Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sarah Rayne

Sarah Rayne is the author of a number of acclaimed psychological thrillers and haunted house books. Her new novel is Chord of Evil.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Rayne's reply:
I read masses of fiction of almost every kind, but these four books are my all-time favourites, and I’m currently halfway through Broome Stages for at least the tenth time – with Gaudy Night in line to be re-read next.

Broome Stages by Clemence Dane

Written in 1930. Clemence Dane was a highly thought-of novelist and playwright of her era. (Best known plays are Will Shakespeare, Granite, and Bill of Divorcement).

I discovered this book about thirty years ago and lost an entire four-day bank holiday reading it. Saying you read a book in four days is a huge compliment to pay an author, but there’s a curious downside to it.  On the one hand it’s terrific that the book was so compelling you couldn’t put it down – on the other hand, the author probably spent a minimum of a year writing and researching it.

Broome Stages is a very long book indeed – 700 pages – and in a very general way is a family saga.  But it’s like no family saga I’ve ever read, before or since. It spans the years between 1715 and 1930, and it covers seven generations of a theatrical family.  The story begins with travelling players in tavern courtyards, and traces the family’s rise – through the marvellous fruity old Victorian actor managers who re-wrote Shakespeare to suit themselves, and into the early years of the 20th century, with the dawn of the early movies. It’s about the changing world of the theatre, but it’s also about the Broomes themselves – their loves and hates, and feuds and plots.  It’s about their fortunes in the theatre world – the buying of theatres, the building of a theatrical dynasty.

The writing is exquisite – polished and lovely, and the characters and their backgrounds are so vivid that the present-day dissolves as you read.

One of the reviews of the time had this to say:
Broome Stages is more than a novel.  It is a social-history and a social-comedy, an epic.  The genealogy is so intricately and ingeniously mapped and explained, they make that other famous family in fiction, Mr Galsworthy’s Forsytes, seem like a pack of Victorian upstarts.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

This marvellous, multi-layered story set in an Oxford College, sees Harriet Vane returning to her alma mater to help her former tutors with a poison pen mystery.  The mystery itself is engrossing, but woven into the plot is the gradually developing emotion between Harriet and Lord Peter Wimsey, and Harriet’s own struggles to come to terms with her turbulent past.

Every time I read this, I’m pulled straight into that world, and made part of it by DLS’s excellent writing.

The Destiny Man by Peter van Greenaway

This is another book that  I bring back to my reading stack regularly.

It’s a terrific and, to my mind, a very unusual, story of how a has-been actor, living on his past glories, finds a yellowing Shakespearean folio on the tube, and how he manages to bring the play to production at Stratford (where else?).

The play’s subject is the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in the Tower, during James I’s reign – James himself was rumoured to have been slightly involved in that plot, so it’s very credible that if Will, living at the start of James’s reign by then, had written such a play, he would have kept it quiet.

Mr van Greenaway sprinkles his text beautifully with Bardic phrases – when the antiquarian bookseller Elias Pouncefoot is found murdered, he describes the reactions in these words:
The news broke about five, perfectly timed for radio, TV and late evening paper coverage.  A new, unpublished, unknown play, never before performed until soon – there was matter enough to generate interest.  But this new circumstance (ie the murder of Pouncefoot), almost melted wires and made the ionosphere crackle audibly as news of it girdled the Earth…   Here was a combination of events devoutly to be wished.
Sadly, this is no longer in print, but it can be obtained through most of the secondhand book sellers, and is well worth searching out.

The Hopkins Manuscript (also published, in edited and abridged version as The Cataclysm) by R C Sherriff

Sherriff is probably best known for his classic play about the Great War, Journey’s End, and his screenplays for famous films such as Goodbye Mr Chips, Home at Seven, and The Dam Busters. However, he also wrote a few novels, and The Hopkins Manuscript is something I’ve read many times.

The opening line is a terrific hook:
When the Royal Society of Abyssinia discovered The Hopkins Manuscript two years ago in the ruins of Notting Hill, it was hoped that some valuable light would at last be thrown upon the final tragic days of London.
It’s the story, written in first-person narrative, of a rather self-important, but ultimately surprisingly courageous and heroic retired schoolteacher, who finds himself caught up in cataclysmic events.  The moon has veered off course, and is set to crash into Earth.  The book is the story of how Edgar Hopkins, and the people immediately around him, deal with this - in practical as well as emotional terms.
Visit Sarah Rayne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rachel Neumeier

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.

Neumeier's new novel is Winter of Ice and Iron.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Somehow in 2017 everything that made the biggest impression on me had a strong historical component, though the works I have in mind ranged from almost-secondary-world fantasy to straight historical.

Earlier this summer, I read an older trilogy by a new-to-me author, Naomi Kritzer: Freedom’s Gate, Freedom’s Apprentice and Freedom’s Sisters. Here we have fantasy where history has been altered enough the resulting world is hardly recognizable. In Kritzer’s world, Alexander the Great lived a long life and conquered the world, or near enough. Now a long-subjugated people is edging toward revolution while enslaved djinni complicate matters. Magic is powerful, but practitioners inevitably develop bipolar syndrome, which is shown realistically although not in modern terms. Through the whole trilogy, complicated ethical dilemmas are fundamental, even more so than physical conflict. This is also a story where romance is minimal while other kinds of relationships are of central importance. A great favorite of mine for the year, everything about it worked for me – I can’t think of a single thing I wish Kritzer had done differently.

Then this fall I read Walk on Earth a Stranger, Like a River Glorious, and Into the Bright Unknown, by Rae Carson. I love long stories that give the reader a day-to-day look at ordinary life in historical settings. This trilogy does a wonderful job with that. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like reading an immersive story about the wagon trains and the westward migration to make the reader appreciate the conveniences and comforts of modern life.

Lee, the protagonist, is a gold dowser – which is practically the only touch of magic in a trilogy that is nearly straight historical. Lee’s a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist because of her own sympathy for everyone around her. Her concentrated effort to view everything charitably from the other’s point of view sets her apart even more than her gift for gold dowsing, and her viewpoint draws a convincing portrait of the people and places of that era. A memorable story I’ll be glad to re-read in a year or two.

Right after that, I finally had a chance to read the recently released final book in Alan Smale’s debut Alternate History trilogy: Clash of Eagles, Eagle in Exile, and Eagle and Empire. Here Romans from a Rome that never fell discover the Americas – and then meet the Cahokian mound builders. This is a story filled with adventure, battles, tense alliances, a little bit of romance, a lot of complicated personal relationships, and lots and lots of the most amazing hang-gliders. Definitely a must-try for fans of history twisted around and tilted sideways.

Most recently, I finally read a standalone novel that’s been on my radar for a while: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. This one’s a straight historical novel -- but with added depth from echoes of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. There’s a tiny bit of romance in this novel, but primarily it is about family – a father gone terribly wrong, a helpless and absent mother, and most of all sisters who are each other’s friends, allies, and defenders.

From all this you might get the idea that I really prefer historical fantasy, which isn’t actually the case – though I do like historical depth, in fantasy and mysteries and romances and so on. But what I actually like best is any story with a well-drawn setting, historical or secondary world or contemporary, but also with complicated personal relationships, especially relationships involving family and friends rather than, or at least in addition to, an important central romance. That’s what every book on this list provides. Probably every book that has ever made it to my personal top ten list, or ever will, offers that.
Visit Rachel Neumeier's website.

My Book, The Movie: Winter of Ice and Iron.

