Monday, October 31, 2022

Nev March

Nev March is the first Indian-born writer to win Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America's Award for Best First Crime Fiction.

After a long career in business analysis, in 2015 March returned to her passion, writing fiction and now teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, Osher Institute. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons.

March's books deal with issues of identity, race and moral boundaries. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel. The sequel, Peril at the Exposition, was released in July. Captain Jim and Lady Diana's third adventure will be published Fall 2023.

Recently I asked March about what she was reading. Her reply:
While taking a break from revising book 3 of my Captain Jim and Lady Diana series, I had an epiphany: These days, a female protagonist who's independent and also committed to a relationship might be a rarity in the crime genre. I've loved many books with dynamic female characters (for example, Sujata Massey's Pervin Mistry series, Victoria Thompson's Gaslight mysteries,) but frequently they were 'single' to allow for potential relationships with folks they encountered in their adventures. This gave the impression that being married was somehow 'boring'!!! Romance novels usually end with couples getting together. For me, that is the start of the story! What a lot of change and conflict one must navigate in a relationship! So in my series, Diana and Captain Jim will likely investigate more mysteries in the 1890s, but may also discover the many challenges and surprises of couple-hood.

I've just finished reading a political thriller, Phoenix in the Middle of the Road by JR Bale, which kept me glued to the pages. This insider view of politics is both realistic and riveting, echoing the feel of hit TV series like West Wing and Designated Survivor. While there were a lot of characters to keep track of, the story evolved in gripping short scenes, brilliantly etched and with hard hitting dialog. I'll certainly read more by this self published author, who also writes sci-fi!

The last book I read (and can't forget!) was Isabella Maldonado's The Cipher. It kept me up, reading until 2 am. While serial killer tales are not my usual fare, (too violent!) this one had me hooked from the first page. "FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera escaped a serial killer’s trap at sixteen." A heart rending backstory gives the protagonist depth and complexity, and believable flaws that still have you rooting for her. This thriller was terrifying and incredibly satisfying with twists that came out of nowhere. Not for the faint of heart but so well worth it. Left me feeling profound and empowered!

At present I'm reading The Lost Man of Bombay by Vaseem Khan. One does not expect a historical mystery to be so much fun! Khan's white hot wit singes! When a white man is found frozen to death in the Himalayan mountains, a group of misfit detectives is tasked to find the culprit before the political mess blows up in their faces. I was charmed to find that Khan's protagonist is Persis Wadia, a Parsi woman inspector! As a Parsi woman myself, this delighted me, and made me eager to know how she will fare in the misogynistic world of Bombay police in the 1950s. (By the way, when I was in Mumbai last month I saw four policewomen! Four. How wonderful!) I simply can't wait to see how Khan's book turns out. Strongly recommend ... and I haven't finished yet!
Visit Nev March's website.

Q&A with Nev March.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Old Bombay.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in Old Bombay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 27, 2022

K. Eason

K. Eason lives with her husband and a trio of disreputable cats in Southern California, where she teaches first-year college students about zombies and food (not at the same time!). Her short fiction has appeared in Cabinet-des-Fées, Postcards from Hell: The First Thirteen, Jabberwocky 4, Crossed Genres, Kaleidotrope, Ink: Queer Sci Fi Anthology, and Shapers of Worlds: Volume III. She has written the On the Bones of Gods trilogy, The Thorne Chronicles, and The Weep duology, the second book of which, Nightwatch over Windscar, is now out from DAW Books.

When she's not writing or commenting on essays, she's probably playing D&D.

Recently I asked Eason about what she was reading. Her reply:
Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs. I picked up the book because I’m a long-time gamer who remembers the early-ish days of D&D and TSR and the rise of Magic: the Gathering. Riggs weaves timelines and personalities and data together in a narrative that makes you forget you’re reading a (secret) history. I found it fascinating and fun and surprising in many places.

Hate Machine by Stephen Blackmoore. Eric Carter is my favorite necromancer. And my favorite anti-hero. This is #8 in the series, so I won’t do much synopsizing. I guess it’s technically an urban fantasy--contemporary US, but with underground mages/magic society--but the series has a noir edge that’ll draw blood. The stories are brutal, and Eric’s about as flawed as they come, but his heart’s in the right place. Mostly. I’m always happy when a new installment in his saga appears.

To Shape A Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose. This one’s isn’t out yet; I got an early copy and I feel fortunate. It’s fantastic. It’s an alt-past steampunkish Northeast America where there is no US or Christianity, though the settlers from across the sea brought cities and industry and attitudes of colonial superiority. Anequss, our young Indigenous hero, has to leave her home to attend a dragon-riding academy to prove her worthiness to keep her dragon. Cultures collide, in both ways you’d expect and ways you wouldn’t. The whole novel is a delight.
Visit K. Eason's website.

The Page 69 Test: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse.

Q&A with K. Eason.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 21, 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, is due out soon. 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 The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay:
One summer, years ago, wandering into a musty old book store in Manhattan, I discovered two sets of the collected works of Francis Bacon, one bound in an unpretentious plain cloth, the other, five times more expensive, bound in gorgeous green and gold leather. When I asked the bookstore owner why the one was so much more expensive than the other, he gave me one of those looks jaded New Yorkers reserve for out of town idiots and told me there was only one reason why people would buy the leather bound collected works of Francis Bacon or of anyone else: “They don’t buy them to read them; they buy them for the furniture value.”

This seemed worse than murder. Something had to be done; someone had to rescue all these priceless works of the human mind from becoming part of an interior decorator’s overpriced color scheme. When a few years later I discovered in a Chicago bookstore the Whitehall edition of the collected works of Thomas Babington Macaulay, of which only a thousand copies had been printed, twenty volumes bound in gleaming maroon leather, I knew my duty. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Ten volumes contain Macaulay’s masterful History of England, the other ten the essays that made him famous as a literary figure in the early 19th century as well as his speeches. His speech in Parliament on the Reform Bill of 1832, the bill that broadened the franchise to include the middle class and changed British politics forever, is one of the greatest speeches ever given. Reading it, even now, nearly two hundred years later, not only holds your attention, but as the speech draws to its conclusion, makes you think you are there, listening with the other members of Parliament, ready to jump to your feet cheering. Delivered at tremendous speed, it lasted well over an hour, every word spoken from memory. And while it is true that everyone had better memories then, when minds were not, like ours, cluttered with a million different disconnected electronic images and sounds, Macaulay’s memory was truly extraordinary. He had, among other things, memorized the whole of the Old Testament - in Hebrew!

One of Macaulay’s essays, essays that typically run thirty or forty pages, is an essay on Francis Bacon, whose collected works he purchased not to help furnish his living room, but to study, over and over again. Macaulay has nothing but praise for Bacon who had, to all intents and purposes, changed philosophy into science, modern science. At least since the time of Socrates, philosophy had been understood as the attempt to understand man’s place in the world, his place in the order of things. Bacon initiated what might be called the modern project: philosophy, the search for wisdom, replaced by the search for those things that will “alleviate man’s estate,” i.e. reduce, or even remove, the causes of human suffering. Instead of following nature’s law, nature would be mastered; science would discover the ways to provide the material abundance that would make prosperity available to everyone. Science, modern science, would make it possible for human beings to live longer, and might even, one day, banish death altogether.

Macaulay never doubted that Bacon’s project was a vast improvement over what Plato and Aristotle had tried to teach. The ancients assumed an inherent inequality between those who ruled and those who were forced, or persuaded, to obey. Histories were written only about the former, the men who controlled events, decided between war and peace, decided who would live and who would die; the men who decided who was, and who was not, subject to the law they made. Macaulay’s History of England is the first to give an account, not only of war and rebellion, the birth and death of kings and usurpers, but the life of ordinary people, how they lived, the conditions with which they had to deal, the sometimes dismal facts of their everyday existence.

The world, and especially the English speaking world, was not just moving toward greater equality, the emerging middle class, a class made possible by the commerce that was itself the result of the practical application of Bacon’s new science, was forcing a re-examination of every public policy and every public institution. This included the law itself, not just the law in England, where men like Jeremy Bentham were advocating a more equal approach to the criminal law, but in India, where Great Britain was the ruling colonial power.

It is unfortunate, particularly for those who have a serious interest in criminal law, that Macaulay’s Report on the Indian Penal Code which can be found in the seventh volume of the Essays, is not more readily available, or more widely read. Unfortunate, not because of some antiquarian interest, but because Macaulay’s remarkable work provides a standard by which to judge our own system of criminal justice. There is little reason to question how things are done unless you first learn that they have been done differently somewhere else. There is no reason, for example, to think anything wrong with allowing the prosecution and the defense to excuse the same number of jurors in a criminal trial if you have not learned that when the jury system was first introduced in England the prosecution was not allowed to challenge any jurors, while the defense could excuse up to thirty five; no reason to wonder why an American judge never tells a jury what to think about the evidence introduced at a trial, until you discover that in Great Britain the judge routinely summarizes the evidence at the end of the trial.

Macaulay, one of four commissioners given the responsibility of reforming the penal code in India, attempted to explain in their report, submitted on October 14, 1837, what the criminal law should be. He knew the task was among the most difficult, “in which the human mind can be employed; that persons placed in circumstances far more favorable than ours have attempted it with very doubtful success; that the best codes extant, if malignantly criticized, will be found to furnish matter for censure on every page….”

The first, and the most important, subject taken up is punishment. The ultimate punishment, of course, is death, which, though it should be the punishment for murder, should not be the punishment for robberies, mutilation, or rape. If death is the penalty for any of these crimes, the offender has an irresistible motive to kill:

“A law which imprisons for rape and robbery, and hangs for murder, holds out to ravishers and robbers a strong incentive to spare the lives of those whom they have injured.”

This elegantly phrased thought seems never to have occurred to those American politicians who think to treat any third felony as the ‘third strike’ that sends an offender to prison for life, the same sentence they would get for murdering any witness to their crime. And, in all fairness, neither would it occur to any of our more liberal minded reformers to add, as Macaulay does, the remark that, “If murder were punished with something more than death; if the murderer were broken on the wheel or burnt alive, there would not be the same objection to punishing with death those crimes which in atrocity approach nearest to murder. But such a system would be open to other objections so obvious that it is unnecessary to point them out.”

Among Macaulay’s more telling, and more useful, observations are those on the different effects various punishments have on the rich and the poor. Equal punishment, it turns out, is not necessarily very equal at all.

“Death, imprisonment, transportation, banishment, solitude, compelled labor, are not, indeed, equally disagreeable to all men. But they are so disagreeable to all men that the legislature, assigning these punishments to offences, may safely neglect the differences produced by temper and situation. With fine, the case is different. In imposing a fine, it is always necessary to have as much regard to the pecuniary circumstances of the offender as the character and magnitude of the offense.”

Macaulay decided not to include in the new code the “degrading public exhibition of an offender in a pillory, after the English fashion.” This may seem only what any right thinking person would do, but Macaulay’s mind is too penetrating, and too analytical, to rest content with an instinctive reaction against what seems cruel and unusual. The problem with the pillory is that it is the “most unequal” of all punishments.

“It may be more severe than any punishment in the code. It may be no punishment at all. If inflicted on a man who has a quick sensibility, it is generally more terrible than death itself. If inflicted on a hardened and impudent delinquent,” someone “who has no character to lose, it is a punishment less serious than an hour on the treadmill.” Of all punishments, “the most absurd is that which produces pain proportionate to the degree which the offender retains the sentiments of an honest man.”

In the introduction to the report, Macaulay remarks that laws should be “as far as possible, precise,” but also, “easily understood.” The way to do this is to furnish illustrations, “which will clarify what is meant.” When he takes up the difficult question to what extent an omission, a failure to act, produces, or is intended to produce, or is known to be likely to produce, the same evil effect as an intentional act, should be punishable, the use of illustrations becomes indispensable. For example, A refuses to give food to Z, who dies as a result. Is A guilty of a crime and should be punished? If A is a jailer, and Z his prisoner, then yes. But if A is a rich man, and Z a starving beggar, then no. The requirements of the law, and the dictates of morality are not always the same. “Many things which are not punishable are morally worse than many things which are punishable.” The wealthy man “who refuses a mouthful of rice to save a fellow creature from death may be a far worse man than the starving wretch who snatches and devours the rice, yet we punish the latter for theft, and we do not punish the former for hard-heartedness.”

Another example. A fails to tell Z that a river is unsafe to cross, and by this omission causes his death, is it murder? If A has been stationed there to warn people of the danger, or if A has been hired by Z as a guide, then the failure to do so is a crime. But if A, who knows of the danger, has no duty to warn and would simply prefer to watch people drown, he is a completely worthless human being, but he is not a criminal.

One of the more interesting differences between what Macaulay thought essential for the criminal law and the position of our own criminal law is the punishment for perjury. We treat it as a separate, and somewhat minor, offense; Macaulay insisted that giving false evidence is “always a grave offense.” He draws a distinction between the kind of false evidence that “produces great evils and the kind that produces comparatively slight evils.” In the latter case, the punishment should be imprisonment for “not more than seven, nor less than one year.” But, and this is where Macaulay takes lying under oath much more seriously than we do now, where false evidence is given or fabricated with the intent to cause someone to be convicted of a grave offense not capital, the punishment should be the same as that “which he has attempted to fix on another.” Where someone gives false evidence with the intention of causing death, and that attempt fails, he is to be punished with the most severe sentence given for attempted murder. If that false evidence is successful, however, and the defendant is executed, perjury will be met with death. Macaulay notes that, “On this last point, the law, as we have framed it, agreed with the old law of England, which, though in our opinion just and reasonable, has become obsolete.”

A hundred years after Macaulay attempted to give a proper punishment for lying in a court of law, Joseph Conrad wrote in Heart of Darkness: “There is something deathlike in a lie.” That line captures, as no other line ever could, what Macaulay, and others like him, had always seen as the worst of our sins. That we, for some reason, now think lying, even lying under oath, a relatively pardonable offense, says something deeply disturbing about us.

Having read the twenty volumes of the collected works of Thomas Babington Macaulay, read them with increasing pleasure each time I go back to them, my only regret about buying them is that there were not twenty more.
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.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Kerry Anne King

Kerry Anne King is a Washington Post and Amazon charts bestselling author of compelling and transformational stories about family and personal growth with elements of mystery, humor, and an undercurrent of romance. She was voted the 2020 Writer of the Year by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Her novel, Everything You Are, was a finalist in the Nancy Pearl Book Awards hosted by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and A Borrowed Life was a finalist in the 2020 Authors on the Air Book of the Year Awards. In addition to writing, Kerry Schafer supports other writers through motivational coaching and speaking.

Kerry Anne King's new novel is Improbably Yours.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
This is a dangerous question to ask me, since I could write pages and pages about my current favorite books. I’m an eclectic reader (which leads to a sometimes unfortunate tendency to blur genre lines when I’m writing) and I also have a tendency to mood read or binge out on a series if I fall in love with the characters. Here are a few books that have been making me happy lately:

As I write this, I’m right smack in the middle of The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah. This is a beautifully big, fat, fantasy novel set in a fictional, ancient middle east, and it’s chock full of magic, adventure, mystery, and battles between forces of good and evil. There’s a lovely story-telling tone to it along with a cast of characters I am rooting for (even when they’re not exactly rooting for each other) and I know I’ll be sad when it’s over. It gets bonus points for a gorgeous cover and will definitely find permanent shelf space in my collection. (Just as soon as I get a new bookcase and magically create room for it in my house).

More in keeping with the genre I write in as Kerry Anne King, I recently read We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman. I read most of it on a plane, which was problematic because I kept snort laughing and had to quell the desire to stand up and read little bits out loud to my fellow passengers. Norman has a gift for writing about difficult subjects like death, divorce, and political issues, with an irresistible combination of empathy, insight, and humor.

My most recent series binge read was The Lady Hardcastle Mysteries, by T.E. Kinsey, beginning with A Quiet Life in the Country. These are super fun cozies set in England in 1908, and feature a sleuthing team composed of Lady Hardcastle, a trying-to-be-retired spy, and her lady’s maid, Florence Armstrong, who despite her tiny size has not only brains but some fabulous and unexpected skills in hand-to-hand combat. Lots of humor, fabulous characters, great world-building, and mysteries I didn’t solve until I got to the end.

Another mystery series I have to mention because I adore it so, is the Thursday Murder Club and its sequels, driven by a cast of characters all in their seventies and eighties who are brilliant, devious, and not above using their age to befuddle, disarm, and bring criminals to unconventional justice.

Okay, okay. I’m stopping now. It’s just so difficult to stop once you get me started!
Visit Kerry Anne King's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything You Are.

The Page 69 Test: A Borrowed Life.

The Page 69 Test: Other People's Things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 17, 2022

Stephanie Feldman

Stephanie Feldman is the author of the novels Saturnalia and The Angel of Losses, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. She is co-editor of the multi-genre anthology Who Will Speak for America? and her stories and essays have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Catapult Magazine, Electric Literature, Flash Fiction Online, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and more. She lives outside Philadelphia with her family.

Recently I asked Feldman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read weird fiction and horror year-round, but I always take a deeper dive in the fall months. Right now, I’m reading Robert Aickman’s story collection Compulsory Games. Aickman was a 20th-century British writer of what he called “strange stories,” and I think he described his work perfectly. It’s not quite supernatural fiction—I’m only halfway through, but so far there are no obvious ghosts or vampires. In fact, there are no explanations at all for the disappearing wives, bloodthirsty cows, and—most importantly—the crazy-making mystery of other people’s behavior. It’s an unsettling and exciting book.

I’m also reading Nick Perilli’s Cul-de-sac. I loved his chapbook collection Child Lucia and Other Library Fabula, which has the same weird sensibility as Aickman but with Perilli’s unique humor. His first novel, Cul-de-sac, is about a young man facing grief and depression, but by fighting his way through a mirror universe of his suburban neighborhood, with portal televisions, living dolls, and the friends he abandoned long ago.
Visit Stephanie Feldman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Saturnalia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Karen Odden

Karen Odden earned her Ph.D. in English from New York University and subsequently taught literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has contributed essays to numerous books and journals, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes & Noble classics series, and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture. Her previous novels, also set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery.

Odden's new novel is Under a Veiled Moon, her second Inspector Corravan Mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually have several books going at once between the non-fiction research I do for my next book, and my three book clubs. (People tease me about my book club philandering, but I love clubs because they pick books I might not even have discovered; it’s like a surprise grab bag every month.)

Recently I’ve added in books written by my co-panelists for Bouchercon, the mystery conference being held in Minneapolis next week. For that, I just finished Catherine McKenzie’s new book Please Join Us, which I read in two days. It features Nicole, a 39-year-old struggling woman lawyer who joins what she believes to be an empowering women’s group, Panthera Leo, and becomes enmeshed in a secret society. With a twisty plot that recalls John Grisham’s The Firm, it’s a page-turner.

For research about my next Inspector Corravan mystery, I’m reading Brian McDonald’s (nonfiction) Alice Diamond And The Forty Elephants: Britain's First Female Crime Syndicate, about the all-women thieving gang from Elephant & Castle area of London. Corravan is put on the case of a murdered woman who is part of a gang similar to this one. There is a new novel called The Forty Elephants by Erin Bledsoe, which I’m eager to read; it takes place in the 1920s, fifty years after mine.

One of my book clubs just finished Valérie Perrin’s Fresh Water for Flowers, which I absolutely loved. Translated from the French, the book features Violetta Toussaint, a caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne. It has a fabulous cast of well-developed secondary characters – gravediggers, mourners, a police chief whose past is intertwined with Violette’s in a surprising way – and beautiful, poetic language. It’s a bouquet of different love stories, all flawed and some failed, but many are beautiful and tender. There’s a mystery tucked in as well, like a dark fern amid the flowers. It was a bestseller in France and enjoyed by our club.

Another book club is reading Richard Powers’s latest, Bewilderment. I found his masterpiece, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory, thought-provoking, nuanced, and beautiful. I enjoyed this one, though it has the most devastating ending I've read this year. An astrobiologist named Theo, whose wife died in a car accident, is the single parent of a neurodivergent son, Robbie, a sensitive child attuned to the dangers threatening our environment. After Robbie is nearly expelled from school for hitting another student, Theo enrolls Robbie in an experimental neurological treatment program, and Robbie improves – until a social media storm results in the treatment being shut down. The messages about various perils – a president who makes inflammatory tweets, global warming, viral social media campaigns, etc. – are timely and relevant but a tad overt to my ear; however, at moments, the tenderness of the writing took my breath away. It's a compelling, quick read; I certainly recommend. My favorite quote: “There are four good things worth practicing. Being kind toward everything alive. Staying level and steady. Feeling happy for any creature anywhere that is happy. And remembering that any suffering is also yours.”
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Odden and Rosy.

Q&A with Karen Odden.

My Book, The Movie: Under a Veiled Moon.

The Page 69 Test: Under a Veiled Moon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Patricia Grayhall

Patricia Grayhall is a medical doctor and author of Making the Rounds: Defying Norms in Love and Medicine. After nearly forty years of medical practice, this is her debut, very personal, and frank memoir about coming out as a lesbian in the late 1960s and training to become a doctor when society disapproved of both for a woman. Grayhall chose to write using a pen name to protect the privacy of some of her characters as well as her own. She lives with the love of her life on an island in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys other people’s dogs, the occasional Orca and black bear, hiking, and wine with friends.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Grayhall's reply:
Over the past three years while writing my memoir, I read other memoirs to gain inspiration. Notables included Melissa Febos’s Abandon Me and Adrienne Brodeur’s Wild Game.

Most recently, I have read Felice Cohen’s Half In: A Coming of Age Memoir of Forbidden Love. This is an unusual story of a 23-year-old college woman who falls in love with her boss, a 57-year-old woman and Director at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who returns her love. Not only is the age-gap a barrier to Cohen revealing her love even to her closest friends and family, but her boss, Sarah, is already in a relationship and living with another woman. This story has been told in various forms in heteronormative relationships, and some of the same power dynamics apply, but with the added layer of secrecy because it occurred at a time when it was still not safe to be “out” as a lesbian.

What I particularly appreciated about Cohen’s presentation of her story, was the subtle layering of nuance as she talks about her fear of others’ judgment of the age-gap, her role as the “other woman” and her ambivalence about her sexuality. Shining through her shame is the intense tenderness, love, and passion they both shared despite the circumstances and the age gap. Sarah is not unsympathetic, even with her faults and the obvious inappropriateness of her behavior, and Cohen leads the reader to understand how Sarah found herself in love with a vulnerable, much younger woman. All judgment aside, this an incredibly touching love story, demonstrating the complicated web surrounding how human beings can love one another, and how despite all obstacles, it is better to have loved.

The other memoir I am reading is And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, The Writing Life by Helen Humphreys an acclaimed Canadian author of several novels. She writes: “Into my writer’s isolation will come a dog, to sit beside my chair or to lie on the couch while I work, to force me outside for a walk, and suddenly, although still lonely, this writer will have a companion.” Her memoir is a braided narrative that weaves sweet and sometimes humorous commentary on her current puppy with recollections of her previous dogs, other writers and their relationships with their dogs, and snippets from her own life.

When I was writing my own memoir, my old dog Dudley lay by my side, totally attuned to my changes of mood as I delved into the past to answer questions and unearth meaning and universal truths. That is the thing about dogs that Humphreys captures so well. We love them unconditionally. No matter that Dudley chews through the shoulder harness, pukes on the floor, compels me to walk him in the pouring rain and lift him in and out of the car, poops in his bed and falls in it, costs me thousands of dollars in vet bills, and inconveniences me in countless ways—I love him fiercely. And that is perhaps, their most important role, to be an object of our love.
Visit Patricia Grayhall's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lady Emily mystery series.

The daughter of two philosophy professors, she studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, live on a ranch in southeastern Wyoming.

Alexander's new novel, Secrets of the Nile, is the 16th Lady Emily mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished Ann Mah’s phenomenal Jacqueline in Paris, a meticulously researched novel that tells the story of the year Jacqueline Bouvier spent in Paris as a college student. Mah brings post-war Paris to life, contrasting its bullet-riddled buildings and grimy façades with the city’s elegant beauty. An endlessly talented writer, she immerses the reader in Jacqueline’s world. Student cafés, politics, and the struggles of those who suffered during the war draw you in, while Mah’s expertly drawn and fully realized characters make you want to stay with them long after you’ve closed the book.
Visit Tasha Alexander's website.

Q&A with Tasha Alexander.

The Page 69 Test: The Dark Heart of Florence.

--Marshal Zeringue