Thursday, July 28, 2022

Paula Munier

Paula Munier is a literary agent and the USA TODAY bestselling author of the Mercy Carr mysteries. A Borrowing of Bones, the first in the series, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and named the Dogwise Book of the Year. The sequel Blind Search, inspired by the real-life rescue of a little boy with autism who got lost in the woods, was followed by The Hiding Place in 2021.

Munier's new Mercy Carr mystery is The Wedding Plot.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach

I read a lot of books on nature, and this one by the author the Washington Post calls “America’s funniest science writer” is as entertaining as it is enlightening. Roach takes us on a trip around the world, to the places where wildlife and humankind overlap—and not in a good way. You meet marauding elephants in India, “nuisance” bears in Aspen, ruinous gulls in Vatican City—and no matter what the offense, you find yourself rooting for the wildlife. At least I did.

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths aka Domenica De Rosa is one of my favorite authors. This latest volume in her Ruth Galloway series does not disappoint. One of the few novels set during the pandemic, The Locked Room captures what lockdown was like for many of us—only worse, thanks to murder and mayhem. I read it in one sitting, as I do most all of Griffiths’ work. And I’ll read it at least one more time, this time as a writer rather than reader, because our best writing teachers are our betters.

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett

This is my new favorite book, and Annie Hartnett is my new favorite novelist. This wonderful story defies description, suffice it to say that it’s like Our Town meets Alice Hoffman, with a bit of John Irving thrown in for good measure.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

Q&A with Paula Munier.

My Book, The Movie: The Wedding Plot.

The Page 69 Test: The Wedding Plot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and the novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (2020). Where Are the Snows, her latest poetry collection, was chosen by Kazim Ali as the winner of the X.J. Kennedy Prize and will be published by Texas Review Press in Fall 2022. Her latest novel, based on the life and work of the silent movie star Colleen Moore, will be published by in September of 2023.

Recently I asked Rooney about what she was reading. Her reply:
Earlier this year, I read (and reviewed) Nuar Alsadir’s Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation, a fantastic exploration of how honest, uninhibited laughter connects us to our truest selves.

In it, she mentions Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm, so I’ve gotten around to reading it myself and it’s great. Malcolm’s perceptive, deadpan, voracious critical intelligence makes it a thrill to see her analyses of everything from the cottage industry of writing that’s sprung up around Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell’s Bloomsbury to the poorly-aged 1909 sentimental children’s novel A Girl of the Limberlost.

The title essay alone—in which she really does present 41 possible beginnings of a feature on the postmodernist American painter and 1980s art world superstar David Salle, and which ultimately becomes the whole feature itself—is worth the price of admission. I mean, just look at this passage where she shows him some of her own collages:
Looking back on the incident, I see that Salle had also seen what any first-year student of psychology would have seen – that, for all my protests to the contrary, I had brought my art to him to be praised. Every amateur harbors the fantasy that his work is only waiting to be discovered and acclaimed; a second fantasy – that the established contemporary artists must (also) be frauds – is a necessary corollary.
Her assessments spare no one, including herself.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

My Book, The Movie: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 18, 2022

Allie Reynolds

British-born Allie Reynolds is a former freestyle snowboarder who swapped her snowboard for a surfboard and moved to the Gold Coast in Australia, where she taught English as a foreign language for fifteen years. She still lives in Australia with her family. Reynolds’s short fiction has been published in women’s magazines in the UK, Australia, Sweden, and South Africa. Shiver is her debut novel.

The Swell is Reynolds's new novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm a massive reader. I'm not sure why, but what I most crave from fiction at the moment, is emotion. My favourite book last year was Beartown by Fredrik Backman. I was drawn to the book by the sports theme - the story centres around a small town in Sweden where everyone is obsessed with ice hockey - but I loved it for the emotions the author creates in the reader. One minute I was crying, the next minute I was bursting with pride for one of the characters. It takes such skill to create emotions so effortlessly. The prose is simple yet so powerful. The book is a translation from Swedish and I think the translator did an amazing job.

As I thriller writer, I read lots of thrillers. Some can feel a little cold and emotionless. I love when thriller authors capture emotion. I've just finished Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister, which is like no thriller I've ever read! It has a supernatural twist: a mother must go back in time to try to prevent her beloved teenage son from committing murder. The story starts with the murder and future chapters jump back in time to before it. There was so much emotion, warmth and humour in this story, which we rarely find in thrillers. There were some really touching scenes where the mother goes back in time to see her son at a younger age, which brought tears to my eyes and made me reflect on my own sons and the relationship I have with them. I love it when fiction makes me reflect on my life like that.

Where the Crawdads Sing was another book I loved recently. There is so much emotion in this story. I found it thought-provoking, heart-breaking and just beautiful. It made me cry a few times. I'm looking forward to watching the movie, and seeing if it makes me cry too!
Visit Allie Reynolds's website.