The Page 69 Test: Winter of Ice and Iron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Marcella Pixley Pixley teaches eighth grade Language Arts at the Carlisle Public Schools. She has written three acclaimed young adult novels: Freak, Without Tess, and most recently, Ready To Fall.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a writer, I often read in order to teach myself something I want to master. I look for writers whose work contains some aspect of a strategy or structure I am trying to hone in my own fiction and then I devour everything I can find that will teach me what I want to learn from them. Most recently, I have been in love with Elizabeth Strout’s writing, and over the past months, I have poured through each of her novels, underlining passages, re-reading pages and trying to learn what she is doing to make her characters shine the way they do. I appreciate the way she shows how fragile we are as human beings. She captures the imperfection of our love for each other, and how desperately we yearn to connect with the people in our families and our communities who matter most to us. Strout is a master at creating silent tensions between her characters, demonstrating in one novel after another that what characters do not say in a scene is often as important as what they do.

I used what I learned from Strout throughout my new novel Ready to Fall, especially in the scenes between Max and his father. Both of them are in pain, both of them are grieving, but they love each other fiercely, and they worry so much about each other that they are unable to be honest about their pain. They keep their grief a secret from each other. For this reason, the scenes between them are filled with silent yearning for connection. They wish they could tell each other how they feel, but they have convinced themselves that it is more important to seem strong in each other’s presence. Strout also taught me how it is possible to simultaneously demonstrate the shortcomings between people and also the sweetness and the tenderness. We try our best. But because we are human and imperfect we often flounder. Strout has taught me that these imperfections are really what makes us beautiful.
Visit Marcella Pixley's website.

My Book, The Movie: Ready to Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Gary Blackwood

Gary Blackwood is the award-winning author of more than thirty novels and non-fiction titles for children and young adults, including the bestselling Shakespeare series. Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, he now lives in Canada.

Blackwood's latest novel is Bucket's List.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Blackwood's reply:
I’m convinced that, in most cases, whether or not a particular book or a particular author speaks to us depends on how willing we are to listen.  In real life, of course, we tend to seek out people whose opinions and outlooks coincide with ours.  But in the case of books, though obviously it’s important what an author says, I think how he or she says it is just as important.  The truth is, I generally spend a lot more time with authors than I do with any of my flesh and blood friends, so I like them to be good company.

D. E. Stevenson is delightful company.  I discovered her only within the last year or so, when I stumbled upon a reissue of the charming Miss Buncle’s Book.  I’ve been seeking her out ever since, most recently between the covers of her WWII-era saga, Amberwell.  Though Stevenson (or, Dorothy, as I call her—or would, if she were still alive) has long been dismissed as a writer of “light romantic novels,” that assessment does her a definite disservice.  She has a droll sense of humor that rivals Anthony Trollope’s—I often found myself laughing out loud--and her portrayal of the relations between men and women sometimes give her the feel of a latter-day Jane Austen.  It’s true that her stories aren’t always very tragic or very profound, but neither is life, most of the time.  And the fact is, Stevenson offers some very shrewd insights, some really moving moments and some heartbreaking dilemmas, especially in Amberwell.  Its scope and depth certainly qualify it as far more than a “light romantic novel,” and I found myself wishing I’d made a name for myself as a screenwriter so I could create a miniseries based on the book.
Learn more about Bucket's List.

My Book, The Movie: Bucket's List.

The Page 69 Test: Bucket's List.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Richard Baker

A former United States Navy officer and a well-known game designer, Richard Baker is the author of over a dozen novels, including the New York Times best seller Condemnation (2003) and the highly acclaimed The Last Mythal trilogy (2004–2006). He is a lifelong devotee of science fiction and fantasy, a history enthusiast (particularly military history), and an avid fan of games of all kinds.

Baker's new novel is Valiant Dust.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Like a lot of people, I’m usually working on a couple of books at a time. The two that are currently competing for my attention are Harry Turtledove’s Fallout and Peter Cawdron’s Retrograde.

Fallout is the second book in Turtledove’s new alternate history series The Hot War (following up on Bombs Away, the start of the series). The premise is dark and simple: What would have happened if Douglas Macarthur got his way in 1951 and the U.S. responded to China’s intervention in the Korean War by dropping the Bomb? The answer is that things get horrible in a hurry. I’m a longtime Turtledove fan and enough of a history buff to really enjoy the what-if game; it’s amazing how great events sometimes turn on very small hinges, and Turtledove is of course the master at exploring the repercussions. I’m actually having a tough time in Fallout; the world is becoming so grim and miserable that I find my despair is bleeding over into real-world anxiety. It’s a powerful story, and I think there are some lessons in Turtledove’s speculation that pertain the world today.

The other book I’m reading is Retrograde, by Peter Cawdron. This is the first Cawdron book I’ve ever read, and I have to admit I didn’t really pick it out—I found it in the bag at a bookseller association trade show, and decided that it could be worth a try. This is a near-future, hard-science look at a fledgling Mars outpost established as a joint effort by the US, Russia, China, and the EU. When disastrous news from Earth reaches the colony, the four crews face the horrible possibility that they’ll be on their own indefinitely and that one of their countries might be responsible for an unthinkable atrocity. Again, I found the beginning grim and depressing; I was just waiting for the author to reveal that characters I liked were The Bad Guys, and I wasn’t looking forward to that. But then Cawdron threw in an unexpected twist that really changed the complexion of the story, hooking me all over again. So, good on you, Mr. Cawdron—I didn’t see that coming, and I’m liking Retrograde more than I initially thought I would.
Visit Richard Baker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 24, 2017

Chris Brookmyre

Chris Brookmyre is the author of twenty crime and science fiction novels, including Black Widow, winner of the 2016 McIlvanney Prize. His work has been adapted for television, radio, the stage and in the case of Bedlam, an FPS videogame.

His new novel is Places in the Darkness.

Recently I asked Brookmyre about what he was reading. His reply:
Denise Mina’s The Long Drop won the 2017 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year, and deservedly so. Based on the true story of mass-murderer Peter Manuel, who killed whole families in their homes in 1950s Glasgow, this book is like reaching into a wound in the city’s soul. It is a speculative account of Manuel’s inexplicable drinking odyssey around Glasgow one night in the company of a man whose family he killed, and whose own innocence comes increasingly into question. This is a novel so visceral you can smell the cigarette smoke, an amazing snapshot of a toxic male culture and an unflinching portrait of a sociopath’s self-delusion.

Mark Billingham’s Love Like Blood allies the author’s gift for compelling narrative and complex investigative detail with a burning, passionate anger over his subject. Billingham’s recurring detective Tom Thorne investigates a series of honour killings, which are among the most under-reported crimes in the UK. The book delves deep into the cultural and religious motivations behind a particularly disgusting kind of murder, though its protagonist ultimately despairs of ever understanding why people would kill their own children merely to satisfy a sense of ideological propriety. It is a book that will leave you shaking with rage long after the thrill of the chase has faded.

Mick Herron’s Spook Street is the fourth in his superb Slough House series, about the place where British intelligence service wash-outs are sent in the hope that they will resign rather than be fired, and where they become the playthings of the magnificently monstrous Jackson Lamb. Spook Street is disturbingly prescient in dealing with a suicide bombing in London, and even more worrying in its depiction of the covert manoeuvrings and hidden agendas played out by the intelligence services before and after such an atrocity.

Having a teenage son and consequently being exposed to far more heavy metal than I ever envisaged, reading Andrew O’Neill’s A History of Heavy Metal has been strangely therapeutic. It is a relentlessly energetic and frequently hilarious account of the development of this maligned but indefatigably enduring music genre, one I admittedly  enjoy reading about far more than listening to.
Visit Chris Brookmyre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dave Connis Connis writes words you can sing and words you can read. He lives in Chattanooga, TN with his wife, Clara and a dog that barks at non-existent threats.

His new novel is The Temptation of Adam.

Recently I asked Connis about what he was reading. His reply:
I've recently decided to branch my reading out from fiction because I've been on a straight diet of fiction since high school. I'm 27.

I recently finished Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and it was phenomenal. I wanted to read it because it paints an insider picture of the people I live around and helped me understand the layers of hurt and hopelessness that I'm seeing in the houses down the street. Because of how much Hillbilly Elegy impacted me, I decided to go on a non-fiction binge.

I just finished Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams. It was heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time. I still think about her story and how it seems the one common thing that helps people crawl out of dark places is someone holding up a light, illuminating a different path.

I'm reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and it has some of the most captivating writing I've read in a long time and it's made me want to write in third person.
Visit Dave Connis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Temptation of Adam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Elizabeth L. Silver

Elizabeth L Silver is the author of the memoir, The Tincture of Time: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty, and the critically acclaimed novel, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Silver's reply:
After three years of reading so many memoirs, I’m currently reading a mix of fiction and nonfiction now and loving it.

Right now I’m in the early-middle of Celeste Ng’s new novel, Little Fires Everywhere, which is everything as good as the reviews say. I can’t put it down. It’s about a family in a wealthy enclave in Ohio, where class, race, and relationships are put on trial.

I’m also re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, in part because I read it so long ago while much younger, and at the time, didn’t fully understood its import, relevance, or power. Given the current political climate and the extraordinary TV adaptation, I felt the need to reconnect with it. It’s a book with a message, but lost in the political current is the fact that it’s a tremendous novel. As a writer, there is much to learn from Atwood, and this novel is one of the best teachers out there.

On the nonfiction end, I just finished A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emma Claire Sweeney & Emily Midorikawa, a book that explores the forgotten friendships between female writers. So much real estate in literary history is given to the legends of male writers, such as the friendship between Hemingway and Fitzgerald, that the authors, friends themselves, wanted to dig into history to find the legends behind the female friendships, which certainly existed. In full disclosure, the authors are friends of mine from graduate school, which makes this book all the more meaningful to read.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. This book falls under: How have I never read you? It is the book that started so much of the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s, and when read today feels so understood, but at the time, it was a revelation and a shock to society. Sometimes thoughts and concepts are so ingrained in our culture that we don’t know when we first heard or read them. This book is responsible for so much of early feminist theory, and even though there have been hundreds of followers since, Friedan is the mother of so much feminist nonfiction.
Visit Elizabeth L. Silver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

My Book, The Movie: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

The Page 99 Test: The Tincture of Time.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 20, 2017

Tim Pratt

Tim Pratt is a Hugo Award-winning SF and fantasy author, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. He is the author of over twenty novels, and his work has been reprinted in The Best American Short Stories, The Year’s Best Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, and other nice places.

His new novel is The Wrong Stars.

Recently I asked Pratt about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm writing a sequel to my space opera novel The Wrong Stars right now, and it's better for me to read things outside the sub-genre I'm writing to avoid thematic and stylistic cross-contamination.

I've been re-reading a triumvirate of old favorite books lately: Connie Willis's time-travel middle ages black death novel Doomsday Book, Jerome K. Jerome's 1890s fictionalized travelogue humor classic Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), and Willis's quasi-sequel to Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, a much funnier and less bleak time-travel novel set in the Victorian era, in which Jerome K. Jerome and his friends make a cameo appearance. You can see why they had to be read together.

Doomsday Book is Willis's second-most emotionally devastating book (Lincoln's Dreams is the first most devastating), a book about pandemics and death and sorrow, but also about the importance of helping your fellow humans even when there's no real hope of success, or even survival. While reading that book, about a flu pandemic in the future and the black plague in the past, everyone around me came down with a cold and I saw way more rats down by the railroad tracks than usual.

After that, Three Men in a Boat was a lovely palate cleanser: a book where the stakes are much lower, where the worst thing that happens is people falling into the river and losing their hats, and where the humor still feels as fresh as if it were written yesterday instead of over a century ago. It's been one of my favorite books for over twenty years and it never fails to delight me, and you can go grab a free ebook of it over at Project Gutenburg. (Be warned: like many books of its era, it's got some sexism and racism issues.)

I'm about halfway through Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog right now. It's one of my favorite of her novels in her romantic comedy mode, hilarious and refreshing and sweet and absurd, with subtle jokes and overt slapstick both, and I laugh aloud every few pages. I haven't read it in over a decade, so I've forgotten enough details for it to all be fresh again. You could do worse than to follow my reading order here; you might also add Willis's collection Fire Watch, which includes some stories set in the same time-travel universe. Her later duology Blackout/All Clear is set in that milieu too.
Visit Tim Pratt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked series from Tor Teen. Her novels have been finalists for the Nebula and Norton awards.

Her latest novel is Seriously Hexed.

Recently I asked Connolly about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been catching up on a bunch of books by friends recently, so I’d love to mention a couple of those!

Jade City by Fonda Lee comes out this month as well, and I’ll share the blurb I sent in for it: “A sweeping saga of ambition, loyalty, and family in a gritty, densely-imagined island city. Fonda Lee explores the tension between what is owed to family, country, and yourself in a high-stakes, high-octane game of power and control.” Mix in magic, kung fu, and the Godfather and you’ve got this book. But Fonda has, like a hundred blurbs on this book already, all talking about how great it is. Go check it out.

Firebug by Lish McBride – There are four books set in Lish’s Pyromantic universe, and now that I’ve read this one, I’m looking forward to the rest! Ava can start fires with her mind, which makes her very deadly—and very valuable, to some very bad people. The characters are funny, snarky, and delightful. Lish and I had a great time recently discovering that we had some similar elements in our books, and I really think that if you enjoy the Seriously Wicked series as an example of magical, funny, younger YA, you would enjoy this older YA series as well. Looking forward to devouring these!
Visit Tina Connolly's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Seriously Wicked.

The Page 69 Test: Seriously Wicked.

The Page 69 Test: Seriously Shifted.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cherise Wolas

Cherise Wolas is a writer, lawyer, and film producer. She received a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a JD from Loyola Law School.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is her debut novel.

Recently I asked Wolas about what she was reading. Her reply:
I think I’ve read every day of my life since I was five. Although I dip into nonfiction occasionally, my lust is for gorgeously deep, beautifully written, powerful novels that open up new worlds, present unexpected and original truths, peopled with complex, multi-faceted characters who defy easy categorization, the way people are in real life. I adore novels that get me thinking, about the world of the novel, of the world beyond the novel, and of my own work. I adore novels where the words sparkle like gems, where the sentences are jewels, where enormous care has been taken, not only with the story, but in the telling of that story.

Right now, I’m rounding toward the finish line of Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. Despite years of education and my own dedicated reading, I’d never read him. He dropped into my life unexpectedly while I was watching a movie in which a character pulls a copy of Buddenbrooks from his ex-wife’s bookshelf. Nothing more is said about the book, but something clicked for me. The movie didn’t hold my attention, but I will always think of it fondly because it brought me to Thomas Mann.

Having just published my first novel, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, it felt like a serendipitous symmetry when I learned that Buddenbrooks was Mann’s first novel.

It is a story that portrays the lives, loves, loyalties, masked and unmasked desires, and the values, morals, and mores of four generations of a wealthy north German merchant family. Presented as a family saga, it delves into the conflicts that arise from family ties, from pride of position, from failed love, from the limitations that existed even for the well-born in German bourgeois life. It is an intimate portrait of characters the reader comes to know well. Happiness, that elusive quality, bleeds out of this family as the years pass, and it is heartbreaking to know they are aware both of this bleeding and their inability to staunch it. The time period encompassed is from 1835 to 1877, and I imagine the groaning of anyone reading this. But the story and the writing are as current, as modern, as anything being written today.

Mann’s narrative is masterful, often ironic, incredibly rich in details, and cinematic. He handles his characters with a clear-eyed approach that permits us to see them fully and to understand their myriad, often competing, aims. This book portrays drama the way I understand drama—small dramas that create or undo lives.

As I read Buddenbrooks, I have been debating a couple of things: Would this masterpiece, if written by a woman today, and published now, be sloughed off for inhabiting so thoroughly the realm of the domestic, deemed unimportant? I think it’s more likely than not. Recently, there have been some long books written by men about the domestic, books lauded, applauded, and awarded, and it saddens me to realize that had those same books been written by women, they likely would not have enjoyed such rapturous commendations. Second, I’ve been wondering what if Thomas Mann submitted Buddenbrooks to his agent and publisher today? Would he be told It’s too long. Where is the big betrayal? Where is the sex appeal? Please go back and cut, cut, cut. Very possibly. And yet, it’s exactly the length it should be, and reads faster than any thriller I’ve read in the last ten years. This book is, wonderfully, and strangely, a kind of thriller, a sort of detective novel, a biography, a memoir, a roman a clef, a bildungsroman. It is a rare sort of juicy tale.

And as Mann brilliantly culls, tills, and cultivates the domestic, we are privy to numerous betrayals, deep disappointments, longings for real love, for place, for serenity, for hope for the future. Thomas Mann pulled open the heavy curtains in those large rooms in those large houses in that unnamed German town and 116 years after it was first published in 1901, the impact of his novel still stunningly brings us into an entirely fascinating and utterly political world. Not all that different from our world today.

I already have my copy of Mann’s The Magic Mountain on my nightstand.
Visit Cherise Wolas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lynne Constantine

Lynne Constantine is part of the duo writing as Liv Constantine, author of The Last Mrs. Parrish: A Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually have a few books going at a time: one or two non-fictions (one usually pertaining to writing craft), and a novel. Currently, I’m reading Emma in the Night, a psychological thriller written by Wendy Walker, an author who also lives in Connecticut. I enjoy reading fiction in all genres, but lately have focused more on psychological thrillers since that’s what I write. One reason is that I believe it’s important to know what others in your genre are writing. The other reason is that I’m I firm believer in supporting other authors. I met Wendy at a recent book event at the Northshire Bookstore in Vermont. After hearing about her pitch to the audience, I was sold as well. There were five other authors there and we all bought each other’s books. I have a special bookcase dedicated to books written by friends. Happily, that number grows every day, whether it’s authors I know from conferences, book signings, or have met through social media.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is the non-fiction book that is sitting on my desk now. I’ve heard Donald speak at conferences and have been impressed by his command of story and how to make the words convey feeling to the reader. This one I’m taking slow, savoring each chapter and letting the lessons resonate with me. My writing mentor used to joke that I have a book addiction, especially to craft books. I’m more selective these days, but I still can’t resist checking out a book whose title speaks to me.
Visit Liv Constantine's website and Lynne Constantine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Lynne Constantine & Greyson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jake Burt

Jake Burt teaches the fifth grade in Connecticut.

The newly released Greetings from Witness Protection! is his fiction debut.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Burt's reply:
Like most authors, I have a TBR pile that's in danger of toppling over and crushing me; if nobody hears from me in a few weeks, look under the mound of kidlit in my basement. I know it's a wonderful problem to have, and it's one I frequently exacerbate by interrupting the natural progression whenever a book by a favorite author comes out. That's what just happened to me - a gigantic meteor slammed into my good readerly intentions, forcing me to put everything else on hold until I finished Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage.

Like so many readers, I fell in love with Lyra Belacqua from the first pages of The Golden Compass, and I've harbored as vested an interest in her well being as one can for a fictional character ever since. I named my cat after her. I tried to name my daughter after her, but my wife nixed it. So you can well imagine the voracity with which I devoured Philip Pullman's newest work. In doing so, I found it messy, meandering, and stunningly gorgeous. I cried multiple times, and felt that glorious constriction of the chest whenever Lyra, here in infancy, was in danger. That Pullman could have that effect on me, even though I already knew Lyra's fate as surely as I know anything, is a testament to the world he's created and the characters he's populated it with.

La Belle Sauvage is masterful, and I'm contemplating reading it again, even though that's not fair to Oddity by Sarah Cannon.

I'm fortunate to get ARCs of MG fiction from other friends on the author circuit, and Sarah's debut novel is one I've enjoyed so far. The strange little town in New Mexico she's concocted throws curveballs at you every few sentences (the story begins with fifth grade students facing down a leap of leopards in the gym, all as part of a school-sanctioned safety drill...), and though it's a lot for my semi-calcified brain to absorb, I'm certain that the far more elastic imaginations of her target audience will eat up Ada's adventures.

Up next after Oddity on the ol' pile are Cat Valente's The Glass Town Game and F.C. Yee's The Epic Crush of Genie Lo...unless, of course, I can't help but read La Belle Sauvage again...
Visit Jake Burt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Greetings from Witness Protection!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Valerie Constantine

Valerie Constantine is part of the duo writing as Liv Constantine, author of The Last Mrs. Parrish: A Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually have a few books going at the same time and always make at least one of them non-fiction. I just finished Year of the Fat Night: The Falstaff Diaries by stage actor Antony Sher. It is the recounting of the year he spent preparing for the role of Falstaff for the stage production of Henry IV Parts I and 2 for the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. These are two of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and I also had the chance to see Sher perform Falstaff in Part 2 last year, so that made the book even more enjoyable.

Also on my bed stand is Karin Slaughter’s newest release The Good Daughter. I’m half way through and, as always, impressed with her writing, her knowledge and her literary allusions. I think she is one of the finest authors writing in the thriller genre.

The other book, passed along to me by my husband, is Five Days in London: May 1940 by John Lukacs. This is an account of the days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 when the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue the war. The tense talks over these hours show a picture of a new and bull headed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, whose courage and determination changed the course of history. I do love reading about men and women who have impacted our world so powerfully for good.
Visit Liv Constantine's website and Valerie Constantine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Valerie Constantine & Zorba.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 13, 2017

Kali Wallace

Kali Wallace, for most of her life, was going to be a scientist when she grew up. She studied geology in college, partly because she could get course credit for hiking and camping, and eventually earned a PhD in geophysics researching earthquakes in India and the Himalayas. Only after she had her shiny new doctorate in hand did she admit that she loved inventing imaginary worlds as much as she liked exploring the real one.

Wallace's new novel is The Memory Trees.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
These days I find myself usually reading more than one book at a time, most often some thick, meaty nonfiction that takes me weeks to finish alongside several pieces of fiction.

On the fiction side of things, I just finished a pair of novellas by Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow. In the late 19th century, the U.S. government came up with a plan to import hippopotamuses into Louisiana swamps to breed for meat. The plan was real, but it was never carried out in real life. In a stunning example of "I am so jealous I didn't think of that" creativity, Gailey imagines that the infamous and utterly terrible Hippo Plan was enacted, and the result is a fast-paced, rollicking, wild west-by-way-of-the-deep south kind of historical adventure tale full of greed and vengeance and a little bit of romance, with a diverse cast of likeably shady characters led by--obviously--a dashing hippo wrangler. Obviously. Who else?

Both novellas are delightful, fun, a bit silly but still heartfelt, and have succeeded in giving me a deeply entrenched fear of being killed by a rampaging feral hippopotamus.

On the nonfiction side, I've reading about an altogether different sort of massive mammal and its place in American history: Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin. Learning about the history of whaling is one of my stranger habits, the sort of habit I refer to as "research" in polite company, but really I do just because it's fascinating. As of right now I've only just begun the book, so we're still at the stage of early American colonies having legal fights over who has the right to beached whales, but I know that things are going to get rather more exciting--and a great deal more brutal--very soon.
Visit Kali Wallace's website.

--Marshal Zeringue