Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age.

Benjamin's new novel is The Girls in the Picture.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm currently finishing up season 2 of The Crown on Netflix, indulging my passion for all things British. So I'm also reading some biographies of the royal family: Princess Margaret, a Biography, by Theo Aronson, and The Queen Mother by William Shawcross, which is quite extensive! If you want to know every detail of every meal she ate, this is the biography for you. There is some excellent info in the book but it is rather a slog. And keeping with this theme, I also, every year come Christmas, find myself turning to cozy British novels, usually set between the wars or immediately after WWII. And these year, I discovered a new author, Elizabeth Fair. Her books are reminiscent of Angela Thirkell, although sweeter - set in small English towns, immediately after the war. I very much enjoyed reading her books The Mingham Air, A Winter Away, and Bramtom Wick over the holidays.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

My Book, The Movie: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Picture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby grew up in south London and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2007 with a double first in English Literature. After working on the Observer’s New Review section for a few years she moved to New York and has lived in Brooklyn since 2010. She writes about culture, especially books, film, music and gender, for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the TLS and others. She has interviewed hundreds of actors, writers, pop stars and other cultural figures including Toni Morrison, Meryl Streep, Naomi Campbell, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Hoby's debut novel is Neon in Daylight.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I've been reading Marilynne Robinson's forthcoming book of essays, which goes by the appropriately plain and colossal question of: What Are We Doing Here? In this moment of extreme absurdity - tragic absurdity! - by which I mean, an America run by a terrible and unstable infant, I'm craving steady, grown-up voices. We're so lucky to have a mind like hers. She is truly a grown-up. She writes about politics, history, faith and goodness with awe-inducing intelligence. Not just intelligence - wisdom.
Visit Hermione Hoby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three young children.

Over the years, he has been many things: ski instructor, journalist, personal trainer, and bra folder (he lasted one day: fired for giggling at the ridiculousness of the job. If it's any excuse, he was just nineteen years old.)

His first real career was as a newspaper reporter in Colchester, Essex. There, he covered the police and crime beat for almost two years. He also wrote stories on foreign assignments, including accounts from Northern Ireland while with the British Army, and from Romania where he covered the first-anniversary celebrations of that country's revolution.

Pryor moved to America in 1994, mostly for the weather. He attended journalism school at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, and then law school at Duke University, graduating with honors and a lot of debt.

He is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County DA's office.

Pryor's latest book is Dominic: A Hollow Man Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The Christmas period is one of the few times I can really spend time with a book or two, and I've just started one I can't wait to get home to. It was given to me by a friend who enjoys my Paris-based novels, and it's called The Paris Enigma, by Pablo De Santis. The premise is delightful: in the City of Light, just as it is about to be illuminated by the 1889 World’s Fair, a series of murders baffles an international band of detectives. I'm not very far in, but the voice (the protagonist is an assistant to one of the detectives) is so original and appealing that I'm hooked, and can't wait for the bodies to start popping up.

Prior to that I read a thriller, Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner. It's the second novel featuring her heroin Caitlin Hendrix and, in my humble opinion, even better than the first (UNSUB). Meg handles the revelation of the killer and the subsequent chase with eloquence and excitement, I'm guessing this book is headed for big things, I've been recommending it left and right!
Visit Mark Pryor's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dominic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Martha Freeman

After graduating from Stanford University, Martha Freeman worked as a newspaper reporter, copy editor, substitute teacher, college lecturer, advertising copywriter and magazine writer before finding her true calling as a writer of children's books. She has since written more than 20 books for children.

Her new novel is Zap.

Recently I asked Freeman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I belong to what I call a badass book group. If we’re not reading The Magic Mountain or Rachel Cusk, we’re reading high-brow essays on botany (The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey), or a history of paleoanthropology (The Case of the Rickety Cossack by Ian Tattersall).

I once heard the novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick say she was not entertained by entertainment. Most of the time, that’s my badass book group.

Mere mortals, though, need a break now and then, which is why I’ve generally got more than one book on my nightstand. I just finished Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (beautiful writing and fun facts about 18th century New York, maybe a bit too clever). In the fall I read Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (engaging, well-observed and well-written; can’t figure out how the editor let her get away without an ending) and listened to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (so charming I forgave it everything).

As for what this writer is reading now, two things:

Grant by Ron Chernow. I was gratified to see this on Barack Obama’s reading list for 2017, too. Did you know Ulysses S. Grant was a saint? He was, at least as depicted by Chernow, and in these troubled times, let me tell you it is a pleasure to read about a public servant who was a saint. Also, you talk about your fun facts: Three of Grant’s groomsmen eventually surrendered to him at Appomattox.

Aimless Love, New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins. I have a bad habit of writing a poem most mornings while I drink my coffee. So (New Year’s resolution alert) I should read more poetry, right? Billy writes about lawn chairs overlooking lakes and cobblestones and love and wine and trout. The man eats a lot of trout. Many of his poems are funny, many are ironic, and almost all depict a seriously enviable life, which may be one secret to his success. Move over, Billy. I’ll share that lawn chair, thank you very much. And I’ll have a bite of trout, while you’re about it.

In fact, it’s my badass book group that assigned Billy Collins. We decided to lighten up for a month over the holidays. I’m not sure what Cynthia Ozick would say. I fear she might not approve.
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Kylie Brant

Kylie Brant is a native Midwesterner and resides in Iowa. She has the distinction of selling the first book she ever wrote. That began a career that has spanned forty novels. She’s garnered numerous nominations and awards, including twice winning the overall Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mystery and suspense, and a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Brant is a three-time RITA nominee and has been nominated for five RT awards. Her recent novel, Pretty Girls Dancing, was a #1 Amazon bestseller.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Brant's reply:
There's nothing I love talking about more than books! And I've been reading some stellar ones recently.

Right now I'm in the middle of Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, The Midnight Line. For those unfamiliar with Child, all his books feature the same character, an ex-military cop who is best described as a nomad. Putting down roots is not in his DNA, so he travels about the country, invariably getting caught up in dangerous situations encountered while he attempts to help someone. The Midnight Line is not Child's most action-packed novel, but it's vintage Reacher. The man sees a woman's West Point ring in a pawn shop and is immediately intrigued. As a former West Point graduate himself, he knows that the woman wouldn't have parted with the ring voluntarily. So he buys it to set about finding its owner, and lands himself in the middle of a drug operation in the Midwest. Characterization is the foundation of all good books, and this novel is filled with quirky story people. Most intriguing is always Jack Reacher himself. A character has to be bigger than life to carry multiple books, and Reacher is well-drawn: physically imposing with a unique skill set that gets him out of the trouble he always walks into.

I just finished Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben. While not my favorite Coben book, it's still a very good mystery about police investigator Napoleon "Nap" Dumas. One night when he was eighteen, Nap's twin brother and his girlfriend were found dead on railroad tracks and Nap's girlfriend Maura disappeared. Nap has been searching for Maura and the real details of his brother's death ever since. When Maura's fingerprints show up in the vehicle used by a cop-killer, Nap comes face-to-face with his past, and discovers the answers he's been seeking far more disturbing than he'd expected.

What I liked best about this book was the style of writing. Told in first person point of view, the reader is in Nap's head throughout, and in his internal monologues he's often talking to his dead twin brother, Leo. It works, charmingly so, lending rare insight into Nap's character and revealing the heartache of a man still emotionally reeling from the loss of his best friend.

One of my favorite discoveries of 2017 was Randall Silvis, a superb writer of literary mysteries. His book, Two Days Gone will stay with me for a long time. It begins with a horrific crime--the quadruple murder of a college professor's wife and children. The professor has disappeared and he's the main suspect in the murders. Detective Ryan DeMarco was friends with the professor, and has a difficult time reconciling the gruesome crimes with the man he admired.

What lifts this story well above an ordinary mystery is Silvis's voice. His lyrical prose serves as stark contrast to the thread of despair that runs throughout the story, and provides an unexpected depth to the plot. This book cemented Silvis's future works as must-reads for me.
Read more about Kylie Brant's work at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 12, 2018

Randall Silvis

Randall Silvis is the internationally acclaimed author of over a dozen novels, one story collection, and one book of narrative nonfiction. Also a prize-winning playwright, a produced screenwriter, and a prolific essayist, he has been published and produced in virtually every field and genre of creative writing.

Silvis's new psychological suspense novel is Only the Rain.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Although I write mostly fiction these days, I read very little of it, mainly because I can find so little that excites me. That might be because I have been reading for over sixty years, though I think it is also because something has been lost, for writers and their readers, in the modern process of writing. When I first began, the process involved composing an initial draft in longhand, then banging out the first revision on a typewriter, then making handwritten notes on that version, then repeating the last two steps over and over until the manuscript was ready to send out.

The auditory, tactile, visual and olfactory pleasures of writing are absent from today’s process, or at least much diminished. Most of the thousand or so young writers I’ve taught never touch paper or ink. They are enamored of several software programs that promise to guide and correct one’s prose. Consequently their work rarely rises above the mundane. Most of what I hear now when I read a lauded new novel is just tap tap tap.

The problem of why the current giants of contemporary fiction are so much shorter than our pre-technology enhanced giants is far more complex than I can discuss here. Suffice it to say that for every book of fiction I now read all the way through, I begin and cast aside at least twenty.

Strangely, good creative nonfiction is often more melodious, the prose more fluid, than that of contemporary fiction. That’s why the books you will find on my bedside stand and coffee table are usually books of nonfiction. I can open Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes to any page and be soothed by the Irish lilt and melancholy air. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast invariably returns me to my own youth, when writing was new and the most important thing in the world. Jim Harrison’s nakedly honest essays never fail to transport me straight into their subject—whether he’s writing about food, or wine, or the wilderness.

I have read Brian Doyle’s masterful essay “Joyas Voladoras” probably two dozen times so far, and will read it again each time I wish to conjure up some of its music and magic for an essay of my own.

When Lawrence Durrell writes of Scotland and its “poetry, and the poverty and naked joyous insouciance of mountain life,” I am in those mountains with him, or in Athens, Corfu, Avignon, wherever he chooses to go.

And what contemporary fiction can compare to the meticulously detailed and contemplative prose of Joan Didion? When she describes Las Vegas as “bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification,” or when she grapples with the art and importance of writing, or with death or morality or even the Hoover Dam, the prose is as exhilarating as any fiction I have read since William Gay’s Provinces of Night.

So what is wrong with contemporary fiction? Much of it mimics Hemingway’s so-called minimalist style but leaves out the understatement and subtext, the most important part of his fiction, and therefore lacks any stylistic or thematic depth. Some of it is so rooted in a particular time or place or sociological perspective that it is void of any enduring power or resonance.

I am sure that good contemporary fiction exists, but I have tired of wading through the bog of mediocrity in hopes of stumbling upon that rare, transcendent story. And why bother, when all of Hemingway and Faulkner share my bookshelves with a hundred or so other masters of the written word? Reading too many bad books is like drinking only bad wine: sooner or later you will acquire a taste for it.
Visit Randall Silvis's website.

My Book, The Movie: Only the Rain.

The Page 69 Test: Only the Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Jillian Medoff

Jillian Medoff is the acclaimed author of I Couldn’t Love You More, Hunger Point (both national bestsellers) and Good Girls Gone Bad.

Her new novel is This Could Hurt.

Recently I asked Medoff about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m a voracious reader. Highbrow literary fiction, airport thrillers, bleak dystopian science fiction, six-hundred page Victorian novels—I don’t discriminate. If a book is lousy—and I’m usually able to tell by the second page—I’ll deconstruct it, and try to find out why it didn’t work. Conversely, if a book is wonderful, I don’t study it at all; I simply read for pure pleasure, and lose myself as the story grabs hold.

Recently, one novel had this latter effect: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy. It’s coming in May from HarperCollins, and while I know it’s unfair to discuss a book that won’t be available for a few months, The Perfect Mother keeps haunting me and I must, must, must tell the world about it. It’s a domestic thriller and a gripping page-turner, but even more, it’s an authentic look at how women, particularly mothers, can be our own worst enemies. American culture puts so much pressure on women to be perfect, to conform, and to sacrifice ourselves for our families that we occasionally lose sight of what’s genuinely important. Molloy seems to truly understand this, and never condescends to her characters. On the contrary, she infuses her novel with humor and warmth; as a result, The Perfect Mother is an unusually compassionate take on complex female relationships and the cult of motherhood. Molloy’s characters are familiar but unique, and so real it’s as if they’re breathing on the page. Her talent helps her elevate a simple story—a group of new mothers confront their worst nightmare when one of their babies goes missing—into a spot-on illustration of what it means to be a mother in today’s climate, and how far we’ll go to protect our children—and ourselves. Riveting, twisty, and beautifully written, The Perfect Mother is gonna be the big summer book of 2018. Trust me!

PS: Kerry Washington has already optioned the film rights, so I’m not the only reader who loves this book.
Visit Jillian Medoff's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Could Hurt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Barry Wolverton

Barry Wolverton has been writing for children for over 20 years, helping create books, documentary television, and online content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, the Library of Congress, Scholastic, and Time-Life Books, among others.

His debut novel, Neversink, was named the Children’s Book of Choice by Literacy Mid-South for their Read Across America program in 2014.

Wolverton's latest novel in The Chronicles of the Black Tulip is The Sea of the Dead.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I am always reading, as I imagine most writers are. I would love to talk about one group of books I am reading right now, but it would give away what I hope is my next project! But I have also started reading Even Brook Trout Get the Blues, by legendary fly fisherman John Gierach. At my day job I work with a number of men and women who fish, which is a hobby I have never attempted. But I have started to realize I may be missing out on something as a writer. The quiet and the solitude of fishing, especially fly fishing (rivers are my favorite waters), is starting to appeal to me mightily. And it seems like a hobby I can take up even though I just turned 50.
Visit Barry Wolverton's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Vanishing Island.

My Book, The Movie: The Sea of the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Laura Creedle

Laura Creedle writes about her experiences as an ADHD writer at her website and blog. She lives in Austin, Texas.

Creedle's new novel is The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
My reading list is all over the place, mostly due to my ADHD. I get generally get halfway through a book before losing it at the gym, or somewhere in my house. Then I start another book with the assumption that I will eventually find the first book. I usually have three or four books in process.

Sometimes a book just grabs me and I will read straight through with out putting it down long enough to lose it. I just finished Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan this way. There was never any point when I wanted to put it down.

Right now I’m half way through Night Film by Marisha Pessl. I loved her first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I’m reading this slowly, because I’m savoring the mystery. It’s a strange and beautiful book. I have the feeling that once this book is gone there won’t be anything like it to take it’s place.

On the YA side I’m reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which is delightful. I’m excited for Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsey Ely which comes out on Jan. 2. I read a lot of contemporary YA this year, and I’m looking forward to a western palette cleanser.

I hope to read IQ84 by Haruki Murakami soon. I love his writing, but I must confess that I have never actually made it all the way through one of his books. When you lose a Murakami book, it stays lost. Maybe people steal them. Who knows?
Visit Laura Creedle's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.

My Book, The Movie: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 8, 2018

Michael Moreci

Michael Moreci is the creator of numerous original comics series and has written and collaborated on multiple established properties. His most recent original works, Roche Limit (Image Comics) and Burning Fields (BOOM! Studios), were both recognized by many publications as being among the best comics of 2015. Roche Limit was called the “sci-fi comic you need to read” by Nerdist and io9, and Paste Magazine named it one of the “50 best sci-fi comics” of all time.

Moreci's newly released debut novel is Black Star Renegades. Drawing inspiration from the space operatics of Star Wars and the swagger of Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Star Renegades is a galaxy-hopping adventure that blasts its way from seedy spacer bars to sacred temples guarded by strange creatures--all with a cast of misfit characters charged with saving the world..

Recently I asked Moreci about what he was reading. His reply:
An Echo of Things to Come by James Inslington.

Everything they say about this series is true--it's doorstopper epic fantasy that calls to mind both Jordan and Sanderson. It's big in scope, but intimate in character and action. This is the second book--of three--in the series, and I couldn't recommend it more. It's funny, smart, and thoroughly compelling. I'm whipping through all 700+ pages, and I'm already feeling sad to part with it, knowing the third installment won't be out for months!
Visit Michael Moreci's website.

--Marshal Zeringue