Monday, April 29, 2019

Dave Patterson

Dave Patterson is an award-winning writer, musician and high school English teacher. He received his MA in English from the Bread Loaf School of English and an M.F.A. from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program.

His new novel is Soon the Light Will Be Perfect.

Recently I asked Patterson about what he was reading. His reply:
I like to have a balance of fiction, nonfiction, and craft books going at all times--leaning harder on fiction.

I just finished up Wildlife by Richard Ford. I’m a huge Ford fan. Like a zealot. The short story collection, Rock Springs, and the novel, The Sportswriter, were game changers for me in my twenties. Paul Dano recently co-wrote and directed a film adaptation of Ford’s 1990 novel. I had the opportunity to watch the film and hear Ford discuss the process of writing Wildlife and seeing it turned into a movie. It was fascinating. I immediately went out and bought a fresh copy of the novel. It’s brilliant. Wildlife is taut, as alive as a forest fire.

I’m also reading Naked by David Sedaris. I know. I know. You’re thinking, Shouldn’t you have read that book a long time ago? Absolutely. But somehow I skipped over this collection of essays. Sedaris delivers like no other. He’s a true gift. His craft is so refined it almost seems invisible. I love trying to parse out why one of his essays works so well. On approaching Sedaris, I have to first let an essay seduce me with its mystical spell--just enjoy the ride--then I step back and start teasing out the craft.

For my writing book, I’ve been letting Several Short Sentences About Writing work over my mind. What a book. It’s dismantling my preconceptions about writing in a beautiful way. Verlyn Klinkenborg has constructed the book in a mash-up of free verse meets craft essay. I highly recommend it to anyone obsessed with writing sentences.
Visit Dave Patterson's website.

My Book, The Movie: Soon the Light Will Be Perfect.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Claire Needell

Claire Needell is the author of The First True Thing and The Word for Yes and is a contributor to the New York Times and a former middle school teacher.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Needell's reply:
About a month ago, I found myself telling everyone in my writers’ group to read Iris Murdoch. I hadn’t actually read Murdoch in years, but in my late twenties I read pretty much everything she wrote. Her books stuck in my mind as novels that have a bit of Everything—interesting historical detail, incisive philosophical ponderings, viciously motivated narcissists. Sex, suspense, flawless pacing and a sense of the absurd. This is the impossible mix that is an Iris Murdoch novel.

Having heard myself say this over and over again for weeks (and noting the nodding tolerance of my audience), I decided to go back to an early Murdoch novel The Flight from the Enchanter, a lovely edition of which I happened to have in my living room for show (It has a colorful 1971 dust jacket, but is a worthless library edition that I must have bought somewhere in London in the nineties). I found, however, that every time I opened the book I felt itchy and started to sneeze, so I had to buy the novel on Amazon after a couple of chapters.

And she is Everything! There’s a vaguely feminist character carrying on a love affair with a pair of Polish brothers! A suffragette coup of a stodgy board meeting, a villain who’s villainy involves the usurpation of a political/literary journal—the importance of which is unknown to all involved! Characters are followed through back alleys into underground labyrinths in which people...develop blackmail photos, and threaten adversaries with toxic chemicals. And all of it is breathless, except for when it’s profound.

So, that’s what I’m reading. A bit of sorcery from a master.
Visit Claire Needell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 25, 2019

David Quantick

David Quantick is an author, television writer and radio broadcaster. As well as All My Colors, he wrote the surreal thriller The Mule (“the Da Vinci Code with better grammar” – The Independent) and the comic scifi novel Sparks (“excellent” – Neil Gaiman). He also wrote the critically-acclaimed TV drama Snodgrass, currently being developed into a feature film, and Dickens In Rome, a new play for Northern Stage.

