Friday, February 5, 2016

Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson is the author of three novels set during and after the First World War: Somewhere in France, After the War is Over, and Moonlight Over Paris.

She holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar and an SSHRC Doctoral Fellow.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Robson's reply:
I’m one of those people who always seem to have three or four books on the go—some for research, some because I’ve been asked for a quote or “blurb,” and always at least one book that’s just for fun.

As far as research goes, I’m right in the middle of writing my next book, which is set in London during the Second World War. Although I’m very familiar with the history of the period—much of my doctoral thesis focused on the home front in Britain—I’ve been madly trying to learn as much as I can about woman journalists during the war. I just finished Sketches from a Life by Anne Scott-James, a journalist and writer who was at Picture Post during the war, and I’m now reading My Day, a collection of Eleanor Roosevelt’s newspaper columns, as I’m thinking of including her as a minor character in the book.

I have two books to read with a view to providing a quote, which is technically work but actually very enjoyable. I’ve almost finished The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper, which tells the story of Charlotte Bill, who was the beloved nanny of the tragic Prince John, brother to Edward VII and George VI. It is really good—she has a wonderful grasp of the period—and I feel certain that anyone who enjoys my work will love this book, too. Next up is The Fifth Avenue Artists Society, a debut work of historical fiction by Joy Callaway. The cover is gorgeous (I’m just as susceptible to a beautiful cover as the next person) and the book’s synopsis is so interesting—I can hardly wait to dig in!

For fun I often like to read cookbooks, believe it or not. Right now I have Zahav on my bedside table—its author is a native of Pittsburgh and runs several restaurants there—and it’s a wonderful exploration of modern Israeli cooking. The only difficulty is that I keep looking at it late at night, just before going to bed—and the recipes and pictures make me so hungry I have trouble falling asleep!
Visit Jennifer Robson's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer Robson & Ellie.

My Book, The Movie: After the War Is Over.

The Page 69 Test: After the War Is Over.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Abby Geni

Abby Geni is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the recipient of an Iowa Fellowship. “Captivity” won first place in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open and was included in The Best American Short Stories 2010; it was also selected for inclusion in New Stories from the Midwest.

She is the author of the novel The Lightkeepers and the story collection The Last Animal.

Recently I asked Geni about what she was reading. Her reply:
There is nothing better than a good mystery. Whenever I have the chance to read for pleasure, rather than research or work, I gravitate toward the pillars of the golden age of mysteries: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, Georgette Heyer, and Arthur Conan Doyle. I enjoy the way mysteries return me to my childhood—staying up late with the lights burning, eyes heavy with sleep, at once horrified and thrilled, promising myself I’ll stop reading and get some rest after the next chapter, and then the next chapter, and then the next chapter.

It’s always a sad day when I have read everything ever written by of one of my favorite authors. When I had exhausted Agatha Christie’s marvelous canon, I was crushed. When I got to the end of Sherlock Holmes, I was devastated. It’s terrible to feel that there are no new books to discover, no new mysteries to solve. I try to remember that there’s always another great option out there. Still, it can be hard to take the leap of faith and move from an author I adore to one I don’t know.

Lately I’ve been reading the works of Margery Allingham. Though I’m just starting her Albert Campion series, I’m already struck by her wit, her propulsive plotting, and her intricately drawn characters. On my shelf right now is Police at the Funeral, with Flowers for the Judge and Look to the Lady up next. I won’t spoil the plot by giving too much, but I will say that I recommend Allingham highly for anyone who loves mysteries.
Visit Abby Geni's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lightkeepers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jason Gurley

Jason Gurley is the author of the novels Greatfall, The Man Who Ended the World, and the ongoing Movement series. His bestselling self-published novel Eleanor was acquired by Crown Publishing in the U.S., HarperCollins in the U.K., Editora Rocco in Brazil, Arunas in Turkey, and Heyne Verlag in Germany. His short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine and numerous anthologies, among them Loosed Upon the World and Help Fund My Robot Army!!! from editor John Joseph Adams. Gurley lives and writes in Oregon.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Gurley's reply:
I wish I had all the time in the world to read all of the books on my to-be-read list. (It’s less a list and more a collection of towering bookshelves, full of books, already purchased, that I am slowly working my way through.)

Lately I’m alternating between two books:

The first is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s sobering, powerful Between the World and Me. I adore it for all of its difficult truths, its perspective that is so different from my own, and I’m grateful, not only that it exists, but that it has been so widely read. “I resolved to hide nothing from you,” Coates writes to his son, and the book fulfills that statement. It’s beautifully written, and utterly necessary.

The second is Alexis Smith’s Marrow Island, which I’m reading as an advance copy. (It’s due out in June.) Smith is a fellow Portlander, and her prior novel, Glaciers, was delightful and moving. Marrow is damp and grainy and saturated with mystery and memory, and I’ve been savoring every page. I envy a lot of writers their prose, and I want to envy Smith’s—which is so, so gorgeous—but instead I’m just happy to be carried away by it.
Visit Jason Gurley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Eleanor.

My Book, The Movie: Eleanor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Lea Wait

Maine author Lea Wait writes two mystery series: the Mainely Needlepoint and the Shadows Antique Print series, as well as historical novels for ages 8 and up set in 19th century Maine, and a book of essays on Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine. She’s had sixteen books traditionally published in the past 14 years, with two more scheduled for the fall of 2016.

Her new novel is Thread and Gone.

Recently I asked Wait about what she was reading. Her reply:
I write mysteries; the most recent, Thread and Gone, is about a piece of medieval needlepoint found in a Maine attic, and the chaos (and murders!) that result. So you might assume that I read mysteries and suspense and thrillers in my free time.

But for the past month I’ve been reading the poems of Emily Dickinson.

I “discovered” Emily Dickinson and her poetry when I was still in elementary school and was assigned to “memorize a poem.” Hers were short, and made sense to me (little did I know then!) because she often used images from nature. I was hooked. A few years later I started reading analyses of the work, as well, and biographies, and went on to have classes that included her work in college and grad school.

I wrote poems, too. I was no Emily, but I learned from her use of words and her unique way of seeing her word, external and internal.

But then I moved on. I adopted my children, I worked for a corporation, and in my forties I began writing fiction: historical novels for young people and mysteries for adults.

Emily’s poems sat on a shelf over my desk, or next to my bed, but I seldom opened those books.

And then about a month ago I did. And I re-discovered the brilliance of her work. I also found out that in the past fifteen years new research on her life has newly illuminated it, and I am reading those biographies. I’m especially enjoying Alfred Habegger’s My Wars Are Laid Away in Books and Lyndall Gordon’s Lives Like Loaded Guns. And, of course, I’m re-reading her poems and letters.

I write prose during the day, and in the evening look forward to spending time with poetry.

Because words, after all, are what it’s all about.
Visit Lea Wait's website.

The Page 69 Test: Thread and Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 1, 2016

Yona Zeldis McDonough

Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of novels such as A Wedding in Great Neck and You Were Meant for Me as well as dozens of books for children. She is the editor of and a contributor to The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty, as well as All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader.

McDonough's new novel is The House on Primrose Pond.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I like to devote a certain amount of time to reading the work of novelist friends. Since I have so many, it’s as easy as it is enjoyable. I just finished Down Under, a sly satire by Sonia Taitz in which the author tries to create a convincing back story to explain the anti-Semitic tirades and rants of none other than Mel Gibson. The results are both hilarious and poignant. Holly Robinson’s Chance Harbor is a moving meditation on mothers and daughters, and explores the ties that bind and the secrets that divide; it had me sniveling at more than one point! And I just started Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner. Set in 1930’s Hollywood, this novel deals with the making of Gone With the Wind. So far, I’m loving the way Meissner weaves together established fact and inventive fiction—brava!
Learn more about the author and her work at Yona Zeldis McDonough's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Yona Zeldis McDonough & Willa and Holden.

The Page 69 Test: You Were Meant For Me.

My Book, The Movie: You Were Meant for Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Carla Buckley

Carla Buckley is the author of The Deepest Secret, Invisible, The Things That Keep Us Here, and the newly released The Good Goodbye.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Buckley's reply:
Right now, I’m deeply engrossed in Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, the non-fiction account of the sinking of the Lusitania. I’m not one to read history, especially when I know the ending, but after my husband ploughed through it and decided it was so good he had to immediately reread it, I was intrigued. I stole his copy from his nightstand and I haven’t been able to put it down. Larson’s skill lies in his ability to bring that period alive through vivid character study, and he organizes his material so smoothly that it makes for an effortless read. We follow the captains of the Lusitania and the U boat that sunk her, the ill-fated passengers and crew, and the leaders on two continents and feel as though we’re in the same rooms (or cabins) with them. I’m almost finished and absolutely dreading reaching the end. The good news for me is that he’s got a terrific-looking backlist!
Visit Carla Buckley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife. Her new book, The Swans of Fifth Avenue is the #1 Indie Next Pick for February.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Benjamin's reply:
I’m not going to talk about the books I’ve started and not finished; I think I’m like most people today in that there are so many books, so little time. So I may be not as patient a reader as I used to be. But I recently read Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, and thought it was breathtaking. I love reading authors whose writing makes me think, “Boy, am I a hack!” And it’s not false modesty; I love to be blown away by talent, and inspired to work harder myself. Amy Bloom is the kind of author who inspires me in this way. I have recommended Away to so many people and now I will be recommending Lucky Us, as well. From a historical perspective I always learn so much from her books; her research is impeccable. But it’s the characters, of course, that resonate and make you care, and she always writes such intriguing female characters. The two protagonists of Lucky Us are step-sisters, so different in their desires and needs but equally compelling, and their relationship is entirely real and believable. The period—just prior to World War II, encompassing the war and then just a few years after—is so beautifully rendered; it’s the backdrop for the story of these two sisters figuring out how to survive in a world that throws them far too many curveballs.

As for nonfiction, which I love as well, I’m currently reading Carly Simon’s Boys in the Trees. It’s fascinating, and such a great insight into the process of a songwriter, as well as just plain fun to read for all the inevitable celebrity appearances. She had a lot to overcome herself, despite being born to privilege. That’s the common thread, I suppose, in most of the books I read and also write—surviving the life you were born to, even if that life was one of privilege, is always more challenging, and interesting, than it might appear on the surface. I think this is definitely one of the themes of The Swans of Fifth Avenue, as well as both of these books.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2016

Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, numerous short stories, a YA ghost novel and Write On!-a writers’ help book.

His new novel is The Locker, the first of a new series featuring private security operatives Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik.

Recently I asked Magson about what he was reading. His reply:
I recently caught up with one of my favourite authors – Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park and others and his character Arkady Renko), and read Tatiana, which I’d been meaning to get hold of for a while.

This time the put-upon and world-weary Russian investigator is looking into the apparent suicide of a young reporter, Tatiana Petrovna, and the murder of a billionaire mob leader.

Renko senses there must be a connection, and his persistent digging, in spite of his boss’s seeming scepticism, leads him to Kaliningrad, where another death has taken place.

The cast of characters is, as always, fascinating. Apart from Renko himself, and the various villains and walk-ons (who all have real depth), there’s Renko’s police colleague and sidekick, Victor Orlov, a sort of Russian Sancho Panza, and Renko’s adopted ‘son’ Zhenya, hell-bent on living his own life and disregarding pretty much everything Renko tells him, yet clearly relies on Renko as some kind of anchor in a stormy world.

He’s also a very bright kid and has a fairly meaty part in this case, bringing a solution to a puzzle that has Renko in knots.

It’s not a fast-paced book, but that’s the attraction. It allows the reader to get inside Renko’s mind and travel with him on his journey, risking death at the hands of the villains of the piece, and even worse from the authorities who seem to regard him as a minor nuisance. Then there’s his relationship with Zhenya and the occasional woman who strays into his life… or possibly the other way round; Renko’s not exactly a party animal.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tatiana and can strongly recommend it and the rest of the series.
Visit Adrian Magson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Locker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Elizabeth LaBan

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

She teaches fiction writing at The University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Newsday and The Times-Picayune, among other publications. She also ghost writes a weekly column, and has ghost written two books.

LaBan's new novel is The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m reading The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. For those of you who haven’t read it, it is the story of Kate and what happens the month leading up to her wedding, though, as we know from the beginning, she is living that month for a second time. The first time around, which is where the book begins, Kate’s finance Max breaks up with her at their rehearsal dinner. Heartbroken, she finds her way home from Hawaii where the wedding was supposed to take place and, with the help of Facebook and what I think is a fairy godmother named Ruby (I am only halfway through, I can’t say for sure yet if Ruby really ends up in that role), she is able to go back in time and live that important month again. I am hooked, and actually didn’t begin writing this post until late this morning because I couldn’t stop reading.

I love a time-travel, have-a-chance-to-do-it-again, what-if kind of book. It reminds me of Jennifer Weiner’s short story "The Guy Not Taken" about a woman who changes her fate and gets a second chance to see what might have been by fiddling with her ex-boyfriend’s wedding registry. It also reminds me of our favorite, albeit sappy, holiday movie called Holidaze in which a high-powered executive who gave up small town life and love for her job returns to her childhood home for a visit. She hits her head and finds herself in an alternate reality, one in which she made all the opposite choices. It gives her the opportunity to see things more clearly, and finally find happiness. I have long thought about writing this type of book, one in which someone gets a second chance and a window into something that would otherwise be lost.

I would write more now, but I have to go see what happens with Kate and Max!
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

James D. Stein

James D. Stein is emeritus professor in the Department of Mathematics at California State University, Long Beach.

His books include Cosmic Numbers and How Math Explains the World.

Stein's new story collection is L.A. Math: Romance, Crime, and Mathematics in the City of Angels.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I'd love to find a mystery writer who writes like either Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, or Agatha Christie – with classic mysteries – but the authors I've read recently have way too much gratuitous violence for my taste. When I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I came to the torture scene and skipped it – how does that improve the book? Beats me. The mystery, and the characters, were so good that this wasn't necessary.

I'm currently starting Our Mathematical Universe, by Max Tegmark, who has come up with some incredibly intriguing ideas in cosmology. He had a treatment of parallel universes in Scientific American a few years ago which was utterly fascinating. I'm also reading Swings and Arrows, a recently discovered book by Victor Mollo, who wrote about the game of bridge using a charming collection of characters inhabiting a fictional London bridge club, the Griffins. I no longer play tournament bridge, but bridge is a wonderful game, and through it I met some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.
Learn more about L.A. Math at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 69 Test: L.A. Math.

--Marshal Zeringue