Thursday, March 30, 2023

Edward Ashton

Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Mickey7 (now a motion picture directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Robert Pattinson), Three Days in April, and The End of Ordinary. His short fiction has appeared in venues ranging from the newsletter of an Italian sausage company to Escape Pod, Analog, and Fireside Fiction. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that Cabin in the Woods) with his wife, a variable number of daughters, and an adorably mopey dog named Max, where he writes—mostly fiction, occasionally fact—under the watchful eyes of a giant woodpecker and a rotating cast of barred owls. In his free time, he enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling.

Ashton's new novel is Antimatter Blues.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ashton's reply:
I’m currently working my way through Children of Memory, the third installment in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time series. The thing I love about Tchaikovsky’s work in general, and about these books in particular, is that he’s able to put together compelling adventures filled with clearly drawn and engaging characters, while simultaneously twisting his readers’ brains into knots exploring deep questions about the nature of sentience and what it might mean to different types of minds.

It’s distressingly common in science fiction to see alien intelligences portrayed as more or less humans with too few eyeballs or too many limbs. Tchaikovsky’s genius is to present us with creatures who are almost familiar—uplifted jumping spiders (Children of Time) or octopuses (Children of Ruin) or ravens (Children of Memory)—and then show us how despite being our cousins, each of these would see the world in completely unique and different ways, both from us and from one another. Bizarrely, the one truly alien intelligence in this series, introduced first in Children of Ruin, turns out in many ways to be the most like us. The implications of this are left as an exercise for the reader.

Exploring all of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s oeuvre is the work of a lifetime. He’s one of the very few authors I know of who manage to simultaneously produce high-quality work and to seemingly write it faster than I’m able to read it. If you’d like to dive in and see what he’s about, though, you could do a lot worse than starting with this series.
Visit Edward Ashton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mickey7.

Q&A with Edward Ashton.

The Page 69 Test: Antimatter Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 27, 2023

Elizabeth Wein

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

Wein's new novel is Stateless.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. What a project.

I have great admiration for the movie Lawrence of Arabia; I once visited Cloud Hill, Lawrence’s eccentric home in southern England, and wished it were mine. We have a thing in our family where when you buy a tin of sardines and crackers in a local grocery store and eat it on a hike, that is a “Lawrence of Arabia picnic.” But I’d never thought about reading Lawrence’s autobiographical account of his World War I experience fighting the Turks until recently, when some internet rabbit-hole led me to an auction advertising a signed first edition for £27,000 or something equally ridiculous, and I got curious about it and started poking around on the internet to find out more. I was fascinated to discover that Lawrence lost his original draft – a thousand pages long – by leaving it in a train station, and had to re-write the whole darn thing.

I was intrigued. I bought a much cheaper used paperback and am now about halfway through, on a regime of 25 pages a day. If you can make it through the first 50 pages or so of military strategy, the payoff is worth it for the plagues of snakes, insane heat, mining of railways, feasts of boiled sheep and camels, shocking deaths, and sudden hilarious pen-and-ink sketches (I was not expecting those!) that comprise most of the rest of the book.

I am not sure I’m learning anything useful, but it’s eye-opening and jaw-dropping entertainment.
Visit Elizabeth Wein's website.

My Book, The Movie: Stateless.

The Page 69 Test: Stateless.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Frank Sennett

Frank Sennett has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana and a journalism degree from Northwestern University. He has taught creative writing at UCLA Extension and has published nine books. He has served as a senior leader at multiple media outlets, including Time Out Chicago and He also spent one lucky season in the Wrigley Field press box covering the Chicago Cubs.

Sennett's new novel is Shadow State.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Sennett's reply:
I'm two-thirds of the way through Bob Dylan's The Philosophy of Modern Song, which comprises 60-plus essays on songs that have hit his creative trip wires over the years. I'm listening to the audio version of the book, which intercuts Dylan's direct narration with passages read by actors such as Rita Moreno, Sissy Spacek, Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. It's a delightful flight of fancy, reminiscent of Dylan's old Sirius XM show, Theme Time Radio Hour. It's at turns moody and atmospheric, elliptical and playful, and always insightful. My favorite essay so far is the one in which Dylan adopts the persona of the narrator of "Blue Suede Shoes," written by Carl Perkins in 1955 and recorded most memorably by Elvis Presley the following year. In character, Dylan stretches to hilarious heights of hyperbole in describing the many terrible things you may do to him so long as you do not, under any circumstances, mess with his beautiful blue footwear, which defines his very existence and haunts his every waking, and probably sleeping, moment. It's one of the funniest essays I've read (or heard) in years. This book is a treat, and its author a treasure.
Follow Frank Sennett on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Shadow State.

My Book, The Movie: Shadow State.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Frances Brody

Frances Brody lives in Leeds where she was born and grew up. After leaving school at 16, she worked and traveled, including a spell in New York. She then won a place at Ruskin College, Oxford, and afterwards studied at York University. Before creating the Kate Shackleton mysteries, Brody wrote historical sagas, winning the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin award for most regionally evocative debut saga of the millennium. When not writing or reading, Brody likes to test her less than brilliant map reading skills by walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

A Mansion for Murder is the new Kate Shackleton Mystery.

Recently I asked Brody about what she was reading. Her reply:
Ulysses by James Joyce

I have a dog-eared copy of the 1969 Penguin paperback edition of this book, so why am I reading it again?

For my birthday, I was given the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition, published in 2022 to mark the centenary of the book’s publication. What makes reading this edition a great pleasure is that I am not reading alone. I am listening on my iPad, to the recording made by RTÉ Radio, a division of the Irish national broadcasting organisation Raidió Teilifís Éireann.

I read, and I eavesdrop. Dublin voices bring Bloomsday to life.

The Introduction by Declan Kiberd is informative and enlightening about ‘The Book’, ‘The Structure’, ‘The Language’. He begins in a way that encourages the reader to be undaunted by the prospect of reading this iconic book.

Here’s a quote from the opening of that Introduction:
“It is no accident that the last lines of Ulysses read ‘Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921’. Joyce had to scurry with his family from city to city, in his attempt to avoid the dangers of World War I, as he created a beautiful book in a Europe bent on self-destruction. He seems from the outset to have anticipated Tom Stoppard’s brilliant joke in Travesties:

‘What did you do in the Great War, Mr Joyce?’

‘I wrote Ulysses. What did you do?’.”
Joyce’s story and the radio cast bring Dublin and Dubliners to life. Reading and listening is like watching a film. I love the language, whether it’s the description of a stalking black cat or seeing Leopold Bloom’s deflation when he is belittled by the newspaper editor. The combination of vivid narrative and mythical underpinnings make reading/listening to Ulysses a treat.

The Dubliners is my favourite story anthology. Reading A Portrait of the Artist was a pivotal moment for me. As a Northern English working-class city girl brought up Catholic, when I went to work in Washington DC at the age of 19 and 3 months, I shared a room with Mary and Theresa from Dublin and began to feel that I knew the atmosphere, the voices and the humour of Dublin.

Here’s another quote (of a quote) from Declan Kiberd: “Frederich Engels had complained that the object of British policy was to make the Irish feel like strangers in their own land, but he had underestimated their capacity to colonize the culture that was used to colonize them.”
Visit Frances Brody's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dying in the Wool.

The Page 69 Test: A Woman Unknown.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on a Summer's Day.

The Page 69 Test: Death of an Avid Reader.

The Page 69 Test: A Death in the Dales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 19, 2023

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 unforgettable Jorge Luis Borges:
The great Argentine writer Jorge Borges put into the mouth of one of his inimitable characters a line that has never left me: “I have often begun the study of metaphysics but have always been interrupted by happiness.” I cannot remember in which of his many short stories I first read it. I know it was a short story because Borges never wrote, and almost never read, a novel, on the obvious, but still dubious, ground that to devote five hundred pages to something that could be explained in a conversation of not more than five minutes was to forget the importance of time. Borges often spent weeks, if not longer, on a story it would not take more than five minutes to read. I do not know how long he took to write “I have often begun the study of metaphysics but have always been interrupted by happiness.” I remember the line; I do not remember the story. And the stories I do remember I seem not to have remembered the way I thought I remembered them. This may not be my fault. Borges may have done something to make sure that the stories are no longer what they were.

When Borges was a young boy in Bueno Aires, he “used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight.” He may have wondered, when he was older, why he assumed they did not. In at least some of his stories, things go missing, things change, change with time, change with the memories of men, change by accident, or, sometimes, change on purpose. In “Tlon Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” a story the title of which tells you something is unusual, the Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, published in New York in l917, “a literal (though also laggardly) reprint of the l902 Encylocpaedia Brittanica,” is the source of a quote Borges thought memorable: “Mirrors and copulation are abominable, for they multiply the number of mankind.” The quote, he is told by a friend, is from an article on a place called Uqbar. The encyclopedia, however, has no article on such a place. The next day, his friend calls and says he has the article in volume xlvi of the encyclopedia. His volume, they discover, has 921 pages; Borges’s edition has only 917 pages. The four pages contain the article on Uqbar, an advanced civilization somewhere in Asia. The missing article means that for those who rely on one edition of the encyclopedia Uqbar does not exist. In other editions, it does exist. Which is true, which edition is correct? Does Uqbar exist or not?

In “The Lottery in Babylon,” Borges replaces, that is to say re-writes, what Herodotus had written more than twenty five hundred years before. Herodotus had written about the method by which Babylon kept itself united, instead of divided between rich and poor. Every year, the men of marriageable age bid on the available eligible women. The most beautiful women brought the greatest amount of money. When no one wanted to bid on the women who were left, the money the rich had paid became their dowries. Not to put too fine a point on it, the least desirable woman made her new husband an extremely wealthy man. The rich got the women they wanted; the poor got their money. Herodotus thought this the best law the Babylonians had. The lottery of Borges’ invention produces a different kind of equality.

The first lottery, which was just a drawing, was not successful, and it was decided to include a few “unlucky draws.” Everyone would have a “twofold chance: they might win a sum of money or they might be required to pay a fine - sometimes a considerable one.” Many of those who lost refused to pay and, given the choice of payment or jail, chose jail. Instead of fines, each losing number now assigned the days spent in prison. This was “the first appearance of non pecuniary elements in the lottery,” and met such great success that “the number of unlucky draws was increased.” There were protests. Certain “moralists” argued that money did not always bring about happiness, and that other forms of happiness were perhaps more direct, while the poor complained that they did not have the same opportunity as the wealthy to enjoy “all the vicissitudes of terror and hope.” The demand for equal treatment was overpowering and irresistible. A slave stole a ticket, and when the drawing determined the bearer was to have his tongue burned out, it was thought unfair that a thief should be entitled to anything, even mutilation. There were more demonstrations. Yielding to the popular demand, the lottery "was made secret, free of charge, and open to all.”

Everything was subject to the lottery. A lucky draw might bring about elevation to the ruling council or the imprisonment and torture of an enemy; an unlucky draw might result in torture, disfigurement, dishonor and even death. Because the lottery, as it was officially noted, “is an intensification of chance, a periodic infusion of chaos within the cosmos,” it seemed only appropriate that “chance intervene in every respect of the drawing.” Not just death, but the manner of death, should be included. A drawing determines someone should die; another drawing how and by whom it will happen. Everything became “steeped in chance.” Purchase a bottle of wine, there was a chance a viper would be inside. Scribes, who “take a secret oath to omit, interpolate, alter,” never write out a contract without including some error, and, like the encyclopedia that does not include Uqbar in all its editions, “no book is published without some discrepancy between each of the edition’s copies.”

Borges, who mentions in his brief autobiography that he once met “a Persian mathematician who had worked out a theory of spherical time that I do not quite understand but hope someday to plagiarize,” takes the auction of Babylonian women described by Herodotus and changes it into a lottery that becomes the cause, or causes, of all the chaos in the universe, a universe that is as much, or more, a fiction than the dream world we mistake for reality. Or, to quote Borges quoting someone else: as “Boileau pointed out, ‘Reality stands in no need of being true to life.’” In “The Circular Ruins,” Borges makes us doubt that the one reality of which we have no doubt - at least since Descartes’ insistence that “I think, therefore I am” - is true.

On an island where, “Nobody saw him come ashore in the encompassing night…where the Zend language is barely tainted by Greek and where lepers are rare,” a man wanted to dream a man “down to the last detail and project him into the world of reality.” For years, he worked on his project, and when his son was finally ready to be born imbued him with “total oblivion,” so the “boy would never know he was a phantom, the creation of another man’s dream.” His purpose achieved, he lived on until he was told about a magic man in a temple “who walked on fire without being burned.” He worried that his son would, through this experience, discover that he was not a man but “the projection of another man’s dreams.” Then, he himself was encircled by fire, and when the flames did not burn him, “understood that he, too, was an appearance, that someone else was dreaming him.”

The dreams of one man become the histories of others. “The Other Death” is the story of Pedro Damian, who managed to die a hero in the same war in which he “had handled himself like a coward.” For forty years he tried to make himself into a battle ready soldier; ready, if destiny were to bring another battle, to stand and fight and not run away. Forty years he waited, “waited and waited, and then, in the end, at the hour of his death, fate brought him his battle. It came in the form of delirium, for, as the Greeks know, we are all shadows of a dream. In his final agony, he lived his battle over again, conducted himself as a man, and in heading the last charge he was struck by a bullet in the middle of the chest. And so, in l946, through the working out of a long, slow moving passion, Pedro Damian died in the defeat of Masoller, which took place between winter and spring in l904.”

Borges is not entirely convinced that his story is wholly imaginary. Through his endless reading of ancient writers, he remembers that at least some of the early Christians were certain that what had happened had been foretold in the luminous pages of Rome’s greatest poet, and, remembering that, thought it possible that the same thing had happened again: “A few years from now, I shall believe I made up a fantastic tale, and I will actually have recorded an event that was real, just as two thousand years ago in all innocence Virgil believed he was setting down the birth of a man and foretold the birth of Christ.”

Pedro Damian, it should be noted, really had been a hero in the battle of Masoller. Those who heard his deathbed rendition of what he had done, forty years ago in a war few of those still living still remembered, had no reason to doubt the only eye witness account they had ever heard, an account that no doubt makes up the better part of his biography in at least some of the editions of the usual encyclopedias.

Letters that may or may not change their places inside the closed covers of a book, encyclopedias that in some editions leave out what is included in the others, the paid for chances that deprive the world of all order, the dreams we have and the dreams we are, may make us start to wonder whether reading Borges is itself part of a strange labyrinth in which what we thought unforgettable is not what we thought it was. A story Borges wrote, a story about a place where no one ever died, a story only Borges could have written, has stayed with me, especially one scene, a scene as vivid in my mind as if I had been there myself. Led by a guide into the mountainous territory where the land of the immortals is hidden, the narrator hears the screams of a man impaled on a sharp rock in a ravine hundreds of feet below the narrow path they are following. He insists they stop and rescue the poor unfortunate who is calling out in agony. The guide suggests there is no hurry. The man may have been there for seventy years, but what is that for an immortal in the infinity of time. I reread the story a few days ago. The scene is not there.

In “The Immortal,” as I find it now, a man has fallen into an ancient quarry and is left there for seventy years before he is thrown a rope. He is not impaled, or injured in any way. His only discomfort is that for seventy years he has burned with thirst. Was my memory this bad, did I only imagine - rewrite, if you will - this story that had made such a strong and, as I had thought, lasting impression? Then I remembered Borges, and what he had written, and wondered whether the story had been changed, changed in the different editions in which I had read it.

There are two stories: “The Immortal” and “The Immortals.” In The Collected Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, published by Viking in l998, the publisher claims that, “This edition at last brings together all of Borges’ magical stories.” It includes “The Immortal”; it does not include “The Immortals.” The former, “The Immortal,” is the one I had read and thought I remembered; “The Immortals” is a story about science replacing all the mortal parts of human beings and keeping only the mind of each person in a small glass container. Though not included in the edition that contains every story Borges ever wrote, “The Immortals” can be found in The Aleph and Other Stories, published by E.F. Dutton in l978. It is there, in an afterward, that Borges makes the interesting remark, which may be taken as his confession, that, “Since our only proof of personal death is statistical, and inasmuch as a new generation of deathless men may be already on its way, I have for years lived in fear of never dying.”

The two stories, one of which, according to the publisher of Borges’ collected fiction, does not exist, have the same title but for one letter, which is the difference between one and all the other, infinite, numbers there are. For those who often begin the study of metaphysics, this suggests the possibility that because, like everyone else who has died, Jorge Borges has not become aware of it, he is still making changes in all the stories he has written. Those whose lives are often interrupted by happiness can only hope that Jorge Luis Borges continues to write his changes through all the endless days of time.
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.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

David Handler

David Handler is the Edgar Award-winning, critically acclaimed author of several bestselling mystery series.

In 1988 he published The Man Who Died Laughing, the first of his long-running series of mysteries starring ghostwriter Stuart Hoag and his faithful basset hound Lulu. The newest entry in the series is The Girl Who Took What She Wanted.

Recently I asked Handler about what he was reading. The author's reply:
Whenever I’m working on a new Stewart Hoag mystery, which I’m currently doing, I rarely read crime fiction by anyone else because I don’t want my writing style to be influenced by another writer’s voice or plot structure. But I’m a devoted bookworm, as are most writers, so I absolutely must seek out something else to read.

Right now, I’m curled up with one of the most cherished volumes in my home library, Essays of E.B. White, a treasure chest by the man who I and millions of other devotees consider to be mid-twentieth century America’s finest writer of prose. I am forever in awe of the crisp, clean, clarity of his voice, his dry wit, keen insights and remarkable ability to make you feel as if he’s sitting right there in the room simply talking to you. His writing style is so brilliant that he makes it looks easy.

It’s no accident that he’s the White of Strunk and White’s indispensable The Elements of Style.

The collection of essays I’m reading spans many of the different facets of White’s fascinating life. There’s a section on his fabled farm in coastal Maine. “Death of a Pig” never fails to bring a tear to my eye. There’s “The Years of Wonder,” a frequently hilarious reminiscence if his youthful shipboard misadventures in Alaska. And, best of all, there’s “Here is New York,” his 1948 valentine to New York City that I swear I’ve read twenty times. The last line of its first paragraph creeps into my mind incredibly often: “No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”

“Here is New York” is a much beloved essay. In fact, it’s so beloved that it was published as a slim volume all by itself in 1949. And it’s still in print. The latest edition has a forward by his stepson, Roger Angell, the long-time fiction editor of The New Yorker who was a brilliant essayist himself on the subject of baseball. Angell just passed away in 2022 at the age of 102, still writing away. If you’ve never read E.B. White and you’re a devotee of good writing I strongly encourage you to dive headfirst into his essays. But I’m betting that you actually have read E.B. White and just don’t remember it.

You see, he also wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.
Visit David Handler's website.

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2011).

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2012).

Writers Read: David Handler (August 2013).

Writers Read: David Handler (March 2014).

Writers Read: David Handler (February 2015).

Writers Read: David Handler (March 2016).

Writers Read: David Handler (September 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Cara Black

Cara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 20 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, and two World War II-set novels featuring American markswoman Kate Rees. Black has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture—and invitations to be the Guest of Honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime.

Black's new novel is Night Flight to Paris, the new Kate Rees title.

Recently I asked the author about what she reading. Black's reply:
I've been reading a non-fiction book, The S.S. Officer's Armchair, that I heard about on the BBC.

The title grabbed me and it's a fascinating deep dive into a real story. Daniel Lee, the author is a historian and professor, who uncovers the hidden life of a Nazi. Lee, like a detective dips into the biography of this S.S man whose swastika - covered documents were uncovered inside the cushion of an armchair by an upholsterer in Amsterdam decades later.

Visit Cara Black's website and follow her on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Night Flight to Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of ten Tom Harper mysteries, eight highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and four previous Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Nickson's new novel is The Dead Will Rise, the latest Simon Westow mystery.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm reading Blood Hollow, by William Kent Krueger. It's the second of his so far for me. My friend, Seattle writer Candace Robb, recommended him, so I started with Iron Lake, the first in this series, and loved it. Right now I'm out of order, but no matter. He's good, and there are plenty more to go at.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

Q&A with Chris Nickson.

The Page 69 Test: The Molten City.

My Book, The Movie: Molten City.

The Page 69 Test: Brass Lives.

The Page 69 Test: The Blood Covenant.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Will Rise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 4, 2023

James Klise

James Klise’s new YA novel, I’ll Take Everything You Have, is a queer coming-of-age crime story set in 1934 Chicago. In a starred review, Kirkus promises "passionate, cinematic scenes" and "a thrillingly queer adventure." Publishers Weekly calls the book "an arresting narrative... and a mesmerizing snapshot of 1930s Chicago."

Klise's previous novels for teens include the Edgar Award-winning The Art of Secrets and the ALA Stonewall Honor-winning Love Drugged. He lives with his husband in Chicago, where for the past two decades, he has overseen a very busy high school library.

Recently I asked Klise about what he was reading. His reply:
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

At the high school where I work, I lead a student book club. We always read YA books, but for the first time in 20 years, I bent to popular demand and ordered copies of Madeline Miller’s bestseller The Song of Achilles. A colleague emailed one night: “Jim, have you started reading that book? Um… it’s SPICY.” I panicked, but then I read it. The book is fantastic. Youthful heroes, powerful villains, friendship that turns to love, and the suspense of knowing (for most readers) what destiny has in store. Every teen read it cover to cover. Thumbs up! As far as the “spicy” element, I suspect my colleague is not aware of what can be found in YA fiction these days.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, I never thought of myself as anything other than Midwestern American. Our roots are in Ireland, but my childhood home didn’t “read” Irish. e.g. We didn’t display the Irish Blessing on any wall, and March 17 came and went each year without much fanfare. This past December, one of my sisters recommended Claire Keegan’s slim novels to me. I read Small Things Like These and Foster during the same week. Page after page, I felt: Wow, yes, that is very close to the circuitry of my own brain. When I read Keegan’s sentences, I hear the voices of my mother’s parents and miss them even more.

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron

I’ve reached for Peter Cameron’s Coral Glynn many times and never tire of re-visiting it. Set in a crumbling old mansion in the remote rainy woods of England in the years following WW 2, the story is about a shy young nurse who becomes employed to a wealthy woman who is dying. In fact, the old woman dies quickly, leaving the inexperienced nurse alone in this isolated house with only the hostile housekeeper and the woman’s grown son, a war veteran, for company. It’s impossible to predict where this story will take you. The plot is surprising. Scenes of dialogue twist and turn with thrilling social awkwardness. Cameron revels in unexpected moments that continue to delight me, time after time.
Visit James Klise's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Secrets.

The Page 69 Test: I'll Take Everything You Have.

--Marshal Zeringue