Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Pg. 69: Elisa Albert's "Human Blues"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Human Blues: A Novel by Elisa Albert.

About the book, from the publisher:
From an author whose writing has been praised as “blistering” (The New Yorker), “virtuosic” (The Washington Post), and “brilliant” (The New York Times) comes a provocative and entertaining novel about a woman who desperately wants a child but struggles to accept the use of assisted reproductive technology—a hilarious and ferocious send-up of feminism, fame, art, commerce, and autonomy.

On the eve of her fourth album, singer-songwriter Aviva Rosner is plagued by infertility. The twist: as much as Aviva wants a child, she is wary of technological conception, and has poured her ambivalence into her music. As the album makes its way in the world, the shock of the response from fans and critics is at first exciting—and then invasive and strange. Aviva never wanted to be famous, or did she? Meanwhile, her evolving obsession with another iconic musician, gone too soon, might just help her make sense of things.

Told over the course of nine menstrual cycles, Human Blues is a bold, brainy, darkly funny, utterly original interrogation of our cultural obsession with childbearing. It’s also the story of one fearless woman at the crossroads, ruthlessly questioning what she wants and what she’s willing—or not willing—to do to get it.
Learn more about the author and her work at Elisa Albert's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Dahlia.

The Page 69 Test: After Birth.

The Page 69 Test: Human Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Jayita Sarkar's "Ploughshares and Swords"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Ploughshares and Swords: India's Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War by Jayita Sarkar.

About the book, from the publisher:
India's nuclear program is often misunderstood as an inward-looking endeavor of secretive technocrats. In Ploughshares and Swords, Jayita Sarkar challenges this received wisdom, narrating a global story of India's nuclear program during its first forty years. The book foregrounds the program's civilian and military features by probing its close relationship with the space program. Through nuclear and space technologies, India's leaders served the technopolitical aims of economic modernity and the geopolitical goals of deterring adversaries.

The politically savvy, transnationally connected scientists and engineers who steered the program obtained technologies, materials, and information through a variety of state and nonstate actors from Europe and North America, including both superpowers. They thus maneuvered around Cold War politics and the choke points of the nonproliferation regime. Hyperdiversification increased choices for the leaders of the nuclear program but reduced democratic accountability at home. The nuclear program became a consensus-enforcing device in the name of the nation.

Ploughshares and Swords is a provocative new history with global implications. It shows how geopolitical and technopolitical visions influence decisions about the nation after decolonization.
Visit Jayita Sarkar's website.

The Page 99 Test: Ploughshares and Swords.

--Marshal Zeringue

Eight titles about fraught mother-daughter relationships

Kayla Maiuri holds an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University. Born in the greater Boston area, she now lives in Brooklyn.

Mother in the Dark is her first novel.

At Electric Lit Maiuri tagged "eight books that explore the ways mothers and daughters can love, wound, and haunt," including:
Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

Set in Depression-era Glendale, California, Mildred Pierce follows a mother-daughter pairing fueled by competition and jealousy. Cain centers a single mother, Mildred, who loves in a well-intentioned but smothering way, “acting less like a mother than like a lover who had unexpectedly discovered an act of faithlessness, and avenged it,” and a reptilian daughter, Veda, who seems determined to break her mother’s spirits. The novel reveals the emotional manipulation that can exist amongst mothers and daughters, and the dangers of a parent stifling their own needs for their child’s. I’ve read many novels about mother-monsters; the monster-daughter is rarer. You will be haunted by Veda’s horrific acts long after you’ve finished.
Read about another entry on the list.

Mildred Pierce is among Annaleese Jochems's great third wheels of literature, Carol Goodman's top ten books that explore the fears & ambivalences of motherhood, Patricia Abbott's five favorite novels about mothers and daughters, and Ester Bloom's ten favorite fictional feminists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

What is Joanna Schaffhausen reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Joanna Schaffhausen, author of Long Gone: A Detective Annalisa Vega Novel.

Her entry begins:
My most recent read is The Disinvited Guest by Carol Goodman. Goodman is madly talented, and her gifts are on full display here. The book is tense, atmospheric, compelling and just a tad otherworldly. It’s also the first fiction I’ve read that bravely tackles the pandemic head-on, as this book is set ten years down the road during the onset of another pandemic. The characters are isolated together on a remote island in Maine, so when the bodies start dropping—from murder, not a virus!—they are already...[read on]
About Long Gone, from the publisher:
Long Gone, the next installment of Joanna Schaffhausen's critically acclaimed Detective Annalisa Vega series.

Chicago detective Annalisa Vega shattered her life, personally and professionally, when she turned in her ex-cop father for his role in a murder. Her family can’t forgive her. Her fellow officers no longer trust her. So when detective Leo Hammond turns up dead in a bizarre murder, Annalisa thinks she has nothing to lose by investigating whatever secrets he hid behind the thin blue line.

Annalisa quickly zeroes in on someone who had good reason to want Hammond dead: a wealthy, fast-talking car salesman who’d gotten away with murder once and wasn’t about to let Hammond take a second shot. Moe Bocks remains the number one suspect in his girlfriend’s brutal unsolved death, and now he’s got a new woman in his sights—Annalisa’s best friend.

Annalisa is desperate to protect her friend and force Bocks to pay, either for Hammond’s death or his earlier crime. But when no one else believes the connection, she takes increasingly risky chances to reveal the truth. Because both Hammond and Bocks had secrets to die for, and if she doesn’t untangle them soon, Annalisa will be next.
Visit Joanna Schaffhausen's website.

The Page 69 Test: All the Best Lies.

Writers Read: Joanna Schaffhausen (February 2020).

Q&A with Joanna Schaffhausen.

My Book, The Movie: Gone for Good.

The Page 69 Test: Gone for Good.

Writers Read: Joanna Schaffhausen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Fifteen top books about unforgettable friendships

At B&N Reads the editors tagged fifteen "favorite titles that feature unforgettable friendships," including:
Conversations with Friends
Sally Rooney

Reading Sally Rooney’s novels feels like eavesdropping on people you really, really want to know, and this is especially true when it comes to Frances and Bobbi’s friendship in Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends. Frances and Bobbi aren’t the first couple to navigate new terms to their relationship after the break-up, but love is messy is so many ways, and well, let’s just say, while Frances and Bobbi aren’t quite prepared for what happens after they meet Melissa and her husband Nick, readers won’t want to turn away.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Emily Michelson's "Catholic Spectacle and Rome's Jews"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Catholic Spectacle and Rome's Jews: Early Modern Conversion and Resistance by Emily Michelson.

About the book, from the publisher:
A new investigation that shows how conversionary preaching to Jews was essential to the early modern Catholic Church and the Roman religious landscape

Starting in the sixteenth century, Jews in Rome were forced, every Saturday, to attend a hostile sermon aimed at their conversion. Harshly policed, they were made to march en masse toward the sermon and sit through it, all the while scrutinized by local Christians, foreign visitors, and potential converts. In Catholic Spectacle and Rome’s Jews, Emily Michelson demonstrates how this display was vital to the development of early modern Catholicism.

Drawing from a trove of overlooked manuscripts, Michelson reconstructs the dynamics of weekly forced preaching in Rome. As the Catholic Church began to embark on worldwide missions, sermons to Jews offered a unique opportunity to define and defend its new triumphalist, global outlook. They became a point of prestige in Rome. The city’s most important organizations invested in maintaining these spectacles, and foreign tourists eagerly attended them. The title of “Preacher to the Jews” could make a man’s career. The presence of Christian spectators, Roman and foreign, was integral to these sermons, and preachers played to the gallery. Conversionary sermons also provided an intellectual veneer to mask ongoing anti-Jewish aggressions. In response, Jews mounted a campaign of resistance, using any means available.

Examining the history and content of sermons to Jews over two and a half centuries, Catholic Spectacle and Rome’s Jews argues that conversionary preaching to Jews played a fundamental role in forming early modern Catholic identity.
Learn more about Catholic Spectacle and Rome's Jews at the Princeton University Press website, and follow Emily Michelson on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Catholic Spectacle and Rome's Jews.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Samantha M. Bailey

From my Q&A with Samantha M. Bailey, author of Watch Out for Her: A Novel:
How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self wouldn’t be surprised by what I write, but she would be shocked that after twenty years of rejections, on novel after novel, her dreams finally came true. I grew up surrounded by books, and I was always drawn to the tantalizing and twisted, in both my reading and writing. I was hooked on stories by Stephen King, Patricia Highsmith, Daphne Du Maurier, and so many others. I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology behind people’s darkest...[read on]
Follow Samantha M. Bailey on Twitter and visit her website.

Q&A with Samantha M. Bailey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 08, 2022

Pg. 69: Lucy Burdette's "A Dish to Die for"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: A Dish to Die for by Lucy Burdette.

About the book, from the publisher:
National bestselling author Lucy Burdette returns to Key West for another delectable dish of secrets, intrigue, and murder.

Peace and quiet are hard to find in bustling Key West, so Hayley Snow, food critic for Key Zest magazine, is taking the afternoon off for a tranquil lunch with a friend outside of town. As they are enjoying the wild beach and the lunch, she realizes that her husband Nathan’s dog, Ziggy, has disappeared. She follows his barking, to find him furiously digging at a shallow grave with a man’s body in it. Davis Jager, a local birdwatcher, identifies him as GG Garcia, a rabble-rousing Key West local and developer. Garcia was famous for over-development on the fragile Keys, womanizing, and refusing to follow city rules—so it’s no wonder he had a few enemies.

When Davis is attacked in the parking lot of a local restaurant after talking to Hayley and her dear friend, the octogenarian Miss Gloria, Hayley is slowly but surely drawn into the case. Hayley’s mother, Janet, has been hired to cater GG’s memorial service reception at the local Woman’s Club, using recipes from their vintage Key West cookbook—and Hayley and Miss Gloria sign on to work with her, hoping to cook up some clues by observing the mourners.

But the real clues appear when Hayley begins to study the old cookbook, as whispers of old secrets come to life, dragging the past into the present—with murderous results.
Visit Lucy Burdette's website, Twitter perch, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: An Appetite For Murder.

Writers Read: Lucy Burdette (January 2012).

The Page 69 Test: Death in Four Courses.

The Page 69 Test: A Scone of Contention.

My Book, The Movie: Unsafe Haven.

The Page 69 Test: A Dish to Die for.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten top midlife coming-of-age novels

Sarah McCraw Crow grew up in Virginia but has lived most of her adult life in New Hampshire. Her short fiction has run in Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, Good Housekeeping, So to Speak, Waccamaw, and Stanford Alumni Magazine. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College (AB, history), Stanford University (MA, journalism), and Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA in writing). When she's not reading or writing, she's probably gardening or snowshoeing (depending on the weather).

The Wrong Kind of Woman is her literary debut.

Q&A with Sarah McCraw Crow.

At Lit Hub the author tagged ten "notable midlife coming-of-age novels," including:
Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle

Elizabeth Strout’s debut novel, which roves between the perspectives of a mother and teen daughter, is a dual coming-of-age novel. Single mom Isabelle and sixteen-year-old daughter Amy live in the small and gossipy New England mill town Shirley Falls. It’s the late Sixties, and Isabelle is determined to live a proper life, despite her singlehood. As teenage Amy (naturally) rebels against Isabelle’s repressive strictures, falling in love with the wrong guy, Isabelle in turn struggles, resentful of Amy and unable to figure out how to parent her. The two move through a rough summer. By summer’s end Isabelle, the mom, is the more changed character, the one who sheds her false old self and really begins to live, and to love her daughter unconditionally.
Read about another entry on the list.

Amy and Isabelle is among Patricia Abbott's five top novels about mothers and daughters and James Mustich's five top books on mothers and children.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Justin Gregg's "If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity by Justin Gregg.

About the book, from the publisher:
This funny, "extraordinary and thought-provoking" (The Wall Street Journal) book asks whether we are in fact the superior species. As it turns out, the truth is stranger—and far more interesting—than we have been led to believe.

If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal
overturns everything we thought we knew about human intelligence, and asks the question: would humans be better off as narwhals? Or some other, less brainy species? There’s a good argument to be made that humans might be a less successful animal species precisely because of our amazing, complex intelligence.

All our unique gifts like language, math, and science do not make us happier or more “successful” (evolutionarily speaking) than other species. Our intelligence allowed us to split the atom, but we’ve harnessed that knowledge to make machines of war. We are uniquely susceptible to bullshit (though, cuttlefish may be the best liars in the animal kingdom); our bizarre obsession with lawns has contributed to the growing threat of climate change; we are sexually diverse like many species yet stand apart as homophobic; and discriminate among our own as if its natural, which it certainly is not. Is our intelligence more of a curse than a gift?

As scientist Justin Gregg persuasively argues, there’s an evolutionary reason why human intelligence isn’t more prevalent in the animal kingdom. Simply put, non-human animals don’t need it to be successful. And, miraculously, their success arrives without the added baggage of destroying themselves and the planet in the process.

In seven mind-bending and hilarious chapters, Gregg highlights one feature seemingly unique to humans—our use of language, our rationality, our moral systems, our so-called sophisticated consciousness—and compares it to our animal brethren. Along the way, remarkable tales of animal smarts emerge, as you’ll discover:

The house cat who’s better at picking winning stocks than actual fund managers
Elephants who love to drink
Pigeons who are better than radiologists at spotting cancerous tissue
Bumblebees who are geniuses at teaching each other soccer

What emerges is both demystifying and remarkable, and will change how you look at animals, humans, and the meaning of life itself.
Visit Justin Gregg's website.

The Page 99 Test: If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on Valéry and Musil

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published this month. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally,  America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Paul Valéry's “The Crisis of the Mind” and Robert Musil's A Man Without Qualities begins:
At the end of the l9th century, Friedrich Nietzsche, according to one of his most profound students, “sought, by a new beginning, to retrieve antiquity from the emptiness of modernity and, with this experiment, vanished into the darkness of insanity.” Only a few years later, the First World War - The Great War, as it was called at the time - made it obvious to two of the greatest writers of the time that, with “the emptiness of modernity,” Europe itself had descended into madness.

Paul Valéry, one of the most famous French writers, understood that beyond the millions of men slain, something had broken, something fundamental had changed.

“The illusion of a European culture has been lost,” he wrote in his l9l9 essay, “The Crisis of the Mind.” Instead of a culture, there was nothing but disorder in the mind of Europe. What made this disorder? “The free co-existence, in all its cultivated minds, of the most dissimilar ideas, the most contradictory principles of life and learning.” In l914, just before the war broke out, “Every mind of any scope was a crossroads for all shades of opinion; every thinker was an international exposition of thought.”

In the absence of a culture, a way of life that believed in itself, the mechanical and technological forces let loose by modern science had been building a world of its own. Valéry believed that...[read on]
About Buffa's new novel Neumann’s Last Concert, from the publisher:
Neumann’s Last Concert is a story about music and war and the search for what led to the greatest evil in modern history. It is the story of an American boy, Wilfred Malone, who lost his father in the early days of the Second World War and a German refugee, Isaac Neumann, the greatest concert pianist of his age when he lived in Berlin, but who now lives, anonymous and alone, in a single rented room in a small town a few miles from San Francisco.

Wilfred has a genius for the piano, “a keen curiosity not yet corrupted by vanity” and “a memory that forgot nothing essential.” Neumann, alone in his room, is constantly writing, an endless labyrinth of questions and answers, driving him farther and farther back into the past, searching for the causes, searching for the meaning, of what happened in Germany, trying to understand what had led him, a German Jew, to stay in Germany when he could have left but instead continued to perform right up to the night that during his last concert they took his wife away.

Neumann’s Last Concert is a novel about the great catastrophe of the 20th century and the way in which music, great music, preserves both the hope of human decency amidst the carnage of human insanity and the possibility of what human beings might still accomplish.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Eight of the best legal thrillers

Jillian Medoff is the author of four acclaimed novels: This Could Hurt, I Couldn't Love You More, Good Girls Gone Bad, and Hunger Point. Hunger Point was made into an original cable movie starring Christina Hendricks and Barbara Hershey and directed by Joan Micklin Silver (Lifetime TV, 2003).

My Book, The Movie: This Could Hurt.

Medoff's new novel is When We Were Bright and Beautiful.

At CrimeReads she tagged "eight [courtroom dramas] that stunned me with their artistry, insight, and sheer brilliance," including:
William Landay, Defending Jacob

I’m a sucker for a terrifying final twist, and Defending Jacob more than delivers. Like Presumed Innocent, this psychological thriller combines elements of a courtroom thriller and multilayered family drama. The two novels also feature a prosecutor who knows more about a murder case than he leads you to believe. In Defending Jacob, however, the accused is the prosecutor’s son, a classmate of the victim, which allows Landay to explore the ties that bind families together and rip them apart. Landay’s approach to the courtroom scenes is spellbinding. While the novel takes place mostly during the aftermath of the murder and the subsequent trial, the story is interwoven with witness testimony from a grand jury trial that occurs six months later. This seemingly unrelated testimony adds to the book’s suspense, especially since it’s not revealed until the final chapter, when you’re hit with the (aforementioned) knockout reveal.
Read about another entry on the list.

Defending Jacob is among Kimberly McCreight's five top mysteries & thrillers with lessons for the good marriage, Heather Chavez's six novels where those fighting injustice also happen to be parents, Sophie Hannah's thirteen creepy & dysfunctional families in literature, Hallie Ephron's top ten novels that harness unreliable narrators, Charlie Donlea's top ten slow-burn thrillers, Alafair Burke's six top legal fiction / domestic suspense hybrids, Kate Moretti's eight suspense novels that explore nurture vs. nature and Nicholas Sparks' six top books about family.

The Page 69 Test: Defending Jacob.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Karen Eva Carr's "Shifting Currents"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Shifting Currents: A World History of Swimming by Karen Eva Carr.

About the book, from the publisher:
A deep dive into the history of aquatics that exposes centuries-old tensions of race, gender, and power at the root of many contemporary swimming controversies.

Shifting Currents
is an original and comprehensive history of swimming. It examines the tension that arose when non-swimming northerners met African and Southeast Asian swimmers. Using archaeological, textual, and art-historical sources, Karen Eva Carr shows how the water simultaneously attracted and repelled these northerners—swimming seemed uncanny, related to witchcraft and sin. Europeans used Africans’ and Native Americans’ swimming skills to justify enslaving them, but northerners also wanted to claim water’s power for themselves. They imagined that swimming would bring them health and demonstrate their scientific modernity. As Carr reveals, this unresolved tension still sexualizes women’s swimming and marginalizes Black and Indigenous swimmers today. Thus, the history of swimming offers a new lens through which to gain a clearer view of race, gender, and power on a centuries-long scale.
Follow Karen Carr on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Shifting Currents.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Amina Akhtar

From my Q&A with Amina Akhtar, author of Kismet: A Thriller:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think right away the title leads the reader to know this might be about a spiritual or personal quest, a moment of fate, which is essentially what Kismet means. And with Sedona as the backdrop, hopefully it lures them in.

What's in a name?

For me, the names of characters have to echo in my head. I need to hear them, they have to sound almost musical. Ronnie/Rania was in my head forever! So I’m...[read on]
Visit Amina Akhtar's website.

Q&A with Amina Akhtar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Top ten overlooked yet essential novels

Elaine Castillo, named one of “30 of the Planet’s Most Exciting Young People” by the Financial Times, was born and raised in the Bay Area. Her debut novel, America Is Not the Heart, was a finalist for numerous prizes including the Elle Big Book Award, the Center for Fiction Prize, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize and was named a best book of 2018 by NPR, Real Simple, Lit Hub, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Post, Kirkus Reviews, and the New York Public Library.

Castillo's new book is How to Read Now: Essays.

At Publishers Weekly she tagged ten " books that are perhaps less glimpsed here on our mainstream syllabi and reading lists, yet whose force reverberates across all sorts of borders, in ways indelible, unforgettable, and yes, essential." One title on the list:
The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo

In the last essay of How to Read Now, “The Children of Polyphemus,” I go on a bit of a deep dive into my past life as a would-be classicist, the colonial history of folklores and fairytales like Cinderella, and the colonial nature of 19th-century translations of Homer. All this to say: I’m a longtime classics nerd, but I’m also interested in how questions of race, selfhood, and foreignness inhere in what we in the West call the classics. Evaristo is of course now best known for her Booker-prize winning Girl, Woman, Other (the title echoing another longtime favorite classic of mine, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other), but the first book of hers I read was The Emperor’s Babe, not long after I moved to London in 2009. It’s a novel-in-verse that follows Zuleika, a Nubian teenager, as she comes of age in ancient Roman London. For all the talk nowadays of casting actors of color in period movies, The Emperor’s Babe is a delightful example of a book that does this very move effortlessly, precisely because characters like Zuleika—their material reality, their liveliness and ordinariness—have always existed in places like London. More than that, it’s also a fizzy, sparkling, sexy, romantic book—“like an episode of Sex and the City written by Ovid,” says Kirkus—that often made me laugh out loud and text my girlfriends. Zuleika’s torrid affair with Septimus Severus (often called Rome’s first African Emperor) is the stuff of the greatest group chats, and great books, too.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Emperor’s Babe is among Lucy Jago's five top female friendships in books and J.R. Ramakrishnan's top seven novels that celebrates the 40% of Londoners who aren't white.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Peter Bellwood's "The Five-Million-Year Odyssey"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: The Five-Million-Year Odyssey: The Human Journey from Ape to Agriculture by Peter Bellwood.

About the book, from the publisher:
Over the course of five million years, our primate ancestors evolved from a modest population of sub-Saharan apes into the globally dominant species Homo sapiens. Along the way, humans became incredibly diverse in appearance, language, and culture. How did all of this happen? In The Five-Million-Year Odyssey, Peter Bellwood synthesizes research from archaeology, biology, anthropology, and linguistics to immerse us in the saga of human evolution, from the earliest traces of our hominin forebears in Africa, through waves of human expansion across the continents, and to the rise of agriculture and explosive demographic growth around the world.

Bellwood presents our modern diversity as a product of both evolution, which led to the emergence of the genus Homo approximately 2.5 million years ago, and migration, which carried humans into new environments. He introduces us to the ancient hominins—including the australopithecines, Homo erectus, the Neanderthals, and others—before turning to the appearance of Homo sapiens circa 300,000 years ago and subsequent human movement into Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas. Bellwood then explores the invention of agriculture, which enabled farmers to disperse to new territories over the last 10,000 years, facilitating the spread of language families and cultural practices. The outcome is now apparent in our vast array of contemporary ethnicities, linguistic systems, and customs.

The fascinating origin story of our varied human existence, The Five-Million-Year Odyssey underscores the importance of recognizing our shared genetic heritage to appreciate what makes us so diverse.
Learn more about The Five-Million-Year Odyssey at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Five-Million-Year Odyssey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Erin Flanagan's "Blackout"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Blackout: A Thriller by Erin Flanagan.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this unforgettable psychological thriller, the dark is a terrifying mystery for a woman on the edge.

Seven hard-won months into her sobriety, sociology professor Maris Heilman has her first blackout. She chalks it up to exhaustion, though she fears that her husband and daughter will suspect she’s drinking again. Whatever their cause, the glitches start becoming more frequent. Sometimes minutes, sometimes longer, but always leaving Maris with the same disorienting question: Where have I been?

Then another blackout lands Maris in the ER, where she makes an alarming discovery. A network of women is battling the same inexplicable malady. Is it a bizarre coincidence or something more sinister? What do all the women have in common besides missing time? Or is it who they have in common?

In a desperate search for answers, Maris has no idea what’s coming next―just the escalating paranoia that her memories may be beyond her control, and that everything she knows could disappear in the blink of an eye.
Visit Erin Flanagan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blackout.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 05, 2022

Eight top zombie stories without any zombies

Malcolm Devlin’s stories have appeared in Black Static, Interzone, The Shadow Booth and Shadows and Tall Trees. His first collection, You Will Grow Into Them, was published by Unsung Stories in 2017 and shortlisted for the British Fantasy and Saboteur Awards.

Devlin's new novella is And Then I Woke Up.

At Electric Lit he shared "eight stories which largely aren’t zombie stories at all and I will now try and prove they are all zombie stories at heart and thus restore balance to the world." One title on the list:
The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

Aliya Whiteley’s novella begins in a world where, we are told by Nate, our narrator and aspiring fireside storyteller, “all the women have died.” Nate lives in a small community of men—many closed of mind—who are clinging to the past they understood and waiting for their time to die.

So, what happens when a strange sort of fungus starts growing on the women’s graves in the village cemetery? And what happens when the fungus gets up and follows the younger men home? What happens when the younger men start to fall for the fungus creatures who might actually be the women they’ve lost in a strange new form? What happens when the status shifts for everyone involved?

As with many of the stories listed here, simply itemizing the story’s weirder avenues does Whiteley’s writing a disservice. The Beauty can be read a story of the dead coming back to life, but like Marshall’s novel, it doesn’t stop there. It’s weird, surprisingly warm, occasionally horrible and genuinely beautiful.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Jason C. Bivins's "Embattled America"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Embattled America: The Rise of Anti-Politics and America's Obsession with Religion by Jason C. Bivins.

About the book, from the publisher:
Histories of political religion since the 1960s often center on the rise of the powerful conservative evangelical voting bloc since the 1970s. One of the beliefs that has united these citizens is the idea that they are treated unfairly or are marginalized, despite their significant influence on public life. From the ascent of Reagan to the "Contract with America," from 9/11 to Obama to Trump--these claims have moved steadily to the center of conservative activism.

Scholars of religion have approached these phenomena with great caution, generally focusing on institutional history, or relying on journalistic conveniences like "populism," or embracing the self-understandings of evangelicals themselves. None of these approaches is sufficiently calibrated to decoding the fierce convergence of online conspiracy theory, public violence, white supremacy, and religious authoritarianism. Accepting the narrative of Embattlement on its own terms, or examining it as mere turbulence on the path of American pluralism, overlooks how such deeper structural or atmospheric conditions work through this discourse to undermine the actual practice of democratic politics.

Exploring the impact of these claims through case studies ranging from the Tea Party to Birthers to anti-sharia laws, Embattled America digs deeper into the debates between Martyrs (those who profess persecution) and Whistleblowers (those who sanctimoniously refute such claims). Hidden beneath each of these episodes is a series of ambivalences about democracy that require attention. Jason Bivins argues that the claims of Martyrs and Whistleblowers are symptoms of America's larger failings to strengthen the conditions for democratic life, and thus that rather than engaging their claims on the merits, concerned citizens should reassess fundamental democratic norms as part of a broader challenge to embolden American citizenship and institutions.
Learn more about Embattled America at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Embattled America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Tyrell Johnson

From my Q&A with Tyrell Johnson, author of The Lost Kings: A Novel:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The book actually started as simply the name of the main character, Jeanie King, and had a few different iterations before we settled on The Lost Kings. I think the title, like a lot of good titles, works well because A.) it just sorta sounds cool, and B.) it raises immediate questions, which hopefully sends the reader to the text for answers.

What's in a name?

Names are really important. I tend to...[read on]
Visit Tyrell Johnson's website.

Writers Read: Tyrell Johnson (January 2018).

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Kings.

Q&A with Tyrell Johnson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Top ten books about cybercrime

Dan Malakin has twice been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and his debut novel, The Regret, was a Kindle bestseller. When not writing thrillers, Dan works as a data security consultant, teaching corporations how to protect themselves from hackers.

Malakin's new novel is The Box.

At the Guardian he tagged ten favorite "stories of our new era of ill online deeds," including:
Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter
With so many cyber crooks trying to fleece us with texts to pay for excess postage it’s easy to forget that technology is also used to carry out malicious acts at a national level. In 2010, centrifuges at Iran’s uranium enrichment plant kept failing. The reason? A new type of virus called Stuxnet developed by the US and Israel that caused them to spin too fast and break. This is a fascinating story about state-sanctioned sabotage, which presents the machine code techno-babble in simple terms any reader can enjoy.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Mark Goodale's "Reinventing Human Rights"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Reinventing Human Rights by Mark Goodale.

About the book, from the publisher:
A radical vision for the future of human rights as a fundamentally reconfigured framework for global justice.

Reinventing Human Rights offers a bold argument: that only a radically reformulated approach to human rights will prove adequate to confront and overcome the most consequential global problems. Charting a new path—away from either common critiques of the various incapacities of the international human rights system or advocacy for the status quo—Mark Goodale offers a new vision for human rights as a basis for collective action and moral renewal.

Goodale's proposition to reinvent human rights begins with a deep unpacking of human rights institutionalism and political theory in order to give priority to the "practice of human rights." Rather than a priori claims to universality, he calls for a working theory of human rights defined by "translocality," a conceptual and ethical grounding that invites people to form alliances beyond established boundaries of community, nation, race, or religious identity.

This book will serve as both a concrete blueprint and source of inspiration for those who want to preserve human rights as a key framework for confronting our manifold contemporary challenges, yet who agree—for many different reasons—that to do so requires radical reappraisal, imaginative reconceptualization, and a willingness to reinvent human rights as a cross-cultural foundation for both empowerment and social action.
Visit Mark Goodale's website and learn more about Reinventing Human Rights at the Stanford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Surrendering to Utopia.

The Page 99 Test: Reinventing Human Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Tyrell Johnson's "The Lost Kings"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Lost Kings: A Novel by Tyrell Johnson.

About the book, from the publisher:
A riveting psychological thriller with a killer twist about a woman forced to confront the darkest moment in her childhood in order to move on from her past and open her heart to love.

Twins Jeanie and Jamie King are inseparable. Stuck in a cabin in rural Washington with their alcoholic father, they cling to one another for safety and companionship. Until one night, when their father comes home covered in blood. The next day, he’s gone . . . and so is Jamie. Jeanie’s whole world is turned upside down. Not only has she lost her beloved brother, but with no family left in Washington, she is ripped from everything she knows, including Maddox, the boy she could be learning to love.

Twenty years later, Jeanie is in England. She keeps her demons at bay by drinking too much, sleeping with a married man, and speaking to a therapist she doesn’t respect. But her old life catches up to her when Maddox reappears, claiming to have tracked down her dad. Stunned, Jeanie must decide whether to continue running from her past or to confront her father and finally find out what really happened that night, where her brother is, and why she was the one left behind.

At once a propulsive, heart-pounding mystery and an affecting exploration of love and the familial ties that bind us, The Lost Kings will transport, move, and shock you.
Visit Tyrell Johnson's website.

Writers Read: Tyrell Johnson (January 2018).

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue