Friday, October 31, 2014

Lois Leveen

Award-winning author Lois Leveen dwells in the spaces where literature and history meet. A confirmed book geek, Leveen earned degrees in history and literature from Harvard, the University of Southern California, and UCLA, and taught on the faculty of UCLA and of Reed College. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the LA Review of Books, the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and on NPR, as well as in numerous literary and scholarly journals and in film and performing arts festivals.

Leveen's new novel is Juliet's Nurse.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Almost every book I read is somehow related to my writing. I'll save you the very long list of nonfiction books that are surrounding my writing area currently (literally: I sit in a comfy chair, laptop and cat in my lap, and about 15 or more books within arms reach to be consulted as needed). Here's the fiction list. It's driven in part by the fact that Juliet's Nurse and my first novel The Secrets of Mary Bowser are both written in first-person, and I am now working on something in third-person. So I'm looking at novels that are helping me think about narrators and narration, although this list contains novels with both 1st- and 3rd- person narrators.

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. I just re-read this cover to cover, and am now "reading around in it," meaning flipping open and reading a chapter, or just a few pages, at a time. Why? This is truly a gem of a novel, a weird, witty, poignant piece of literary historical fiction. It's one of the few books I not only love reading but wish I'd written, because Fitzgerald seems to have such control and style in it, with a third-person narrator who is gently teasing the characters but always loving them. I cannot understand why I find this book so compelling, even after many, many readings. It's like it's laced with some addictive but undetectable substance. I've read most of her other novels -- in fact, I just finished The Beginning of Spring -- and I enjoy them, but none of them captivate me quite the way this one does. Which is quite apt, I guess, because it's about someone whose object of love is inexplicably appealing.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. I've seen the film a million times but never read the novel, or novella is probably more accurate, until recently. It is deeper and more touching than the film, full of gorgeous prose. But it's also laced with some troubling lines about race, and class, and geographical snobbery. If you watch the film, there is the cringe-inducing racism of Mickey Rooney's "yellow-face" portrayal of the Japanese-American character I Y Yunioshi. The book itself contains its own racist elements. And yet Holly Golightly and the narrator shine through, which left me missing my days as an English professor, because it would be a good novella to lead students to discuss--what do we do with something that is dated by these kind of objectionable sensibilities?

Wise Children by Angela Carter. I read this book to round-out a list of 5 Shakespeare-themed novels for a piece I was writing for The Daily Beast. Again, this novel is a very witty work, but in an entirely different way. And by that I mean, it's completely over the top. It's about illegitimate twins who are part of a famed family of British Shakespearean actors, but being the illegitimate ones, they end up as show girls. It moves through huge swathes of time in very clever ways, and all sorts of Shakespeare allusions run throughout. I probably missed a good many of them, but you never feel like Carter is trying to one-up the reader, only to show that we're all deeply soaking in Shakespeare, even today.

The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips. I met Marie this summer when we were both visiting Random House Canada: it was "bring the 21st-century women writing novels set in medieval times to work day," I guess. She was completely charming, and the novel is as well. I have awful insomnia, especially when I travel, and this book was one of those ones that is a good companion to cheer you through those sleepless bouts. Unlike Juliet's Nurse, it lives more in the world of King Arthur fantasy than realism, but you'd have to be pretty stodgy not to enjoy it.
Visit Lois Leveen's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Juliet's Nurse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mary Elizabeth Summer

Mary Elizabeth Summer contributes to the delinquency of minors by writing books about unruly teenagers with criminal leanings. She has a BA in creative writing from Wells College, and her philosophy on life is “you can never go wrong with sriracha sauce.” She lives in Portland Oregon with her wife, their daughter, and their evil overlor—er, cat.

Summer's new novel is Trust Me, I'm Lying.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Being a debut author, I've been gorging myself on other 2014 debut-author books this year. The one I'm currently (re)reading is Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones. Similarly to Trust Me, I'm Lying, it features a girl con artist as the protagonist, but there the similarity ends. Illusive takes place in a near future world where a virus has decimated the population, and the vaccine that saved the remainder has left a small percentage of people with supernatural abilities, like levitation, telepathy, and invisibility. There's so much to love about this book, but what I love most is the expert way the author has woven the characters together in the type of tight bond that all the best heist movies have. It's action-packed and heart-wrenching and has kept me up way past my bedtime on several occasions.
Visit Mary Elizabeth Summer's website.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me, I'm Lying.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 27, 2014

Susan McBride

Susan McBride is the USA Today bestselling author of Blue Blood and four other award-winning Debutante Dropout Mysteries from HarperCollins/Avon, including The Good Girl's Guide To Murder, The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club, Night Of The Living Deb, and Too Pretty To Die. A sixth title, Say Yes to the Death, will be out in September 2015. McBride has another series with Avon that debuted in May 2014, the River Road Mysteries, starting with To Helen Back and followed by Mad as Helen (July 2014) and Not a Chance in Helen (September 2014). McBride's young adult thriller, Very Bad Things, is an October 2014 release from Delacorte Press. Publishers Weekly raves: "McBride's fast-paced plot is fueled by jumps between multiple characters' perspectives, and her rendering of the venerable yet sinister school... is as absorbing as the tightly wound mystery."

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. McBride's reply:
I normally don’t read two books at once, but I’m doing that now.

First, I’ve got Lisa Wingate’s The Prayer Box on my Android. So it goes with me to doctors’ appointments and anywhere I’ll be sitting for a while, twiddling my thumbs and waiting. It’s about a woman named Tandy whose life has come apart at the seams. She has two kids, and she’s recently run from an abusive marriage. So she’s trying to lie low, pick up some cash, and rebuild her messed-up life from scratch. In the process, she becomes the caretaker of a dead woman’s house. She finds scads of letters this woman wrote to God, asking all sorts of questions and trying to figure out her own confusing life. I’ve never really read Christian fiction before, but I met Lisa a few years back at the Southern Indie Booksellers convention and I figured it was about time I checked out her bestselling fiction. I’ve definitely been sucked into the story, which takes the reader on a journey of discovery through Tandy’s eyes, of her own life and the dead woman, Iola Anne Poole’s. It’s not in any way preachy. It feels like mainstream fiction, which kind of surprised me. It’s a very satisfying read.

The other book is a trade paperback which I keep at my bedside. It’s called The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen, and my agent sent it to me as she knows I enjoy magical realism (and they rep Lisa, too). I just started it a few evenings ago, and I’m already caught up in the strange world of Olivia Pennywort and her garden in the Catskills that defies the laws of nature. I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen, who does magical realism like no one else. I’m hopefully that Lisa Van Allen’s novel will transport me in the same way that Sarah’s novels do.
Visit Susan McBride's website.

Writers Read: Susan McBride (September 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Little Black Dress.

--Marshal Zeringue

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