Tuesday, September 16, 2014

David Barnett

David Barnett is an award-winning journalist, currently multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and he has done features for The Independent and Wired. He is the author of Angelglass (described by The Guardian as “stunning”), Hinterland, and popCULT!

Barnett's new book is Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, the second Gideon Smith novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Barnett's reply:
Because I do some reviewing for newspapers in the UK, I’m lucky enough to get quite a few books sent to me, and while some of the writers I’m familiar with, others I haven’t come across before, or are making their debuts.

One of my favourite writers currently is Nick Harkaway, and his latest novel Tigerman is an absolute joy. It’s about a British soldier nearing the end of his working life who is given a retirement slot on a distant island. He strikes up a friendship with a young boy who is obsessed with popular culture, particularly comic books. Harkaway is the author of two previous novels, The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, both of which have at their heart apocalyptic motifs. The Gone-Away World is pure post-apocalypse, where humanity lives in a thin belt girdling the earth, the rest of the planet uninhabitable thanks to a series of man-made ecological disasters. Angelmaker is about the threat of apocalypse and the unwitting setting-in-motion of a doomsday device.

Harkaway continues the theme in Tigerman, but the apocalypse is more localised – the island is to be destroyed by the international community because a series of experiments there have created a bio-hazard threat that could jeopardise the rest of the world if left unchecked. It’s a very subtle apocalypse, and the inhabitants of the island are waiting patiently for the end, just as the washed-up soldier, Lester Ferris, is marking time to his own retirement.

Tigerman is quirky – this is a Nick Harkaway novel, after all – but it’s warm and tender and gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling about humanity, even as you despair at what we’re capable of.

Other than that, I’ve been re-reading a lot of RA Lafferty for a feature I’ve been writing. Lafferty is criminally under-appreciated and his novel Fourth Mansions – nominally about rival conspiracies vying to control humanity, but so much more than that – is an absolute classic that everyone should read. He’s funny and scary and thought-provoking all at once.
Visit David Barnett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Elisabeth Wolf

Elisabeth Wolf lives in Los Angeles where she grows fruits, vegetables, and native flowers. Her first two books are Lulu in La La Land and Lulu in Honolulu.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Wolf's reply:
My current reading is inspired by islands. Writing my middle reader fiction book, Lulu in Honolulu, I became fascinated by what it really means to live surrounded by water. For months, I have been reading Hawaii by James Michener. Having about one hundred pages left, however, has made me slow down and savor each paragraph of this massive book. Michener writes like my friend, Seana, needlepoints. He colors and weaves a complex picture but never drops a stitch. I wanted to write a story about a girl spending summer in Honolulu and, at the same time, I wanted the richness and depth of Hawaii and Hawaiian culture to seep into the book. I didn’t want the book to feel like a two-dimensional travel poster. Michener’s Hawaii sets the standard for blending detail (everything from food to history) into stories in which my heart throbs and sinks for the characters. Reading Hawaii, I have traveled to Bora Bora, China, and Japan and spent time with 19th Century American Missionaries.

The other two books I am reading (and re-reading) are Recipes From A Very Small Island by Linda and Martha Greenlaw, a cookbook about family, friendships, nature, seasons, and the rhythms of life, and The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown, a picture book about nature, seasons, relationships and the rhythms of life. Both books are feasts for the eyes and imagination. The cookbook brims with photographs of Ise au Haut just off the rocky Maine coast. My favorite part of the Foggy Morning Blueberry Muffin recipe is staring at the picture on the next page: a huge golden autumnal field ending at a strip of gray blue water. The Little Island, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, dazzles with pictures that are simple and complex at the same time. My favorite is sailboats sailing away from the island under a half shrouded moon. Anchored in my mind, both books ground me to my values … unencumbered recognition and admiration for the power, beauty and constant of nature and the diversity and depth of relationships.
Visit Elisabeth Wolf's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 12, 2014

Laird Hunt

Laird Hunt is the award-winning author of a book of short stories, mock parables and histories, The Paris Stories (2000), and five novels from Coffee House Press: The Impossibly (2001), Indiana, Indiana (2003), The Exquisite (2006) Ray of the Star (2009) and Kind One (2012), which was a finalist for both the 2013 Pen/Faulkner award and the 2013 Pen USA Literary Award in Fiction and the winner of a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction.

Hunt's new novel is Neverhome.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hunt's reply:
On a family trip with my sister to the Baltimore area my sister and I slipped off to the marvelous indie store Atomic Books where I bought an album of Hot Stuff comics for my daughter and a copy of In the Woods by Tana French for me. French’s name has come up a number of times in recent months and I can see why. The novel is wise, gripping, dark, full of good (rather than drearily expedient) sentences and is just generally very difficult to put down. Exactly the right book for the imaginary free time I have at end of summer. I travelled too with David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks, which is excellent, and quite intricate, and suitably long, as one might expect, though it remains to be seen if it wins me over as emphatically as Cloud Atlas: jury is still out. Last though not least is All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, which is haunting and pleasingly unpredictable. It is by turns strangely soothing and at others like a punch in the eye: my kind of book!
Visit Laird Hunt's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Neverhome.

My Book, The Movie: Neverhome.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kathryn Erskine

Kathryn Erskine is the acclaimed author of many distinguished novels for young readers, including Mockingbird, winner of the National Book Award; The Absolute Value of Mike, an Amazon Best Book and ALA Notable Book; and Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

Erskine's new novel is The Badger Knight.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since I was a kid I've read multiple books at a time. Here's what's on my bedside table or by my reading chair:

New News Out of Africa, Charlayne Hunter-Gault

I love this author and respect her successful career as a journalist. Since she has actually lived in Africa for almost 20 years, she's able to relate the changes there from the inside out. Being American, she can put it in terms that we can understand. Having lived in South Africa as a kid, I'm always curious about the social changes there, and a large part of the book focuses on South Africa. The book is, admittedly, several years old, and I'd love to see an updated version.

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, Don Richard Riso

It's always fun to pull out this book and see how much (or little) I've really changed. It's also great for a writer to get ideas or better understand our characters. It's fascinating to see the characters on your page, or in your life, so well described.

Connecting with the Cosmos, Donald Goldsmith

For stargazers. Did you know you could tell time, not just direction, from the Big Dipper? This book is part research but as I'm still exploring this project I can't really give any more information.

The Martian, Andy Weir

My husband doesn't usually read fiction (except mine!) so when he recommended this, I knew I had to read it. I've just started but I'm enjoying the engaging voice and fascinating subject matter.

Elegy for Eddie, Jacqueline Winspear

This is one of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries and I'm loving them because they're period (1930's) British mysteries with a strong female investigator protagonist. They're well researched and fun to read. And it doesn't hurt that my maiden name was Dobbs.

The Lightning Dreamer, Margarita Engle

To be honest, I've read this many times. I'm soaking in the style of this and other novels in verse in an effort to write my own. All of Margarita Engle's books are fabulous -- beautiful, spare, poignant, clear, strong... well, you just have to read one to see what I mean!
Visit Kathryn Erskine's website.

Check out Erskine's top 10 first person narratives.

Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher.

The Page 69 Test: The Badger Knight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Madeleine Kuderick

Madeleine Kuderick writes for anthologies and magazines and has spoken at conferences including the International Reading Association, where she's an advocate for reluctant readers and the teachers who touch their lives. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida and an MBA from Saint Leo University.

Madeleine grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a community with a rich literary tradition, where she was editor in chief of the same high school newspaper that Ernest Hemingway wrote for as a teen. She now lives on Florida's Gulf Coast with her husband and two children.

Her new novel is Kiss of Broken Glass.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Kuderick's reply:
I’ve recently read three books that all deal with tough issues and would make great discussion starters in the classroom.

Knockout Games, by award winning author G. Neri, presents an unflinching inside look at the random acts of violence that have surfaced in St. Louis and other cities. In the book, as in real life, teens attempt to knock out strangers with a single punch. The characters have no real motivation to play One Hit or Quit, other than to escape their boring lives and prove their manhood. They think it’s funny and don’t expect anything serious to come of it, until one of their games goes too far. This is a relentless and riveting read that exposes the risk of following the crowd instead of your conscience.

These Gentle Wounds is a beautiful debut by Helene Dunbar that follows Gordie Allen, a fifteen year old boy suffering from PTSD after surviving an unspeakable tragedy and facing continued abuse at the hands of his father. Gordie’s path to healing is realistically faltering and subtle. But his strong connection to his brother and one influential teacher illustrate the importance of having someone to talk to as a step in recovery. This is a powerful story told with sensitivity and heart.

Linda Vigen Phillips debuts with Crazy, her compelling novel in verse that paints a portrait of growing up with a family secret in a time when conditions like bipolar disorder were not well understood. Set in the 1960’s, no one in Laura’s family will talk about her mother’s hospitalizations and Laura is left to navigate her increasingly erratic world alone. Still very relevant today, this is a beautifully written, intimate story that would foster classroom discussions about the hushed subject of mental illness.
Visit Madeleine Kuderick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Emmi Itäranta

Emmi Itäranta (b. 1976) was born in Tampere, Finland, where she also grew up. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Tampere and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Kent, UK, where she began writing her debut novel, Memory of Water. She later completed the full manuscript in Finnish and English. In 2011, the novel won the Fantasy and Sci-fi Literary Contest organised by the Finnish publishing house Teos. It was published to enthusiastic reviews in Finland in 2012 under the title Teemestarin kirja. Translation rights to the award-winning novel have been sold in 14 territories to date. Itäranta’s professional background is an eclectic blend of writing-related activities, including stints as a columnist, theatre critic, dramaturge, scriptwriter and press officer. She lives in Canterbury, UK, and is currently writing her second novel.

Recently I asked Itäranta about what she was reading. Her reply:
There are few authors whose work makes me look at my diary and pencil in a two-day slot for reading when they have a new book coming out. David Mitchell is one of them. While waiting for Mitchell's new novel The Bone Clocks, due out in September, I picked up his debut Ghostwritten.

Ghostwritten is a novel with a multitude of voices and characters, each equally compelling. Their interwoven lives and the way the book spans geography and time feel at times like blueprints for Mitchell's later grand opus, Cloud Atlas. But this familiarity works for rather than against the book. One of the reasons why I enjoy Mitchell's work so much is that all of his novels seem to take place in the same fictional universe (or possibly multiple, overlapping fictional universes). Characters from one book make unexpected cameo appearances in another; time and space seem governed by strange laws of interconnectedness. Due to its cluster-of-voices-and-styles nature Ghostwritten inevitably rejects any attempts to describe it through genre labels, so suffice it to say it is a highly accomplished, literary yet readable novel with an end twist that genuinely took me by surprise. And that does not happen very often.

I read Ghostwritten mostly on planes during a very busy period, and afterwards I visited my native Finland for several weeks. Amidst the Nordic summer nothing seemed a more appropriate read than Tove Jansson's The Summer Book. It portrays the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother during a summer in the Finnish archipelago. Each of the short episodes focusing on their interaction is a small, perfectly polished gem, glowing with the light of white nights. I can't think of any other writer in whose work the Nordic seasons are present so powerfully and tangibly: the waxing and waning of light and dark, the sun-burnished summers against the backdrop of long winters enveloped in ice. The Summer Book is, in my opinion, a near-perfect book: simple and sparse, funny in unexpected ways, profound and wise. Like so many others, I grew up with Jansson's Moomin books. Even now, going back to her work always feels like coming home.
Visit Emmi Itäranta's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 5, 2014

J. M. Hayes

J. M. “Mike” Hayes was born and raised on the flat earth of Central Kansas. He studied anthropology at Wichita State University and the University of Arizona and lives in Tucson with his wife and a small herd of German Shepherds.

His new novel is The Spirit and the Skull.

Last month I asked Hayes about what he was reading. His reply:
As I answer this, it's August 2014. So it seemed appropriate to reread Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and remind myself of how humans can turn tiny blunders and misunderstandings into colossal catastrophes. I'm also in the middle of 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It's nice to see that Robinson predicts the Human Race will survive another couple of centuries, though he seems to expect more molehill into mountain catastrophes.

I usually limit myself to two books at a time, one fiction and one non-fiction. Somehow, this month, I managed to add one more of each. I just finished J. Carson Black's new thriller, Hard Return. Black is a former critique group member who asked for an early read. She brings back Cyril Landry, a mercenary who dropped off the grid after the action in The Shop (2012). Black's spare writing and Landry's commitment to the few people he loves and trusts makes for a fine thriller.

I was a bit bored with Timothy Egan's Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher to begin with. That's probably part of the reason I ended up reading four books at once—the first time other than for school I can remember doing so. But by the end Egan had me captivated by Edward Curtis' magnificent obsession with preserving what he could of the culture of disappearing American Indians. Curtis rightly named himself—The Man Who Never Played—and died destitute in spite of working for J.P. Morgan and family. Fascinating story!
Visit The Words & Worlds of J.M. Hayes website.

The Page 69 Test: The Spirit and the Skull.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ben H. Winters

Ben H. Winters is the author of eight novels, including most recently World of Trouble, the third novel in the Last Policeman Trilogy. Book two in the series, Countdown City, was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award. Countdown City is the sequel to The Last Policeman, which was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America; it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate.

Not so long ago I asked Winters about what he was reading. His reply:
I had the good fortune of being sent an advance copy of Tim Johnston’s The Descent, which I bet everyone will be talking about next year. It’s about a teenage girl who is abducted, which makes it sound pulpy and lurid, but actually it is sophisticated and engaged and empathetic to all of its characters. It made me reflect on how important it is, even with the big trend of adults proudly reading YA, that we continue to have a true adult literature.

I’ve been binge reading Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels, which are the best kind of detective fiction. The cases are great, the characters are great, and together the books offer a deep ongoing critique of the world that we live in: of racism, classicism, sexism, violence.

Oh, and while I was on my book tour I read Megan Abbott’s The Fever. This is a crime novel, in a way, with a mystery and a (satisfying) solution, but it’s mostly about the inner lives of teenagers, particularly teenage girls, about their sexuality and anxiety, their alternating sense of power and powerlessness. It made me feel uneasy as a man, and worried as a parent of daughters. As a writer it made me feel like I could never have written it in a million years.
Visit the official Ben H. Winters website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Policeman.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Policeman.

The Page 69 Test: Countdown City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thomas H. Cook

Thomas H. Cook is the author of more than 30 critically-acclaimed fiction and non-fiction books. Born in Fort Payne, Alabama, Cook published his first novel, Blood Innocents, in 1980 while serving as the book review editor of Atlanta magazine. Two years later, on the release of his second novel, The Orchids, he turned to writing full-time. Cook published steadily through the 1980s, penning such works as the Frank Clemons trilogy, a series of mysteries starring a jaded cop.

He found breakout success with The Chatham School Affair (1996), which won an Edgar Award for best novel. His work has been praised by critics for his attention to psychology and the lyrical nature of his prose. Besides mysteries, Cook has written two true-crime books, Early Graves (1992) and the Edgar-nominated Blood Echoes (1993), as well as several literary novels, including Elena (1986).

Cook's latest novel is A Dancer in the Dust.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Cook's reply:
My reading has a tendency to be very varied. I routinely go from fiction to nonfiction and from a classic I had neglected to something quite recent. Over the last month, for example, I have read and am pleased to recommend It's Raining Frogs and Fishes by Jerry Dennis, a fascinating compendium of scientific information, everything from why the sky is blue to the quite unbelievable feat of migration accomplished by hummingbirds; Submergence, a thoughtful and beautifully written novel by J. M. Ledgard; Jerusalem, The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, a history that details in gut-crunching detail the horrible violence and sectarian cruelty that has for century after bloody century afflicted this most sacred site on earth; Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, an equally terrifying account of the war after the war, when Europe was thrown into a paroxysm of violence and vengeance against ethnic Germans and various Nazi collaborators; and finally, In Morocco, Edith Wharton’s enthralling, timeless, and shamelessly pro-French account of her journey through Morocco short after World War I.
Learn about Thomas H. Cook's top ten mystery books and his five top books on the writing life.

Visit Thomas H. Cook's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Brian Clegg

Brian Clegg is a British popular science writer. His books have included The God Effect, Before the Big Bang, Inflight Science, and How to Build a Time Machine.

Clegg's latest title is Final Frontier: The Pioneering Science and Technology of Exploring the Universe.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.Clegg' s reply:
I came to my current read, Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremists as a ‘more of the same read’ after being entranced a week ago by his book The Psychopath Test. As I mention in my review of that, it was recommended to me by a fellow panelist on a ‘How to Write Popular Science’ masterclass, and it’s one of those books that is hard not to consume at one sitting. While Them is along similar lines – a look at a serious issue, but undertaken in a light-hearted fashion that makes the book both funny and thought-provoking – I don’t think it works quite as well as The Psychopath Test. That book was perfectly balanced. Here, the central theme is less significant – it’s the idea of there being some kind of ‘world order’ that secretly runs the world, and Ronson explores it by meeting various extremists and borderline individuals who are engaged in everything from supporting Islamic terrorism to promoting the idea that the world is run by 12 foot tall lizards, but who all believe in these shady conspirators. These meetings vary from genuinely scary to farcical, but somehow it doesn’t engage quite as well as the other title.

If this was the first of Ronson’s books I’d read, I would be very happy with it – and I am certainly enjoying it. His style is inimitable. But The Psychopath Test set such high expectations that Them is, perhaps, inevitably a slight let-down. This time of year I tend to read fun non-fiction, science fiction and murder mysteries as light relief from the science reading that dominates the rest of my year, and Ronson will certainly go down as one of my holiday favourites. Very easy to read, funny, but still always with that realisation that this isn’t a black and white world and has some real shades of grey in the people he meets out there.
Follow Brian Clegg on Twitter, and visit his website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Brian Clegg and Goldie.

Writers Read: Brian Clegg (September 2009).

Writers Read: Brian Clegg (December 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue