by word rebooting language. Even its stock epithets felt fresh and alluring. Aphrodite of the curling lashes. Yes please.

There was no stopping me after that. I raced deliriously through The Iliad, The Aeneid, Metamorphoses, Theogony, Works and Days, The Argonautica. The Classical authors opened the door back into literature’s house of many mansions, yes, but it wasn’t long before I was getting twitchy for racier existential company. I lurched off into The Nineteenth Century French: Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, Balzac’s Cousin Bette, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, all of which are complex, sexy, ambiguous novels that make many of their English counterparts of the period look like shuffling fuddy-duddies.

Obviously books afford effortless time-travel and promiscuous internationalism. I left the French and started reading Twentieth Century Americans, filling in some reprehensible gaps the aforementioned germy blanket had left uncovered. Three masterpieces. Firstly, Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, in which a likably unambitious grocery store clerk is confronted with an opportunity to bend his ethics and make some real cash. It doesn’t sound much of a premise. But in the old days (gone, now) writers didn’t win the Nobel for nothing; under Steinbeck’s casually omniscient gaze this simple dilemma exposes the whole dirty marriage of money and morality.

Secondly, Faulkner’s two related novels, Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun. The first is the most obliquely beguiling novel of sexual assault I’ve ever read. (And yes, I am aware that ‘beguiling’ sits ill with ‘sexual assault’, but do read it before dashing off the hate mail.) Simultaneously claustrophobic and vertiginously expansive, these two novels (although the latter is rendered partly as a stage drama) centre around the extraordinary character of Temple Drake, ambivalent rape-victim in Sanctuary, possible murderess in Requiem. Any summary of the plots, which are, by current ADHD standards, thin, would be redundant. It’s not much of a sell these days to say that these books do maddening godlike justice to both psychological depth and moral complexity, but that’s my strapline, take it or leave it.

I regard the Twentieth Century Americans as Phase Three of my reading recovery. I read a lot more Faulkner and a lot more Steinbeck (along with most of Hemingway—among its many gifts For Whom the Bell Tolls greatly expanded my swearing repertoire) but after them I was no longer in fear of a relapse into bibliophobia. I was, once again, a happy slut of the written word, polyamorous, ever-ready to whip on my specs and curl up on the couch without so much as a how-do-you-do.

Most recently - and to get around to fulfilling the blog’s brief at long last - I have just read Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini, translated by Alane Salierno Mason. It’s billed as ‘a novel’, and indeed it is, but such is its lyricism and disregard for traditional narrative parameters (for example, the boundary between the real and the imagined, though it is not, thank God, ‘magical realism’) that it has more the quality of a long poem or visionary dream. Again, the nuts and bolts are minimal: The narrator, Silvestro, living in an unnamed Italian city and suffering from a sort of depression or spiritual malaise, receives a letter from his father (a) telling him that he (the father) has left Silverstro’s mother after many years of marriage and (b) suggesting that in the light of this she might appreciate a visit from her son. Over three days and nights Silvestro travels back to his home village in rural Sicily, has a chat with his mum, visits various local residents (to whom his mother acts as a kind of pharmacist/nurse), attends the naked and ostensibly medical ‘examinations’ of one or two ladies, gets drunk with some villagers, wanders around in the night, has some strange visions of a dead soldier who might or might not be his brother, falls asleep, wakes up back at his mother’s house to find her washing the feet of an old man who might or might not be his father. Silvestro leaves without speaking to the old man and heads back to the city where the novel begins.

Sounds insane, granted. But here’s what Hemingway had to say of Elio Vittorini in the foreword to Conversations in Sicily: ‘To a good writer, needing to bring the dry country alive so that it will not be a desert […] such a writer finds rain to be made of knowledge, experience, wine, bread, oil, salt, vinegar, bed, early mornings, nights, days, the sea, men, women, dogs, beloved motor cars, bicycles, hills and valleys, the appearance and disappearance of trains on straight and curved tracks, love, honor and disobey, music, chamber music and chamber pots, negative and positive Wassermanns, the arrival and non-arrival of expected munitions and/or reinforcements, replacements or your brother. All these are part of rain to a good writer along with your hated or beloved mother, my she rest in peace or pieces, porcupine quills, cock grouse drumming on a bass-wood log, the smell of sweet-grass and fresh smoked leather and Sicily… In this book the rain you get is Sicily […] I care very much about his ability to bring rain with him when he comes if the earth is dry and that is what you need.’

There’s no point trying to add to that, except with an emphatic gasp of agreement. All I can say is that having read Conversations once, I know I’ll read it again, several times. Now that I am reading again, I can only marvel that I made it through four years without killing myself.
Visit Glen Duncan/Saul Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Anna Stephens

Anna Stephens is a UK-based author of gritty epic fantasy debut, Godblind, the first in a grimdark trilogy about a religious, political and ideological war, the people caught up in its midst, and just what, exactly, they are willing to do to win – is the cost ever too high when the fate of an entire people is at stake? She lives with her husband, Mark, an enormous book and movie and music collection, and – allegedly – too many toys.

Recently I asked Stephens about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that, other than some of her poetry when I was at school, I’d never read any Margaret Atwood, so I remedied that at the start of 2017 with The Handmaid’s Tale – before I knew it was being made into a TV series. And oh my, wasn’t I just blown away? I think what freaked me out the most about that book was how utterly plausible it is, how a version of it is happening already with so-called Islamic State – the suppression of women, of knowledge, of education, of freedom – and the reduction of women to their supposed primary function – mothers. Caregivers. Slaves. A daring, disturbing and truly frightening book, it has immediately taken its place among the pantheon of my favourite dystopian novels, which also includes Brave New World and 1984.

After that, because I thought it would be lighter (boy, was I wrong) I read Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. The school for teenage assassins may have been done before, but I’m not sure it’s ever been done quite like this – firmly fantasy and disturbingly dark, and dripping with black humour and teenage hormones, this book deserves all the accolades it has received to date, and more. The twists and turns and betrayals come straight out of nowhere and I was left speechless by some of them.

Finally, I’ve just picked up The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah A Wolf. As one of the triumvirate of evil women – as we’ve dubbed ourselves – whose debut novels have been published this year (the other being Anna Smith-Spark and Court of Broken Knives) I’m both checking out the competition and supporting a woman who writes grimdark and is a debut novelist. I’m only just at the beginning of the book, but we’ve already got an older warrior – bonus – who’s a woman – double bonus – and the writing style is liquid and beautiful. I’m expecting to like this one a lot. Plus, dragons!
Visit Anna Stephens's website.

My Book, The Movie: Godblind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 10, 2017

David Burr Gerrard

David Burr Gerrard is the author of The Epiphany Machine and Short Century. He teaches creative writing at the 92nd Street Y, The New School, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. He lives in Queens, NY with his wife.

Recently I asked Gerrard about what he was reading. His reply:
I was asked at a Q&A for my new novel The Epiphany Machine recently why I write speculative fiction rather than more strictly realistic fiction. My answer was that I find the world so strange that I can only see it clearly if I look at from a strange angle. And seeing the world from the strange angles other see it is the primary reason I read. (Partially for this reason, I’m not sure the distinction between realistic fiction and speculative fiction holds. There is only fiction that succeeds or fails at finding a particular angle that allows you to see the world more clearly, if only for the briefest instant.)

Eugene Lim’s new novella Dear Cyborgs sees the world from a number of strange angles—angles so strange that it’s often not clear what’s going on. The confusion in this book never pretentious or pointless—it feels intrinsic to the book’s political urgency and to the book’s pleasure. The only thing I’ve read in 2017 that’s more confusing than Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs is each day’s news. Dear Cyborgs is far more fun, and far, far more fulfilling.

Dear Cyborgs is about comic books, protests, the weight of capitalism, a mysterious character named Ms. Mistleto. The book has the nervy, exciting feel of a night in college, where a long intellectual conversation can feel sexy and suspenseful. And like those nights, the fewer expectations you have going in, the better.


One of the best sections in Dear Cyborgs is called “True Death Speaks,” and recounts a performance by 92 year old man, who tells a story filled with “a wide, dark ocean of implacable sorrow.” A character says that when he spoke, it was what “True Death” would say: “Not I’m coming for you but You always dwell within me.”

Shawn Wen’s marvelous A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause is not speculative fiction, but it feels that way to me. Like the best speculative fiction, it starts with an impossible premise and makes that premise feel real, palpable, inevitable. In this case, that premise is a book-length essay about the French mime Marcel Marceau, something I could not have imagined reading, let alone devouring in a single sitting, then waking up in the middle of the night to read again in a second single sitting. Wen, despite or more likely because of her background in radio, describes Marceau’s silence in a way that transforms mime from the annoying gimmick that is the object of so much clichéd American humor and into an art that is simultaneously earthy and otherworldly. In the process, Wen elevates Marceau from just another famous performer who used to be alive and is now dead to a timeless literary character, as haunting and unforgettable in his way as Kafka’s Hunger Artist. What Wen writes of Marceau’s movement could just as easily be applied to her own language: “As we watch the mime’s expressive form, we lose awareness of our own. We forget to breathe. Thank God our lungs inflate and deflate on their own.” If true death speaks, Shawn Wen makes true life silent, but also just loud enough. Just as all writing—speculative, realistic, whatever—ought to do.
Visit David Burr Gerrard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Epiphany Machine.

My Book, The Movie: The Epiphany Machine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Michael F. Haspil

Michael F. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he had the opportunities to serve as an ICBM crew commander and as a launch director at Cape Canaveral. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as long as he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror have whispered directly to his soul.

Haspil's new novel is Graveyard Shift.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I generally read several books at a time, but I bounce between fiction and non-fiction. I'm not that far into either book I'm reading at the moment.

The non-fiction book is called Once Upon A Time In Shaolin by Cyrus Bozorgmehr. It covers how the current state of the music industry drove members of the Wu-Tang Clan to make a single album as an artistic statement, and how a notorious troll sabotaged their idea. So far, it is an excellent read.

My fiction choice is also a superb book. Enemy by Betsy Dornbusch is the third book of her Seven Eyes series. She's built a richly detailed fantasy world. The first book, Exile, found Draken banished to a new land after jailers tossed him overboard from a ship. Better than a death sentence, I suppose. In the second book, Emissary, Draken, after turning circumstances to his advantage in book one, once again finds himself in dire straits. Can't wait to see how much trouble he gets himself into in this one. I love it!
Visit Michael F. Haspil's website.

My Book, The Movie: Graveyard Shift.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Candace Ganger

Candace Ganger is a mother, blogger, as well as a contributing writer for sites like Teen Vogue and Hello Giggles. She's also an obsessive marathoner and continual worrier. Aside from having past lives as a singer, nanotechnology website editor, and world’s worst vacuum sales rep, she’s also ghostwritten hundreds of projects for companies, best-selling fiction and award-winning nonfiction authors alike.

Ganger's debut YA novel is The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Though I was late to reading this, I've just recently finished When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore and I was left breathless by her gorgeous story-telling and prose. It's vivid and lush and put me right in the center of the world she created. It's one of those books that immerses you and leaves you wanting everything she's ever written.
Visit Candace Ganger's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sofia Grant

Called a "writing machine" by the New York Times and a "master storyteller" by the Midwest Book Review, Sofia Grant has written dozens of novels for adults and teens under the name Sophie Littlefield. She has won Anthony and RT Book Awards and been shortlisted for Edgar®, Barry, Crimespree, Macavity, and Goodreads Choice Awards. Grant/Littlefield works from an urban aerie in Oakland, California.

Grant's new novel is The Dress in the Window.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The editor will accuse me (rightly) of nepotism, but I am thoroughly enthralled by The Downside, the latest novel from Mike Cooper, who happens to be my brother. It will be out in September and is already garnering smashing reviews.

Before The Downside won the inaugural Mysterious Press award my sister and I were privileged to read it in draft form. I’m a lazy, distractible reader, apt to wander away from books for days or weeks when they fall under my bed or disappear in my gym bag. I have shiny object disorder and can nearly always be lured away by another book with a pretty cover.

But I read The Downside in one day. Mike’s reviews always seem to contain words like “blistering pace” and “thrilling, non-stop action”—you’ll never find these sorts of observations in my own reviews, in which disgruntled readers sometimes accuse me of putting them to sleep with my deep, deep character dives. (“Nothing happens in the first half,” is a common complaint, along with “The second half dragged.”)

Mike’s book is more than a page turner—it’s super smart, the characters are genuinely interesting, the dialog is snappy, the action is fantastic--and the plot is supersize. How big, exactly? As big as a rail yard, with larger-than-life characters who churn billions of dollars but think nothing of risking everything on a single high-stakes crime. I’ll bet you a stiff drink in a shady bar that you’ll like this one.
Visit Sofia Grant's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Gin Phillips

Gin Phillips is the author of five novels. Her debut novel, The Well and the Mine, was the winner of the 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Award. Since then her work has been sold in 29 countries.

Born in Montgomery, AL, Phillips graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a degree in political journalism. She worked as a magazine writer for more than a decade, living in Ireland, New York, and Washington D.C., before eventually moving back to Alabama.

She currently lives in Birmingham with her family.

Phillips's new novel is Fierce Kingdom.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have a habit of falling in love with a writer and then buying a pile of their books and binge reading them one after the other. This is a terrible way to read. I know it. It’s not the way to most fully appreciate an author… yet I get a bit obsessed and do it anyway. So I am nearly finished with my third Penelope Lively book in a row: Moon Tiger is a brilliant novel about a female historian who, as she’s dying, decides to write the history of the world, which just happens to overlap with her own personal history. I’m happy to say I’m more captivated by Lively now than I was after first discovering her lovely and moving How It All Began. (Note: She’s been writing for nearly five decades, so I don’t know how I've missed her all this time.)

Moon Tiger has everything I’ve loved about Lively’s other books—first of all, the sentences are stunning. Elegant but not showy. The characters are likable even when they shouldn’t be, because she has such generosity towards her characters. The voice is both clever and wise. I spend a lot of time thinking, oh, man, I wish I’d written this.

Next in my stack is Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, the second book in the Neapolitan novels. That will be nice because those are books I actually should read one after the other.
Visit Gin Phillips's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sheena Kamal

Sheena Kamal was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to Canada as a child. She holds an HBA in political science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness. Kamal has also worked as a crime and investigative journalism researcher for the film and television industry. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, and enjoys beaches and Dark ‘n’ Stormys.

Kamal's new novel is The Lost Ones.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I devoured Hunger by Roxane Gay a few weeks ago. It was sublime. A tough read, but an immersive one, as well. Gay one of my favourite writers and I have a soft spot for her essays—so this memoir is exactly the kind of book I’d lose myself in.

At the moment, I’m simultaneously reading Fever by Megan Abbott and Restless by William Boyd.

I’ve been on an Abbott kick recently because her thrillers are so intricate, delving into the lives of girls and women in a way that tugs at me on a visceral level. She’s such a powerful writer.

I picked up Restless because someone had recommended Boyd’s Sweet Caress to me, and it did not disappoint. It has possibly the best last sentence of any book I’ve ever read. I thought that because Restless is more connected to the genre I write in, it would be great to see how Boyd tackles a spy thriller.
Visit Sheena Kamal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue