Monday, September 30, 2019

Marina Budhos

Marina Budhos is an author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction. Her novels include Watched, a follow-up to Ask Me No Questions, and takes on surveillance in a post 9/11 era. Set in Queens, NYC, Watched tells the story of Naeem—a teenage boy who thinks he can charm his way through life. One day his mistakes catch up with him and the cops offer him a dark deal. Watched received an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature YA Honor (APALA) and is an Honor Book for The Walter Award (We Need Diverse Books).

Budhos's newest novel, The Long Ride, is about three mixed race girls during a 1970s integration struggle.

Recently I asked Budhos about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m reading Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us, both because he came to speak at my local bookstore, because I’m also an educator teaching many first-generation college students, and finally as a mother of a high schooler and college student. There is devastating reporting here, and I have to say, it makes me feel like there is a game out there, rigged even for someone like myself—well-educated, trying to give her own children the best. There are so many cultural signals and advantages that prop up the world of success and mobility.

Perhaps in tune with that, I’m also reading The Expectations, a first novel by Alexander Tilney, because I’ll be interviewing him for an event. It takes place at an elite boarding school and explores questions of belonging/not belonging.

And I’m about to crack open Beloved to re-read with my writers group—her sentences, as always, are mesmerizing, pure music with almost oracular power. What I love about Morrison, among many things, is how there is a voice of moral assertion, of reframing how we see things. For me, the ‘hook’ into Morrison began with Sula and how Sula herself simply defies expectations, defies what people will say of her, and defies the category of either tragic or slut or immoral. And the more conventional Nel only realizes that once she passes. To me, this defiance is at the root of Beloved as well—what might seem to be the most heinous of acts—a mother killing her child—is steeped in compassion and higher thinking. I suppose it is a quality we can find in Greek tragedy, but here it’s in these musical sentences of prose and novel-world-building.
Visit Marina Budhos's website.

My Book, The Movie: Watched.

The Page 69 Test: Watched.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ashley Weaver

Ashley Weaver is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University.

Weaver's new novel, her sixth Amory Ames Mystery, is A Dangerous Engagement.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Homer’s The Iliad. Every year a friend and I pick five classics of literature to read, and this is the final book on my list for 2019. I read large chunks of it in school, but this is my first time reading it cover-to-cover. It’s amazing how something written so long ago still has the power to stir the emotions. I have the Robert Fagles translation, and I’m really enjoying the clarity and beauty of the language.

My historical topic of interest this year has been polar exploration. I’m enjoying A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier by David Welky, which is the fascinating account of a group of explorers searching for “Crocker Land,” a distant and uncharted landscape spotted while Robert Peary trekked toward the North Pole. As with all arctic explorations, however, very little goes as planned, and the men soon find themselves at odds with starvation, the elements—and each other. Another excellent book I recently enjoyed was The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt. The search for the Northwest Passage cost a great deal, both in terms of money and lives, and this book examines several of the ill-fated attempts to discover it. It focuses especially on Sir John Franklin’s vanished expedition and the many subsequent voyages to try to discover what became of the explorer and his crew.

As for fiction, I went to be beach last weekend and somehow decided that was a good time to start Jaws by Peter Benchley. I’ve always loved the film, so I was excited to dive into the book. There was something very atmospheric about reading about the havoc wreaked by an apex predator while I sat so close to its home turf. Luckily, I made it home one piece!
Visit Ashley Weaver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier is the author of twenty-two historical fantasy novels and a collection of short stories. She was born and educated in New Zealand but now lives in Western Australia, where she writes full-time. The strong elements of history and folklore in her work reflect her lifelong interest in both. However, her stories are character-based, with a focus on human journeys and relationships.

2019 sees the release of two new novels from Marillier. Her stand-alone folkloric fantasy, Beautiful, based on the Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, was published in May. The Harp of Kings, the first book in a new historical fantasy series, Warrior Bards, was published in September. Marillier is currently working on Book 2 of Warrior Bards.

Marillier’s earlier works include the Blackthorn & Grim series and the Sevenwaters series, both set in a magical version of early medieval Ireland. She has won many awards for her writing, including five Aurealis Awards and four Sir Julius Vogel Awards, as well as the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Prix Imaginales. In 2019 she won the Sara Douglass Book Series Award for the Blackthorn & Grim series. Juliet is a regular contributor to award-winning genre writing blog Writer Unboxed.

Marillier is a member of OBOD (The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) and her spiritual values are often reflected in her work – the human characters’ relationship with the natural world plays a significant part, as does the power of storytelling to teach and to heal.

When not writing, Juliet is kept busy by her small pack of rescue dogs. She has four adult children and eight grandchildren.

Recently I asked Marillier about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading an excellent non-fiction book, Our Dogs, Ourselves, by Alexandra Horowitz. The author is senior research fellow and head of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has written three previous books including the New York Times bestseller, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.