Quantick has won several broadcast awards, including an Emmy as part of the writing team on Veep.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Quantick's reply:
I’m in a random selection of books right now. I bought Rex Warner’s The Aerodrome, which is a Penguin paperback from the 1930s and is a kind of parable about the rise of fascism (I have a slightly dubious obsession with Nazi counterfactuals like The Man In The High Castle and, in a different vein, Norman Spinrad’s astonishing, hilarious The Iron Dream). It’s quite eccentric and not at all manly, which I like.

I just finished David Stubbs’ Mars by 1980, a history of electronic music from Stockhausen to the Aphex Twin, which means that everything I read is now soundtracks by bleeps and clanks and makes my life a lot more interesting, like I am being pursued by faulty robots.

And I have just finished It, by Stephen King, which is not only one of the best King novels - being both a perfect evocation of lost youth and also totally scary – but also, I realised, a continuation of the kind of story invented by E Nesbit, taken on by Enid Blyton, carried on by the Scooby-Doo stories, and beautifully pastiched in Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. It has inspired me.
Visit David Quantick's website.

The Page 69 Test: All My Colors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and Not A Sound.

Her new novel, Before She Was Found, is a gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town.

Recently I asked Gudenkauf about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m reading an advanced reading copy of The Nanny by Gilly MacMillan. This atmospheric thriller follows Jo as she returns to her childhood home and tries to rebuild a relationship with her estranged mother. After a skull is found in the lake behind the house, Jo is forced to face the confront the truth the mysterious disappearance of her beloved nanny decades earlier. The Nanny has everything I’m looking for in a thriller: unreliable narrators, family secrets and plenty of suspense.
Visit Heather Gudenkauf's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf and Maxine.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf & Lolo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 22, 2019

Michael Moreci

Michael Moreci is the creator of numerous original comics series and has written and collaborated on multiple established properties.

His debut novel, Black Star Renegades, draws inspiration from the space operatics of Star Wars and the swagger of Guardians of the Galaxy. It is a galaxy-hopping adventure that blasts its way from seedy spacer bars to sacred temples guarded by strange creatures--all with a cast of misfit characters charged with saving the world.

Moreci's new book is We Are Mayhem (Black Star Renegades, Volume 2).

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Oftentimes, I find myself reading for research and inspiration purposes. Don't get me wrong, I'm reading stuff I love because I'm writing--for the most part--stuff I love. But it's still connected to work; I love fully immersing myself in my writing projects, and that means reading books that correspond.

That said, my current bookshelf, as always, is a mix of novels and comics. I just finished reading The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson, which was terrific. Just--outstanding. I love Wilson in general (Spin is out of this world), but this book was especially remarkable. It hit a chord with me because it dealt with ideas that I'm always wrestling with--of free will, destiny, and existence in general. My comic series, Wasted Space, touches on this a bit, but it'll be getting more into it in coming issues. The book itself follows a set of characters whose lives are impacted by a strange global phenomenon: the appearances of monolithic structures across the world--they appear seemingly out of nowhere--that all, in one way or another, memorialize a future event or a mysterious future leader. The story essentially asks the question "Are we the agents of our own futures, or are we heading to a predetermined destination?" It's a very challenging question to ask, but Wilson, as always, handles it with remarkable intelligence and humanity.

I'm also reading Descender, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nyguen, which is sort of like Spielberg's/Kubrick's A.I. blended with an Amblin heart. It's a story of a young android boy and how he may--or may not--be the key to unlocking an apocalyptic event and a robot uprising. It deals heavily in humanity and why we are who we are, and it's executed wonderfully. I also recently read Tim Daniel's Fissure, which was great, as well as The Few, from Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman. Oh! And Copra from Michel Fiffe was out of this world--it's like Suicide Squad on LSD.

I'm about to switch gears a bit, away from writing sci-fi and into writing horror, and for that, I'm starting to read Michael Talbot's The Bog (and for anyone who wants the best paperback horror, you must subscribe to Valancourt's Paperbacks From Hell series; trust me), as well as a reread of Joe Hill's Locke and Key, which is a favorite of mine.

I'm certain I'll be starting something new soon enough! Always writing, always reading...
Visit Michael Moreci's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Michael Moreci & Charlie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 20, 2019

M.G. Wheaton

Born in Texas, M.G. Wheaton worked in a computer factory before getting his start as a writer for such movie magazines as Total Film, Fangoria, Shivers, SFX and several others. After leaving journalism, Wheaton worked as a writer for video games, comic books, and movies, including writing scripts for New Line, Sony, Universal, Miramax, HBO, A&E, Syfy, Legende, Disney Channel, and others while working with filmmakers such as Sam Raimi, Michael Bay, Steven Soderbergh, George Tillman, Gavin O'Connor, Janusz Kaminski, and Clark Johnson.

Wheaton's new novel is Emily Eternal.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Right now, I’m reading about five books at once: one on audio, two on the Kindle, and two physical books which is about average for me depending on if I’m in the car, working out, or in a theater somewhere waiting for the curtain to rise.

On Kindle, I’m reading Ahmed Saadawi’s novel, Frankenstein in Baghdad, and Tony Healey’s The Singles, a collection of short stories and novellas. Frankenstein in Baghdad takes place during the US occupation of Iraq and focuses on the aftermath of a sectarian bombing. One of the nameless people blown to bits is reassembled by a junk dealer but before long, heads out into the city again with revenge on his mind. Told from several different points-of-view, it’s dark and absurd and kind of amazing. I have no idea where it’s going, but I can’t put it down.

Similarly, Healey’s collection of shorts is equally addictive. Healey is an excellent crime writer, best known for his Harper and Lane novels, but his recent and twisty Not For Us is my favorite. The Singles is like if a pulp magazine like Black Mask or Weird Tales showed up in the modern day and was filled with crime and adventure stories of every stripe. So far, I’ve read one detective story, one jungle caper, and a twisty, Twilight Zone-type murder tale. Hilariously, I caught someone reading the detective story over my shoulder waiting at the post office and she seemed as engrossed as I was.

On audio, I’m listening to investigative reporter, Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, which is so hard to recommend as every chapter is more infuriating than the last, hilariously enough. It concerns the billionaires behind right-wing politics, just this parade of huge money donors like the Koch Brothers, John M. Olin, Richard Mellon Scaife, etc., who create these non-profit foundations to evade taxes then use them as lobbying firms to push for, say, environmental deregulation. In case after case, Mayer lays out how these men became extremely wealthy by breaking the rules, such as the sheer number of times the Kochs have been called out for everything from lying about how much benzene they were polluting the air with in Texas to running a nationwide scheme of cheating their business partners out of oil revenue by using faulty gauges and covering up spills. When caught, each and every one of these billionaires chooses not to clean up their businesses but instead to funnel hundreds of millions into right-wing think tanks and university programs in hopes of bringing about widespread de-regulation of environmental and tax laws in Washington that is then supported by judges they’ve sponsored. The book is basically an incendiary prequel to a lot of what’s happening in American politics right now.

As for physical books, I’m a big Little Free Library person and recently traded for Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy, which I’d never heard of but sounded interesting. From the very first page, the Wharton is exquisite, describing Newland Archer’s evening at the opera when he, and everyone around him, first spies the beautiful Countess Olenska in a neighboring box. I’ve only ever read The House of Mirth, so it’s wonderful to devour such beautiful prose.

The Renault, it turns out, is a semi-romantic, imagined life of Bagoas, a Persian eunuch who first served in the court of King Darius III, then with Alexander the Great after his army clashed with Darius’s troops, eventually becoming a lover to each. I’ve read some Alexander stories here and there such as Steven Pressfield’s novel, The Virtues of War, as well as various chunks of Arrian’s histories of Alexander, but this is very different, much more emotional and much more attuned to the very human frailties of its characters. Renault, herself emigrated from the UK to South Africa to live openly with her partner, Julie Mullard, writes of Alexander’s relationship with both Bagoas and his more historically prominent lover Hephaestion in romantic terms absent in those other works while still retelling the epic story of Alexander’s unification of the Greek and Persian worlds.
Visit Mark Wheaton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Katy Loutzenhiser

Katy Loutzenhiser grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dabbling in many art forms and watching age-inappropriate movies. After graduating from Bowdoin College, she found an unlikely home in the Chicago comedy scene and regularly sang improvised musicals in public. These days she writes YA books in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband. She is probably eating a burrito right now.

