Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Alyssa Palombo

Alyssa Palombo is a writer living and working in Buffalo, NY. She attended Canisius College in Buffalo, where she majored in English and creative writing with a minor in music. She is a classically trained mezzo-soprano who also dabbles in playing piano. When not writing, Palombo can usually be found reading, hanging out and laughing way too hard at nonsensical inside jokes with friends, traveling (or dreaming of her next travel destination), at a concert, or planning for next Halloween. She is a metalhead and a self-proclaimed French fry connoisseur. She also owns way too many hoodies, pairs of sunglasses, and pajamas, but never enough books.

Palombo is the author of three historical novels, The Violinist of Venice, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

Recently I asked Palombo about what she was reading. Her reply:
Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton: This book is the perfect eerie, atmospheric fall read. The novel is set in the fictional village of Three Graces, where long ago a witch made a pact with the devil, and forever after no sickness or evil or misfortune shall befall anyone in the village – so long as every few years a boy is sacrificed to the devil in the forest. The plot centers on three friends: Rhun, the likely next “saint”; Arthur, who wants nothing more than to become a saint and prove himself; and Mairwen, daughter of the village’s witch. When a sacrifice is demanded early, things in Three Graces begin to take an odd turn. I’m not quite halfway through this one yet, but I’m just loving it so far. Gratton sucks you right in with her otherworldly plot and setting, and with her lovely writing.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu: This historical horror novel tells the story of the infamous Donner party. I’m only about halfway through, and things have been dark and are getting darker. This book has that thing that I always love in a horror novel – a pervasive, palpable dread right from page one. There are hints that there is going to be a supernatural element to the Donner party’s fate – if Sam and Dean Winchester have taught me anything, I’m guessing that there are wendigoes involved here.
Visit Alyssa Palombo's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 29, 2018

Catherine Reef

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef's latest young adult biography is Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently read Mark Ford’s Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner, which opens with an incident worthy of Mary Shelley. It seems that when Hardy died, in 1928, there was a tussle over his body. Hardy had requested burial in Stinsford Churchyard, alongside his rural Dorset family and his first wife, Emma Gifford Hardy. But his literary executor successfully lobbied for a resting place in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, a tribute that Florence Dugdale Hardy, the writer’s widow, was inclined to accept. To act in keeping with Hardy’s wishes yet allow the nation to honor him in its manner most fitting, a compromise was reached: the writer’s heart was removed from his chest and buried at Stinsford; the rest of his body was then cremated and deposited at Poets’ Corner.

Ford had my attention, and he held it to the end, as he used the lenses of biography and criticism to reveal a way of looking at Thomas Hardy. Ford’s Hardy was someone with rural, working-class roots who was changed by exposure to city life.

The son of a builder, Hardy left Dorset and went to London in 1862, at twenty-one, to be an architect’s apprentice. In his off hours he adhered to a rigorous program of self-education, visiting galleries and museums, reading demanding texts, attending concerts and the theater, and writing poetry. He had literary ambitions, but after failing to find success as a poet, in 1867 he returned to Dorset, determined to give up his dream and become the architect he had been trained to be. With Emma’s encouragement, however, he tried novel writing and began to make a name for himself. In future years he regularly stayed in London for months at a time, although Dorset remained his base. He wrote as a man not fully at home in either environment, who observed both settings with the eye of an outsider.

Ford pointed out instances of the city’s encroachment on country life in the novels for which Hardy is famous. An example that comes to mind is the growing presence in the rural landscape of the railroad in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Hardy described the rail line extending its “steam feeler to this point three or four times a day,” like some tentacled creature. The fictional rural Wessex was no longer untouched and unspoiled.

Ford devoted at least as much space to Hardy’s lesser-known novels as he did to the famous ones. These are books set partly in London, such as The Hand of Ethelberta, which follows the romantic fortunes of Ethelberta Chickering, who finds success as a storyteller in London while concealing her background as a Wessex girl and the daughter of a butler. In another, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Hardy created a character much like himself, an architect’s assistant recently arrived in London from the country.

Hardy returned to his poetry in old age. I am not as familiar with his poems as I would like to be, so I was happy that Ford looked closely at so many of them. One that has stayed with me is “Coming Up Oxford Street, Evening.” In this early poem Hardy presents an indifferent universe, one in which the sun shines impartially and beautifully on windows and their brass hardware, door panels, bottles in a chemist’s shop, and “the laughing eyes and teeth / Of ladies who rouge and whiten.” The same sun
dazzles the pupils of one who walks west,
A city-clerk, with eyesight not the best,
Who sees no escape to the very verge of his days
From the rut of Oxford Street into open ways.
The city-clerk may have mirrored the young Hardy, a lonely transplant in London.

Ford left me wanting to immerse myself in Hardy’s body of work—if only I had nothing else to do! Will I have the same feeling about Joyce when I finish Richard Ellmann’s book on him?

I have good reasons to reread Ellmann’s James Joyce, one of the great literary biographies of my lifetime. Since first reading it in the 1990s, I have stayed in Dublin and Paris, the cities that were most formative for Joyce the writer. I have become a literary biographer myself; my interests and views have evolved; and I hope I have learned from experience. I am bound to take different things away from Ellmann’s Joyce this time, as I would with any good book, because I am not the same reader.

Right now I am about 130 pages in, and Joyce is twenty-one (the age at which Hardy went to London), having grown up in a large family whose finances are precarious, and having done as well in school and college as he cared to. His plan to study medicine, first in Dublin and then in Paris, with the goal of pursuing the dual careers of physician and writer, has come to nothing. He is scraping by in Paris, economizing in every way that he can as he reads in the National Library and submits reviews to journals in England and Ireland.

It is fun to watch Joyce’s character take shape. Even on second reading, his youthful arrogance surprises: he has great respect for his own literary talent and potential, although he has written very little, and he thinks nothing of disparaging established writers such as Yeats and Lady Gregory, who have gone out of their way to help him. (It is interesting that they have spotted something unusual in him too.) I shake my head, though, as he mails self-pitying letters to his mother, worrying her to the point that she pawns her meager possessions to send him small amounts of cash. Of course, I know—and you know—that he will take his place among the greats, although to succeed he will need to distance himself from Ireland and his family.

Ellmann used a generous hand when adding footnotes to his book. They enrich the text with anecdotes that go beyond the scope of the narrative and references to Joyce’s oeuvre, pointing out occurrences in novels and stories that were inspired by real events. I savor these notes and think of them as the currants in this hefty loaf of Irish soda bread.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 99 Test: Mary Shelley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Eliot Peper

Eliot Peper is a novelist based in Oakland, CA.

He writes fast-paced, deeply-researched novels with diverse casts that explore the intersection of technology and society. He is the author of Bandwidth, Borderless, Cumulus, True Blue, Neon Fever Dream, and The Uncommon Series.

Recently I asked Peper about what he was reading. His reply:
Last week, I was lucky enough to participate on a panel at New York Comic Con about politics in speculative fiction. Among the other panelists was the estimable Robert Jackson Bennett, whose latest novel I read and loved. Foundryside is a thought-provoking epic fantasy starring a scrappy thief-cum-spy set in a world where items can be "scrived" to think for themselves and bend natural laws. Packed with intrigue and adventure, one thing in particular really resonated with me: The role scriving plays in this alternate reality is an elegant analogy to how software defines so many aspects of our own lives, and the four merchant houses that dominate this fictional society map closely to the tech monopolies that are accruing more and more power every day.
Visit Eliot Peper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Daniel Torday

Daniel Torday is the author of the novel The Last Flight of Poxl West, a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, and an International Dublin Literary Award nominee. Torday's work has appeared in The New York Times, NPR, The Paris Review Daily and Tin House, and has been honored in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays series. A two-time National Jewish Book Awardee and winner the 2017 Sami Rohr Choice Prize, he is Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College.

Torday's second novel, Boomer1, is out now from St. Martin's Press.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Torday's reply:
I'm plagued by an affliction where I always have about six books going at the same time-- I'll never lose the excitement of cracking a new novel or story collection, and I'll never underestimate how slowly a good book deserves to be read.