Q&A with Allie Reynolds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Meghan Holloway

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department. She now lives on the Atlantic coast with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Holloway's new novel is Killing Field.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Holloway's reply:
My nightstand has held some great reads recently, and there are more in the queue. Here is what I have been reading in the last couple of weeks:

"Signal Moon," Kate Quinn

I am so intrigued by the short story format, and Kate Quinn delivers a gem with this one. The time slip element was fun, but the characters made the story. Quinn is one of my go-to authors for strong female historical figures. Learning about the Wrens and their role in WWII was a treat. Lots of suspense and heart packed into 50 pages.

Kismet, Amina Akhtar

Is there anything as satisfying as a darkly funny, twisted murder mystery? This is a pointed, unflinching take on racism, the social media culture, and the wellness industry. The backdrop of the Arizona desert is stunning, and my favorite characters may well be the ravens.

The Ghosts of Paris, Tara Moss

I love a resourceful, independent, clever woman, and Billie Walker, former war reporter turned sleuth, fits the bill. I felt transported to post-WWII Paris with the detailed descriptions. There is a wealth of history and pointed social commentary in this engrossing read as Billie and an outstanding cast of secondary characters unravel the mystery of two missing husbands.

The Woman in the Library, Sulari Gentill

The literary device of an embedded narrative fascinates me, and a murder in a library? Yes, please. This is an entertaining read, and the authors of both books in the story have their own mysteries to solve.

There are, of course, the other research books I am reading for my current work in progress. What is on your Kindle or nightstand? Send some recommendations my way.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 11, 2022

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published later this summer. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine:
Don Benedetto, a Catholic priest in a small Italian village, had “a liberty of spirit and a liveliness of mind that in his station in life were positively foolhardy.” His relatives hated him for “not having the prestige with the authorities that they expected of him and for having been reduced to living like a hermit instead of being able to use influence on their behalf at a time when honest work was of no use whatever in the absence of recommendations and backing in high places.” When his sister arranged a small celebration on his 75th birthday, only two of his former students bothered to attend, one of whom excuses his membership in the Fascist party on the ground that, “in school you dream, in life you have to adapt yourself.” To which Don Benedetto ironically replies, “What? Is that how an activist talks? A Nietzsche fan?”

Don Benedetto is not very interested in either of his guests; he is much more interested in someone who is not there, his favorite pupil, Pietro Spina, a boy who was not satisfied with what he found in textbooks. Don Benedetto still has the essay in which Spina had written, “But for the fact that it would be very boring to be exhibited on altars after one’s death, to be prayed to and worshipped by a lot of unknown people, mainly ugly old women, I should like to be a saint. I don’t want to live in accordance with circumstances, conventions and material expediency, but I want to live and struggle for what seems to be just and right without regard to the consequences.” It does not surprise Don Benedetto that Pietro Spina is a member of the Communist party.

But not a very good member. The party requires total commitment, unquestioning support for whatever the party majority decides, and Pietro objects to this. “I can’t sacrifice for the party’s sake the reasons for which I joined it.” Told that “Breaking with the party means abandoning the idea behind it,” Pietro insists this “would be like putting the Church before Christ.”

This is the key to understanding everything Ignazio Silone, who had himself once been a communist, is trying to say. The Church had promised heaven in life after death; Communism promised heaven on earth. The Church, as the source of revealed truth, spoke with only one voice; the Communist party, the source of the truth about history and what history would bring, had to do the same thing. The question posed by Pietro Spina became more pointed, and more tragic, when the Russian Communist party, under the control of Stalin, began the systematic elimination of the leaders of the Russian Revolution of l917, men like Bukharin and Trotsky, who believed that the Russian Revolution could not survive by itself and that it was impossible to have what Stalin called Socialism in One Country.

“How dare you describe our condemnation of Bukharin and other traitors as conformism. Are you mad?” asks one of Pietro Spina’s superiors. To which he replies: “How can we destroy fascist subservience if we abandon the critical spirit?”

Through Pietro Spina, Ignazio Silone raises questions men like Bukharin could not bring themselves to ask. Marxism had become their religion; the Communist party their Church. Failure to follow the orders of their Church meant questioning their religion, which would make a mockery of everything they had believed and everything they had done. Put on trial for betraying the party, accused of being an agent of foreign powers, Bukharin confessed to crimes he did not commit. It was the only way he had left to serve the cause to which he had dedicated his life, the only way he could still honor his belief that the Communist party was the chosen instrument of History. There was a reason that Arthur Koestler’s once famous novel about that trial was called Darkness at Noon.

Pietro Spina is less attached to the Communist party than he is opposed to the Fascist party that has taken control in Italy. Arrested at the beginning of l927 and deported to the island of Lipari, he escapes to France. He comes back, sick and dying, to the small village in Italy where he had been raised. In a subtle reminder of the parallels between the Church and the Party, Silone has the priest, Don Benedetto, disguise his former student, now wanted by the Fascist government, as a priest. His new name is Don Paolo.

His illness becomes the excuse why he cannot perform the duties of a priest and must recover in a place where he will not be required to do so. He goes to a village some miles away and takes rooms at an inn run by an older woman, Matalena, who is enormously proud that Don Paolo has chosen her place to stay. A girl, for whom Don Paolo had once done a kindness, thinks him not only a saint, but might be Jesus Christ himself. Matalena wonders whether, if he really is Jesus Christ, she should inform the carabinieri. As Silone points out, “a copy of the police regulations was displayed on the inn door, but the arrival of Jesus was not an eventuality foreseen in them.”

The village is filled with ignorance and superstition. A chapel is dedicated in memory of a miracle in days gone by. That year, someone explains to Don Paolo, roses bloomed, cherries ripened and ewes lambed in January. “Instead of rejoicing, people were terrified, of course. Were not such blessings the harbingers of disaster? Sure enough, cholera came that summer.” A little further down the same road, he is shown a cross inscribed with the date a notary, Don Giulio, was robbed and murdered. “Don Giulio lent out money at thirty percent. After his death usury disappeared.”

With the Fascists in power, the schoolmistress wears the emblem of the government party on her dress. One of the few literate people in the village, she reads every day in public from the official government newspaper from Rome. One day she reads that, “We have a leader from whom all the nations of the earth envy us. Who knows what they would be prepared to pay to have him in their country.” One of the villagers, an old man “who disliked generalities,” interrupts to ask how much. “What are they offering, and would it be a cash or a credit transaction.” He was serious.

The government has decided that the glory of Italy, destined to repeat the glory of the Roman Empire, requires the invasion of Abyssinia. All anyone can talk about in the village is the war in Africa, which will take only a few days because, “Our death ray will carbonize the enemy.” The government organizes a “spontaneous demonstration.” Everywhere, even in this small remote place, trucks are sent in all directions. “But the carabinieri must go with the trucks so that people will see the necessity of coming here of their own accord.” Everyone gathers in the village square. Two brass bands march through the streets. A radio set, “crowned by a trophy of flags,” is placed on a chair. “It was from there that the voice proclaiming war would emerge. As the poor people arrived they were herded beneath this small object on which their collective destiny depended.”

After the announcement, a local attorney gave an oration in which he remarked without conscious irony that, “Our country has grown greater after every war, and in particular after every defeat.”

Later that day, Don Paolo asks some of the locals, who have been drinking, if they understood “anything of what is going on?” “What a thing to ask,” replies one of them. “No one told us there was any need to understand.”

What Pietro Spina understands is that fascism, like communism and every other form of dictatorship, is based on unanimity. One man “who goes on thinking with his own brain is a threat to public order.” Nor is this true only of dictatorships. “You can live in the most democratic country in the world, and if you are lazy, callous, servile, you are not free, in spite of the absence of violence and coercion, you are a slave.”

Bread and Wine was first published in a German edition in 1936. An English version was published that same year in London. The original text was completely revised before it was published for the first time in Italy in 1955. No one knows how many revisions it went through. Ignazio Silone was what every writer, every serious writer, should be: someone who would, as he put it, gladly spend his life, “writing and rewriting the same book: the single book that every writer has within him that is the image of his soul and of which his published works are only more or less fragments.” It only follows that the thing that matters most “in a work of literature” is “the development of the interior life of the characters.” As Ignazio Silone was one of the last to understand, the life of literature is the life of the mind. Which is one of the reasons that each reading of Bread and Wine teaches something new.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 4, 2022

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Divakaruni is the author of 20 books, the latest being the award-winning historical novel, The Last Queen.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Lonesome Flight by Dipak Gupta

This first novel depicts a powerful and tragic story known to too few. It is the story of the Naxalite terrorist movement in India in the 1960s that seduced and claimed many promising young lives. Set in Calcutta, the city I grew up in, Gupta’s novel resonated with me because of its authentic details and the writer’s keen eye. It is also a moving love story, and an adventure rife with secrets and betrayals, violence and redemption. I loved the way the novel surprised me as it moved from the bustle of the city to the lives of tribals in remote forests of Bengal.

Reading, I felt that this insightful fictional depiction of how bright young minds are recruited into becoming terrorists is particularly timely because of the distressing growth of terrorist cells worldwide today, as well as the resurgence of the Naxalite movement in India. It is a story for the world.

Researching a bit, I discovered that the novel was centered around an experience that Gupta himself lived through. The experience he fictionalizes left such a powerful mark on him that he decided to dedicate his life to the study of terrorism. He is now a distinguished professor emeritus of Sociology at San Diego State University.

Perhaps this is why Lonesome Flight has so many incidents of wrenching authenticity that add to its appeal.
Visit Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's website.

The Page 69 Test: Oleander Girl.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue