Friday, December 15, 2017

Steven Cooper

Steven Cooper is a former investigative reporter. His work has earned him multiple Emmy Awards and nominations, as well as a national Edward R. Murrow award, and numerous honors from the Associated Press. He taught for five years in the English department at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Cooper has lived a bit like a nomad, working TV gigs in New England, Arizona and Florida, and following stories around the globe.

Cooper's new novel, his fourth, is Desert Remains.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone, his latest in the Ellie Stone mystery series. It’s a gorgeous book. Ziskin eloquently evokes 1960’s Hollywood and the quiet scandals that run like fault lines beneath the surface of the movie town’s glitter. In Ziskin’s novel, grime eclipses glamour masterfully and the result is a beautiful exposé of the underbelly. A budding movie star disappears, a producer is murdered, and the hush-hush of it all is deafening. Crisp dialogue, rich characters, and an expert sense of place together make you smell the sultry rain of a Los Angeles night and the languid mist by the sea, while pulling you into the desperation of people whose motives are complex and deeply flawed. Ziskin’s fourth novel in the Ellie Stone series, Heart of Stone won both the 2017 Anthony and Macavity awards. Those accolades come as no surprise as I race toward the finish of Cast the First Stone.

Candice Millard’s River of Doubt had me savoring every page. With every chapter comes a new ripple in the adventure with tension so tight it felt like an elastic band stretching the length of the Amazon. Her characters come to life; they’re big and bold and their minds are almost too expansive for the story. But Millard expertly fits them on her palette as she explores their broad personalities. Also at the end of her paintbrush: detailed and exotic scenery, immersive and beckoning. I should probably mention here that River of Doubt is not a novel. It’s a work of non-fiction that chronicles Theodore Roosevelt’s ill-advised and nearly catastrophic exploration of an uncharted tributary in the Amazon. I don’t know if this a compliment to an expert researcher and storyteller like Millard, but River of Doubt is non-fiction that reads like a beautiful if not epic novel. The overwhelming arc in this story is an arc of doubt. Will they make it? Who will die? Who will survive? Are they heroes or fools? The reader is always reminded that, at a certain point, there will be no turning back. I was hooked. The stories within the stories of these robust characters are deeply layered. Their conflicts with each other and with the forces of nature around them make the adventure a physical and psychological tour de force.

Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Say No More made me want more, a lot more, of Jane Ryland. Ryland, Ryan’s series protagonist, is a television producer/reporter in Boston who ends up the reluctant witness to a brazen hit-and-run, the tentacles of which reach deeper into the city’s underworld than she imagines. She, meanwhile, must answer to her TV bosses who are waiting for her exposé on college campus sexual assaults, an investigation that takes her down a dangerous and shadowy road of its own. And then, of course, there’s the murder of a young college lecturer that Jane’s cop boyfriend is investigating. Jane zips from crime scene to courthouse to secret rendezvous with victims. You never quite know where she’s going. That’s the beauty of Ryan’s craft. She keeps you guessing. The pace is relentless. If you want to know how an Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and Mary Higgins Clark award winner does it, this is a book for you. As a former television reporter, I can relate to the story. As a fellow crime writer, I enjoyed getting lost in this gripping novel.
Visit Steven Cooper's website.

My Book, The Movie: Desert Remains.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Michael Wiley

Michael Wiley’s most recent novel is Monument Road, about an exonerated death-row inmate investigating the crime that sent him to prison. He also writes the Daniel Turner Thriller series (Blue Avenue, Second Skin, Black Hammock) and the Shamus Award-winning Joe Kozmarski Private Detective series (A Bad Night’s Sleep, The Bad Kitty Lounge, Last Striptease).

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Wiley's reply:
Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress is as fresh and powerful today as when it first was published in 1990. Set in 1948 Los Angeles, it also speaks straight to our current American moment. I’ve just reread it for the fourth time.

The first of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels—and the winner of the 1990 Shamus Award for Best First P.I. novel—Devil at once operates within and upends the detective fiction genre. Mosley knows and loves his Raymond Chandler, but Easy Rawlins is no Philip Marlowe. He’s an African-American WWII vet, brutalized by the justice system where Marlowe gets his training. In the opening line of the novel, Easy says, “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar,” and the book remains to the end a story of black and white ... and also of noir and California sunshine ... and sometimes of devilish blue and ruby red ... and, finally, of a conflicted color we might call blackwhite.

As for the story, it’s a blast. This is a classic missing-person novel—the missing person being the chameleon-like Daphne Monet—but, as in some of the best tales of this kind, the main person Easy seems to find in the closing pages is himself. There’s gunplay. There’s crackling dialogue. In the music of this book, not a note misses. Devil in a Blue Dress is among the great ones.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Wiley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Striptease.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Striptease.

The Page 69 Test: A Bad Night's Sleep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Shelley Tougas

https://shelleytougas.wordpress.com/Shelley Tougas is an award-winning writer of nonfiction for children, including Little Rock Girl 1957, and the author of the novels The Graham Cracker Plot, Finders Keepers, and A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids.

Her latest novel is Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life.

Recently I asked Tougas about what she was reading. Her reply:
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rose Howard loves her homonyms—so much that she names a dog found lost in a storm “Rain” (rein, reign). Rose, who has autism, is pushed to her limits when Rain disappears again, and she has to make the toughest decision of her life. This tugs at your heart but never goes over the top with sentimentality. Lovely.

Slider’s Son by Rebecca Fjelland Davis

I haven’t read a novel where the Depression era comes to life like this one. This is a middle-grade mystery set during the bone-cracking cold of a North Dakota winter, but the heart of the story is the boys’ friendship―a friendship so authentic you’ll want to bundle up, call your best friend and go sledding.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (book one) by Rick Riordan

My daughter wouldn’t stop bugging me until I read the first Magnus Chase novel, and for once I’m grateful for her persistence. I’ve never had so much fun in the pages of a book. Riordan is obviously a master of mythology, but to me, he’s a master of humor. Just one question: Where’s the movie?

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I read this one nearly every year because it’s my favorite Laura book. The Long Winter is a nail-biting survival story. Researchers say Laura’s descriptions of the infamous winter match the historical record. It’s also the first time readers meet Laura’s husband Almanzo, who’s as dashing a hero as any in literature.

Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) by Julie Bowe

I met Julie a few years ago at a book event. When Wren Jo Byrd was released, I bought it before I saw all the great reviews. She nails the voice of a kid confused and frustrated by her parents’ split. This novel is utterly charming. I hope she’s celebrating the accolades.
Visit Shelley Tougas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Irene Radford

Irene Radford, author of the Dragon Nimbus (The Glass Dragon, The Perfect Princess, The Loneliest Magician, The Wizard's Treasure) and the Dragon Nimbus History (The Dragon's Touchstone, The Last Battlemage, The Renegade Dragon) series, often appears at conventions in the Oregon-California area. She is the author of the Stargods and Merlin's Descendants series as well, and is also one of the founders of the Book View Cafe.

Radford's new novel is A Spoonful of Magic.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
When I am writing Urban Fanatsy I cannot read Urban Fantasy. When I’m writing Historical Fantasy, after I’ve done the initial research, I cannot read a similar genre. My default popcorn books are cozy mysteries, with or without ghosts and paranormal elements as long as the mystery is the core of the story. Rhys Bowen and Carola Dunn are current favorites in historically set (early 20th C) cozies. Lea Wait, Joyce Tremel, and Lynn Cahoon are my current favorite authors. But I’ve been reading the genre for a long time and have devoured the entire lexicon of some older favorites like Jill Churchill, and Kaitlyn Dunnett, Susan M. Boyes. I will admit to being jaded. I cannot tolerate heroines who are whiney doormats, conned into doing what they know will be risky because the “owe” people they don’t like.
Visit Irene Radford's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Broken Dragon.

The Page 69 Test: The Broken Dragon.

My Book, The Movie: A Spoonful of Magic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tara Goedjen

Tara Goedjen adores fairytales, mysteries, and ghost stories.

She wrote her first story at age eleven about children who disappeared at midnight, and she’s been writing ever since. Mostly raised in Alabama, she played college tennis in Iowa and then moved to Alaska and Australia before heading back to the continental US.

While completing grad school, Goedjen worked as a tennis coach, a yoga instructor, a university writing teacher, and as an editor for a publishing house. These days, when she’s not making up stories, she's probably going for a hike, staring at a to-do list, reading a novel, or eating all of California’s seasonal fruit.

Goedjen's new novel is The Breathless.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been touring for The Breathless and have just gotten the chance to pick up a book by a writer friend, Amanda Searcy, called The Truth Beneath the Lies. Since I write within the mystery/thriller genre, I tend to reach for those books first, and the cover of Searcy’s novel makes me want to read it: the jagged streaks of color hint at the darkness and danger within. Karen McManus, another writer I admire, described it as “A smart, suspenseful, and unpredictable thriller that will keep readers turning pages until every last lie is revealed.” These are the sorts of books I love: full of twists and turns that keep me guessing, which brings me to…

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series about bruja Alejandra (“Alex”) Mortiz, a teenager who belongs to a powerful family of witches. I recently finished reading this one and loved how Córdova portrayed the relationships between her characters, which both surprised and delighted me. In the same way that Córdova’s plot points kept me guessing what was to come, I also wondered how Alex would grow on her journey, and which direction her heart would take her. It’s no wonder that Labyrinth Lost was named Tor.com’s Best YA SFF of 2016—and I can’t wait to read the sequel.
Visit Tara Goedjen's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Breathless.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Jeff Wheeler

Jeff Wheeler's new novel is The Forsaken Throne, the latest installment of The Kingfountain Series, which began with The Queen's Poisoner.

Recently I asked Wheeler about what he was reading. His reply:
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

I was recently given a copy of this book while visiting its publisher in New York. My friend, and previous editor, said it was the book he was looking forward to most. City of Brass is story of djinn and ancient magic set in Napoleonic Egypt. I’m not done yet but it’s reminded me a bit of the Bartimaeus novels by Jonathan Stroud, which I loved. Interested to see where it is going.

Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill

It’s not unlike Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis but with a more deliberate focus. This manuscript was unpublished for seventy years because it was deemed to be too controversial for its time and was finally released (posthumously) recently. Imagine someone interviewing the devil and finding out how he controls society today in subtle, malicious ways. No institution is safe from scrutiny. This book certainly challenges your thinking. In fact, its purpose is to make you think hard about yourself and your assumptions. Even better, imagine learning how to avoid the traps that have been set in motion for decades to control our thinking. As a student of history and a fan of Hill’s previous works, I thought it was worth a second read. It was.
Visit Jeff Wheeler's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Queen's Poisoner.

My Book, The Movie: The Queen's Poisoner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A.J. Cross

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years' experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband.

Cross's latest novel is Something Evil Comes.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Crime fiction has been one of my joys over many years. However, since I began writing it myself I read much less of it. The reason? I appear to have acquired a possibly irrational fear that I might subconsciously purloin another author’s plot, theme or twist as my own. Consequently, I tend to read biographies or, in this case a diary: Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On. It is very heavy but only in terms of its seven hundred-plus pages. It is exactly what one might expect of Bennett but there’s another aspect which I found completely unexpected.

What was anticipated of course  was the humour: consider this, the single entry for 18th October, 2005 where Bennett quotes a critic remarking that  he can have too much of Alan Bennett to which Bennett adds: ‘I wonder how he thinks I feel.’ Economical, modest and understated. I’m willing to bet that response wasn’t worked for but arrived as quick, clean truth. There’s a precision about his observations of people, creatures and things which is a delight. He describes the inside of a bean pod, ‘shaped to the bean and furred like the inside of a violin case.’ It’s not necessary to have seen the pod. Thanks to Bennett, we know it. We can picture it.

Despite his enormous success as a playwright and commentator on ‘ordinary’ people’s lives, the diary describes Bennett’s own modest way of living. He and his partner, Rupert spend a lot of their leisure time visiting National Trust buildings. On these jaunts they take sandwich lunches with them. The overall impression is of a modest, unpretentious man who takes pleasure in simple things. I have searched the index and the 700-odd pages of the diary and failed to locate his description of attending what I believe was a premiere of his in America, but I wanted to include it because it fits with my impression of that modesty and honesty. Picture a hotel corridor of several doors, beyond which the famous and the feted are being interviewed. Bennett describes being taken along that corridor as a potential interviewee, each door being opened and the question asked of whoever is inside: ‘Do you want him?’ at which the reply is invariably, ‘No.’ and on, eventually to a door at the very end of the corridor which opens and Bennett finds himself outside the building in the rain. I can’t imagine any situation in which the words ‘Do you know who I am?’ would ever be said by him.

So, what was so unexpected? It was the anger. Having been drawn in and beguiled by Bennett’s writing to expect someone who is avoidant of unseemly fuss about almost anything, in Keeping On he fires off some furious broadsides at the UK’s political parties. It seems to be the political right which earns much of his vitriol. Which is hardly surprising, given his expressed appreciation of his own state-provided education and his fury at the injustice of dismantling of the welfare state. He likens the closure of libraries to child abuse.

Keeping On Keeping On is a gentle read but it has very sharp teeth.
Learn more about Something Evil Comes.

My Book, The Movie: Something Evil Comes.

The Page 69 Test: Something Evil Comes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 4, 2017

Hilary Bonner

Hilary Bonner is the author of many crime novels and five non-fiction books. A past Chair of the Crime Writers' Association, she was previously the showbusiness editor of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mirror.

Her latest novel, Deadly Dance, is the first in an intriguing new series featuring Bristol detective, DI David Vogel.

Recently I asked Bonner about what she was reading. Her reply:
As is so often the case I am reading Agatha Christie, this time re-reading a first edition of a great favourite - given me by my partner, who scours markets and car boot sales looking for early Christies to add to my collection.

It’s the famous one with the unreliable narrator. I will not name it, it because for any new reader unaware of the premise of this novel, it would then be ruined. Those who know, know!

Christie only used an unreliable narrator once in her 66 novels. Indeed, it is probably a ploy that even the prolific queen of crime would not dare repeat.

Partly inspired by Agatha, I too chose an unreliable narrator for one of my 13 novels, and again everything would be given away if I revealed which one. It’s a fascinating concept, and technically very challenging for an author.

Agatha’s book caused quite a stir when it was published. The great dame was even accused of cheating.

One Amazon reviewer accused me of producing an ending which was quite impossible, and another said the ending was obvious and she’d guessed it on page two.

So, I reckon I probably got it about right. And there’s no doubt at all in my mind that Agatha Christie produced a bit of a masterpiece.

I also particularly like to read books written by friends. I have two on the go at the moment. Handsome Brute is true life crime; the story of notorious British serial killer Neville Heath, written by Sean O’Connor who is also an acclaimed UK based producer and director working in film, TV and theatre. It’s a masterful piece of work, not for the squeamish!

North Facing is a haunting journey back in time to 1962 South Africa, in the days of apartheid, seen through the eyes of a central character now in his sixties and living abroad, who returns to the country of his youth, and finds himself confronted with the disturbing consequences of his own childhood behaviour. Written by South African born Tony Peake, my agent for nearly 25 years, and a most accomplished novelist, this is probably his finest yet.
Visit Hilary Bonner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 3, 2017

David Walton

David Walton is a science fiction and fantasy author with a growing number of novels in publication. His first, Terminal Mind, won the 2008 Philip K. Dick award for best paperback original novel.

Walton's latest novel is The Genius Plague.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Walton's reply:
The books I'm currently reading are Infomocracy, by Malka Older, and Noumenon, by Marina Lostetter.  I had wanted to read Infomocracy for some time, because I liked the idea of exploring a new political concept.  The book explores the idea of "micro-democracy", where every group of 100,000 people around the world gets to vote on which one of a set of available governments they want, once every ten years.  I'm most of the way through the book now, and enjoying it -- great mystery, great characters, and interesting political concepts to consider.  Noumenon I just started, but it hooked me right from the beginning, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes me.

Other books I've enjoyed recently are N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy; Version Control, by Dexter Palmer; and The Boy on the Bridge, by M.R. Carey, which was every bit as good as The Girl With All The Gifts.  The Broken Earth trilogy raises a lot of difficult issues about groups of people who are mistreated by people in power, and what happens, or what should happen, when the power dynamic shifts the other way.  Version Control covers a lot of interesting ground, including the impacts of Internet technology on social interactions and dating websites, but it's ultimately a time travel novel.  Unlike most such novels, however, the time traveler--just like everyone else--has no memory of the previous timeline once a new one is made.  We as readers therefore get to see several possible versions of the characters' lives, even though the characters themselves don't--and can't--know that there has been more than one.
Visit David Walton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Quintessence.

My Book, The Movie: Quintessence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 1, 2017

Julie E. Czerneda

For twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction. She’s also written fantasy, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Czerneda has edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, two Aurora winners. Her latest is SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase, and her next will be an anthology set in her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis. Her new SF novel, finale to that series, is To Guard Against the Dark.

Recently I asked Czerneda about what she was reading. Her reply:
In 2008, I bought a story for my anthology, Misspelled. The story was by a friend, someone I knew would write something remarkable. Editors will tell you. We know a great storyteller when we hear one; the wordcraft shines even when they’re just telling you about their day. The harder part, the discipline to put that craft in action, to put it out there, to write yet another story and another?

That’s the difference-maker.

The story I bought? Brilliant indeed, and I’ve been a devoted fan of Lesley D. Livingston’s work ever since. My reward has been that she’s gone on, doing the hard things, and is publishing novel after novel after novel. Check out her list—or my bookcase. From time travel to realms of the fae—in New York City--to saving a drive-in theatre from aliens* (*co-authored with the talented Jonathan Llyr)--every one has her signature voice and bright spirit.

And each? Better than the last. That’s the other thing. Lesley keeps upping her game, to readers’ delight, especially mine. When her latest arrived on my shelf, The Valiant, I plunged in, to be blown away yet again.

Lesley has two significant strengths as a writer, in my opinion. Her characters live and breathe—they’re unforgettable. Real. So are her worlds. Much of her work is set in historical times and she does her research. The Valiant begins a series where a Celtic princess, in training to be a warrior for her people, is captured and sold into slavery to become a female gladiator for Julius Caesar.

In the hands of another writer, I wouldn’t have been interested. My taste runs to science fiction and fantasy, with a side order of science, and I’ve little time to read outside. Such is my trust in Lesley’s work, I leapt in without hesitation. And yes, it is her best book yet. It reminds me of one of my favourites from high school, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, the first I read where an unknown past came so vividly to life and made me care, deeply. Yet The Valiant is more. The perspective of a woman—women--in this culture, the attention to detail bringing all aspects to life, the heart-pounding battle scenes—did I mention an upcoming TV series--

Oh, go get your copy. Start your Livingston collection. Let discovering this wonderful author be my gift, to you.
Visit Julie E. Czerneda's website.

The Page 69 Test: To Guard Against the Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sarah Rayne

Sarah Rayne is the author of a number of acclaimed psychological thrillers and haunted house books. Her new novel is Chord of Evil.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Rayne's reply:
I read masses of fiction of almost every kind, but these four books are my all-time favourites, and I’m currently halfway through Broome Stages for at least the tenth time – with Gaudy Night in line to be re-read next.

Broome Stages by Clemence Dane

Written in 1930. Clemence Dane was a highly thought-of novelist and playwright of her era. (Best known plays are Will Shakespeare, Granite, and Bill of Divorcement).

I discovered this book about thirty years ago and lost an entire four-day bank holiday reading it. Saying you read a book in four days is a huge compliment to pay an author, but there’s a curious downside to it.  On the one hand it’s terrific that the book was so compelling you couldn’t put it down – on the other hand, the author probably spent a minimum of a year writing and researching it.

Broome Stages is a very long book indeed – 700 pages – and in a very general way is a family saga.  But it’s like no family saga I’ve ever read, before or since. It spans the years between 1715 and 1930, and it covers seven generations of a theatrical family.  The story begins with travelling players in tavern courtyards, and traces the family’s rise – through the marvellous fruity old Victorian actor managers who re-wrote Shakespeare to suit themselves, and into the early years of the 20th century, with the dawn of the early movies. It’s about the changing world of the theatre, but it’s also about the Broomes themselves – their loves and hates, and feuds and plots.  It’s about their fortunes in the theatre world – the buying of theatres, the building of a theatrical dynasty.

The writing is exquisite – polished and lovely, and the characters and their backgrounds are so vivid that the present-day dissolves as you read.

One of the reviews of the time had this to say:
Broome Stages is more than a novel.  It is a social-history and a social-comedy, an epic.  The genealogy is so intricately and ingeniously mapped and explained, they make that other famous family in fiction, Mr Galsworthy’s Forsytes, seem like a pack of Victorian upstarts.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

This marvellous, multi-layered story set in an Oxford College, sees Harriet Vane returning to her alma mater to help her former tutors with a poison pen mystery.  The mystery itself is engrossing, but woven into the plot is the gradually developing emotion between Harriet and Lord Peter Wimsey, and Harriet’s own struggles to come to terms with her turbulent past.

Every time I read this, I’m pulled straight into that world, and made part of it by DLS’s excellent writing.

The Destiny Man by Peter van Greenaway

This is another book that  I bring back to my reading stack regularly.

It’s a terrific and, to my mind, a very unusual, story of how a has-been actor, living on his past glories, finds a yellowing Shakespearean folio on the tube, and how he manages to bring the play to production at Stratford (where else?).

The play’s subject is the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in the Tower, during James I’s reign – James himself was rumoured to have been slightly involved in that plot, so it’s very credible that if Will, living at the start of James’s reign by then, had written such a play, he would have kept it quiet.

Mr van Greenaway sprinkles his text beautifully with Bardic phrases – when the antiquarian bookseller Elias Pouncefoot is found murdered, he describes the reactions in these words:
The news broke about five, perfectly timed for radio, TV and late evening paper coverage.  A new, unpublished, unknown play, never before performed until soon – there was matter enough to generate interest.  But this new circumstance (ie the murder of Pouncefoot), almost melted wires and made the ionosphere crackle audibly as news of it girdled the Earth…   Here was a combination of events devoutly to be wished.
Sadly, this is no longer in print, but it can be obtained through most of the secondhand book sellers, and is well worth searching out.

The Hopkins Manuscript (also published, in edited and abridged version as The Cataclysm) by R C Sherriff

Sherriff is probably best known for his classic play about the Great War, Journey’s End, and his screenplays for famous films such as Goodbye Mr Chips, Home at Seven, and The Dam Busters. However, he also wrote a few novels, and The Hopkins Manuscript is something I’ve read many times.

The opening line is a terrific hook:
When the Royal Society of Abyssinia discovered The Hopkins Manuscript two years ago in the ruins of Notting Hill, it was hoped that some valuable light would at last be thrown upon the final tragic days of London.
It’s the story, written in first-person narrative, of a rather self-important, but ultimately surprisingly courageous and heroic retired schoolteacher, who finds himself caught up in cataclysmic events.  The moon has veered off course, and is set to crash into Earth.  The book is the story of how Edgar Hopkins, and the people immediately around him, deal with this - in practical as well as emotional terms.
Visit Sarah Rayne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rachel Neumeier

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.

Neumeier's new novel is Winter of Ice and Iron.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Somehow in 2017 everything that made the biggest impression on me had a strong historical component, though the works I have in mind ranged from almost-secondary-world fantasy to straight historical.

Earlier this summer, I read an older trilogy by a new-to-me author, Naomi Kritzer: Freedom’s Gate, Freedom’s Apprentice and Freedom’s Sisters. Here we have fantasy where history has been altered enough the resulting world is hardly recognizable. In Kritzer’s world, Alexander the Great lived a long life and conquered the world, or near enough. Now a long-subjugated people is edging toward revolution while enslaved djinni complicate matters. Magic is powerful, but practitioners inevitably develop bipolar syndrome, which is shown realistically although not in modern terms. Through the whole trilogy, complicated ethical dilemmas are fundamental, even more so than physical conflict. This is also a story where romance is minimal while other kinds of relationships are of central importance. A great favorite of mine for the year, everything about it worked for me – I can’t think of a single thing I wish Kritzer had done differently.

Then this fall I read Walk on Earth a Stranger, Like a River Glorious, and Into the Bright Unknown, by Rae Carson. I love long stories that give the reader a day-to-day look at ordinary life in historical settings. This trilogy does a wonderful job with that. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like reading an immersive story about the wagon trains and the westward migration to make the reader appreciate the conveniences and comforts of modern life.

Lee, the protagonist, is a gold dowser – which is practically the only touch of magic in a trilogy that is nearly straight historical. Lee’s a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist because of her own sympathy for everyone around her. Her concentrated effort to view everything charitably from the other’s point of view sets her apart even more than her gift for gold dowsing, and her viewpoint draws a convincing portrait of the people and places of that era. A memorable story I’ll be glad to re-read in a year or two.

Right after that, I finally had a chance to read the recently released final book in Alan Smale’s debut Alternate History trilogy: Clash of Eagles, Eagle in Exile, and Eagle and Empire. Here Romans from a Rome that never fell discover the Americas – and then meet the Cahokian mound builders. This is a story filled with adventure, battles, tense alliances, a little bit of romance, a lot of complicated personal relationships, and lots and lots of the most amazing hang-gliders. Definitely a must-try for fans of history twisted around and tilted sideways.

Most recently, I finally read a standalone novel that’s been on my radar for a while: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. This one’s a straight historical novel -- but with added depth from echoes of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. There’s a tiny bit of romance in this novel, but primarily it is about family – a father gone terribly wrong, a helpless and absent mother, and most of all sisters who are each other’s friends, allies, and defenders.

From all this you might get the idea that I really prefer historical fantasy, which isn’t actually the case – though I do like historical depth, in fantasy and mysteries and romances and so on. But what I actually like best is any story with a well-drawn setting, historical or secondary world or contemporary, but also with complicated personal relationships, especially relationships involving family and friends rather than, or at least in addition to, an important central romance. That’s what every book on this list provides. Probably every book that has ever made it to my personal top ten list, or ever will, offers that.
Visit Rachel Neumeier's website.

My Book, The Movie: Winter of Ice and Iron.

The Page 69 Test: Winter of Ice and Iron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Marcella Pixley

http://marcellapixley.com/Marcella Pixley teaches eighth grade Language Arts at the Carlisle Public Schools. She has written three acclaimed young adult novels: Freak, Without Tess, and most recently, Ready To Fall.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a writer, I often read in order to teach myself something I want to master. I look for writers whose work contains some aspect of a strategy or structure I am trying to hone in my own fiction and then I devour everything I can find that will teach me what I want to learn from them. Most recently, I have been in love with Elizabeth Strout’s writing, and over the past months, I have poured through each of her novels, underlining passages, re-reading pages and trying to learn what she is doing to make her characters shine the way they do. I appreciate the way she shows how fragile we are as human beings. She captures the imperfection of our love for each other, and how desperately we yearn to connect with the people in our families and our communities who matter most to us. Strout is a master at creating silent tensions between her characters, demonstrating in one novel after another that what characters do not say in a scene is often as important as what they do.

I used what I learned from Strout throughout my new novel Ready to Fall, especially in the scenes between Max and his father. Both of them are in pain, both of them are grieving, but they love each other fiercely, and they worry so much about each other that they are unable to be honest about their pain. They keep their grief a secret from each other. For this reason, the scenes between them are filled with silent yearning for connection. They wish they could tell each other how they feel, but they have convinced themselves that it is more important to seem strong in each other’s presence. Strout also taught me how it is possible to simultaneously demonstrate the shortcomings between people and also the sweetness and the tenderness. We try our best. But because we are human and imperfect we often flounder. Strout has taught me that these imperfections are really what makes us beautiful.
Visit Marcella Pixley's website.

My Book, The Movie: Ready to Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Gary Blackwood

Gary Blackwood is the award-winning author of more than thirty novels and non-fiction titles for children and young adults, including the bestselling Shakespeare http://severnhouse.com/author/Gary+Blackwood/9664Stealer series. Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, he now lives in Canada.

Blackwood's latest novel is Bucket's List.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Blackwood's reply:
I’m convinced that, in most cases, whether or not a particular book or a particular author speaks to us depends on how willing we are to listen.  In real life, of course, we tend to seek out people whose opinions and outlooks coincide with ours.  But in the case of books, though obviously it’s important what an author says, I think how he or she says it is just as important.  The truth is, I generally spend a lot more time with authors than I do with any of my flesh and blood friends, so I like them to be good company.

D. E. Stevenson is delightful company.  I discovered her only within the last year or so, when I stumbled upon a reissue of the charming Miss Buncle’s Book.  I’ve been seeking her out ever since, most recently between the covers of her WWII-era saga, Amberwell.  Though Stevenson (or, Dorothy, as I call her—or would, if she were still alive) has long been dismissed as a writer of “light romantic novels,” that assessment does her a definite disservice.  She has a droll sense of humor that rivals Anthony Trollope’s—I often found myself laughing out loud--and her portrayal of the relations between men and women sometimes give her the feel of a latter-day Jane Austen.  It’s true that her stories aren’t always very tragic or very profound, but neither is life, most of the time.  And the fact is, Stevenson offers some very shrewd insights, some really moving moments and some heartbreaking dilemmas, especially in Amberwell.  Its scope and depth certainly qualify it as far more than a “light romantic novel,” and I found myself wishing I’d made a name for myself as a screenwriter so I could create a miniseries based on the book.
Learn more about Bucket's List.

My Book, The Movie: Bucket's List.

The Page 69 Test: Bucket's List.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Richard Baker

A former United States Navy officer and a well-known game designer, Richard Baker is the author of over a dozen novels, including the New York Times best seller Condemnation (2003) and the highly acclaimed The Last Mythal trilogy (2004–2006). He is a lifelong devotee of science fiction and fantasy, a history enthusiast (particularly military history), and an avid fan of games of all kinds.

Baker's new novel is Valiant Dust.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Like a lot of people, I’m usually working on a couple of books at a time. The two that are currently competing for my attention are Harry Turtledove’s Fallout and Peter Cawdron’s Retrograde.

Fallout is the second book in Turtledove’s new alternate history series The Hot War (following up on Bombs Away, the start of the series). The premise is dark and simple: What would have happened if Douglas Macarthur got his way in 1951 and the U.S. responded to China’s intervention in the Korean War by dropping the Bomb? The answer is that things get horrible in a hurry. I’m a longtime Turtledove fan and enough of a history buff to really enjoy the what-if game; it’s amazing how great events sometimes turn on very small hinges, and Turtledove is of course the master at exploring the repercussions. I’m actually having a tough time in Fallout; the world is becoming so grim and miserable that I find my despair is bleeding over into real-world anxiety. It’s a powerful story, and I think there are some lessons in Turtledove’s speculation that pertain the world today.

The other book I’m reading is Retrograde, by Peter Cawdron. This is the first Cawdron book I’ve ever read, and I have to admit I didn’t really pick it out—I found it in the bag at a bookseller association trade show, and decided that it could be worth a try. This is a near-future, hard-science look at a fledgling Mars outpost established as a joint effort by the US, Russia, China, and the EU. When disastrous news from Earth reaches the colony, the four crews face the horrible possibility that they’ll be on their own indefinitely and that one of their countries might be responsible for an unthinkable atrocity. Again, I found the beginning grim and depressing; I was just waiting for the author to reveal that characters I liked were The Bad Guys, and I wasn’t looking forward to that. But then Cawdron threw in an unexpected twist that really changed the complexion of the story, hooking me all over again. So, good on you, Mr. Cawdron—I didn’t see that coming, and I’m liking Retrograde more than I initially thought I would.
Visit Richard Baker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 24, 2017

Chris Brookmyre

Chris Brookmyre is the author of twenty crime and science fiction novels, including Black Widow, winner of the 2016 McIlvanney Prize. His work has been adapted for television, radio, the stage and in the case of Bedlam, an FPS videogame.

His new novel is Places in the Darkness.

Recently I asked Brookmyre about what he was reading. His reply:
Denise Mina’s The Long Drop won the 2017 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year, and deservedly so. Based on the true story of mass-murderer Peter Manuel, who killed whole families in their homes in 1950s Glasgow, this book is like reaching into a wound in the city’s soul. It is a speculative account of Manuel’s inexplicable drinking odyssey around Glasgow one night in the company of a man whose family he killed, and whose own innocence comes increasingly into question. This is a novel so visceral you can smell the cigarette smoke, an amazing snapshot of a toxic male culture and an unflinching portrait of a sociopath’s self-delusion.

Mark Billingham’s Love Like Blood allies the author’s gift for compelling narrative and complex investigative detail with a burning, passionate anger over his subject. Billingham’s recurring detective Tom Thorne investigates a series of honour killings, which are among the most under-reported crimes in the UK. The book delves deep into the cultural and religious motivations behind a particularly disgusting kind of murder, though its protagonist ultimately despairs of ever understanding why people would kill their own children merely to satisfy a sense of ideological propriety. It is a book that will leave you shaking with rage long after the thrill of the chase has faded.

Mick Herron’s Spook Street is the fourth in his superb Slough House series, about the place where British intelligence service wash-outs are sent in the hope that they will resign rather than be fired, and where they become the playthings of the magnificently monstrous Jackson Lamb. Spook Street is disturbingly prescient in dealing with a suicide bombing in London, and even more worrying in its depiction of the covert manoeuvrings and hidden agendas played out by the intelligence services before and after such an atrocity.

Having a teenage son and consequently being exposed to far more heavy metal than I ever envisaged, reading Andrew O’Neill’s A History of Heavy Metal has been strangely therapeutic. It is a relentlessly energetic and frequently hilarious account of the development of this maligned but indefatigably enduring music genre, one I admittedly  enjoy reading about far more than listening to.
Visit Chris Brookmyre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dave Connis

https://daveconnis.com/short-bio/Dave Connis writes words you can sing and words you can read. He lives in Chattanooga, TN with his wife, Clara and a dog that barks at non-existent threats.

His new novel is The Temptation of Adam.

Recently I asked Connis about what he was reading. His reply:
I've recently decided to branch my reading out from fiction because I've been on a straight diet of fiction since high school. I'm 27.

I recently finished Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and it was phenomenal. I wanted to read it because it paints an insider picture of the people I live around and helped me understand the layers of hurt and hopelessness that I'm seeing in the houses down the street. Because of how much Hillbilly Elegy impacted me, I decided to go on a non-fiction binge.

I just finished Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams. It was heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time. I still think about her story and how it seems the one common thing that helps people crawl out of dark places is someone holding up a light, illuminating a different path.

I'm reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and it has some of the most captivating writing I've read in a long time and it's made me want to write in third person.
Visit Dave Connis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Temptation of Adam.

--Marshal Zeringue