So I'm currently 400pp into The Magic Mountain, and hope to finish while there are still coral reefs. I've read about half the stories in Lauren Groff's Florida, the best of which are as good as it gets-- oh, man, one called "Snake Stories" might be the best story I've read all year. I'm a huge Deborah Eisenberg fan, so the publication of Your Duck Is My Duck for me is like a new Bon Iver record dropping. She had me on stage a couple years ago to read one of the voices from it and it was a life highlight.

Oh, and I'm on leave from teaching this year so one of my indulgent projects is to become a Joseph Conrad completist-- I gobbled up Maya Jasanoff's beautiful new-ish book on him called The Dawn Watch a couple months back. Now I'm about half through Nostromo, which is the most challenging book I've read in a long time, and also the most beautiful in many ways. Finally, I've always got at least one book of poetry going-- I'm loving Iain Haley Pollock's second book, Ghost, Like a Place. All the Philadelphia therein is so movingly portrayed...
Visit Daniel Torday's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Zachary J. Lechner

Zachary J. Lechner teaches history at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia. His book The South of the Mind: American Imaginings of White Southernness, 1960-1980, was published by the University of Georgia Press in September 2018.

Recently I asked Lechner about what he was reading. His reply:
Although my research specialization requires that most of my reading pertain to US history, I try to branch out into other areas, when possible, to keep my mind stimulated and to pick up writing techniques from other authors, including novelists.

Currently, I’m on a bit of a Joan Didion kick, inspired by my recent viewing of the 2017 Netflix documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. I just finished reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), Didion’s classic collection of 1960s essays, many of which, in some way, detail the unraveling state of American society. The book’s centerpiece, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” first published in the Saturday Evening Post in September 1968, remains a stunning, fly-on-the-wall account of the San Francisco hippie scene as its initial heady idealism devolved into drug-fueled paranoia and ugliness. Didion’s image of a five-year-old child, lips coated with white lipstick, tripping on acid can still shock readers (as it did me) more than 50 years later. Even when Didion places herself in the middle of her essays, which occurs frequently, she remains somewhat aloof, a cool observer taking it all in from a critical distance. She’s alternately intrigued and repelled—often at the same time—by the various subcultures, from Las Vegas quickie wedding parties to a Communist Party USA splinter group, that she encounters.

I just started Didion’s Play It as It Lays, her 1970 novel about a former model and actress who ends up in a mental institution. (Didion is obviously captivated by “things fall[ing] apart,” as a Yeats poem she quotes at the beginning of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” puts it.) Although I’m only twenty pages in, I’m impressed by the author’s ability to say so much with so little. Her writing is deceptively simple. In fact, every word is there for a reason. I can only imagine how much she labored over this book.

In between Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Play It as It Lays, I read historian Mark R. Cheathem’s The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson (2018). I happened to receive a free copy, and I’m fascinated by the politics of the Jacksonian period. Cheathem sees the birth of modern political campaigning emerging gradually during the presidential elections between 1824 and 1840. Where Cheathem’s somewhat textbook-like account excels is in its analysis of the various aspects of the era’s shifting “cultural politics”—material culture, political music, print culture, auxiliary organizations, and so on—that, along with an increasingly sizable electorate, led to an astounding 80 percent voter turnout in the election of 1840. I found Cheathem’s discussion of that contest between incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig challenger William Henry Harrison revelatory, especially the book’s explanation of the Whigs’ sophisticated electioneering techniques.

Soon, I’ll jump back into background reading for my current research project (Jimmy Carter’s cultural and political iconography) with historian Nancy Mitchell’s Jimmy Carter in Africa: Race and the Cold War (2016). I’ve heard good things about it.
Learn more about The South of the Mind at the University of Georgia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Sarah McCoy

Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables; The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post, Read It Forward, Writer Unboxed, and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilbert, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Recently I asked McCoy about what she was reading. Her reply:
Currently, I’m reading Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose. It's just the kind of historical fiction I love: sumptuous details, rich characters, imaginatively playful, and yet historically precise. It takes an adept author to balance all those elements when writing about real people, places, and events—and Rose does it exquisitely. In this case, she’s writing about Louis Comfort Tiffany and his estate. I’m completely enraptured. There’s an undercurrent of energy in this novel that has me quickly flipping pages.
Visit Sarah McCoy’s website, Facebook page, Instagram page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Sarah McCoy and Gilbert.

The Page 69 Test: Marilla of Green Gables.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 22, 2018

Ann Pearlman

Ann Pearlman has won vast critical and commercial success for her fiction and nonfiction books. Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair With Your Spouse garnered the attention of the Oprah Winfrey Show and was featured on many other talk shows. Her memoir, Infidelity, was nominated for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and made into a Lifetime movie by Lionsgate. Inside the Crips, with a foreword by Ice T, took readers into the life of a Crip gang member and the California Prison system. Her first novel, The Christmas Cookie Club, became an international bestseller, spawning cookie exchanges and a follow-up cookbook. A Gift for My Sister won first place in the Sharp Writ Book Awards, 2013. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI.

Recently I asked Pearlman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read three novels back-to-back examining romantic relationships in which one partner was significantly younger than the other. Although I have been involved with much older lovers and much younger lovers, I had not planned to embark on mini research into novels about May- September romances. Rather, I choose each book for reasons unrelated to romance and ended perplexed they had such a similar plot focus.

The first was Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, which was hailed as an unforgettable novel about luck, love and the entwining of life and art. I have been perennially fascinated by these topics, which have been themes in several of my novels. Philip Roth inspired one of the characters and I chose to read Asymmetry partly because of my appreciation of his writing. The first third of the novel focuses on the love affair of a young woman and her lover who is forty plus years older and a famous writer. The final third is an interview of that same lover about his writing.

Less, the second novel, won the Pulitzer and I wanted to familiarize myself with Andrew Sean Greer’s writing. Plus I was intrigued that it concerned a writer turning 50 reviewing his life and career while hoping across the world from one literary event to another. However, his love life is bracketed first by a relationship with a much older man (his first love) and more recently a much younger man (his most recent love). Much driving his voyage and the plot was spurred by these relationships and exploring the different vantage points.

I chose Julian Barnes’ The Only Story because I loved The Sense of an Ending. In this novel, the love affair is between a nineteen year old man and a 40 something married woman which, as the title implies, ends up informing the story of his life, but not especially happily.

Three books coincidently had similar, atypical plot elements of September-May relationships of various configurations. I wondered at the coincidence and asked myself if there’s a “message from the universe” in the happenstance?

In the first two books, the underlying friendship and respect continue regardless of the age difference, or personality issues ending the lovership. In the Barnes’ book, the mental health issues of the older woman end up tweaking her young lover’s life in such a way that this first relationship remains his only story. His love and concern for her trap him so he did not form another significant relationship. He becomes the parental figure. Each novel presented windows to different life experiences on the same theme with occasional truths. The assumption that the older partner was “parental” did not hold true.

So did I love all these books? No. I was entertained by them, each in a different way, and I was exposed to different lives and minds which is a hallmark of a good novel. The language in all three sang and offered profound sentences and prose exhilaration. Enough of a reason to read, I think.

But what’s the take away about lovers of vastly different ages? As to be expected, there really isn’t any universal. Except the obvious that ends up being hallmark in all love: the importance of friendship, caring, and acceptance. And the enormous sadness of loss.
Visit Ann Pearlman's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Gift for My Sister.

My Book, The Movie: A Gift for My Sister.

The Page 99 Test: Infidelity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 20, 2018

D. B. Jackson

D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Children, is the first volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. The book has just been released by Angry Robot Books. The second volume, Time’s Demon, will be released in May 2019.

As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood, and, most recently, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy.

He is also currently working on a tie-in project with the History Channel. Coe has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages.

He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

Recently I asked Coe about what he was reading. His reply:
My list of recent reads is a little bit odd, and at the same time rather typical for someone in my profession. Writers read for so many different reasons that we often wind up jumping among a fairly eclectic selection of books, articles, and stories.

This summer, I taught at a writing workshop, and spent much of the week talking with fellow instructors about books, craft, etc. During that time I realized that there were (and still are) some holes in my reading history that needed filling. Upon returning from the conference, I immediately dove into Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which was incredibly powerful. Such gorgeous prose and complex, nuanced storytelling. It should be required reading for any survey of American literature.

I then read through part of Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories, which was also deeply affecting (I have every intention of going back to it, but have had other things to read as well). Stylistically she is a very different writer from Morrison, and yet there are parallels between their works, in the subject matter as well as in the frankness with which they approach issues of Southern life, race, class, and gender.

And I am currently reading Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, another title mentioned in conversations at the workshop. To be honest, I’m not sure what I think of this one. I know he was a genius, and I can appreciate the ambition of this work in particular. But right now I’m having a hard time getting past the heavy-handedness of his writing and narrative. Jury’s out on this one. That probably marks me as a philistine, but so be it.

Okay, that’s one set of readings. I have also just finished re-reading the first three Earthsea novels by Ursula K. Le Guin: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. I read these for a piece I recently published at BlackGate.com – a continuation of my semi-regular column, “Books and Craft.” Le Guin is one of my favorite writers, and these books were particularly important to me early in my life. The “Books and Craft” articles focus on the writing elements of classic genre books that contribute to their greatness, and I wanted to write about these novels because the world I created for my new series, which consists of islands, seas, and archipelagos, is an homage to Earthsea.

And finally, I’m a subscriber to The New Yorker, and I try hard to keep up with my subscription – no small feat given how rich each issue can be. I have recently read articles about politics, business innovation, and cultural trends, about the secret lives of termites, about Mark Zuckerberg, and about the history of Christian Rock. I’ve read fiction and music reviews and book critiques and some laugh-out-loud humorous pieces. The New Yorker features some of the best investigative journalism being done anywhere. It always has at least one piece of original short fiction. And the cartoons are amazing. My mom, who died long ago, was a huge fan and in some small way I feel that reading the magazine keeps me connected to her.

And there it is. As I said, it’s an eclectic mix, and I think that variety helps my writing. I normally read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, and I’m certain I’ll return to those titles soon. The important thing for me is to keep my mind moving in new directions, so I’ll continue to read as widely as I can.
Visit D. B. Jackson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Thieftaker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Laird Hunt

Laird Hunt's novels include Neverhome, a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice selection, an IndieNext selection, winner of the Grand Prix de Litterature Americaine and The Bridge prize, and a finalist for the Prix Femina Etranger.

Hunt's new novel is In the House in the Dark of the Woods.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hunt's reply:
While I always have multiple books on my nightstand (I mostly read in bed) the book that is preoccupying me with the most insistence is the new Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories edited by Jay Rubin and with an introduction, and a couple of fine stories, by Haruki Murakami. For some years now I have been closely following the work of Japan’s new wave of extraordinary fictioneers – like Mieko Kawakami, Tomoyuki Hoshino, Tomoka Shibasaki and Hideo Furukawa – largely through the yearly appearance of the journal Monkey Business and I have been pleased to find some of them here in company with the aforementioned Murakami, the incomparable Yoko Ogawa, Motoyuki Shibata (who is also a world-class translator of American fiction into Japanese) and the legendary Ryonsuke Akutagawa. Japanese fiction is, quite simply, on fire. I can’t recommend this fresh gathering of it strongly enough.
Visit Laird Hunt's Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: In the House in the Dark of the Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

S.K. Perry

S. K. Perry was longlisted for London’s Young Poet Laureate in 2013 and is the author of the poetry collection Curious Hands: 24 Hours in Soho. She lives in London.

Let Me Be Like Water is her first novel.

Recently I asked Perry about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've just started a PhD and - as well as trying to write a new novel - my research will centre on depictions of sex in contemporary, anglophone, fiction. This means I'm currently on the lookout for amazing novels that also have cracking sex scenes... and I'm particularly interested in fictional depictions of queer sex, and sex that is written within a feminist framework; I guess part of my research will be to work out exactly what I mean by that. At the moment I'm halfway through both Sally Rooney's new novel Normal People, and A Safe Girl To Love by Casey Plett, a collection of short stories that explore trans-womanhood. From what I've read so far, Plett's stories oscillate between archetypal coming-of-age tropes, and bold explorations of trauma and alienation; it's so clever how they tread this duality and I'm really loving it. I've been really enjoying reading short stories lately and Miranda July's collection No One Belongs Here More Than You was such a wonderful, weird read with plenty of interesting explorations of sexuality too. I read it during a week away at the sea; it was my kind of holiday read!

I'm also reading In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin. I knew Marie a bit, and it's been strange revisiting her courage and grit through reading the book. I love non-fiction; I try and read as much as I do fiction, but I end up wanting to take it all in and I read it very slowly. I also love poetry and always have a huge stack of poetry books on my bedside table. I am so excited for the release of Belinda Zhawi's poetry pamphlet Small Inheritances next month; she is such a gorgeous lyric writer who will do great things. Right now I'm reading Wayne Holloway-Smith's collection Alarum, which has brought me to tears a few times, in particular in its exploration of eating disorders and depression. Sometimes the use of metaphor is so apt and close that it's breathtakingly beautiful, at the same time as describing something awful and violent really accurately. It's a masterclass in poetic language.
Visit S.K. Perry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2018

Matthew Farrell

Matthew Farrell lives just outside of New York City in the Hudson Valley with his wife and two daughters.

His new thriller is What Have You Done.

Recently I asked Farrell about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers and people. Jen is so nice to meet and talk with, and to read her shady characters with their diabolical plans is just so different than the person she is, which proves her talent. I'm always drawn to the psychological thriller first. I like reading about the dark side of characters in the setting of a police investigation. I feel it makes the pace of the story that much tighter because people are trying to get away with their crimes, and the police are closing in.

I also enjoy Randall Silvis, Mark Edwards, Robert Dugoni, Eric Rickstad, Lisa Scottoline and so many others. These authors are great examples of what I call today's psychological thriller with that police element that I love so much.
Visit Matthew Farrell's website.

My Book, The Movie: What Have You Done.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Mitchell Hogan

When he was eleven, Mitchell Hogan received The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and a love of fantasy novels was born. He spent the next ten years reading, rolling dice, and playing computer games, with some school and university thrown in. Along the way he accumulated numerous bookcases’ worth of fantasy and sci-fi novels and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. For ten years he put off his dream of writing; then he quit his job and wrote A Crucible of Souls. He now writes full-time and is eternally grateful to the readers who took a chance on an unknown self-published author. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife, Angela, and his daughters, Isabelle and Charlotte.

Hogan's new novel is Shadow of the Exile.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hogan's reply:
I'm currently reading Blackwing by Ed McDonald and very much enjoying it. It is grim though, and may not be to everyone's taste.

Major player motivations (the Deep Kings and the 'wizards', both with seemingly god-like powers) are generally unknown (apart from survival), and the protagonist is surprisingly likable for someone who has many unlikable traits. The story is quite dark and gritty, which some readers might be weary of by now, but I haven't read too many 'grimdark' novels so I don’t have grimdark-fatigue (which is a thing, apparently). The protagonist is Ryhalt Galharrow, who is definitely not a hero. He is a bounty hunter attempting to find a noblewoman, and his mission entails entering the 'Misery', a wasteland created by a great sorcery and filled with monsters. The Misery was created as a barrier to help keep the Deep Kings -- immortal sorcerers -- at bay, who are also afraid of the 'Engine' which is a destructive countermeasure to the Deep Kings and their armies of monsters. Events quickly escalate and spiral out of control, and Ryhalt must do his best as human civilization faces utter destruction. The author manages to add small details which provide a lot of backstory details and raise questions -- without spoiling the story, such as when the protagonist and his two companions encounter ghosts for the first time in the Misery.

I don't have a lot of reading time, so these days I'm very picky and abandon books if they're not hitting all the right notes for me. But with Blackwing I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the story.
Visit Mitchell Hogan's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Crucible of Souls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ellen Goodlett

Ellen Goodlett writes science fiction because otherwise she would spend her days plotting to take over the world. She figures that the former would benefit humanity ever so slightly more than the latter (which would be disastrous and involve a lot of cats in government positions). She lives in New York City with two demons masquerading as felines. She is a proud graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a Pittsburgh expat.

Goodlett's new novel is Rule.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I try to read a little bit of everything, not just any one genre. My personal favorites are young adult (of course, since that’s what I write), science fiction, and memoir. But recently I’ve been on a creative nonfiction kick, as well as trying to catch up on all the new and great titles coming out in the young adult world lately.

Since I read so much, I’ll try to stick to just the couple of titles that have really stuck out to me, of the ones I’ve read this year. When it comes to nonfiction, the one that blew my mind is Homo Deus. It’s not just the big, trippy concepts that the author, Yuval Noah Harari, is confronting, either (ideas like the future of humanity, the terrifying knife’s edge we’re balanced on when it comes to AI, and how we got to this point of civilization in the first place). What struck me more is the way Harari writes about mankind—with a bird’s-eye view, as though he’s somehow managed to zoom his focus out to the point where humanity is just a concept on paper, one he can easily trace and parse and dissect to understand it.

I envy his ability to write about complex, difficult topics with both a remote remove and deep empathy at the same time. He doesn’t dismiss or trivialize the struggles people face every day. Nor does he offer trite placations. He just assesses where we stand as a species, and all the good, bad and horrible things we’ve done to reach this point, and the good, bad and horrible things we may do in the future to maintain our notion of superiority as a species. It’s the kind of perspective that I think all writers strive for—the ability to tell a story as the narrator, removed from the characters, and yet to paint those characters in all their three-dimensional, messy truth.

When it comes to fiction, in the adult realm, I just finished The Shadowed Sun, the second book in the Dreamblood series, a duology from N.K. Jemisin. She’s undoubtedly one of the best SFF writers working today (as evidenced by all three of the novels in her Broken Earth trilogy winning the Hugo in each consecutive year, among many other awards), and I love all of her other novels. The Shadowed Sun, though, felt like her most complex yet. This whole series addresses cultures—how they’re built, how they define themselves, and how religious devotion to a god can unite that culture.

Funnily enough, in Homo Deus and its prequel Sapiens, Harari posits that humanity has reached the point where we are today because of our ability to build religious structures—to convince people to sacrifice their work, even their lives, to a greater being. Whether or not that being exists, it’s the sacrifice of individuals to the group that make us strong. Jemisin’s Dreamblood series feels like the fictional examination of that concept—among many others. She also touches on interracial relations, prejudices, how your culture affects your view of the world—and how interacting with or colliding with other cultures can change or broaden your perspective. That’s something I think we could all benefit from reading in more depth nowadays.

And finally, when it comes to the YA world right now—god, there are so many fantastic new books out this year, it’s hard to narrow it down to just the highlights. I want to talk about Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, and Claire LeGrand’s Furyborn, and Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl. But I think I’ve got to go with the one that kept me up all night, literally. I started reading Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give on a redeye flight home to the East Coast from Ireland. It was an 8-hour flight. I figured I’d read a few chapters, then get a few hours of sleep and land back home with minimum jetlag.

Instead, I kept flipping pages all night long, and as the plane landed, I was still devouring the final chapters. I finished it on my train back to where I’m staying from the airport, and even then, it was difficult to put the story down. I started to flip back through to reread, to catch everything I missed. This book touches on so many important things—police violence, code-switching and all the guilt that may accompany it, deep community and family bonds, and what happens when those two are at odds. It also touches on subtler, less “obvious” (at least to some people) forms of racism that abound in modern society. I wish this book were required reading at schools everywhere, because I think it’s exactly what America—and the world, really—needs to be reading right now. It’s a study in cultural heritage, in empathy, in finding your voice and using it, even in the face of impossible odds.
Visit Ellen Goodlett's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rule.

The Page 69 Test: Rule.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

S.A. Bodeen

S.A. Bodeen grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. She graduated from UW-River Falls with a degree in Secondary Ed., then joined the Peace Corps with her husband and went to Tanzania, East Africa. Her first picture book, Elizabeti's Doll (written as Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen) was published in 1998, followed by six other picture books. Her first YA novel written as S.A. Bodeen, the award-winning The Compound, came out from Feiwel and Friends in 2008. Her new novel is The Tomb. She has lived in eight states, two African countries, and an insular possession. Currently, she lives in the Midwest with her husband and two daughters.

Recently I asked Bodeen about what she was reading. Her reply:
One of the most recent novels I read was The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse, which just released a few weeks ago. Claustrophobic and tense, the story kept me guessing for quite a while as to what was going on. The characters wake up and find themselves trapped in a building with no exit, then the time shifts and they wake up again...and repeat. A combination of Groundhog Day and Memento, it was impossible to put down because I found myself as desperate as the characters to find out what was going on.

Another recent read was by the master himself, Stephen King. I’ve been a huge King fan since I was 15 and got my hands on The Stand. I tend to set aside time to read his books, because I know that once I start, I will become immersed in the world and not be able to stop reading. The Outsider was no different. King is so brilliant at handing you a group of strangers who then become allies in the fight against evil, and he makes you fall in love with them, no matter their faults. The camaraderie in this book was second to none, and my heart got broken a couple of times, as always. But that never seems to keep me from reading his next one…
Visit S.A. Bodeen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 8, 2018

Kathleen J. McInnis

Kathleen J. McInnis is a U.S. national security policy geek by trade, who happens to be moonlighting as a novelist. Or maybe it's the other way around?

Her new novel is The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon.

Recently I asked McInnis about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m going to begin this with a caveat: I am a national security analyst by trade, with a PhD in War Studies. So the vast majority of my writing so far has been nonfiction and analytic prose, which is definitely reflected in my reading. Yet in recent years, as the United States and the world have woken up to an era of geostrategic complexity that we’re only at the beginning of wrapping our brains around, I’ve turned to fiction and story to help me understand the world in a different, non-methodologically bound way. That’s one of the big reasons that I wrote The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon: to better understand and explain the often-wacky way we do national security. In other words, I’m trying to channel both the creative and analytic parts of my mind to figure out where we are as a country, and what we might do about it. And have fun while doing so.

To that end, what am I reading now? The proposal to establish a Space Force is pretty hot right now, and I’m trying to understand its historical antecedents. The last major Department of Defense (DoD) reorganization was just over 30 years ago, with the Goldwater-Nichols Act (1986) and the subsequent Nunn-Cohen amendment (1987). I’m once again digging into Victory on the Potomac by Jim Locher to understand why they felt they needed to reform DoD and why did it the way they did to see if it can shed any light on Space Force proposals.

I’m also reading John Lewis Gaddis’ On Grand Strategy. In it, he creates dialogues across history between key writers and philosophers to help illuminate different, enduring aspects of strategy and statecraft. It’s a wonderfully fresh and creative approach to a subject that has – rather strangely, in my view – become pretty dry and dusty over the years. Speaking of creativity, I’m once again thumbing through Charles Hill’s Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft and World Order. It’s an amazing book that uses great works of art and fiction from Shakespeare to Austen to Dickens as a prism to illuminate different aspects of strategy and statecraft.

The Heart of War is written from the perspective of a young woman entering the world of national security. So it’s been interesting to compare the experiences that Wendy Sherman shares in Not for the Faint of Heart with those of my own, those of the protagonist Dr. Heather Reilly, and those of other women that I know from the national security world. Her memoir juxtaposes her experience negotiating the Iran deal with other formative experiences in her life, urging readers – particularly women – to find their authenticity in what they do. It’s an inspiring read.

Finally, in terms of fiction, as I think through how to best tackle the next chapter of Heather’s story, I’m turning to some other book series that I think worked pretty well to see how they pulled it off. Even though The Heart of War is in a totally different genre, I have a soft spot for sci-fi and fantasy, so John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series scratches the itch for me in a lot of ways: it has likeable characters, it constantly keeps you guessing, and has amazing dialogue that keeps you engaged throughout. He also has a way of building worlds and scenes that make you feel like you’re there; it’s remarkable craftsmanship.
Visit Kathleen J. McInnis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Heart of War.

The Page 69 Test: The Heart of War.

--Marshal Zeringue