Loutzenhiser's new novel is If You're Out There.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Though my own work doesn't quite fall under the "rom-com" category (my debut, If You're Out There, can best be described as a friendship-themed mystery/comedy with a dash of romance), my reading is heavy on the light and fluffy. A recent favorite was the debut YA novel Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan (out April 30). It follows a girl's romantic trials and tribulations during her summer job dressed as a hot dog. Honestly, the story had me at hot dog, and it did not disappoint! I also just finished the audiobook for One Day In December by Josie Silver. A Reese Witherspoon pick with exceedingly charming British narrators, the sample all but guaranteed the book would weasel its way into my heart, which it totally did. When I'm in the thick of writing, nothing helps me unwind quite like a fun, clever love story.
Visit Katy Loutzenhiser's website.

My Book, The Movie: If You're Out There.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Rodrigo Rey Rosa was born in Guatemala in 1958. He immigrated to New York in 1980, and in 1982 he moved to Morocco. American expatriate writer Paul Bowles, with whom Rey Rosa had been corresponding, translated his first three books into English. Rey Rosa has based many of his writings and stories on legends and myths indigenous to Latin America and North Africa. Of his many works, seven have been translated into English: The Beggar’s Knife, Dust on Her Tongue, The Pelcari Project, The Good Cripple, The African Shore, Severina, and now Chaos, A Fable.

Recently I asked Rey Rosa about what he was reading. His reply:
When I write fiction—as I am doing now—my reading tends to be more scattered than usual. My general rule is not to read fiction when I’m writing. I read poetry, art history, newspapers and magazines, books on philosophy, anthropology, jurisprudence, but no fiction at all. If I were to read fiction, I’d probably look for something by John Le Carré that I haven’t read. Or Henry James or Patricia Highsmith. But so far this year, I can honestly say that I haven’t read a single page of fiction. The last novel I started (and abandoned on December 31, 2018) was South Wind by Norman Douglas. I hope to finish reading it someday.

In recent months I’ve read essays by Giorgio Agamben on the art of desecration. Also: Creation and Anarchy: The Work of Art and the Religion of Capitalism. Even in the parts I don’t pretend to understand, Agamben seems to me always brilliant. Also, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco by Paul Rabinow. The long hallucinatory poem “The Crystal” by Conrad Aiken. Several books by Ernst Gombrich: Art and Illusion; Meditations on a Hobby Horse; The Preference for the Primitive... The mild regret of not having read Gombrich much when I was younger. But I still, especially when I’m writing fiction, learn something.
Learn more about Chaos, A Fable.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon best selling author of The Tracy Crosswhite series, My Sister’s Grave, Her Final Breath, In the Clearing, and The Trapped Girl.

Dugoni's new novel is The Eighth Sister.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just returned from Norway and my publisher gave me Hunger by Nobel Prize winner Knut Hamsun. It was a fabulous character sketch of a starving man trying to survive on the streets of Oslo, and having just been there, made quite an impression on me. I finished that novel and started on an unpublished manuscript by one of my students, Oscar Lalo. Oscar is French, living in Geneva, Switzerland and has written a literary novel called Marie. It is stunning in so many respects. I had to ask for the rest of the novel and I’m enjoying it immensely.
Visit Robert Dugoni's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Eighth Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 12, 2019

Dan Stout

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on his travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim, as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller.

Stout's new novel is Titanshade.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Stout's reply:
One of the great advantages of having a book released is that you suddenly find yourself with tons of great reading material! I’m incredibly lucky to have a stack of debut novels and ARCs on my bookshelves, and I’m working my way through them.

I just finished reading Katherine Forbes Riley’s The Bobcat, a beautifully constructed tale about trauma, sickness, and healing. Riley avoids all the tropes and minefields of this kind of story, and she has an unerring ability to always find the perfect word or turn of phrase. It’s really fantastic work. It releases in June, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy.

Another recent sneak peek was A.G. Carpenter’s A Fistful of Dust. This book is an absolute gem. A weird western tale of betrayal and revenge in a sci-fi setting, Carpenter’s prose practically leaps off the page and grabs you by the throat. She’s immensely talented, and I expect that this will get a lot of buzz when it releases later this year.

I’m also getting ready to dive into Edgar Cantero’s novella, There's a Giant Trapdoor Spider Under Your Bed. I was introduced to Cantero’s work when I read Meddling Kids, and I can’t wait to tear into this one.
Visit Dan Stout's website.

My Book, The Movie: Titanshade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Lorna Landvik

Lorna Landvik's novels include the bestselling Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Oh My Stars, Best to Laugh, and Once in a Blue Moon Lodge. She has performed stand-up and improvisational comedy around the country and is a public speaker, playwright, and actor most recently in the one-woman, all-improvised show Party in the Rec Room. She lives in Minneapolis.

Landvik's new novel is Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have about twenty pages left of The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman and I can’t wait to get to them. In fact later tonight, I will, in the tub. That’s my treat to myself, along with a glass of Malbec and foaming epsom salts. His novel, The Imperfectionists was a big, full read and so I was excited to dive into his latest. Rachman’s like a wily and agile shortstop who covers all the bases (character, setting, plot), bringing us the story of a famous painter and his son. Bear Bavinsky is the larger-than-life artist who marries and breeds as easily as he uncaps a tube of paint, and Pinch is his first son, who idolizes his father, even as he experiences the drama and cruelty Bear wreaks. Everything takes you in — the people, their endearing/maddening foibles, insights into the art world, the wide-ranging locales (Roma! London, Toronto! the south of France!). It’s a book that makes you feel and think, beautifully written with grace notes of humor.

Waiting for the Punch by Marc Maron is another book I’ve been reading/lolling around in. In it, comic, podcaster Maron asks questions of people — mostly comics, some politicians, radio hosts, producers — and their answers are illuminating, funny, sad, scary and hopeful. It’s like a reference book for people trying to figure out how to get through life.
Visit Lorna Landvik's website.

My Book, The Movie: Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 8, 2019

H. S. Cross

H. S. Cross was raised in the waspy suburbs of Detroit, attending co-ed day schools, doing children’s theater, sailing, riding bikes, collecting Garfield paraphernalia, and afraid to kiss boys. It therefore follows that she has written two novels set in the 1920s and 30s at an austere English boarding school for boys, Wilberforce and the newly released Grievous.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I co-lead a book group that focuses on classics, so a decent portion of my reading is driven by the need to evaluate future selections or re-read the book we are about to discuss. Right now, I’m finishing up Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for our meeting this week. I’m not sure whether I’ve actually read the play before, but I first encountered it as a teenager in a production at the Public Theater that left me in tears of awe at the ending. I’m finding it a difficult read, and my mind is occupied thinking about how I would direct Leontes in the first half. In anticipation of next month’s meeting, I’m also reading Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych; it’s one of those greats I am only now getting to, and it feels apt for Lent.

On the subject of Lent, I have two books on the go in the theology pile. Gerhard Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross offers reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation and makes an argument for a theology of the cross over and against a theology of glory. It’s over my head in many places, but despite the seemingly arcane nature of Forde’s inquiry, his argument sheds light on something I find problematic in many churches today, namely their need to make scripture, doctrine, and God pleasing, even flattering, to the human ego; Luther’s argument points towards a more robust, and for us countercultural, approach to thinking about God. Equally vigorous but less esoteric is Fleming Rutledge’s Three Hours, a slim volume of sermons she preached for Good Friday in 2018. Rutledge, one of the most formidable living theologians and a woman of considerable charisma, writes with clarity, humor, compassion, and orthodoxy on the seven last words of Christ. I was not able to see her preach these in person, but people who were there are still talking about it.

As for contemporary fiction, I recently got around to reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, his so-called fantasy set in an imagined post-Arthur Britain. It’s unsettling, and he’s doing something difficult with love, memory, trauma, and history. I thought the reviews missed the point of this delicate, underwritten work.

Another haunting quasi-fantasy I loved was Lian Hearn’s The Tale of Shikanoko, set in a world reminiscent of medieval Japan. It was released in four volumes over eight months, and receiving those paperbacks one-by-one rekindled for me the pleasure and excitement of childhood book orders. Reading Hearn makes me feel less strange because, like me, she is a woman writing chiefly about men in a culture alien to her own; she creates an entire world, one more brutal, beautiful, and honor-filled than might be expected from a nice lady from Australia.

I’ve also recently enjoyed Eve Tushnet’s debut, Amends, a kooky yet penetrating send-up of reality TV and therapeutic culture (the conceit is a reality show being filmed in a recovery clinic full of zany people). In its absurdity, it makes some serious points about the difficulties and possibilities of making amends.

My for-fun, in-the-bathtub book right now is Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s Sarong Party Girls. This novel is set in Singapore, and its narrator speaks at times in “Singlish”, a Singaporean patois, which provides a fun lens for this Austen-esque let’s-find-husbands-before-it’s-too-late story.
Visit H. S. Cross's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Randy Overbeck

Randy Overbeck is a writer, educator, researcher and speaker in much demand. During his three plus decades of educational experience, he has performed many of the roles depicted in his writing with responsibilities ranging from coach and yearbook advisor to principal and superintendent. His new ghost story/mystery is Blood on the Chesapeake. As the title suggests, the novel is set on the famous Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, home to endless shorelines, incredible sunsets and some of the best sailing in the world. Blood is first in a new series of paranormal mysteries, The Haunted Shores Mysteries.

Recently I asked Overbeck about what he was reading. His reply:
Although my own writing now seldom veers out of the lane of mystery and thriller, I find my reading interests and tastes are more eclectic, reading everything from history to science fiction to, of course, mystery and thriller. In fact, I’m a sucker for a really good story and the well-turned phrase, regardless of the genre.

I’ve been a fan of thriller writer Zoe Sharp for years, especially the Charlie Fox series. In Fox Hunter, the twelfth entry, Charlie Fox is sent on a mission to rescue—or apprehend—her old mentor and lover, Sean Meyer, who may have gone off the reservation and tortured and killed a man from their mutual past. A man Charlie has every reason to be glad is dead. Her search takes her from the scorched landscapes of the Iraqi desert and up to the snowy mountains of Bulgaria. Along the way she encounters a Russian hit squad, an Iraqi teen raped and then disfigured and abandoned by her own family, black market antiquities smugglers and a former client, a major crime boss. One aspect that makes Ms. Sharp’s writing so sterling is her ability to transport the reader vividly to the settings of her narratives. In Fox Hunter, the scenes of the desert are real, I swear I could feel the hot sun and the grit of the sand in my face (and it was in the middle of a freezing January). Of course, my teeth practically chattered when I was riding alongside Charlie atop a snowmobile up the frozen slopes to a mountain fortress.

Did I mention that Charlie Fox is one tough broad? There’s a reason why Lee Child calls Charlie Fox a female Jack Reacher. If you’ve not yet had a chance to discover this brilliant British writer, you’ve been missing some really great rides.

The Devouring is the latest (no. 12) in the “Billy Boyle” World War II mystery series. From the great first sentences (“Light is faster than sound. Strange the things you think about when you’re about to die.”) to a breathtaking first chapter and beyond, James R. Benn takes us on one of the darkest journeys yet into the horrors of this devastating war. Billy Boyle, the young detective from Boston on loan to General Eisenhower, and his partner Kaz are faced with another whodunit, and on the way, must survive a plane crash, cross enemy-occupied France, rescue a near psychotic Gypsy, best German enforcers and SS thugs, and avoid getting entangled in the lies and duplicity of the OSS spy network. But, like the other novels in this series, the beauty and power of this story is how well Benn is able to bring to life the sights, sounds, and realities of his incredible wartime setting, this time in “neutral” Switzerland. As much fun as the chase for the money and the solving of the murder is, what sets Benn’s tales apart is his ability to transform the reader into the world of war in all its excitement, thrills and ugliness. The author’s attention to historical and geographical detail is impressive and powerful. One example: his description of Boyle’s accidental encounter with a slave train of Jews heading for “the camps,” peered only through the copse of trees and the desperate cries of those trapped inside heard echoing off a waterfall, is an incredibly harrowing scene. This passage alone is reason enough to add this newest entry in the series to your reading list.

Even though Sulfur Springs is a sharp departure from William Kent Krueger's remarkable portraits of his Minnesota homeland, I found his tale of a family crisis on our southern border equally vivid and compelling. Responding to a desperate cry for help from his stepson, Cork O'Connor and his wife, Remy, travel the southern border to be thrust into the middle of the conflict there. In his fine narrative style, Krueger introduces his readers to a wide cast of characters, including those crossing the border desperate to find a better life, those hunting down the immigrants (both within the law and outside, some with the best of motives and some with far more selfish intents) as well as those who are working to save the lives of these desperate immigrants. And he does it all with such remarkable clarity that readers will feel they both know and understand all the players. Within the novel, Krueger renders the complicated issue of "the fight at the border" with such believability and insight, this novel should be required reading for all legislators making decisions about immigration. Although I have truly loved many of Krueger's tales of the great northern country, I think this novel has risen to the top of my favorite books.

Sci-Fi is not usually first on my preferred reading list, so I was surprised when a colleague recommended Jeremy Finley's The Darkest Time of Night. His novel, set mostly in Nashville, wraps a spellbinding mystery inside a “quick-turn-the page” science fiction thriller. There is much to love in this debut novel—an engaging setting, fully-fleshed, credible characters and a compelling plot with enough twists and turns to keep you up all night. But, what I loved the most was Finley's deft handling of his first person narrator, a sixty-something grandmother and matriarch of the powerful Rosworth family. His choice of such an unusual POV was striking, unusual and, because it is so credible, worth the read alone. If your tastes run toward thrillers or mysteries or credible science fiction, you will likely not be disappointed with The Darkest Time of Night.

My most recent history read is an intriguing book by accomplished historian, Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution. Philbrick brings to life the story of these two Revolutionary War heroes, whose paths took them to very different places. The author’s attention to historical detail is absolutely remarkable, revealing facts and realities about this most essential war I’ve never heard or read in my thirty plus years of education. Little did I know that Benedict Arnold was a protégé of Washington, a fearless leader in battle, an excellent strategist and, early on, had considerably more success than his mentor. Arnold is even portrayed here in a realistic, almost sympathetic vein—until his own arrogance and bloated self-worth betrays him. Rather than the sanitized version of the American Revolution most of us were fed in school, Philbrick’s narrative paints a picture of duplicity, squabbles and turf battles between newly formed “civil governments” in colonial America and the soldiers fighting the war, as well as the horrors of the conflict and ruthlessness of the British commanders. Philbrick’s rendering of the twists and turns of the conflict are revealed with such historical clarity, and no group is spared or whitewashed.

If you are a fan of history and especially history of the founding of our country, then Valiant Ambition should be on your “to read” list.
Follow Randy Overbeck on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and check out his webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Rajeev Balasubramanyam’s first novel, In Beautiful Disguises won a Betty Trask Prize and was nominated for the Guardian First Fiction Prize. In 2004 he was awarded the Clarissa Luard Prize for the best British writer under the age of 35.

Balasubramanyam holds a PhD in English, and degrees from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has lived in London, Manchester, a remote Suffolk beach, Berlin, Kathmandu, and Hong Kong, where he was a Research Scholar in the Society of Scholars at Hong Kong University. He is a currently a fellow of the Hemera Foundation, for writers with a meditation practice, and has been writer in residence at Crestone Zen Mountain Center and the Zen Center of New York City.

Balasubramanyam’s new novel is Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m actually reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo. It was an accident. I was exhausted and everything I tried reading bored me. I thought about Stephen King but couldn’t face it, and then I thought about watching a film but didn’t want the visual stimulation, which can stop me from sleeping. I slipped, fell against the bookshelf, knocked a bunch of books to the floor, and The Godfather was the one that landed face up.

I’m enjoying it, mostly; the misogyny can be difficult at times (the test I usually use is “could a woman have written this sentence?” – Puzo frequently strains credulity); the violence isn’t; but as with a lot of gangster movies, none of the characters are truly sympathetic; it’s a world of sociopaths and psychopaths. It’s terribly, terribly Indian, the truly disturbing emphasis that’s placed on family, the borderline incestuous relationships between practically all family members, the absence of freedom or boundaries, the intermingling of love and abuse, the Freudian obsession with food, the sanctity of marriage and the grotesque hypocrisy this entails, the way the patriarchy is almost a character in the book (it’s no coincidence, to me, that it’s called the Godfather, il padrino, which is almost, almost “The Patriarch”); the way men can be tremendously emotional and tremendously unfeeling, almost in the same breath.

I like the ways he handles the omniscient narrative, moving around his world smoothly, revealing that it’s not about individuals; that this is how humans are, like it or not; if it wasn’t them it’d be someone else; it’s a system; it’s structural; it’s where we are as a species, a society – we lust for power. "It’s a good novel to read given the world today; it makes you remember that the ills of the world aren’t due to Putin or Trump but the system, and the system didn’t create itself. We created it. There’s no point judging; either we accept it, or we evolve. This is the way it is. This is what gangster movies tell us, over and over again.
Visit Rajeev Balasubramanyam's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Jack Skillingstead

Jack Skillingstead’s Harbinger was nominated for a Locus Award for best first novel. His second, Life on the Preservation, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. He has published more than forty short stories to critical acclaim and was short-listed for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. His writing has been translated internationally.

Skillingstead’s new novel is The Chaos Function.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I like to keep a couple of books going at once, plus whatever random selections I take to bed. Most recently, for our Science Book Club, I read Timefulness: How Thinking Like A Geologist Can Help Save The World. Marcia Bjornerud is a very good writer, her prose is clean and her personality shines through. The early parts of the book are heavy on the science of geology, which I found a bit of a hard go, but it was good for me. The last couple of chapters are absolute knockouts. Part philosophy of time and how our modern world isolates us from a sense of being part of its flow, and part an examination of the history of climate change as it is revealed to us in the geological record.

I’m also reading a new novel by Ted Kosmatka, a far future adventure and examination of a society literally stratified within immense towers. This one is still in manuscript form, and it’s a terrific read.

A couple of weeks ago I finished a long biography: Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson. I love reading about painters and artists in general. This bio was packed with great details about Leonardo’s life and times that I’d had no clue about. For instance, Leonardo’s famous notebooks contained some fiction, most interestingly notes and descriptive passages for a planned novella that he never quite got around to writing. Well, he was famous for not finishing projects, even as the projects the did finish are towering works of genius. Anyway, the proposed novella is about the end of the world by apocalyptic flood. When I posted about this on Facebook, Gordon Van Gelder, publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction directed my attention to The Deluge, a “science-fantasy” novel some enterprising editor back in 1954 cobbled together using Leonardo’s original writings and published it as a mass market paperback with a lurid cover. “…a powerful and violent story of life and love in a time of blazing turmoil and savage upheaval!” I might do a little essay for F&SF’s Curiosities department.
Visit Jack Skillingstead's website.

--Marshal Zeringue