Thursday, January 31, 2019

Anna Stephens

Anna Stephens is a UK-based author of gritty epic fantasy. Godblind and Darksoul are the first two books in her grimdark trilogy about a religious, political and ideological war, the people caught up in its midst, and just what, exactly, they are willing to do to win – is the cost ever too high when the fate of an entire people is at stake?

Recently I asked Stephens about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've been on a research kick in the last few months for the new book/series I'm drafting, so I've been reading a lot of history and archaeology books.

I'm currently reading Legion versus Phalanx by military sci-fi author Myke Cole. This is his first foray into writing history books and I'm hooked. Myke's fiction writing chops really shine through and he takes a subject that could be extremely dry and dusty and brings it to life. The book covers six major battles in the ancient world that saw the Roman Legion face off against the Greek/Hellenistic Phalanx and the outcomes of those battles. The phalanx was the greatest military invention up to that time, and the book explores its strengths and weaknesses and how the legions eventually overcame it. I'm really enjoying it, and it's packed full of snippets of really useful information for any writer who, like me, enjoys making battle scenes as realistic as possible.

On the fiction side I read the Not So Stories, edited by David Moore, a few months ago. It's an anthology of stories in the tradition of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, with each story being written by a new or established writer of colour from around the world, with the aim being to both reclaim the stories and legends and address the racism and colonialism present in Kipling's original. As with any anthology, no reader will love every story, and there were a couple I didn't get on with, but the vast majority are excellent. They made me think, they made me cringe and they made me embarrassed about British Empire-building and history. I recommend it highly.

I've also recently finished The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick and The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear. Two very, very different books, rich in Gothic mystery and Norse mythology respectively. Both authors employ rich prose and vivid description and have a real talent for evoking landscape and imagery in the reader. The books are utterly different, but the joy they're written with is clearly evident. Den Patrick's is the first in the Erebus Sequence, and Elizabeth Bear's is the last in the Edda of Burdens trilogy. I'm really pleased to have completed Bear's trilogy, and I'll look to pick up the other two books in Patrick's in the near future.

As for books I'm looking forward to, Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson and Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons are both high on my list.
Visit Anna Stephens's website.

The Page 69 Test: Darksoul.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of the highly-acclaimed Richard Nottingham series and is also a well-known music journalist. Born and raised in Leeds, he lived in the USA for thirty years and now makes his home in England.

Nickson's new novel is The Hanging Psalm.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Nickson's reply:
I tend to have two books on the go at any one time, a downstairs book and an upstairs one for bedtime. Downstairs I’m currently enjoying Vita Nuova by Magdalen Nabb. She was an English writer, dead for a few years now, who moved to Florence in the mid ‘70s with her young son, knowing nobody and no Italian – about as daring as you can be. Yet she made a life for herself there, and created a reputation both as a children’s writer and a crime writer. I came across one of her novels featuring the marshal, a carabinieri NCO, in the library. I liked it, and since then I’ve read three more. Her Florence isn’t as exquisitely portrayed as Donna Leon’s Venice, but her main character is quite enchanting, and she can take an unusual tack in a book. That was very true in Property of Blood, about a kidnapping, where the act of finding and releasing the victim is far from being the focus. For me, at least, she’s a real find.

And upstairs? Re-reading Roddy Doyle’s The Guts, because you can never go wrong with the Rabbitte family and Doyle’s Dublin.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein is the holder of a private pilot’s license and the owner of about a thousand maps. She is best known for her historical fiction about young women flying in World War II, including the New York Times bestselling Code Name Verity and Rose under Fire. Wein is also the author of Cobalt Squadron, a middle grade novel set in the Star Wars universe and connected to the 2017 release The Last Jedi.

Wein's newest book is A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I kept a reading log last year, and I read 72 books in 2018. If I hadn’t kept that record, I think I would have put the estimate at about 25, which just goes to show – I read a lot more than I think I do.

I live in Scotland, and one of my reading goals for last year was to read more Scottish authors. I began with the poetry of Norman MacCaig, whom I first encountered because my son was reading his work for school. I’m so glad I made the effort, as MacCaig quickly became one of my favorite new discoveries. His imagery is tied to the landscape and wildlife of Scotland, and he never ceases to surprise and delight me with new ways of looking at things. He’s also a little obsessed with nostalgia and the relentless passing of time, themes that resonate deeply in me.

…the clock’s voice plods on the mantelpiece
and a petal falls on the table.

The line of its fall is a fence
between the millions of years that have gone
and the millions to come.

(from “Foggy Night” by Norman MacCaig)

I liked MacCaig’s poetry so much that I have acquired a new collection to read in 2019!

Now I’m going to confess to an addiction: French comic books about World War II aviators. I eat them up like popcorn. I’m in the middle of a series called Angel Wings by my favorite graphic novel team, Yann (script writer) and Romain Hugault (illustrator and colorist). There seems to be a booming business in aviation comics in France, with a very masculine target audience. While these glossy large-format hardbacks are often a vehicle for showcasing burlesquely well-endowed young women in skimpy bikinis, along with vintage military equipment in eyewatering detail, Yann and Hugault manage to pack a boatload of plot and character into the package. Their stories also tend to feature women in strong roles (if you ignore the bikinis), often as pilots themselves, which I love. The fifth volume of Angel Wings came out in December 2018 and continues the wartime exploits of Angela McCloud, a young American WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) and part-time OSS (Office of Strategic Services) agent, and I’m hoping Volume Six comes out sometime this year. Hugault has promised that Angela’s adventures will continue in Korea when World War II ends!

And speaking of books in series, I’ve nearly made it to Volume 5, All Change, of the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’d just begun to read these wonderful novels when I last posted on this blog in April 2017. Volume 4, Casting Off, is finishing up with a satisfying flurry of romantic reunions, pairings, and separations which are all long overdue. It’s all bringing tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. As an ongoing reading project, the Cazalet novels are a bit like watching a soap opera or period costume drama series, only in book form. I’m enjoying them very much – but very slowly.
Visit Elizabeth Wein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 28, 2019

Marius Gabriel

Marius Gabriel was accused by Cosmopolitan magazine of ‘keeping you reading while your dinner burns’. He served his author apprenticeship as a student at Newcastle University, where, to finance his postgraduate research, he wrote thirty-three steamy romances under a pseudonym. Gabriel's novels include The Ocean Liner, The Seventh Moon, The Original Sin, and the Redcliffe Sisters series, Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye, Take Me to Your Heart Again, and The Designer.

His new novel is The Parisians.

Recently I asked Gabriel about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading Miranda Seymour's very entertaining life of Mary Shelley, the second wife of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Miranda Seymour is a novelist as well as a biographer, and so the book is delightfully readable. Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein at the age of 19, was a brilliant and fascinating woman, whose life with the notoriously erratic poet was a mixture of tragedy, high adventure and bitter disillusionment. Highly recommended!

I especially admire Miranda Seymour's ability to bring historical characters to life, which is what I also try to do in my own work. Rather than simply use famous people as a hook upon which to hang a story, I try to portray them as vividly as I can. If I get it right, I see them behaving in my fiction as I imagine they did in their own lives. It's a strange, exhilarating process.
Visit Marius Gabriel's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Parisians.

My Book, The Movie: The Parisians.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mike Chen

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Chen lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.

Chen's new novel is Here and Now and Then.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Chen's reply:
I am currently reading Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller and A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard. For Blackfish, I've actually restarted it because I got about 1/3 through it before having to pause for 6 weeks of editing. Blackfish is a multi-POV story with brilliant world building and its own mythos about the political undercurrent driving a post-climate island city-state. The prose really sings but the world is pretty intricate -- this is a good thing, the creativity on display is astonishing -- but because of that I found it easier to restart after a long break.

For Cathedral, this is anthology of modern myth retellings, anchored by Once, Future which is a novella that twists the Arthur myth in beautiful and unexpected ways. This book was originally scheduled for last fall but got delayed, and I've been awaiting it eagerly for several reasons. First, Kat is a friend and a colleague who happens to be a wonderful human being. Second, Kat's previous novels, Roses and Rot and An Unkindness of Magicians, are both fantastic. Unkindness is one of my favorite books ever and I've recommended it to so many people. Third, I loved Arthur mythology for a long time, I obsessed over it in high school and college and years after. So this was pretty much tailor made for me, and while I haven't finished the anthology, I did read Once, Future twice in two days (about 100 pages) because I enjoyed it so much.
Visit Mike Chen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Here and Now and Then.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Carol Potenza

Carol Potenza is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at New Mexico State University. She and her husband, Jose, live in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Hearts of the Missing, her debut novel, won the 2017 Tony Hillerman Prize.

Recently I asked Potenza about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Vanishing Season: A Mystery by Joanna Schaffhausen

I picked up Joanna Schaffhausen’s debut because she’d won the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Then I couldn’t put it down. Her protagonist, Ellery Hathaway, a small-town New England cop, is hiding her identity. Not because she’s committed a crime, but because, as a child, she was snatched by a serial killer—and was the only victim who survived. She’d had enough of the media’s attention and wanted to be left alone to heal, if she ever could. But she’s been found—for the last two years on her birthday, someone in her community has vanished without a trace, and another birthday is rapidly approaching. No one in town believes her theory that the disappearances are linked, so she turns to the one person who might: FBI agent Reed Markham, the man who’d rescued her. Markham, whose career zenith had been saving Ellery, is now at a nadir in his life. His marriage falling apart and a shattering misstep in a recent high-profile case have left him adrift. When he’s contacted by Ellery about the disappearances, he sees possible redemption. But he doesn’t quite trust Ellery not to be behind the disappearances herself. I loved the characters, red herrings, and twists in this book.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

This historical non-fiction book was everywhere in 2018 and is being adapted into a movie by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. It details the murders of dozens of Osage Indians in 1920s Oklahoma, all because of money. The U.S. government had settled members of the tribe on land initially thought worthless but under which was actually millions of barrels of oil. At one point in history, the Osage had the highest per capita worth in the United States. Osage traditions of giving and sharing wealth were different than those understood by non-Natives in the U.S., who saw the extravagant spending of the Indians as sinful and wasteful. Soon, laws were passed that decreed Osage individuals with high blood quantum did not have the mental capacity to control their money properly. They were assigned guardians, many of whom did not have the best interests of their clients at heart, but did have murder in their own. High levels of corruption at the local, regional, and even national level allowed the suspicious deaths to continue for years. It wasn’t until a young J. Edgar Hoover sent in a team of agents that some of the murders were solved and the FBI was born. I have tempered my language in this synopsis because I’m always leery of judging another time through a modern lens, but it was the horror of rampant racism toxically mixed with unbridled greed that drove these murders. It’s a shocking story and well worth the read.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

I always knew I’d write genre instead of literary fiction, but after reading The Weight of Ink, there is a lingering feeling of envy that I don’t write books like this. The prose is spectacular, the characters complex and memorable. Inside the pages two stories are intertwined, one contemporary and one from the mid-1600s, both set in London. A cache of letters, journals, and philosophical treatises have been found during the renovation of an old home, and Helen Watt, a sick, aging professor who specializes in Jewish British history, is called to consult along with her borrowed American graduate student, Aaron Levy. Though constantly at odds, they discover that the scribe who wrote the cache was a female Jewish philosopher, an astonishing find. Ester Velasquez, the protagonist of the historical book within the book, is truly the central character and one I can’t get out of my head. A woman with a mind of her own, she disguises herself in her letters so she can correspond with the greatest philosophical minds of her time. But history was not kind to educated women, and Ester had to navigate traditions that vehemently disapproved of the education of females and decreed a woman’s security came only with marriage. The settings and characters, both modern and ancient, are rich in detail, and the many story threads are riveting. I didn’t want this book to end.

Goodbye Mr. Chips by James Hilton

I saw this movie years ago and it made me cry. When I found the book, I snatched it up to read—and it made me cry. It’s very short—an afternoon read—and is almost completely narrative, very different from dialogue-heavy modern genre fiction. But Hilton’s story is satisfying because it’s familiar: if we were lucky, we had a teacher like Mr. Chipping, or as his students called him, Mr. Chips; one who made a profound difference in the direction of our lives—not necessarily because of what they taught, but because of how they reached us. The reader follows Mr. Chips during his tenure at a fictional boys school in England and through a portion of Great Britain’s history from the Franco-Prussian war to the rise of Hitler. Chips led a simple and ordinary life, married once and widowed, and outlived so many of his peers and the boys from his school that he was pitied by some as lonely and alone. But he never felt sorry for himself. He evolved and changed with the times and was beloved by the boys he taught over the years, such that at his death, he claimed all of them as his own children. An ordinary man with an ordinary life, like so many of us in this world. We should all be so impactful.
Visit Carol Potenza's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Mesha Maren

Mesha Maren is the author of the new novel Sugar Run. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, Oxford American, Crazyhorse, Southern Cultures, Hobart, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She is the 2018-2019 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also serves as a National Endowment of the Arts Writing Fellow at the Beckley Federal Correctional Institution.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Maren's reply:
I am reading:

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer – an amazing autobiographical novel written by a man from Huntington, West Virginia about his years of homelessness during the 1930s.

Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians by Peter Guralnick - an exploration of early country, rockabilly, and the blues music.

And I'm also reading an advance reader's copy of Meander Belt by M. Randal O'Wain- a collection of gorgeous, whip-smart essays about family, loss, and coming of age in the Working-Class South-forthcoming in October 2019.
Visit Mesha Maren's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Clarissa Harwood

Clarissa Harwood holds a PhD in English Literature with a specialization in Nineteenth-Century British Literature.

In addition to being a proud member of the Historical Novel Society, she is a part-time university instructor and full-time grammar nerd who loves to explain the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses.

She lives in London, Ontario.

Harwood's new novel is Bear No Malice.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
My usual reading material is either historical fiction or historical research for whichever book I’m currently writing, but lately I took a break from my usual genre to read two refreshingly different books.

Lauren Sapala’s Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers is unlike any marketing or promotional advice for writers I’ve ever heard or read before. I’d already read and loved Sapala’s The INFJ Writer (people familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality types will recognize the acronym), and I enjoyed Firefly Magic even more. This book is a balm for the soul of writers who hate the "hard sell" approach or who shrink from the thought of marketing and promoting their work. I wish I’d known about this book when I published my first novel: it would have made my life much easier! While Firefly Magic contains practical suggestions for creative marketing, it also encourages writers to examine their deep-seated (and often misguided) beliefs about what marketing “should” look like. This book can help writers and artists of all types who want to make a meaningful connection with their audience.

The other book I’m reading now is Unbroken Threads by Jennifer Klepper. It’s about an American attorney turned stay-at-home mom who is testing the workplace waters by taking the pro bono case of a Syrian woman seeking asylum in the US. I’m very impressed with Klepper’s insight and sensitivity as she plunges into the controversial subject of racial tensions and stereotypes. The book is told in close third person from the alternating perspectives of Jessica (the lawyer) and Amina (the refugee), and I was hooked from the first tension-filled meeting between them. Amina, who is turned off by Jessica’s “American TV lawyer” clothes, speaks fluent English and is highly educated. Thus, her very existence forces Jessica to confront her stereotypical notions about refugees. And Jessica is so insecure about her ability to return to work, much less take on such a difficult case, that she feels like a failure and doesn’t want to continue working with Amina any more than Amina wants to continue working with her. An attorney herself, Klepper explores a timely and important subject through the eyes of two women who seem very different but who learn that they are similar in all the ways that matter.
Visit Clarissa Harwood's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bear No Malice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 18, 2019

Jessica Barry

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS.

She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London.

She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman.

Barry's new novel is Freefall.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m just finishing Beth Macy’s terrific in-depth exploration of the opioid epidemic, Dopesick. I hadn’t read anything by her before but listened to her being interviewed on the Longform podcast and immediately added it to my to-be-read pile. The author was a journalist at the Roanoke Times for many years and uses her experience and community connections to delve into the crisis by focussing on the personal stories of those who have been affected by it. I haven’t lived in America for the past 15 years, during which the epidemic has exploded, and while I’ve been aware of it for several years it was both fascinating and horrifying to read about the severity and scope of the problem – and the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a solution to the problem, or at least not an easy one. Macy’s writing is engaging, humane and filled with empathy, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the disease ravaging the country and the corporate greed that fuelled it.
Learn more about Freefall, and follow Jessica Barry on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Molly MacRae

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

Her latest novel is Crewel and Unusual (Haunted Yarn Shop Series #6).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. MacRae's reply:
My five ways I’m starting the New Year:

Warm—The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel). This is a folkloric road trip story told mostly by Nana, a wise, self-sufficient cat. Nana and Satoru, the young man with whom Nana has lived for the past five years, are travelling around Japan in a silver van, visiting Satoru’s oldest friends. I’m only in the middle of the book, and find it completely engaging. I do wonder, with some trepidation, why Satoru is looking for a new home for Nana, but I feel sure the cat’s calm, philosophical take on life will make the journey worthwhile.

Dreaming—The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, 2019 edition. The catalog is 354 pages of full-color photographs—tomatoes with names like Sunrise Bumblebee and Lucid Gem; lime-green Chinese Shawo Fruit radishes; peppers, melons, herbs, flowers—all “mmm-mm-mm” and “wow.” Will I actually grow any of these wonders? Probably not. Our yard is heavily shaded and overrun with squirrels, but hope and delusions are strong motivators for me. The catalog includes interviews, a few recipes, and a fascinating account of a seed-hunting trip to China.

Salivating—Milk Street: Tuesday Nights by Christopher Kimball. This is my favorite kind of cookbook; there’s a picture of every single dish to drool over and everything in it can be made in less than an hour. Many can be finished in 25 minutes or less. What I’m trying this weekend: Maple-Whisky Pudding Cakes. Start to finish: 45 minutes.

Adventurous—The Capture of Black Bart: Gentleman Bandit of the Old West by Norman H. Finkelstein. This is exciting nonfiction for middle grade readers. We follow James B. Hume, chief detective for Wells Fargo & Company, as he doggedly investigates and tracks the poet bandit through 28 stagecoach robberies from 1875 to 1883. Upon capture, Black Bart (real name Charles Boles) revealed that he took his alias from his favorite story, The Case of Summerfield by Claxton (penname of William H. Rhodes), serialized in the Sacramento Union newspaper in 1871. You can find The Case of Summerfield in Project Gutenberg and see for yourself why Boles thought it such a good joke to call himself Black Bart.

Encouraged—Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell. This is a lovely, invigorating compilation taken from Gaiman’s speeches, poems, and manifestos. He’s a champion of ideas, reading, libraries, books, bookstores, and creating art. What better way to start the New Year than to be told so robustly that what you do matters?
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

My Book, The Movie: Crewel and Unusual.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Jess Montgomery

Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she wears several other literary hats: she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News; Executive Director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop at University of Dayton; and is an adjunct mentor in the Seton Hill University Low-Residency Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program.

Montogomery's new novel is The Widows.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to have several books going at once.

I try to read one poem each morning. Currently, I’m reading from Mary Oliver’s collection, A Thousand Mornings. One of her poems was in the program at the church I attend, a United Church of Christ congregation, and I found her work breathtaking in showing the depth of human experience in understated, quiet ways.

I’m reading texts for research on my next novel in progress.

And I’m reading stories from Lee Martin’s terrific collection, The Mutual UFO Network. These stories peer into the heart of the human condition in quirky, yet touching ways, showing how lonely, yet connected, each of us are. I love that tension between loneliness and connection, and how Mr. Martin brings it into sharp yet subtle focus.

I also am reading a work of nonfiction, just for fun—The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin. The premise of the book is that, regardless of other personality traits or attributes, we each have a tendency for how we respond to expectations, either from others or from ourselves. (Ms. Rubin does admit that each tendency can be on a spectrum.) It seems overly simplistic, but I was drawn to the book after listening to her podcast, “Happier.” And I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the book has helped me recognize not only my own tendency but the tendencies of others around me, and doing so has made me more patient with others—and to recognize that my own tendency might sometimes frustrate others. (I’m a “Questioner,” which means I am more than willing to meet internal or expectations—after I’ve asked a lot of questions and figured out the “why” of the expectation.) Honestly, I, well, questioned the premise at first (and I still have plenty of questions about it as I work my way through), but I’m glad I’m reading the book.
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

M.K. England

M.K. England is an author and YA librarian who grew up on the Space Coast of Florida and now calls the mountains of Virginia home. When she’s not writing or librarianing, England can be found drowning in fandom, rolling dice at the gaming table, climbing on things in the woods, feeding her video game addiction, or talking way too much about space and science literacy. She loves Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if you never speak of Sherlock Holmes in her presence. You’ll regret it. The Disasters is her debut novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. England's reply:
I'm a book juggler, and I frequently have several books going in a variety of formats at any given time.

In audio:

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

I'm one of those people who reads self-improvement books throughout the year, but especially at the new year. I just finished this is a great book about habit formation, narrated by the author, that embraces the fact that we're all different and there's no one right way to help a habit stick. A great way to kick off the year!

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

I've been meaning to read this YA thriller forever and Brendan and I are doing an event together later this month, so I finally bumped it to the top of my list. Lots of twists and turns!

In ebook:

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

An adult romantic comedy that comes highly recommended to me by a friend! I always like to have a romance novel on deck for when I need something to brighten my day.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

I bought this one the day it came out and never got around to it, which is tragic because I'm so enjoying it. Thanks to everyone on instagram and twitter who recommended this and reminded me I owned it! Funny, magical, witty—an utter delight.

In print:

Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety by Seth J. Gillihan

I've struggled with anxiety and depression, among other things, for most of my life. I find that reading books like this in between times when I'm able to get to therapy is a great way to keep in the healing mindset. I read a few pages every morning!
Visit M. K. England's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2019

Matthew Carr

Matt Carr is a writer, campaigner and journalist, living in Sheffield England. His non-fiction books include: My Father’s House; The Infernal Machine: a History of Terrorism; Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain; Sherman’s Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American War of War; and Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent.

His first novel The Devils of Cardona, was published in 2016 by Penguin Random House in the US.

Carr's latest book is The Savage Frontier: the Pyrenees in History and the Imagination.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Carr's reply:
When I'm writing non-fiction, my reading tends be dominated by the subject in hand. I try to read obsessively on whatever project i'm writing about so that I'm completely filled up by it. When I'm in between books, as I am now, I try to read more freely, either catching up on books I've been looking forward to, or following possibilities that interest me. I'm currently looking into the possibility of a book on the Arctic, so I read Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams. Few people write more eloquently or gracefully about landscape and nature than Lopez. Every time I read him he's a revelation and an inspiration.

Over the holiday period I also read Adam Zamoyski's Phantom Terror, an amazingly well-researched book which shows how the Austrian Chancellor Metternich and his reactionary cohorts set out to reverse the revolutionary and nationalist movements unleashed by the French Revolution in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.

I would have liked to have had a book like this when writing my history of terrorism The Infernal Machine and my book about Europe's 'migration crisis' Fortress Europe. Zamoyski persuasively shows how Metternich and other European governments imposed a European-wide surveillance network in an attempt to repress a 'phantom' revolutionary conspiracy that was essentially a figment of their imagination. Briskly and wittily-written, his book is filled with examples of non-existent conspiracies and official paranoia, dishonesty and surveillance overkill, all of which we have seen repeated in subsequent historical episodes.

Over the holiday season I also took time to read some fiction. I came across Walter Kempowski's All for Nothing after reading a rave piece in the New Yorker, and it lived up to everything that was written about it. It's a mournful, epic account of the apocalyptic collapse of East Prussia in the last months of World War 2, seen through the eyes of a Prussian landowning family. Kempowksi is one of those writers who is able to combine a broad historical tragedy with a real sense of emotional intimacy. I shall be reading more of him in the future.

Following this catastrophic trajectory, I also found myself reading Paul French's City of Devils, a sizzling noirish portrait of gangsters, hucksters, show girls, and war in interwar Shanghai. French knows he has a great story, and he tells it well, in all its sleazy and often shattering detail, from the hedonistic nightlife of the Shanghai Western 'settlement' in the 1920s to the Japanese invasion.

So that's two books dealing with social collapse as I hunker down for 2019, to remind me that no matter how difficult the present moment seems, things have been a lot worse.
Visit Matthew Carr's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devils of Cardona.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2019

James L. Cambias

James Cambias has been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the 2001 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He lives in Western Massachusetts.

His new book is Arkad's World.

Recently I asked Cambias about what he was reading. His reply:
I typically have an "upstairs book" and a "downstairs book" so I'm never more than a few steps from some reading matter. I'm currently reading biographies of two very different men.

Upstairs I'm reading African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi. It's a great book about one of my favorite historical figures: Colonel (later General) Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who commanded the Imperial German troops in East Africa during the First World War.

Von Lettow was an amazing military commander, who kept British and Commonwealth forces twenty times the size of his own army busy chasing him around Africa. When the war ended he was Germany's only undefeated general.

But beyond his military prowess, he seems to have been a genuinely good guy. One reason his little army was so effective was that he integrated white and black troops into the same units, and considered them all equally soldiers of the Kaiser like himself. He spent decades lobbying the German government to give his African soldiers the wartime pay they were owed (and finally succeeded in 1964).

Over the years I've been amused and/or irritated by fictional depiction of the African campaigns in the Great War because they're a perfect example of how the winners write the histories. In pretty much all films about that war — from The African Queen to Shout at the Devil to the Young Indiana Jones TV series — the British are depicted as rag-tag plucky underdogs taking on overwhelmingly powerful German forces. The historical truth was literally the exact opposite.

The only portrayal of von Lettow in film (outside of Germany, at least) was in the Young Indiana Jones episode, which depicted him as a genius — but also a rigid martinet, while the man himself seems to have been extremely flexible about military regulations (to the point of near insubordination in his dealings with German East Africa's idealistic governor Schnee).

Gaudi's book is thoroughly researched, and includes quite a few entertaining digressions about the various eccentric and colorful characters involved in the African theater of World War I. (It must be admitted that at least some of von Lettow's success was due to the fact that the British didn't send their best commanders against him.) It's a good read and I'll probably come back to it again.

Downstairs I'm reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. Unlike von Lettow, Leonardo needs no introduction — although there's quite a lot of his life which most readers probably don't know about. I haven't finished it yet (spoiler alert: Leonardo dies at the end) but Isaacson does an excellent job of describing Florence as Leonardo knew it, and setting the artist in his proper context.

Refreshingly, Isaacson steers away from the quasi-mystical depiction of Leonardo as some kind of otherworldly genius, a saintly innocent misunderstood by mere mortals. His Leonardo is a man actively involved in the world and in Italian society of the 15th Century — even a bit of a hustler and self-promoter.

Like Gaudi's book about von Lettow, this one is very well-researched and fun to read. Right now I have something fascinating at hand whether I'm upstairs or down.
Visit James L. Cambias's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Darkling Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry's novels include the Jane Whitefield series (Vanishing Act, Dance for the Dead, Shadow Woman, The Face Changers, Blood Money, Runner, Poison Flower, and A String of Beads), Death Benefits, Pursuit, the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for best novel, and The Butcher's Boy, which won the prestigious Edgar Award.

Perry's new novel is The Burglar.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Perry's reply:
What I find unusual at the moment is that this month I’ve been reading books that other people chose for me, and observing my own reactions. On March 3, 2019 I’ll be moderating a panel at the Tucson Festival of Books. I always start by reading the most recent books of the panelists. Here they are, in the order in which I read them.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. This just won the National Book Award. I’m often puzzled by the choices of award panels, but this time I’m not. This is a fine novel and I was lucky to have it included. The book is a kind of journal in which a no-longer-young woman who’s spent much of her life reading and discussing great books addresses “You,” a male friend who has committed suicide. He was her professor, mentor, briefly her lover, and her closest friend for the rest of his life. He has, at least according to his unpleasant and probably-lying third and final wife, left her his Great Dane. The book is wise, funny, tragic, and moving. It’s also a deep meditation on death, grieving, and the bond between humans and animals.

Next I read Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III. This is a recounting of the story of a momentous event in a family history, told partly through fragmentary memories, attempts to write a fictional version that stubbornly refuses to be fictional, and the dread and regret that haunt human existence. The father, Daniel, hasn’t been seen since he went to prison 40 years ago for stabbing his wife to death in front of their 3-year-old daughter Susan in a jealous rage. He is now dying, and he goes on the road to find and speak to Susan just once. The book-long trip gives us the chance to overhear the thoughts of the father/killer, his now-43-year-old daughter, and Lois, the mother of the murdered wife, the grandmother of Susan. The book is impressive and hypnotic. It reminded me of Faulkner in his As I Lay Dying mood. This one too deserves awards.

The third and final book of the panelists is Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels. I’m only about 60% finished. It’s ironic because I’ve met Mr. Urrea a number of times, spoken with him, served on panels with him. I knew this book would be terrific, one of a long line of really good books, and it is. So I saved it as my reward in case I didn’t like the others. I’m including it here because the prompt was “What is Thomas Perry reading?” This is it.

This is another big “family history” book, the narratives consisting of memories triggered by a gathering of the family in the present for the funeral of the family matriarch, and the final birthday party the next day of the eldest son, Angel (referred to as Big Angel, while the youngest is Little Angel), who is dying. It’s brilliant, bursting with fascinating characters, full of original insights, and I can hardly wait to get back to it.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Burglar.

--Marshal Zeringue