I’m thoroughly enjoying Our Dogs, Ourselves, which is a substantial, engagingly written, extremely well researched examination of the relationship between human and dog. The author, who has her own small menagerie, discusses with respect and insight the often contradictory nature of the way we think about and relate to dogs. As a foster carer and sometimes adopter of ageing and/or infirm rescue dogs, I was delighted to find an author with the credentials and experience to write about everything from the legal status of dogs to the history of pure-breeding to the language and tone of voice we use when addressing our pets. This book is packed with fascinating information delivered in a reader-friendly style, and I strongly recommend it to any dog enthusiast.

Among several excellent novels I’ve read recently, a stand-out was Madeline Miller’s Circe. If you know your Greek mythology you will remember Circe as a witch who lures Odysseus and his crew to her remote island and ends up transforming most of them into swine. In Miller’s novel, we meet Circe as a nymph descended from gods, but lacking a godlike voice or appearance, therefore rejected by her kinsfolk. Banished to her island for wilful use of magic, she develops her nascent craft and gains an independence that provokes the wrath of the gods.

The writing is sensuous and beautiful, bringing the sights, smells, tastes and textures of the region richly alive. I devoured every word of this and I’m looking forward to reading it again. It’s remarkable how Miller can write a story with a time-span of hundreds of years, yet keep the narrative always immediate as we follow Circe’s journey to becoming her own woman. Madeline Miller has crafted a novel that is dramatic, engrossing, and entirely relevant to our times.
Visit Juliet Marillier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 6, 2019

Derek Milman

Derek Milman has worked as a playwright, screenwriter, film school teacher, DJ, and underground humor magazine publisher. A classically trained actor, he has performed on stages across the country and appeared in numerous TV shows, commercials, and films. Milman currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, where he writes full time. Swipe Right for Murder is his second novel for young adults.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Milman's reply:
I'm reading On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. It's about a Vietnamese man's coming of age, structured in the form of a letter to his mother who can't read. I really do like it, though it's flawed. Little Dog details his childhood growing up in Hartford, CT. Poetic and lyrical, the novel reaches for the stars, but the formless structure of the story, and the airy (at times fragile) writing, doesn't fully fuel the book's ambitions. At times the writing is gorgeous, almost ungodly beautiful, but the story spirals, attempting to explore poverty, race, the scars of the Vietnam War, Tiger Woods, The Opioid Crisis, and a young boy's abusive relationship with his mother. As a result, I never felt like I fully understood this particular mother/son relationship in the context of the story; it remained hazy for me. Despite the searing imagery, and Vuong's skill with language, the scope seemed too wide for his sparse, focused writing. But where the novel truly finds its light is its depiction of Little Dog's sexual and emotional awakening with a bruised, troubled, almost feral boy named Trevor. In this we have one of the most primal, brutal, heartbreaking, and truthful LGBT love stories ever told.
Visit Derek Milman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Helen Phillips

Helen Phillips's new book, her fifth, is the novel The Need.

Phillips's short story collection Some Possible Solutions (2016) received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat (2015), a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her collection And Yet They Were Happy (2011) was named a notable collection by The Story Prize. Her children’s adventure book Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green (2012) was published internationally as Upside Down in the Jungle.

Recently I asked Phillips about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have read three nonfiction books this summer that I want to recommend to everyone: Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob, Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life by Darcey Steinke, and The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang. In all three cases, the authors use their own life experiences as a lens through which to examine the deepest questions about existence and identity.

In Good Talk, a graphic memoir, Mira Jacob explores the complexities of race in the United States by way of her conversations with her biracial son and with the other people in her life.

In Flash Count Diary, Darcey Steinke chronicles the intensity of her own menopause while simultaneously investigating, and often reimagining, the role that aging females play in human (and whale) society.

In The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang evokes, with exquisite force, her experiences with mental illness, shattering many stereotypes about mental disorders and how best to treat them.

These are the courageous, wise, raw books that the world needs.
Visit Helen Phillips's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Beautiful Bureaucrat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 2, 2019

S L Huang

S. L. Huang has a math degree from MIT and is a weapons expert and professional stuntwoman who has worked in Hollywood on Battlestar Galactica and a number of other productions. Her novels include the Cas Russell series (formerly known as Russel's Attic), which begins with Zero Sum Game.

Huang applied the Page 69 Test to Null Set, her new Cas Russell novel, and reported the following:
I write science fiction and fantasy for adults, but I make an effort to stretch my legs outside my own genre and category. It’s good to see what other authors are doing! And it’s relaxing to read something a little further removed from my day-to-day business life.

Recently, I thought I’d enjoy some middle grade fiction. I read a ton of kids’ books when I was a kid, but I hadn’t poked my head into that end of the field in a while, and I’d heard today’s middle grade authors are doing some amazing work.

I started with Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, and I wasn’t disappointed. This book. This book! I cannot recommend it enough. The two protagonists are delightful and compelling—driven, precocious middle schoolers who are living their best lives while dealing with both some surreal magical interference and very real human tragedy.

Packed full of heartwarming family dynamics, Cuban-American culture, and a depth of emotional resonance most books only achieve a tenth of, Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is gripping for readers of any age. It’ll leave you with a spring in your step and a smile on your face, and maybe just a little more belief in magic.
Visit S. L. Huang's website.

The Page 69 Test: Zero Sum Game.

The Page 69 Test: Null Set.

--Marshal Zeringue