Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar Award and two-time Shamus Award nominee and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including the Ian Ludlow thrillers Killer Thriller and True Fiction, King City, The Walk, fifteen Monk mysteries, and the internationally bestselling Fox & O’Hare books (The Heist, The Chase, The Job, The Scam, and The Pursuit) cowritten with Janet Evanovich. He has also written and/or produced many TV shows, including Diagnosis Murder, SeaQuest, and Monk, and is the co-creator of the Hallmark movie series Mystery 101. As an international television consultant, he has advised networks and studios in Canada, France, Germany, Spain, China, Sweden, and the Netherlands on the creation, writing, and production of episodic television series.

Goldberg's new novel is Lost Hills.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I like to alternate my reading between newly released books in a variety of genres and stuff that was published decades ago. In the last couple of weeks, I've read Lou Berney's remarkable November Road, which works not only as a great crime novel, but also as pure literature. He beautifully captures both a time and a place... and even the smallest characters came alive as three-dimensional, unique, and memorable. I also like the deft balance of horror, humanity and humor. The novel deserves all the praise it has been getting.

I also read Alfred Harris' Baroni, a little-known crime novel from the 70s that was made into a French film in the 1980s. It starts off like a typical police procedural of its time, with some stiff writing and tired cliches, but it takes an unpredictable turn, becoming less about a homicide investigation than about the delightful, surprising, utterly original relationship that develops between the Columbo-esque cop and the killer he is pursuing...and about the other characters, also colorful, lost souls, in each of their lives. An unexpectedly heartwarming novel...with a satisfying final twist.

I also read a non-fiction book, the revised and expanded edition of The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, that discusses how products, building, websites, and just about everything we use in life are designed to match our practical, emotional, and physical needs. It was fascinating and entertaining.
Visit Lee Goldberg's website.

My Book, The Movie: Lost Hills.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Amber Cowie

Amber Cowie is a graduate of the University of Victoria and was short-listed for the 2017 Whistler Book Award. She lives in the mountains in a small West Coast town. Cowie is a mother of two, wife of one, and a novelist who enjoys skiing, running, and creating stories that make her browser search history highly suspicious.

Her novels are Rapid Falls and the newly released Raven Lane.

Recently I asked Cowie about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am very late to the party, but I recently picked up the first book in the Outlander series from my sister’s book shelf. I was in the mood for romance after diving into two astonishing, poignant works on death: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Diana Gabaldon did not disappoint. I am excited to go to bed every night and absolutely thrilled that I have so many more books to go!

Here’s the thing. I’m not a typical romance reader. I like dark books. The closest I’ve come to a love for romance was when I devoured Flowers in the Attic and the associated works by V.C. Andrews and anyone who has read those knows that the romance within them is not exactly savory. Or, um, legal. But Gabaldon has me hooked on the sumptuous Scottish settings and the love story which borders on Highlands erotica.

It’s fitting, as my last book Raven Lane contained several racy sex scenes and a character that I found deeply, unsettlingly attractive. I suppose there’s something in the air around here right now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see a man about a kilt.
Visit Amber Cowie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Rapid Falls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Emma Sloley

Emma Sloley began her career as a features editor at Harper’s BAZAAR Australia, where she worked for six years. In 2004, she and her husband made the move to New York. As a freelance travel writer in NYC, she has appeared in many US and international magazines, including Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, and New York magazine. She has also published fiction, short fiction, and creative nonfiction in literary publications such as Catapult, The Masters Review Anthology, and Yemassee Journal. Sloley's work has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she has received a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony, where she wrote her debut novel, Disaster’s Children. Today she divides her time between the United States, Mexico, and various airport lounges.

Recently I asked Sloley about what she was reading. Her reply:
Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett

I picked this novel up knowing very little about it and was instantly drawn into the intimate orbit of the family whose lives Haslett trace across several decades. Along with being an affecting story about love, mental illness, and the bonds and tragic legacies of family, I loved how Haslett draws his characters with such sympathy and heart, particularly the eldest son, Michael, whose heartbreaking attempts to shake off his inherited demons feel viscerally real. I really appreciate that authorial generosity, and I feel like all writers should strive for this. For such somber subject matter, it’s also surprisingly funny. I really loved this and looking forward to seeing what Haslett turns his hand to next.

Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

I’m at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire at the moment, so it seemed fitting I should read a masterwork from one of its most famous residents. Baldwin is such a towering literary figure and has influenced pretty much every brilliant author of the twenty-first century, especially those writing about race and sexuality. The novel, about a man torn between his desire for a woman and another man, was considered shocking at the time it was published (1956), and while the subject matter no longer feels transgressive, there is still something delightfully subversive about Baldwin’s prose, his ability to strip away artifice and opacity in favor of radical honesty.

Marlena, Julie Buntin

I’m only partway through this, but already enjoying the granular examination of a close friendship between two young women—one, a naïve suburban teenager; the other a wild, idiosyncratic outsider—that ends in tragedy. The story is told in two time frames, alternating between the months leading up to the titular character’s mysterious death and the present day, in which the protagonist is unexpectedly visited by a character closely linked to the tragedy. Both stylistically and in subject matter the novel reminds me of Emma Cline’s The Girls, a book I loved, so I’m keen to see where it goes.

Delicate Edible Birds, Lauren Groff

I’ve been a huge fan of Lauren Groff’s since reading Fates and Furies, and every time she publishes a short story it’s a cause for celebration —she’s one of the few contemporary writers who is as deft in the short form as she is in a novel. This was the first time I’d read one of her collections, and I came away dazzled by her rare ability to chart the course of an entire life on such a small canvas. The worlds depicted in many of these stories span years if not decades, an unusual and audacious choice given that most short story writers favor a compacted time frame. Groff is such a master at writing about women’s lives, both interior and public. She creates characters that feel utterly alive in all their flawed, complex glory.
Visit Emma Sloley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Eliza Nellums

Raised in the Detroit suburbs, Eliza Nellums now lives with her cat in Washington DC. She is a member of Bethesda Writer's Center as well as the Metro Wriders, a weekly critique group that meets in Dupont Circle.

Nellums's debut novel is All That's Bright and Gone.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger. For most of the book the pacing was slow and dreamlike, which I loved. There's a lot of pressure to add intensity and keep people on the edge of their seats, but this was such a gentle book about small town life along the lake in Minnesota. I came away totally inspired.

I'm half way through The Far Field, and I'm loving it - a lot of the story is set in Kashmir, a place I've never even been close to, and I'm so transported and absorbed by this (to me) totally new place. And the writing is brilliant.

I usually have a few books going at a time, so I'm just starting one I've been excited to read all year: Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi. I have only just gotten underway, but I am fascinated by other people's debut novels right now - they are all just so personal and intimate - these are often books that people have worked on for a lifetime, truly like you're holding someone's dearest wish in your hand.

Next I can't wait to dig into Zach Powers' First Cosmic Velocity, which is set in the Russian space program of the 1960s. I'm prepared for a strange and beautiful trip!
Visit Eliza Nellums's website.

The Page 69 Test: All That's Bright and Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Kylie Brant

Kylie Brant is the author of more than forty novels, including Cold Dark Places in the Cady Maddix series, the Circle of Evil Trilogy, and the stand-alone novels Pretty Girls Dancing and Deep as the Dead. A three-time RITA Award nominee, five-time RT Award finalist, and two-time Daphne du Maurier Award winner, Brant is a member of the Romance Writers of America, including its Kiss of Death mystery and suspense chapter; Novelists, Inc.; and the International Thriller Writers. Her books have been published in thirty-four countries and have been translated into eighteen languages.

Brant's new novel is Down the Darkest Road.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Brant's reply:
Two of my favorite recent reads share something in common: they feature young boys as main characters, both of whom channel Huck Finn.

First was John Hart’s The Last Child. I’m always drawn to Hart’s beautiful prose and this book was no exception. But it’s the characters that breathe life to the story, and Jonny Merrimon is one who stayed with me long after I turned the last page. The thirteen-year-old boy’s twin sister disappeared the year before. His father left shortly after that. Now Jonny is obsessed with finding both of them and he’s searching door-to-door, in some very unsavory parts of town.

Detective Clyde Hunt is also haunted by the case, and hasn’t given up finding the girl. He learns of Jonny’s quest and tries to dissuade the boy from the search. But Jonny ends up supplying Hunt with necessary information that eventually reveals the tragic truth.

William Kent Krueger’s depression-era This Tender Land is simply a treasure. Four boys run away from Lincoln School, a facility where Native American children are forcibly sent to be educated. They’re accompanied by two girls who are suddenly orphaned. The children’s canoe journey on the Mississippi is reminiscent of Finn’s, and so is the contrast of their innocence and too-wise observations about the people they meet. Woven through the plot is the grim reality of life in the Depression, and treatment of Native Americans by the government. But it’s ultimately uplifting, with threads of forgiveness and redemption.

Jane Harper’s Australian-based atmospheric novels intrigue by using setting as another character in the novel. The Lost Man is no different. The slow-unfolding of the story is back-dropped against the remote Queensland outback. It begins with the horrific discovery of Cameron Bright found dead on the outskirts of the family property. His death is a mystery—his car is found several miles away in working order; he left it without taking food or water, and he never radioed for help. It’s left to his brother Nathan to discover what happened. Harper is brilliant with the slow-reveal structure, and I just wasn’t sure where this story was going to end up. She managed to surprise me with the conclusion, the mark of a very talented writer.

I’ve become a fan of Megan Miranda’s, because she always has a small cast of characters and still manages to provide twists to the plot. The Last Houseguest was no different. The unreliable narrator, Avery, has recently lost her parents and best friend in separate tragic accidents. Her friend’s wealthy family, the Lomax’s, agree to hire Avery to take care of their string of resort cottages in a Maine beach town. Told in alternate time-lines, it shifts seamlessly between past and present, revealing clues and secrets at every turn. The slow-reveal format worked for me, as did the unexpected ending.
Read more about Kylie Brant's work at her website.

The Page 69 Test: Down the Darkest Road.

My Book, The Movie: Down the Darkest Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 19, 2019

L.C. Shaw

L.C. Shaw is the pen name of internationally bestselling author Lynne Constantine who also writes psychological thrillers with her sister as Liv Constantine. Her family wonder if she is actually a spy, and never knows what to call her. She has explored coral reefs all over the world, sunken wrecks in the South Pacific, and fallen in love with angelfish in the Caribbean. Constantine is a former marketing executive and has a Master’s in Business from Johns Hopkins University. When editing her work, she loves to procrastinate by spending time on social media, and when stuck on a plot twist has been known to run ideas by her Silver Labrador and Golden Retriever who wish she would stop working and play ball with them. Her work has been translated into 27 languages and is available in over 31 countries.

Shaw's new novel is The Network.

Recently I asked Constantine about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have more books on my nightstand than I can count, but I’m currently reading Save the Cat, which is purported to be the last book on screenwriting you will ever need. It’s actually the first one I’ve read, so I don’t think I’ll abide by that promise. I ordered it because I intend to write a screenplay for The Network, and whenever I embark on something new I always begin by reading a book about it.

In terms of fiction, I’m currently reading an advanced copy of Danielle Girard’s White Out which is a thriller that takes place in a small town in North Dakota and centers around a woman with amnesia who may or may not have killed someone. It has completely drawn me in and if I wasn’t in the middle of edits on The Network 2, I’d be finished with it already. I love fiction that has well-drawn and complex characters in addition to a fast-paced plot. This fits the bill perfectly.
Visit L. C. Shaw's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry is the bestselling author of over twenty novels, including the critically acclaimed Jane Whitefield series, Forty Thieves, and The Butcher’s Boy, which won the Edgar Award. He lives in Southern California.

Perry's new novel is A Small Town.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
For the past few months I've been reading lots of ARCs for fiction that was about to be published. I've found some experienced writers who have new books with a freshness and specialness to them.

One is Tim Maleeny's Boxing the Octopus. Maleeny can write funny when he wants to, and he always does. The book has a complex plot that would take a long time to recount. But it takes place almost entirely on Pier 39 in San Francisco, one of those places one swears he'll never visit again but finds himself there anyway. It features lots of dangerous and disreputable characters, including his series detective, Cape Weathers, and his fetching client Vera, a Russian brother and sister, a tourist-trap pirate, and an evil scientist. My favorite character is a giant octopus living in a display who is capable of deep, wise thought. The book came out in October from Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press.

A second was The Heartless, David Putnam's seventh Bruno Johnson novel. The attraction here is that David Putnam can tell a story. This time Johnson's daughter, Olivia is in the hands of a vicious criminal who wants to use this opportunity to cause pain to Johnson. Putnam has a way of reminding us that crime stories are about something serious. The innocent really should be protected from the amoral and predatory. He also knows a lot, having spent a full career as a cop. He even includes some parts of fighting that feel familiar to those of us who aren't great at it: "He reared back with his one loose leg and kicked me in the face. The light in the restaurant warbled like heat waves. My hands and arms started to lose their strength. My grip eased." The Heartless will be out early in 2020 from Oceanview.

A third book I cant resist mentioning, even though one of its authors is my wife of 39 years, Jo Perry. (The other is British writer Derek Farrell.) It's a revival of an old form, two novellas printed upside down from each other. I've read hers, which is called "Everything Happens." Both unfold in another of those places you find yourself going back to in spite of your best intention, Las Vegas. Hers is about a woman and her bad husband who go there separately to get a divorce and proceed with their lives. Don't worry--things do not proceed smoothly. It's from the British publisher Fahrenheit Press, and will be out this winter.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: A Small Town.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Roland Merullo

Roland Merullo was born in Boston and raised in Revere, Massachusetts. He attended Brown University, where he obtained a bachelor of arts in Russian studies and a master of arts in Russian language and literature. The author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Breakfast with Buddha and The Delight of Being Ordinary, Merullo is the recipient of the Massachusetts Book Award, an Editors' Choice Award from Booklist, an Alex Award from the American Library Association, a Best of the Year award from Publishers Weekly, and was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Merullo's new novel is Once Night Falls.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Stay with me here; I’ll get to the reading part.

I have had a very full and varied life (I’m 66 and not quite ready to write the last chapter yet). I lived in a tribal society (Peace Corps Micronesia, on a tiny atoll way out in the Central Pacific), in a communist society (28 months over 13 years, working on USIA exhibits in the former USSR), spent a lot of time in social democracies (many months on vacation and doing book research in Europe), and here in the heart of capitalism (well, sort of: Massachusetts.) I was born in the city and spent my youth there, but have lived in the country for the last thirty years. I’ve worked as a carpenter (seven years), cab driver (three months), professor (over ten years or so, all told), coach of rowing, private editor, truck loader, toll collector, swimming pool builder, temp worker. Raised two fine girls, traveled a massive amount, played hockey, baseball, golf, rowed crew, studied karate intensely for two and a half years in my forties. Been in two bad car accidents. Been healthy and active, and also suffered with various long-term ailments too boring to talk about. Watched my kids be born and watched my brother die. Been married to the same woman for 40 years, with some hard patches and a lot of smooth sailing. Slipped into Croatia during the war there. Slipped into Cuba to write a golf article. I have a lot of friends, but I’ve also had stretches of intense loneliness—long time ago. I suffered with a bipolar tendency that was cured by a four-decades meditation practice. Been around a number of people—close friends and relatives—whose lives have been torn to shreds by addiction. And I’ve known others who’ve had great success and 80 years of good health, mental and physical. I’ve published 24 books, some of which sold very poorly, and a couple that sold very well.

Not bragging, not at all. I’ve had as many mixed-up times, have as many regrets, and made at least as many mistakes as everybody else. I’m saying all this because I don’t have a bucket list, not really. I would like to learn to ride a motorcycle, and I would like to see my daughters grown and happy, that’s about it. Beyond that, if I did have one thing I’d like to do before passing on to the next life, it would be learning Italian. There was a point in my life when I spoke Russian fluently (too rusty to say that now), and spoke Trukese well enough to get by, and I loved the feeling of being able to express myself in a tongue other than English. Loved what it did to the brain, how it broke the world out of its word-limits, or at least expanded them. I’d really like to get to the level in Italian, a language I heard in my house when I was growing up, studied formally for one year in college, and have been pursuing, in hit or miss fashion, over the past thirty years.

So now, when I have reading time (and I write two or sometimes three books a year, so there isn’t a lot of reading time, and when there is, I often want to do something physical—lift weights, walk, bang nails, play golf, swim), I try to read in Italian. Natalia Ginzburg’s All our Yesterdays. Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli. Primo Levi’s If This is a Man. I go over them and over them, often with a dictionary nearby, making notes in the margins, deciphering the grammar and sentence structure, struggling to increase my vocabulary.

Maybe I should be filling in the blanks in my English-language reading. I’ve never touched Don Quixote or Middlemarch, for example, have read hardly anything of Shakespeare. I know I’m missing out. But when I have a half hour’s worth of energy at ten o’clock at night, after a day in front of the computer, or with a stack of pages in my hands, what calls to me is the Italian language. As a little boy, I lived with my father’s parents, who were from tiny villages outside Naples, and something magical happens when I hear or read or speak Italian now. A deep part of my brain is reawakened and I’m cast back in time. They were unusually kind, generous, and warm people, and these deep reminders carry with them a memory of their love, of my own worth, of a part of my life when everything was fresh and new.

So I wrestle with the Italian subjunctive instead of Middle English, tales of World War II in Italy, rather than tales of windmills and kings. It makes me feel good, which is, I believe, one of the reasons we read.
Visit Roland Merullo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Richard Baker

Richard Baker is a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as a prolific game designer. This month marks the release of Scornful Stars, the third book in his military sci-fi series Breaker of Empires (preceded by Valiant Dust in 2017, and Restless Lightning in 2018). He’s also known for eleven novels set in the world of the Forgotten Realms, including the New York Times bestseller Condemnation.

Recently I asked Baker about what he was reading. His reply:
The two books sitting on my nightstand are The Fifth Season (by N.K. Jemisin) and Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands (by Dan Jones). I’m cheating just a little bit here since I actually finished The Fifth Season a couple of weeks ago, but it looms large in my mind at the moment and I’m still thinking about the story. I realize that I’m late to the party since The Fifth Season won a Hugo for Best Novel in 2016 and you probably already know all about it already, but better late than never. Let me tell you why I picked up those particular books.

First, Crusaders: This is a new, well-written “pop history” exploring the tangled story of the Crusades. I read a lot of nonfiction, and several times a year I pick a book off a store shelf for no other reason than it deals with a subject I want to know more about. Author Dan Jones does a couple of interesting things with this one. First, he uses a strongly “people-centric” approach that builds around the stories of individuals caught up in the times rather than the more event-centered approach you might expect when recounting the wars of a thousand years ago. Second, he doesn’t limit himself to the story of Jerusalem and the crusader states—he also includes the Reconquista in Spain and the campaigns against the Baltic pagans in the broader narrative of the Christian world’s holy wars. I have no idea when or why I might need to know more about the Crusades, but as a writer, I like to just learn things. You never know when a bit of history might help to inspire your setting-building or suggest a great plot turn.

As for The Fifth Season, that was a little more random for me. Every now and then I realize I haven’t read a new author (meaning, someone I haven’t read before) in quite some time, so if something just catches my eye, I make a point of buying it to try out someone new. Most of my leisure reading is firmly in the realm of science fiction rather than fantasy these days, but the notion of a fantasy world built on the foundation of seismology and a modern understanding of things like hot spots and subduction caught my interest. I’m very glad it did: The Fifth Season turned out to be a brilliant bit of worldbuilding and a clever narrative structure that had me up late hurrying to find out what happens next. This was my first N.K. Jemisin book, and it definitely won’t be the last.
Visit Richard Baker's website.

The Page 69 Test: Valiant Dust.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 9, 2019

Ann Howard Creel

Ann Howard Creel writes historical novels about strong female characters facing seemingly impossible obstacles and having to make life-changing decisions. In her novel The River Widow, a former tarot-card reader turned widow and stepmother must escape the clutches of an evil family while also facing the crime she herself has committed. In The Whiskey Sea, a fierce young woman becomes one of the only female rumrunners on the Atlantic Coast during Prohibition. And in While You Were Mine, a New York City nurse must give up the child she has raised as her own during World War II.

Creel's new novel is Mercy Road.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m a voracious reader of historical fiction, and there’s no shortage of books in that genre that I could recommend. One that I just finished, Beyond the Horizon by Ella Carey, is a stand-out. Great openings always impress me, and this novel starts in a strong way that asks more questions than answers them. The author goes on to use parts of the same scene at the opening of each chapter. That device and the rest of the book illuminate the work of the WASPs—female pilots—during World War II, who completed many missions, but primarily moved airplanes all over the US, thus freeing the male pilots to fly overseas. (Yes, female pilots were not allowed to fly in war zones during World War II.) These interesting characters drew me in immediately, and the story was not predictable. The author surprised me several times. In addition to a great story, the research behind it is evident through details that are thorough but not overbearing. I can highly recommend this wonderful World-War-II-era novel.
Visit Ann Howard Creel's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mercy Road.

The Page 69 Test: Mercy Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 6, 2019

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the acclaimed author of over sixteen picture books and novels.

In 2013 she won the Silver Birch Fiction Award for Making Bombs for Hitler and the Red Cedar Award for Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Don't Tell the Nazis, and reported the following:
At the moment I'm reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest, Talking to Strangers, and am really enjoying it. I just finished reading A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman. It's a novel about an idealistic American of Afghan heritage who decides to do research in a remote Afghan village that has become famous because of a memoir written by an American doctor who had spent time in the area. Parveen is certain that her presence will do the locals some good, but nothing is as it seems. Her presence sets off deep and unexpected ripples. Masterfully written with a nuanced cast of characters and attention to the contradictory and layered nature of the American presence in Afghanistan, this book is a must-read.
Visit Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's website.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Tell the Nazis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Peter Riva

Peter Riva is the author of Kidnapped on Safari. He has spent many months over thirty years traveling throughout Africa and Europe. Much of this time was spent with the legendary guides for East African hunters and adventurers. He created a TV series in 1995 called Wild Things for Paramount. Passing on the fables, true tales, and insider knowledge of these last reserves of true wildlife is his passion. Nonetheless, his job for over forty years has been working as a literary agent. In his spare time, Riva writes science fiction and African adventure books, including the previous two titles in the Mbuno and Pero Adventures series, Murder on Safari and The Berlin Package. He lives in Gila, New Mexico.

Recently I asked Riva about what he was reading. His reply>
I thoroughly enjoyed This Is Not America: Stories by Jordi Puntí. First off, translations are always suspect. Cadence can get destroyed. Seeing Puntí’s reputation for cadence (tested by public readings for which his work is known to play well), this translation was likely to fall short. It does not. The cadence is fluid, intelligent, words carefully placed, and a joy to read aloud. Cadence here is critical for the flow of the words and impact on the psyche of the reader—absorbing the deeper message meant to be simple but impactful.

At first I was puzzled by the title as it links so firmly to the David Bowie song of the same name. Frankly, the book can be interpreted in the same musical vein and, of course (because Puntí is that brilliant), without. There is no doubt that seen from an ex-America perspective, there is deep humor here; humor that may slip by a more jaundiced American reader. Many of the stories carry the theme of the past forever encroaching on the present, coloring the future. Puntí is clever without ever being saccharine, literary in choice of phrase without ever being obtuse—always a joy to read.

The final “Kidney” passage of the protagonist’s niece, come to call, carries impact on many levels, reigniting the themes in the previous pages, setting up a crescendo conclusion: “She believed she was the only family tie between the two of them and, feeling this strongly, thought she had to try. Her father’s condition was worsening. It was no joke. He really needed a kidney, so please forget about his arrogance.... When the girl went quiet, he finally gave her the answer he’d been savoring all along.” Read aloud it works in a different way than when read silently. Try it! Good literature plays significantly better when read aloud.
Visit Peter Riva's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 2, 2019

Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is a London-based crime writer. He was sixteen when his first magazine article was published and he’s been writing ever since. A love for genealogy inspired his first bestselling series, the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mysteries, and he is now expanding his writing to historical crime, another area he is passionate about.

Robinson's new novel is The Penmaker's Wife.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Robinson's reply:
I’m currently reading a book by Margaret Atwood, because when writing the blurb for my latest book, The Penmaker’s Wife, my publisher described it as ‘Alias Grace meets Peaky Blinders in this tale of obsession, ambition and murder in Victorian England.’ I hadn’t read Alias Grace before, any more than I had watched Peaky Blinders, so I had to find out why the comparison had been made. I’m very much enjoying Atwood’s semi-factual story about the life of the young Irish immigrant, Grace Marks, as she gives her account of the events that led to her trial and conviction for murder in 1843. It’s clear to me now why the comparison was made, although the two stories are quite different. As an author, I’m also very interested in stories that combine historical fact with fiction as it’s been central to my previous series, the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mysteries. I like how Atwood has woven letters into the narrative, and that at the end of the day you know Grace Marks was a real person. It adds a tangible truth that fiction can only attempt to emulate.
Visit Steve Robinson's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Declan Burke

Declan Burke is the author of Eightball Boogie (2003), The Big O (2007), Absolute Zero Cool (2011), Slaughter’s Hound (2012), Crime Always Pays (2014), The Lost and the Blind (2014), and The Lammisters (2019). Absolute Zero Cool was shortlisted in the crime fiction section for the Irish Book Awards, and received the Goldsboro Award for Best Humorous Crime Novel in 2012. Eightball Boogie and Slaughter’s Hound were also shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. Burke is also the editor of Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century (2011) and Trouble is Our Business (2016), and the co-editor, with John Connolly, of Books to Die For (2013), which won the Anthony Award for Best Non-Fiction Crime. Burke was a UNESCO / Dublin City Council writer-in-residence for 2017-18. He blogs at Crime Always Pays.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Burke's reply:
I always like to read a few books at the same time, picking up a particular book to suit a particular mood or need or time of the day. I also love the idea of the books cross-pollinating one another, with different styles and themes and sets of characters cross-hatching their way through my subconscious.

I’m reading Lee Child’s Blue Moon at the moment, because I’ll be interviewing him next week. I think what I admire most about Lee’s work is how deceptive his style is – it takes a hell of a lot of craft to make a book read so easily.

I’m also working my way through Moby-Dick for the first time, which I’m enjoying immensely, in part because the prose is so lusciously dense. I love a good sea-faring yarn – Conrad, Patrick O’Brian – and Moby-Dick is, among many other things, the grizzled old sea-dog of sea-faring yarns.

I’ve just finished Emma Donoghue’s Akin. Emma’s best-known book is probably Room, which won her all kinds of prizes, including an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay; Akin is about an elderly man, Noah, who is forced to take an 11-year-old grand-nephew he’s never previously met on a vacation to Nice in France, a city Noah hasn’t seen since he was evacuated from it as a child during WWII. It’s fabulous; funny, poignant and philosophical.

Another ongoing read, dipping in and out, is The Best of Myles, Myles na Gopaleen being the alter ego / nom-de-plume of Flann O’Brien – the book is a collection of the weird, wonderful and frequently surreal pieces O’Brien wrote for the Irish Times from the mid-’40s to the mid-’60s. Comic genius.

Finally, there’s a PG Wodehouse on the bedside locker, as there usually is – it’s Ice in the Bedroom at the moment. There’s nothing like a little Wodehouse last thing at night.
Visit Burke's Crime Always Pays blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 25, 2019

Rajia Hassib

Rajia Hassib was born and raised in Egypt and moved to the United States when she was twenty-three. She holds an MA in creative writing from Marshall University and her short fiction has appeared in Upstreet, Steam Ticket, and Border Crossing magazines. She lives in West Virginia with her husband and two children.

Hassib novels are In the Language of Miracles and the recently released A Pure Heart.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Hassib's reply:
Women Talking by Miriam Toews

I read this novel a few months ago, and I still can’t get over how much it pulled me in, especially considering that it’s set in one place (a Mennonite colony) over the course of two days when women gather and, as the title reveals, talk. I could not put it down, and I remain in awe of how Toews managed to make these women, whom many would see as “others,” so familiar, and how she makes their dilemma so relevant to all women. It’s a wonderful exploration of the space women must negotiate when their cultural and religious identity becomes, suddenly, no longer a comfortable space to inhabit.

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

Exploring the aftermath of the killing of a Moroccan immigrant, The Other Americans brilliantly examines many of the most challenging issues surrounding immigration (xenophobia, belonging, the chasm between first and second-generation immigrants), while populating the novel with a diverse, varied cast of characters and giving them all their unique voices. The result is a truly poignant examination of some of today’s most relevant issues, all told within the captivating frame of a murder mystery. This is a beautiful novel that manages to combine a brilliant, engaging plot with a multitude of thought-provoking themes.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

In The Dutch House, Ann Patchett is, as always, in total and enviable control of her craft. Not a single scene or sentence feels out of place, the novel is brilliantly paced, and the characters of the siblings, Maeve and Danny, are thoroughly complex and engaging. The entire novel is told from the point of view of Danny, and, in addition to being a captivating read, it’s a seriously fascinating study of what an excellent writer can do with a limited point of view—what Danny sees and reflects on is constantly complimented by what he never gives much thought to, and the result is an experience any discerning reader should certainly relish.
Visit Rajia Hassib's website.

The Page 69 Test: In the Language of Miracles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Dea Poirier

Dea (D.H) Poirier was raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, where she got her start writing in creative writing courses. She attended The University of Central Oklahoma for Computer Science and Political Science. Later, she spent time living on both coasts, and traveling the United States, before finally putting down roots in Central Florida.

She now resides somewhere between Disney and the swamp.

Poirier spends her days at her day job as a Director of Email and Lifecycle Marketing, and her nights writing Manuscripts.

Her new novel is Beneath the Ashes.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Poirier's reply:
My most recent read was #FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar. I picked up this book because I saw a blurb that pitched it as Dexter meets Devil Wears Prada, as a huge fan of both of those, I knew I had to pick this book up. I'm so happy to say that this book didn't disappoint, it was absolutely hilarious, deliciously dark, and a wonderful read overall.
Visit Dea Poirier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Howard Andrew Jones

Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He is the author of four Pathfinder novels, an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity, and the new novel from St. Martin’s, the second in a new fantasy series, Upon the Flight of the Queen, the followup to For the Killing of Kings, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Recently I asked Jones about what he was reading. His reply:
While my screen media intake has pretty much dwindled to documentaries and Bob’s Burgers, the kinds of material I consume via the written word changed and grew in the last decade. Lately I’ve spent less and less time reading in the genres where I usually write.

A recent discovery for me has been the work of Marvin Albert, who was writing from the 1950s until his death in the 1990s. Almost from the start his books were regularly adapted for the cinema, and he’s apparently revered in France, where he spent the last few decades of his life. I’ve seen some critics dismiss him because he’s never as good as the very best, and yet I find that he always delivers, whether it be with hardboiled westerns or detective yarns. As a matter of fact, I use his work as a kind of “safe base” to which I can return. I explore other mystery and western writers unknown to me with some regularity, and when I find that work wanting and desire a palate cleanser, I head back to my storehouse of Marvin Albert books. Just last week I finished off his three detective novels written under his Anthony Rome alias, featuring Miami private eye and boat owner Tony Rome. They are, in order, Miami Mayhem, The Lady in Cement, and My Kind of Game. The first two were made into Sinatra films I’ve never seen. I found all three to be taut, well-paced, surprising, and atmospheric. Albert always delivers enjoyable work. Maybe he doesn’t compare to Raymond Chandler’s best work, but neither did Chandler a lot of the time, and while Albert might not quite hit the supreme highs of the very best, after reading dozens of his book I’ve yet to see him hit any lows, or middles. There’s something to be said for a writer who is dependably good, and I think Albert may be overdue for a re-evaluation here in the states.

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction, but haven’t kept close watch on the genre for the last few decades. Having heard great things about the award-winning work of Martha Wells, who has been kind enough to write beautiful things about my novels, I thought it high time to check into her Murderbot work. It happens that her acclaim was rightly deserved. Immediately upon finishing the first, All Systems Red, I began the second, and sheer willpower and a writing deadline held me back from immediately ordering the next two. They’re now on my Christmas list. Suffice to say that the self-labeled Murderbot is an engaging character who finds itself (Murderbot is a genderless biological entity with lots of mechanical parts) thrust into the middle of mysteries chock full of action and interesting characters, as well as a search for meaning and self-identity. It’s rousing, high quality fiction, and one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the holidays this year is so I can see what happens next with Murderbot.

Before starting Murderbot I had just polished off a Gold Medal western. To those in the know, Gold Medal in the ‘50s and into the ‘60s remains a safe landing place to go for hardboiled mysteries and noir. As it happens, it’s also one of the best places to turn for well-paced, hardboiled westerns. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get much of a line on what westerns are good and what westerns aren’t, and there were a whole lot of westerns being printed in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Gold Medal, though, seems to have had a smart and talented editorial team. I’ve found most of the westerns I’ve tried by them are at least decent, and some from their stable have sent me scrambling for other work from the same authors, previously unknown to me. I should preface by saying that I’m not a big fan of slow, rambling pieces – I want the plot to get into motion, and my characters to be acting rather than to sit around being acted upon. Apparently Gold Medal editors had similar preferences.

A case in point is Sabadilla, by Richard Jessup, published in 1960. Jessup also wrote under the Richard Telfair alias and later had success with many juvenile novels. This book is the third by him I’ve read, and the best so far. The titular Sabadilla is a former Mexican revolutionary exiled from his country who wanders into a small town feud. The town wants to lynch a murderous rich man’s son without a trial, and the scheming rich man will stop at nothing to free his son. It sounds like a familiar setup, but Jessup dropped in so many surprises I honestly had no idea where this one would go or how it would shake out. Sabadilla himself is incredibly competent both with his gun and his razor-tipped riding quirt, with which he slays a number of villains. He’s cool and sad and honorable and honestly such a cool character I’m hoping Jessup wrote more novels about him, but I’m pretty sure most of the rest of his are standalone. I see that he has three westerns about a character named Wyoming Jones, and I’ll probably be trying those soon.

I read to be entertained, naturally, but as a writer myself I’m always reading at two levels, the other being watching how the author achieves different effects, seeing how character and pacing are handled, etcetera. All three of these authors were incredibly entertaining and educational. Wells is one of the best modern genre writers I’ve read, and like these older writers she draws the readers relentlessly forward, doling out little bits of world building and character information rather than dumping it in your lap in a boring mass that you have to digest. Story is paramount, and part of what makes the characters compelling is the gradual reveal of who they really are, a process I greatly prefer to the often prevalent modern one of providing the reader with an entire back history of a character before the story can truly get started.
Visit Howard Andrew Jones's website.

View the animated book trailer for Upon the Flight of the Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue