Saturday, October 25, 2014

Karen Miller

Karen Miller writes speculative fiction. Mostly of the epic historical kind, but she’s also written Star Wars and Stargate novels and under the pen-name K.E. Mills writes the Rogue Agent series, about a wizard with special skills who works for his government under unusual circumstances.

Miller's latest novel is The Falcon Throne, book 1 of The Tarnished Crown series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
As I dive back into work, after a trip for research and book launching in the UK and France, I am forced to adjust myself to the regimen of hardly ever reading for pleasure. Of course, research reading is always wonderful - right now I'm working my way through English Society in the Later Middle Ages 1348-1500 by Maurice Keen - but it is 'work'. Sadly, for me, once I'm in the throes of writing my own work, reading new work by other people becomes problematical. Which isn't to say that I don't read any fiction, I do, but it's what I call 'comfy slipper reading', works I know well by authors not writing in spec fic, that pretty much help me turn off my brain before going to sleep. Right now the book doing that job is Angels Fall, by Nora Roberts. She's one of my favourite writers and someone I re-read on a regular basis with never-diminishing enjoyment.

When it comes to new fiction (or at least fiction that's new to me!), the recent trip gave me a chance to enjoy books I've not read before. One of them was Joe Abercrombie's new novel, Half a King, which I enjoyed enormously. Abercrombie's work is always good, vivid and engaging, but I was particularly taken with this adventure. I was especially impressed with how he used our world's Viking history to inform his imaginary world. I believe there are more books to come in this tale, and I'm really looking forward to them.

The other wonderful discovery I made while in the UK, in the Waterstones bookshop in York, was an historical crime series by Ariana Franklin. I was in a hurry, scanning the crime shelves for something new to read, and one book caught my eye. I grabbed it, opened it to the first page, and read the first sentence:
Between the parishes of Shepfold and Martlake in Somerset existed an area of no man's land and a lot of ill feeling.
I laughed out loud, and that was it. Ka ching! And after reading The Assassin's Prayer, and realising it was book 3 in a series, I immediately rushed out and bought the rest. And read them. And carted them back home to Sydney. I adore these books for so many reasons. Brilliant writing. Brilliant characters. An immaculate weaving of history and fiction. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Visit Karen Miller's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Falcon Throne.

The Page 69 Test: The Falcon Throne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Patrick Taylor

An Irish Doctor in Peace and At War is the new novel in Patrick Taylor’s beloved Irish Country Doctor series.

Recently I asked Taylor about what he was reading. The author's reply:
Ten Fighter Boys. Foreward by Jimmy Corbin: First published by Collins in 1942, reissued by Collins 2008

There are sentences from books indelibly etched in my mind from boyhood. “Call me Ishmael,” “I am born.” There is another. I’ll tell you about it later. My father served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during WWII. When I was a boy he used my bedroom as his library. Two of my favourite books were Spitfire Pilot by David Crook, and Ten Fighter Boys. Reading them I began to appreciate the immense bravery of the young men who fought in the Battle of Britain in the sumer and autumn of 1940. My interest in military history sprang from those works. Ten Fighter Boys was an unedited collection of the stories of ten Spitfire pilots on 66 Squadron stationed at Biggin Hill.

To my intense delight while looking for something to read on a recent flight to England and Ireland in part to visit a naval hospital which forms a large section of the setting in1940 for book 10 in the Irish Country Doctor (publication date Oct. 2015) series I stumbled across the reissue of Ten Fighter Boys. The foreward was by the last survivor. The stories were as vivid as ever. My admiration for the authors and their typically British understated gallantry grew, my sadness at their sacrifice deepened. Six of the ten had perished before the book’s first release.

The dedication of my book 10 will read. “To Doctor James ‘Jimmy’ Taylor, Squadron Leader RAFVR.. (Retd.) And all those of his generation who fought and overcame a great evil. Ne Obliviscaris. Lest we forget.”

Oh yes, and the other memorable sentence? It’s from Ten Fighter Boys.

“Since writing these lines our gallant little Pickle has, alas been killed whilst flying on active service. ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra.”
Visit Patrick Taylor's website.

My Book, The Movie: An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War.

The Page 69 Test: An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mike Maden

Growing up in a working class family in central California, Mike Maden spent a fair share of his youth in slaughter houses, canneries and feed mills but a lifelong fascination with history and politics ultimately led to a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California (Davis) focusing on the areas of conflict, technology and international relations. After brief stints as a campus lecturer, political consultant and media commentator, Maden turned to studies in theology and a decade of work with a Dallas-based non-profit where he eventually discovered fiction writing. Drone was the result of a recent challenge by two published friends to try his hand at a novel. Written primarily in Texas, Blue Warrior was edited in the shadow of the gorgeous Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee where Maden and his wife Angela now happily reside.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Maden's reply:
I just read my first John D. MacDonald book, The Deep Blue Good-By, the first in the Travis McGee series. I hadn’t been introduced to him before and only swerved into the series because so many other great writers pointed him out. Books from that decade can be a little slow and artificial. Too often, you’re painfully aware that you’re actually reading rather than simply experiencing the story. But McGee’s prose is swift and sweet, like a natural golf swing. It reads as well as a Lee Child novel which is about as effortless as it gets, especially in that genre. Can’t figure out why a PI in a Florida houseboat hasn’t been picked up as TV series yet. Maybe the old Rockford Files with PI Jim Rockford (James Garner) and his single wide trailer by the beach was channeling MacDonald. Any Hollywood producers out there paying attention?
Visit Mike Maden's website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Drone.

The Page 69 Test: Drone.

My Book, The Movie: Blue Warrior.

The Page 69 Test: Blue Warrior.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 20, 2014

Charlie Lovett

Charlie Lovett is a writer, teacher, and playwright, whose plays for children have been seen in more than 3,000 productions. He is a former antiquarian bookseller and an avid book collector. He and his wife split their time between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Kingham, Oxfordshire, in England.

Lovett's novels include The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession and the newly released First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading. Lovett's reply:
In between writing blog posts, working on a new novel, putting together my Powerpoint for my upcoming book tour, doing press interviews, and increasingly rare trips to the gym, I do like to read. Some of the books that have transported, intrigued, and assisted me in the recent past and are likely to do so in the immediate future are novels, non-fiction, and even reference books.

I’ll start with an odd choice. While I have never read it all the way through, and never will, I read bits of it all the time—nearly every day when I am writing a novel. It’s the The Oxford English Dictionary. I don’t have an online subscription and I don’t have that compact two-volume edition with the magnifying glass. I have a twelve-volume set from 1933 sitting on the shelf next to my desk. It’s the first edition printed all at once and the first to bear the title The Oxford English Dictionary. Because I write historical fiction, it’s essential to know not just what a word means, but what it meant at a certain time. Inevitably, when I look something up in the OED I end up reading about other words I have never encountered. It’s a great rabbit hole to fall down.

I am the president of the Board of Directors of my local literary non-profit, Bookmarks, which hosts a fantastic book festival every year. I always discover some great reads at the festival and this year was no exception. My favorite new find was Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Lev is a great guy and I enjoyed getting to know him, and as a kid who grew up on Narnia his book really hit the mark. I’m looking forward to the other two books in the trilogy, but in the meantime I delved into his brilliant article about reading Narnia in The Atlantic a couple of months ago.

Also at Bookmarks was A. Scott Berg—a dynamic presenter and author of doorstop-sized biographies. My wife is devouring Wilson at the moment, but I’m a little busy to undertake one of his right now. Still, when he talked about his Lindbergh biography it reminded how much I enjoyed Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927. Bryson can make anything interesting, so when he chooses subject matter that’s already interesting, you know you’re in for a good read.

Looking to the future, I’ve got an intriguing book on my desk at the moment, just arrived from England. My English publisher, Alma Books, is owned by a delightful couple who are talented in many literary areas. Alessandro Gallenzi, in addition to being a translator and publisher, is also a novelist and he sent me a copy of his most recent book. The Tower involves mystery and ancient manuscripts, so it’s bound to be a perfect read for me.
Learn more about the book and author at Charlie Lovett's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bookman's Tale.

My Book, The Movie: The Bookman's Tale.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Jeff Somers

Jeff Somers was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and regrets nothing. His books include the Avery Cates series of novels published by Orbit Books. He sold his first novel at age 16 to a tiny publisher in California which quickly went out of business and has spent the last two decades assuring potential publishers that this was a coincidence. Somers publishes a zine called The Inner Swine and has also published a few dozen short stories; his story “Ringing the Changes” was selected for Best American Mystery Stories 2006, edited by Scott Turow and his story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” appeared in the anthology Crimes by Moonlight, published by Berkley Hardcover and edited by Charlaine Harris.

Somers's new book is We Are Not Good People.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m typically reading more than one book at a time. Books are planted around the place like Easter eggs – one in the office, one in the bathroom, etc. – because my memory is non-functional. I’m like Frosty the Snowman, I walk into a room and blink stupidly, smile, and shout “Happy Birthday!” So books need to be pre-seeded everywhere, or I forget to get them and end up reading a page a year. And because I have the attention span of a small child and weak, fawn-like arms that make carrying physical books any distance difficult, I keep one eBook on my phone at all times so I’ll have something to read on the bus or in my parole officer’s waiting room without having to carry a heavy physical book with me.

Currently, I’m only reading two books at once, though:

Night Film, Marisha Pessl. I’ve been reading this book on my phone for about 75 years now, which is not because the book isn’t really interesting and entertaining – it is, albeit overstuffed with ITALICS! ITALICS EVERYWHERE FOR COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE EMPHASIS IN THE MIDDLE OF SENTENCES THAT DON’T NEED IT! - but because I only read it when I’m outside the house and moving about, and since I never leave the house (or put on pants) it’s slow going. It’s a creepy story with some multimedia elements that feel a bit tacked-on, but so far I remain intrigued.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. The paper on this hardcover is so creamy and above my station I feel like a trespasser every time I open it up. My wife often seeks to expand my horizons beyond the pulp and swill I normally read, and insisted I had to read this one, because Pulitzer. And it’s good! Albeit not, I don’t think, great. Too much dithering around; you could cut a third of every section without loss.
Visit Jeff Somers's website.

My Book, The Movie: Chum.

The Page 69 Test: Chum.

The Page 69 Test: We Are Not Good People.

My Book, The Movie: We Are Not Good People.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 17, 2014

Chelsey Philpot

Chelsey Philpot grew up on a farm in New Hampshire and now works as an editor and a journalist. She's written for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Slate, and numerous other publications. Like Charlotte, the main character in her new novel Even in Paradise, Philpot attended boarding school in New England and then earned a degree in English from Vassar College and a master's in journalism from Boston University.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Philpot's reply:
Holy Toledo! What I am reading now is wonderfully random…but then again, my “currently reading” stack is always an eclectic mix.

My background is in journalism, so I devour myriad newspapers (New York Times, Boston Globe, my local paper, etc.) and usually have a stack of New Yorkers (I’ve been a reader since high school) beside my desk.

I review books (mainly YA and middle grade novels) for a bunch of different places, so I am always reading a novel or two at a time. I recently finished Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun (gorgeous!) and am working through a couple of horror novels for my October column for the Boston Globe.

Since I’m in the midst of writing my second novel, I’m reading both for research and inspiration. Tonight, I’ll probably make my way through a chapter of Walter Lewin’s For the Love of Physics (a mind- blowing introduction to the science behind rainbows, black holes, and other such wonders), and tomorrow, I’ll read poems by Walt Whitman, Charles Wright, Nancy Willard, and/or Paul Kane before I start typing.
Visit Chelsey Philpot's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lisa Black

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. Her books have been translated into six languages and one reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

Black's new novel is Close to the Bone.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently read The Nanny Diaries. This is not my usual choice of reading material, due to its lack of murder victims and at least one car chase, but I did so in the name of Research. I intend to use a nanny as a character in an upcoming work, and, not having children, I needed some background. I found the book hugely entertaining and hilarious in her descriptions of the ultra rich, not to mention criminally entitled, echelon of New York.

The authors specify that this is a work of fiction, and I very much hope that is true, but it contained so much detail that it read like fact. It also seemed to lag a little bit whenever the story turned to her own life, though that may be just me. I felt the same way about The Devil Wears Prada, a greatly similar tale of just how politely evil very rich women can be.

Despite my childless status I could not help but grow to care about this bright, sweet four-year-old who has everything money can buy except the only thing he wants--a parent he might be permitted to encounter for more than five minutes per day. It’s as if certain women marry these fabulously wealthy men and from that moment on their entire existence is focused on keeping themselves, their homes and (at a distance) their children as completely perfect as humanly possible, and all in order to stay married to that fabulously wealthy man. Whether this works or not, the child-accessory is meant to be kept in a glass case along with the Ming vase. No wonder, my philistine mind thinks, rich men are such A-holes. Their parents give birth to them and immediately thereafter avoid them like ebola. They’re left with a succession of nannies and housekeepers who come and go. They aren’t allowed to get attached to anyone…ever.

I found myself lying in bed at night, worried about what would happen to this child when the inevitable separation from the nanny occurred. I despaired that filthy rich people aren’t reported to the local child welfare department (though it would be difficult to characterize someone in $200 size 3 sneakers as ‘neglected’) and that the nanny lacked the power to demand therapy now, before the kid becomes a complete sociopath.

The author impressively builds the character of the mother slowly over the course of the book. She starts out as a little prissy and a lot self-absorbed, but, the intro makes clear, that is hardly unusual in her circle. She becomes clueless and annoying, and yet the nanny and I actually feel sorry for her when it becomes clear that her husband, whom she is working so desperately to keep, is clearly having an affair. By the end of the book she has morphed into the worst villain I have ever known. I would gladly pay money to see this woman torn limb from limb in a public arena. I would have more empathy for Adolph Hitler.

Of course, the book illustrates with a few examples, there are rich parents who are also good parents, and there are nannies used as they should be--as a reliable, consistent fill-in for date nights and business dinners, or for the few hours per day between the time the kids get home from school and the parents get home from work. The only people I know who had a nanny didn’t know a Monet from a movie trailer and thought China and Japan were the same country (I swear I am not making that up) but they also had a stone business in their back yard which the wife had to run while the husband made deliveries, four small children and a lot of heavy vehicles going back and forth. Therefore they had a nanny, which was eminently sensible and a circumstance the kids will not need to relate to a therapist in future years.

At best a nanny makes the child’s world more consistent, nurturing and safe, and provides the parents some much-needed respite. At worst a nanny becomes a personal slave, bearing indignities no employee should have to withstand in a profession where one cannot afford a bad reference.

So I enjoyed the book very much. But one thing’s for sure--I’ll never scoff at the phrase “poor little rich boy” again.
Visit Lisa Black's website.

My Book, The Movie: Trail of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Trail of Blood.

My Book, The Movie: Defensive Wounds.

The Page 69 Test: Defensive Wounds.

My Book, The Movie: Blunt Impact.

The Page 69 Test: Blunt Impact.

The Page 69 Test: The Price of Innocence.

The Page 69 Test: Close to the Bone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Catherine Gildiner

Catherine Gildiner’s childhood memoir Too Close to the Falls (1999) was a New York Times bestseller and on the Globe and Mail’s bestseller list for over a year. In 2010, she published a sequel, After the Falls, also a bestseller.

Her new book is Coming Ashore, the third title in her memoir series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gildiner's reply:
I recently read a number of English books about Oxford so I could bone up on my Anglicisms when writing my own English section of Coming Ashore.

A Dance to the Music of Time is a 12 volume set of novels by Anthony Powell. It is one of the longest collections in the English language. It was published between 1951 and 1975 and describes the life of Nick Jenkins. It also details upper class life from pre World War 1 to the hippie era in the late 60s. It is really about how wealth changed hands in England after the turn of the century and many aristocrats who were flush at the beginning of the book have thread bare grandchildren, clinging to their titles in the last volume. Hundreds of characters are introduced and nearly all of them reappear in a masterful way. It is a perfect study of manners and class.

Next I tackled The Patrick Melrose Novels. These are five novels by Edward St. Aubyn. They again explore upper class British life but have far more edge and pathology than The Anthony Powell series. Patrick's life is described in his highly disturbed upper class life where he is raped by his sadistic father and ignored by his ineffective mother. The books take you through his teenage and college years of heroin addiction, the death of his parents, and finally his foray into parenthood and semi-recovery. He has great powers of description and the wrenching part about him as a little boy at the hands of his psychopathic father are some of the best passages in literature on the child's point of view.

Although I've only made two entries, I'm discussing 17 books which I highly recommend.
Visit Catherine Gildiner's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: After the Falls.

My Book, The Movie: Coming Ashore.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue is the national bestselling author of the novels The Stolen Child, The Angels of Destruction, and Centuries of June.

His new novel is The Boy Who Drew Monsters.

Recently I asked Donohue what he was reading. His reply:
Two books are clamoring for my immediate attention: Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. I turned to Mitchell first and am well entrapped in its narrative web.

These two writers are fascinating in so many ways. They are both excellent stylists with Mitchell often breathtakingly lyrical and Murakami packed with compression. They are both great storytellers, with vivid characters and settings and situations that pull you through twists and turns. And they are both great craftsmen, structuring their novels with intricate designs and detail that make me gasp and wish I had been so clever.

My bent is for literary fiction, but I don’t believe genre labels serve much purpose. There’s lots of good stuff that gets pigeonholed. The Bone Clocks could easily be shelved as science fiction, as could some of Murakami’s work. My own novels jump around all kinds of boundaries. As a reader, I’m interested in quality, attention to language, a sophisticated structure that offers challenges and allows for some openness and air in interpretation. The best books kick the readers’ hive, stir up the bees in the brain, and teach you how to read them as you buzz along.
Visit Keith Donohue's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Boy Who Drew Monsters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 10, 2014

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is the author of the gritty Young Adult novels Beautiful, Clean, Crazy, and Over You. Her new novel is Damaged.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Reed's reply:
What I’m reading right now is George Saunders’ award-winning collection of short stories, Tenth of December. Actually, I should say it’s what I’m not reading right now. The book has been sitting on my bedside table for a couple of weeks, and I’ve only been picking it up once every few days. Part of this is because I have a toddler and my reading time is limited. When I read short stories, I prefer to read them in one sitting, and that is nearly impossible these days. However, much of my reluctance in picking up the book is because, frankly, I have a hard time with short stories, even when they’re as brilliant and perfect as George Saunders’.

I started out writing short stories like many novelists, but after completing my MFA program seven years ago, I have not written a single one. As both a writer and a reader, I find it difficult to commit to a whole new world and set of characters when I know I will only be with them for a short while. I want to be with them for the long haul. I want to spend a whole novel with them. And because short stories are so condensed, every single word must be infused with weight and meaning, which makes them that much more challenging to read. I enjoy the spaciousness of novels, the room to relax. Honestly, short stories make me anxious. I find their expectation of precision and perfection quite stressful.

Does this make me a lazy reader? Maybe. I find that as I get further away from being a student, the less I want to work when I read. Not that I want to read “bad” literature. Bad writing and cliché still make my stomach turn as much as they used to. But what I appreciate now is writing that appears effortless, writing that doesn’t need to be noticed, writing that is subtle and humble and at the service of story and characters.

Are short stories more about the writing itself than the story and characters? I don’t know. But for me personally, I have a harder time connecting to them. After I read a great short story, like those in Tenth of December, I often find myself blown away by the craft and style. But after a few days, I won’t remember much about what happened or who did it.
Visit Amy Reed's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Amy Reed (October 2009).

Writers Read: Amy Reed (August 2011).

Writers Read: Amy Reed (July 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue