Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pg. 99: Judith Giesberg's "Army at Home"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front by Judith Giesberg.

About the book, from the publisher:
Introducing readers to women whose Civil War experiences have long been ignored, Judith Giesberg examines the lives of working-class women in the North, for whom the home front was a battlefield of its own.

Black and white working-class women managed farms that had been left without a male head of household, worked in munitions factories, made uniforms, and located and cared for injured or dead soldiers. As they became more active in their new roles, they became visible as political actors, writing letters, signing petitions, moving (or refusing to move) from their homes, and confronting civilian and military officials.

At the heart of the book are stories of women who fought the draft in New York and Pennsylvania, protested segregated streetcars in San Francisco and Philadelphia, and demanded a living wage in the needle trades and safer conditions at the Federal arsenals where they labored. Giesberg challenges readers to think about women and children who were caught up in the military conflict but nonetheless refused to become its collateral damage. She offers a dramatic reinterpretation of how Americas Civil War reshaped the lived experience of race and gender and brought swift and lasting changes to working-class family life.
Learn more about Army at Home at the publisher's website.

Judith Giesberg is assistant professor of history at Villanova University and author of Civil War Sisterhood: The United States Sanitary Commission and Women's Politics in Transition.

The Page 99 Test: Army at Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten graphic novels

One title from Lev Grossman's top ten graphic novels list at Time magazine:
Art Spiegelman's father Vladek was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. When Spiegelman told his father's story in Maus, he depicted all the Jews as mice and all the Nazis as cats. Strangely, the cartoonish conceit doesn't trivialize the story, it makes it viscerally real — it strips away our practiced indifference to an all too familiar story. Those mice are more human than most people. Alongside his father's tale Spiegelman lovingly but honestly depicts his own relationship with his father, who has aged into a difficult, prickly, fearful man. Maus won a Pulitzer in 1992, a landmark event in the history of the medium — its sheer power forced the mainstream world to take comics seriously.
Read about another book on Grossman's list.

Maus also appears on Danny Fingeroth's top 10 list of graphic novels, Meg Rosoff's top 10 list of adult books for teenagers, and Malorie Blackman's top ten list of graphic novels for teenagers.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Malinda Lo reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Malinda Lo, author of the YA novel Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella.

Her entry begins:
One of the books I've recently read that has stuck with me is Fire by Kristin Cashore. This is a companion novel to her first novel, Graceling, which has been a big hit in young adult fiction in general and in the fantasy genre as well. Fire is in many ways a totally different book than Graceling, but it is also another exploration of the idea that a woman could be monstrous. In Graceling, the monstrous woman is a killer; in Fire, she is monstrously beautiful.

I found Fire to be quieter than Graceling, but also more...[read on]
Malinda Lo was born in China and moved to the United States as a child. She grew up in Colorado and has since lived in Boston, New York, London, Beijing, Los Angeles and San Francisco. She is the former managing editor of, the largest entertainment news website for lesbians and bisexual women. In 2006, Malinda was awarded the Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT Journalism by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and has master’s degrees from Harvard and Stanford universities.

Visit Malinda Lo's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Malinda Lo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Brian Clegg & Goldie

The current featured duo at Coffee with a Canine: Brian Clegg and Goldie.

Brian Clegg is the author of A Brief History of Infinity, The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon, Light Years: The Extraordinary Story of Mankind’s Fascination with Light, Upgrade Me: Our Search for Human 2.0, and Before the Big Bang: The Prehistory of Our Universe. He holds a physics degree from Cambridge and has written regular columns, features, and reviews for numerous magazines. He also edits the website.

One exchange from the Q & A:
Does [Goldie] have any influence on your writing?

Absolutely. I would recommend any writer to get a dog, because it’s very tempting to spend all your time in front of the keyboard, but having a dog means you have to go out for walks, and I get most of my best ideas on these dog walks. One of my books, Upgrade Me, was conceived in its entirety on a dog walk, and opens with a mention of taking Goldie out. I noticed how much easier she found it walking through a cold field with sharp thistles and nettles than I would without protective clothing, and it started me thinking about how we use different technologies to upgrade the basic human capabilities – the subject of the book.[read on]
Among the early praise for Clegg's Before the Big Bang:
"Clegg follows the footsteps of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Timothy Ferris’s Coming of Age in the Milky Way. He shares his predecessors’ enthusiasm, eloquence and ability to explain complex ideas but provides a bonus by covering startling developments of the past decade. Anyone looking for an introduction to or a refresher course in cosmology need look no further."
--Kirkus, starred review
Follow Brian Clegg at, and visit his website and blog.

Writers Read: Brian Clegg.

Coffee with a Canine: Brian Clegg and Goldie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pg. 69: Norb Vonnegut's "Top Producer"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Top Producer by Norb Vonnegut.

About the book, from the publisher:
In a world that moves as fast as finance does, top producers have to think three steps ahead and make snap decisions. Theirs is a blurred version of reality, one that conceals moves as much as it rewards the bold ones. All too easily, scams can be disguised as success; plotting can be mistaken for killer instincts. And as Grove O’Rourke finds out, “Nothing obscures vulnerability like success. Nothing that is, except for friendships.”

But this book isn’t about stocks and bonds—it’s about people. About Grove O’Rourke, top producer at the investment firm of Sachs, Kidder, and Carnegie, and about his best friend, Charlie Kelemen, whose spectacular murder is carried out in front of hundreds of horrified party-goers at the opening of the novel. It’s about Charlie’s widow, who comes to Grove for help after her husband’s death, even though she’s hiding a dark secret. And it’s about how money—vast sums of money—can cover up even the most glaring imperfections in relationships, and fool everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

With the ease of someone who has lived in the world of top producers, Norb Vonnegut has crafted a sharp, dark thriller that will make you think—and then double-check your investments.
Read an excerpt from Top Producer, and learn more about the book and author at Norb Vonnegut's website and blog.

Top Producer made SmartMoney's list of the Seven Best Fall Reads.

The Page 69 Test: Top Producer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Best books of fiction of the millenium

The Millions assembled a panel to determine the best books of fiction of the last ten years. "It’s a bit early, of course, to pass definitive judgment on the literary legacy of the ’00s, or how it stacks up against that of the 1930s, or 1850s," goes the introduction. "Who knows what will be read 50 years from now? But, with the end of the decade just a few months away, it seemed to us [to be] a good time to pause and take stock...."

One book to make the Top 20:
#11: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.
Read about another book on the list.

See Junot Díaz's most important books and the Page 99 Test: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Mitch Horowitz's "Occult America"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Occult America by Mitch Horowitz.

About the book, from the publisher:
It touched lives as disparate as those of Frederick Douglass, Franklin Roosevelt, and Mary Todd Lincoln—who once convinced her husband, Abe, to host a séance in the White House. Americans all, they were among the famous figures whose paths intertwined with the mystical and esoteric movement broadly known as the occult. Brought over from the Old World and spread throughout the New by some of the most obscure but gifted men and women of early U.S. history, this “hidden wisdom” transformed the spiritual life of the still-young nation and, through it, much of the Western world.

Yet the story of the American occult has remained largely untold. Now a leading writer on the subject of alternative spirituality brings it out of the shadows. Here is a rich, fascinating, and colorful history of a religious revolution and an epic of offbeat history.

From the meaning of the symbols on the one-dollar bill to the origins of the Ouija board, Occult America briskly sweeps from the nation’s earliest days to the birth of the New Age era and traces many people and episodes, including:

•The spirit medium who became America’s first female religious leader in 1776
•The supernatural passions that marked the career of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith
•The rural Sunday-school teacher whose clairvoyant visions instigated the dawn of the New Age
•The prominence of mind-power mysticism in the black-nationalist politics of Marcus Garvey
•The Idaho druggist whose mail-order mystical religion ranked as the eighth-largest faith in the world during the Great Depression

Here, too, are America’s homegrown religious movements, from transcendentalism to spiritualism to Christian Science to the positive-thinking philosophy that continues to exert such a powerful pull on the public today. A feast for believers in alternative spirituality, an eye-opener for anyone curious about the unknown byroads of American history, Occult America is an engaging, long-overdue portrait of one nation, under many gods, whose revolutionary influence is still being felt in every corner of the globe.
Learn more about the book and author at Mitch Horowitz's website.

Mitch Horowitz is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin. He has written for Esopus, Parabola, Fortean Times, and Science of Mind.

The Page 99 Test: Occult America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 28, 2009

What is Wendy Rouse Jorae reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Wendy Rouse Jorae, author of The Children of Chinatown: Growing up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920.

Her entry begins:
I enjoy reading non-fiction history books because truth truly is stranger than fiction. One of the most interesting books I have read in the last few years is Mary Ting Yi Lui’s The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City. Lui’s book unfolds like a mystery novel as she details the murder of Elsie Sigel, a white middle-class missionary woman working in New York’s early twentieth century Chinatown. What is most compelling is Lui’s analysis of...[read on]
Read more about The Children of Chinatown.

Among the early praise for the book:
"Jorae's efforts to reconstruct children's lived experiences in multiple arenas add an important dimension to the study of the Chinese in San Francisco."
--Colleen Fong, California State University, East Bay

"Jorae breaks new ground in Chinese American history with her sustained analysis of children and family life among Chinese immigrants during the exclusion period. Addressing four overlapping parties who each had a stake in using the children of Chinatown for their own agenda, she constructs her analysis with sophistication and solid evidence."
--K. Scott Wong, Williams College
Writers Read: Wendy Rouse Jorae.

--Marshal Zeringue

Gail Carriger's "Soulless," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Soulless by Gail Carriger.

The entry begins:
Soulless is a comedic take on the urban fantasy genre set in Victorian London. With that kind of elevator pitch, you can probably guess I'd skip Hollywood and take less money if I could sell it to the BBC as a mini series. I'd settle for a fist-full of unknowns so long as it came out as well as their Cranford adaptation, but my assignment is to cast my ideal film, so here were go...

Our Intrepid Heroine

Alexia Tarabotti, London's only preternatural, is an Italian-looking spinster with no soul, a big mouth and, quite frankly, even bigger nose. Visually, I modeled her off of Italian actress Sabrina Impacciatore, but Sabrina seems a little too regal for the role. Perhaps Claudia Black might be better suited to running around whacking obstreperous vampires willy-nilly with a parasol, but that girl's gotta eat about ten cream teas first, then we'll talk.

Werewolves of Note

For our hero, an oversized scruffy Scottish werewolf, I'm going to deviate from the expected--Gerard Butler--and pick...[read on]
Learn more about Soulless and its author at Gail Carriger's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Soulless.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the best green stories in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best green stories in literature.

One novel on his list:
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

To make us green, novelists have invented dystopias. Atwood's is one of the most recent and most powerful, and describes the world after a catastrophe wrought by genetic engineering and global warming. Our dreams of progress produce apocalypse.
Read about another book on Mullan's list.

Oryx and Crake also appears on Liz Jensen's top 10 list of environmental disaster stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Ivy Pochoda's "The Art of Disappearing"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda.

About the book, from the publisher:
How do you know if love is real or just an illusion?

When Mel Snow meets the talented magician Toby Warring in a dusty roadside bar, she is instantly drawn to the brilliant performer whose hands can effortlessly pull stray saltshakers and poker chips from thin air and conjure castles out of the desert sands. Just two days later they are married, beginning their life together in the shadow of Las Vegas, where Toby hopes to make it big. Mel knows that magicians are a dime a dozen, but Toby is different—his magic is real.

As Toby’s renown grows and Mel falls more and more in love with his wonderments, she starts to realize that Toby's powers are as unstable as they are dazzling. She learns that he once made his assistant disappear completely, and couldn’t bring her back. And then, just as Mel becomes convinced that his magic is dangerous, a trick goes terribly awry during his Strip debut.

Exiled from the stage, Mel and Toby flee the lights of Las Vegas for the streets of Amsterdam where a cabal of old-time magicians, real magicians like Toby, try to rescue him from his despair. But he’s haunted by the trick that failed, and obsessed with using his powers to right his mistakes, leaving Mel to wonder if the love they share is genuine or merely a fantasy, conjured up by a lost magician looking to save himself from being alone.

Ivy Pochoda’s spellbinding and cinematic storytelling seamlessly fuses timeless magic to modern-day passion. Haunting and beautiful, The Art of Disappearing is an imaginative and captivating love story destined to enchant readers for years to come.
Read excerpts from The Art of Disappearing, and learn more about the book and author at Ivy Pochoda's website.

Ivy Pochoda graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Classical Greek and English. She was a champion squash player and a six-time member of the United States Women's National Squash Team.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Disappearing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Tricia Stohr-Hunt & Sydney

Today's featured duo at Coffee with a Canine: Tricia Stohr-Hunt & Sydney.

Dr. Tricia Stohr-Hunt is on the faculty at the University of Richmond where she prepares future teachers and chairs the Education Department. And she blogs about poetry, children's literature and issues related to teaching children and their future teachers at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Sydney is a doberman-terrier mix. She'll be 12 at the beginning of November.

The story of how they were united:
We'd been living in Richmond for more than three years, but I'd refused to get a dog while we lived in an apartment. During spring break 1997 my husband and I went to the local shelter. The day we went was cold and rainy and there was no heat in the kennels. The poor dogs were all crying and shivering. I saw a puppy that was sitting up, wagging her tail, and licking folks through the bars. I was immediately smitten. She only had one day left before she was due to be euthanized, so we took her home right then and there. (BTW, I'm happy to report that our local SPCA no longer puts dogs down.)[read on]
Visit The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Tricia Stohr-Hunt & Sydney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pg. 99: Miriam Forman-Brunell's "Babysitter: An American History"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Babysitter: An American History by Miriam Forman-Brunell.

About the book, from the publisher:
It’s Friday night and Mom and Dad want to have a little fun together on the town. But who can they call to watch the kids? For nearly a century, it’s been the babysitter. Miriam Forman-Brunell brings critical attention to the ubiquitous, yet long-overlooked, role of the babysitter in American history.

Drawing on her extensive research on the history of girls’ culture and employing a broad range of vibrant sources, Forman-Brunell analyzes the figure of the babysitter in the popular imagination. In her quest to gain a fuller picture of this largely uncharted cultural phenomenon, she amassed a wealth of popular artifacts and texts from which to draw: the Babysitter’s Club book series, songs such as the Lunachicks’ "Babysitters on Acid" and the 1960s hit "Baby Sittin’ Boogie," the Little Lulu cartoons, Barbie doll babysitting accessories, the suburban horror movie The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, urban legends, magazines, newspapers, television shows and more. What emerges is a fascinating and multifaceted history.

Forman-Brunell shows that in addition to the obvious fears involved in leaving one’s children in another’s care, babysitters have often been targets for social, cultural, generational, and sexual anxieties, and thus present a fascinating mirror for American society. She also delves into the world of the babysitters, gaining important new perspectives on how the American teenage girl responded to the roles and responsibilities placed upon her throughout the decades.

Maligned as incompetents, airheads, home-wreckers, and worse, babysitters have played an important part in the history of the American home and workforce. With this comprehensive, insightful, and even-handed study, they finally get the attention they deserve.
Read the introduction to Babysitter: An American History, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Miriam Forman-Brunell is Professor of History at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is the author of Made to Play House and general editor of ABC-CLIO’s Girlhood in America. She is also co-director of Children and Youth in History.

The Page 99 Test: Babysitter: An American History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best novels about mental disorders

Douwe Draaisma, the author of Disturbances of the Mind, teaches the theory and history of psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of novels that focus on mental disorders. One novel on the list:
Enduring Love
by Ian McEwan
Doubleday, 1997

An idyllic opening scene in the English countryside quickly turns terrifying: Gusting winds drag a helium-filled balloon across fields with a small boy still in the basket, and five onlookers race to his aid. As they battle to hang on to the ropes in the roaring wind, Joe Rose—a science writer who had been picnicking with his wife—happens to meet the eye of Jed Parry, one of the rescuing strangers. In that instant, Jed is convinced that he and Joe are meant for each other. As Jed begins to stalk this man he'd never met before, we learn that Jed suffers from Clérambault's syndrome, the delusion that someone is secretly in love with you. Those affected by this condition—the cause of which is still unclear—may resort to ever more desperate measures to be with the object of their affection. Jed is no exception—and before long Joe is in mortal danger.
Read about another novel on the list.

Enduring Love also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best examples of unrequited love in literature and ten of the best balloon flights in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Casey Dué reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Casey Dué, editor of the newly released Recapturing a Homeric Legacy: Images and Insights from the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad.

One book mentioned in her entry:
Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin. This book by the noted science fiction and fantasy author is an adaptation of the second half of Virgil’s Aeneid, a Roman epic that narrates the struggle of Aeneas and a group that has fled from the destruction of Troy to found a new home in Italy. Lavinia, reminiscent of Helen herself, is the woman at the center of Virgil’s Italian “Iliad.”...[read on]
Casey Dué is Associate Professor, Department of Modern and Classical Languages at the University of Houston, and Executive Editor, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, D.C..

Her recent and forthcoming books include Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush: A Multitext Edition with Essays and Commentary (with Mary Ebbott), Harvard University Press (2009), and Recapturing a Homeric Legacy: Images and Insights from the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad (ed.), Harvard University Press (2009).

Visit Casey Dué Hackney's faculty webpage at the University of Houston.

Writers Read: Casey Dué.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pg. 69: James R. Benn's "Evil for Evil"

This weekend's feature at the Page 69 Test: Evil for Evil by James R. Benn.

About the book, from the publisher:
Fifty BARs have been stolen from a US army base in Northern Ireland. His uncle Ike Eisenhower sends Billy to recover the weapons which might be used in a German-sponsored IRA uprising. Bodies begin to accumulate as Billy finds unexpected challenges to his Boston-Irish upbringing and IRA sympathies. There are rogues on both sides, he learns.
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

The Billy Boyle World War II historical mystery series began with Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942. The second, The First Wave, carries on a few months later during the Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa. The third, Blood Alone, continues the story through the Allied invasion of Sicily.

The Page 99 Test: The First Wave.

The Page 69 Test: Evil for Evil.

--Marshal Zeringue

The best tattoos in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best tattoos in literature.

One novel on his list:
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Though the serial killer – and penpal of Hannibal Lecter – is hard to track down, he is not exactly concealed. Possessed by a spirit that he calls "the Dragon", he has a great red dragon (based on a design by William Blake) tattooed on his back. However, Reba, the women who befriends him, is blind, so no giveaway.
Read about another famous tattoo on Mullan's list.

Red Dragon also appears among the (U.K.) Telegraph 110 best books; Andre Gross says "it should be taught as [a text] in Thriller 101."

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Larissa Juliet Taylor's "The Virgin Warrior"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc by Larissa Juliet Taylor.

About the book, from the publisher:
France’s great heroine and England’s great scourge: whether a lunatic, a witch, a religious icon, or a skilled soldier and leader, Joan of Arc’s contemporaries found her as extraordinary and fascinating as the legends that abound about her today. But her life has been so endlessly cast and recast that we have lost sight of the remarkable girl at the heart of it—a teenaged peasant girl who, after claiming to hear voices, convinced the French king to let her lead a disheartened army into battle. In the process she changed the course of European history.

In The Virgin Warrior, Larissa Juliet Taylor paints a vivid portrait of Joan as a self-confident, charismatic and supremely determined figure, whose sheer force of will electrified those around her and struck terror into the hearts of the English soldiers and leaders. The drama of Joan’s life is set against a world where visions and witchcraft were real, where saints could appear to peasants, battles and sieges decided the fate of kingdoms and rigged trials could result in burning at the stake. Yet in her short life, Joan emboldened the French soldiers and villagers with her strength and resolve. A difficult, inflexible leader, she defied her accusers and enemies to the end. From her early years to the myths and fantasies that have swelled since her death, Taylor teases out a nuanced and engaging story of the truly irresistible "ordinary" girl who rescued France.
Learn more about The Virgin Warrior at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Larissa Juliet Taylor's Colby College faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: The Virgin Warrior.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 25, 2009

What is Nicola Morgan reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Nicola Morgan, author of a number of critically acclaimed books for teens, including the Scottish Arts Council Award-winning Fleshmarket, Mondays Are Red, Chicken Friend, The Leaving Home Survival Guide, Sleepwalking, winner of the 2005 Scottish Arts Council Children's Book of the Year Award, and the recently released Deathwatch.

Her entry begins:
There are three books by my bed just now, but I admit I'm not reading them all. One is there because I've just finished it and can't let it go; one is there because I'm reading it; and one is there because it's short stories and I keep it there for those moments when I just fancy a snack instead of a full meal.

Talking of meals, the book I've just finished is Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. Bit of a confession here: I didn't start it because I wanted to but because I thought I ought to. It was the YA book that "everyone was talking about" and a) I'm a YA author and feel I should be au fait with what's going on and b) it was being spoken of as a boundary-pusher and I was doing a talk about pushing boundaries in teenage fiction. I didn't expect to like it: though I do have a tendency to like the dark side of writing, this was supposed to be seriously shocking, and a couple of reviewers had said it was gratuitously shocking and unforgivably bleak. I thought it was utterly amazing. Never gratuitous and never bleak - though so many people have condemned the depressing ending that I'm wondering if either I missed something or I'm a heartless beast! If I tell you what boundaries it pushes and what taboos it breaks, it will put you off, so I won't. But Lanagan conjures up (and never was the word "conjures" used more aptly - she's a magician, surely?) a blood-dark Bruegelian landscape oozing richness and an extraordinary imaginary world that that you can almost smell; she deals with magic in a way that makes even...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Nicola Morgan's website and blog.

Writers Read: Nicola Morgan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Jim James: best books

Jim James, the frontman of the Grammy-nominated American rock band My Morning Jacket, recently released a George Harrison tribute album. And he told The Week magazine about his six best books.

One book on the list:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Picador, $16).

The mini-universe created within these pages, lost in time but forever timely and relevant, never fails to move. The human experience, the heights of emotion, the depths of sorrow, love, war, loss, and comic books are all vividly portrayed in Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel.
Read about another book on James' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Dave Freer & Roly and family

This weekend's feature at Coffee with Canine: Dave Freer & Roly and family.

Dave Freer is an Ichthyologist turned author "because he'd heard the spelling requirements were simpler. They lied about that." He currently lives in a remote part of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa with active plans to re-locate to Australia...with all of his family's pets.

It's no small (or cheap) task, as Roly, Freer's Old English Sheepdog explains:
Mom and dad and the boys have got visas to emigrate to Australia. They planned to take us too, because we’re family and they believe in responsibility for their animals. Then they found out about the costs of our quarantine, and they were in a flat despair. Dad even said well then they should not go, which even an Old English Sheepdog thinks is not a good idea. But dad can be very determined. He says we’re his responsibility and he doesn’t think it would be easy or even possible to re-home us after living as we do. So he’s decided to do this anyway somehow, even if we end up in a shed in the outback, or have to do it in stages (We’re going to go and live in the middle of nowhere anyway. It’s where we live now. We’ll be Okay as long as we have dad). So he and a couple of his fans started to sell off one his books and raise some money for moving us. He’s just over half way to the minimum-somehow-it-might-be-possible, and is starting to sleep more at night. He knows that times are tough, but asks dog-and-cat people to at least repost about it.

And I need to stay with dad. Australia is far away, and I...[read on].
Freer's new book, Dragon's Ring, is due out in October 2009. Read the story early and find out how to get a signed copy.

Visit Dave Freer's website and blog, and the Save the Dragons site.

Read--Coffee with Canine: Dave Freer & Roly and family.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Louise Penny's "The Brutal Telling"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny.

About the book, from the publisher:
Chaos is coming, old son.

With those words the peace of Three Pines is shattered. As families prepare to head back to the city and children say goodbye to summer, a stranger is found murdered in the village bistro and antiques store. Once again, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are called in to strip back layers of lies, exposing both treasures and rancid secrets buried in the wilderness.

No one admits to knowing the murdered man, but as secrets are revealed, chaos begins to close in on the beloved bistro owner, Olivier. How did he make such a spectacular success of his business? What past did he leave behind and why has he buried himself in this tiny village? And why does every lead in the investigation find its way back to him?

As Olivier grows more frantic, a trail of clues and treasures— from first editions of Charlotte’s Web and Jane Eyre to a spider web with the word “WOE” woven in it—lead the Chief Inspector deep into the woods and across the continent in search of the truth, and finally back to Three Pines as the little village braces for the truth and the final, brutal telling.
The Brutal Telling is the fifth novel in the Three Pines mystery series.

Learn more about the book and author at Louise Penny's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Still Life.

My Book, The Movie: A Fatal Grace.

The Page 99 Test: The Cruelest Month.

The Page 99 Test: A Rule Against Murder.

The Page 69 Test: The Brutal Telling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pg. 99: Sheldon Pollack's "War, Revenue, and State Building"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: War, Revenue, and State Building: Financing the Development of the American State by Sheldon D. Pollack.

About the book, from the publisher:
In a relatively short time, the American state developed from a weak, highly decentralized confederation composed of thirteen former English colonies into the foremost global superpower. This remarkable institutional transformation would not have been possible without the revenue raised by a particularly efficient system of public finance, first crafted during the Civil War and then resurrected and perfected in the early twentieth century. That revenue financed America's participation in two global wars as well as the building of a modern system of social welfare programs. Sheldon D. Pollack shows how war, revenue, and institutional development are inextricably linked, no less in the United States than in Europe and in the developing states of the Third World. He delineates the mechanisms of political development and reveals to us the ways in which the United States, too, once was and still may be a “developing nation.”

Without revenue, states cannot maintain political institutions, undergo development, or exert sovereignty over their territory. Rulers and their functionaries wield the coercive powers of the state to extract that revenue from the population under their control. From this perspective, the state is seen as a highly efficient machine for extracting societal revenue that is used by the state to sustain itself. War, Revenue, and State Building traces the sources of public revenue available to the American state at specific junctures of its history (in particular, during times of war), the revenue strategies pursued by its political leaders in response to these factors, and the consequential impact of those strategies on the development of the American state.
Learn more about War, Revenue, and State Building at the Cornell University Press website.

Visit Sheldon D. Pollack's website.

The Page 99 Test: War, Revenue, and State Building.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten books about the Cannes film festival

Earlier this year Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian's film critic, came up with a top 10 list of books "to help you imagine yourself" at the Cannes film festival.

One book on the list:
Stephen Walker, King of Cannes: A Journey Into the Underbelly of the Movies (1999)

This engaging and often very funny book by writer and documentary-maker Stephen Walker about his experiences at the 1998 festival is a pretty shrewd guide to what actually goes on. He follows the director Erick Zonca, then in contention for The Dream Life of Angels, along with some weird and wacky hopefuls plying their trade in the commercial market section which happens alongside the main festival and its sidebars.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Brian Ruckley's "Godless World" trilogy, the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: the Godless World trilogy by Brian Ruckley.

The entry begins:
Well, you've got start with the director, since that's likely to decide whether you get a masterpiece or a turkey. My Godless World trilogy is big, dark, epic fantasy: it's got its fair share of mayhem, set in dramatic landscapes, involving lots of heavily armed people. For those action scenes, I was directly influenced in my writing by certain types of movies, so it seems only fair to give one of the relevant directors a shot at this adaptation - I'll nominate Ridley Scott or Mel Gibson. They've shown they can conjure up the sort of high impact, visceral, immersive battle scenes I was trying to create (and imitate), and can deal with big, visually rich settings.

Character-wise, I've got lots to choose from, and most of them face some pretty trying circumstances (to put it mildly - I'm using 'trying' in the sense of 'catastrophic' and 'virtually intolerable') as events unfold. The main plot is about an old conflict that flares up after years of dormancy, but then spirals out of everyone's control as new and much more powerful players get involved. I deliberately adopted an uncompromising and fairly realistic approach to depicting the consequences of the mounting chaos, so we probably need actors who can do 'haggard' and 'beset' and 'struggling on against unreasonable odds' quite well. I'm not the kind of writer who casts the book in their head as they're writing, so for a lot of the characters it's hard to come up with good matches. But a few do spring to mind...[read on]
The Godless World, Brian Ruckley's recently completed fantasy trilogy, consists of the books Winterbirth, Bloodheir, and Fall of Thanes.

Learn more about Brian Ruckley and his books at his website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: the Godless World trilogy.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Brian Clegg reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Brian Clegg, author of the newly released Before the Big Bang: The Prehistory of Our Universe.

His entry begins:
I’m usually in the middle of reading a science book for the site, but I like to have a fiction book on the go as well, to get some balance.

At the moment I’m revisiting an old favorite, The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. Of course there’s her familiar expertise with the Cornish countryside, but I particularly love the way she uses the vehicle of a drug that sends the mind back in time to integrate a historical plot with a present day one. Along with the protagonist, we feel that the historical world is increasingly more real than the modern day segments – it’s immersive in a way that a straight historical novel rarely is. Du Maurier also manages to rack up the tension, as the dangers and side effects of the drug become more apparent. Not a...[read on]
Among the early praise for Clegg's Before the Big Bang:
"Clegg follows the footsteps of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Timothy Ferris’s Coming of Age in the Milky Way. He shares his predecessors’ enthusiasm, eloquence and ability to explain complex ideas but provides a bonus by covering startling developments of the past decade. Anyone looking for an introduction to or a refresher course in cosmology need look no further."
--Kirkus, starred review

"Indeed, the existence of so many things, from dark matter to black holes to wormholes all has to be inferred. The Big Bang, too, is only provisional and seems to be waiting for a more graceful model to replace it. In Clegg’s words, the Big Bang theory “has the feeling of something held together with a Band-Aid. Whether what came before our universe was another universe or nothing, or something else yet unconsidered, for now the most accurate answer might be: We just don’t know."
--Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe, July 19
Clegg is the author of A Brief History of Infinity, The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon, and Light Years: The Extraordinary Story of Mankind’s Fascination with Light, and Upgrade Me: Our Search for Human 2.0. He holds a physics degree from Cambridge and has written regular columns, features, and reviews for numerous magazines.

Follow Brian Clegg at, and visit his website and blog.

Writers Read: Brian Clegg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pg. 69: Victor Lodato's "Mathilda Savitch"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato.

About the book, from the publisher:
I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don’t remember, you didn’t understand the code ... She died a year ago, but in my mind sometimes it’s five minutes. In the morning sometimes it hasn’t even happened yet. For a second I’m confused, but then it all comes back. It happens again.

Fear doesn’t come naturally to Mathilda Savitch. She prefers to look right at the things nobody else can bring themselves to mention: for example, the fact that her beloved older sister is dead, pushed in front of a train by a man still on the loose. Her grief-stricken parents have basically been sleepwalking ever since, and it is Mathilda’s sworn mission to shock them back to life. Her strategy? Being bad.

Mathilda decides she’s going to figure out what lies behind the catastrophe. She starts sleuthing through her sister’s most secret possessions—e-mails, clothes, notebooks, whatever her determination and craftiness can ferret out. More troubling, she begins to apply some of her older sister’s magical charisma and powers of seduction to the unraveling situations around her. In a storyline that thrums with hints of ancient myth, Mathilda has to risk a great deal—in fact, has to leave behind everything she loves—in order to discover the truth.

Mathilda Savitch bursts with unforgettably imagined details: impossible crushes, devastating humiliations, the way you can hate and love your family at the same moment, the times when you and your best friend are so weak with laughter that you can’t breathe. Startling, funny, touching, odd, truthful, page-turning, and, in the end, heartbreaking, Mathilda Savitch is an extraordinary debut. Once you make the acquaintance of Mathilda Savitch, you will never forget her.
Watch the video trailer for Mathilda Savitch and learn more about the book at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website.

The Page 69 Test: Mathilda Savitch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Timothy Longman's "Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda by Timothy Longman.

About the book, from the publisher:
Although Rwanda is among the most Christian countries in Africa, in the 1994 genocide, church buildings became the primary killing grounds. To explain why so many Christians participated in the violence, this book looks at the history of Christian engagement in Rwanda and then turns to a rich body of original national and local-level research to argue that Rwanda’s churches have consistently allied themselves with the state and played ethnic politics. Comparing two local Presbyterian parishes in Kibuye prior to the genocide demonstrates that progressive forces were seeking to democratize the churches. Just as Hutu politicians used the genocide of Tutsi to assert political power and crush democratic reform, church leaders supported the genocide to secure their own power. The fact that Christianity inspired some Rwandans to oppose the genocide demonstrates that opposition by the churches was possible and might have hindered the violence.

• Based on extensive empirical research at both the national and local levels • The author has worked on Rwanda for more than 15 years, and this is one of the only books on the 1994 genocide based on research conducted both before and after the genocide • One of the only books on religion and politics that analyzes religious institutions as both national and local institutions
Read more about Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda at the Cambridge University Press website.

Visit Timothy Longman's Boston University faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda.

--Marshal Zeringue

Miss Manners' favorite novels

Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, is a syndicated columnist and the author of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated.

In 2005 she named her five favorite novels for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
"Middlemarch" by George Eliot (1872)
by George Eliot (1872).

The Intellectual Groupie at the center of this novel illustrates how the homely, cranky old scholar gets the girl and what happens when she discovers that he is not even all that smart. We have here the definitive portrait of pedantry, so in addition to making you feel relieved that your favorite professor failed to respond to your crush, it reassures you that--unlike the crushingly boring bridegroom--you were right not to attempt writing, or even to finish reading, an exhaustive work that explains the universe.
Read about another novel on the list.

Middlemarch also made John Mullan's lists of ten of the best marital rows, ten of the best examples of unrequited love, and ten of the best funerals in literature, as well as Tina Brown's five best list of books on reputation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coffee with a canine: Merrill Markoe & Jimmy, Ginger, Puppyboy, and Hedda

Today's featured group at Coffee with a Canine: Merrill Markoe & Jimmy, Ginger, Puppyboy, and Hedda.

How did the dogs get their names?
Hedda came with that name. Puppyboy was named by Andy [Markoe's boyfriend] before I ever met either of them. (Andy, by the way, was named by his parents.) Jimmy and Ginger seemed utterly unfamiliar with the unpronounceable names the Ponzi schemer called them. Jimmy was named because after we brought him home, I kept saying "Excuse me while I kiss this guy." Which is (not really) a line from Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. Andy and I have really struggled to re-name Ginger but I guess we've given up. Though not a day goes by that Andy doesn't say something like "Pie! That's what we should have named her!" or "Circus Dog! We should have called her Circus Dog!" Or today he said "Residue! We should have named her Residue!" I wish my parents had put that much thought into...[read on]
Merrill Markoe is the author of three books of humorous essays and the novels It’s My F---ing Birthday, What the Dogs Have Taught Me, and Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, and Nose Down, Eyes Up. She has also co-authored with Andy Prieboy the novel The Psycho Ex Game.

And she has won multiple Emmy awards.

Nose Down, Eyes Up is one of 7 books for dog lovers selected by Oprah and associates.

The Page 69 Test: Nose Down, Eyes Up.

Visit Merrill Markoe's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Merrill Markoe & Jimmy, Ginger, Puppyboy, and Hedda.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Carol Kaesuk Yoon reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Carol Kaesuk Yoon, author of the newly released Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science.

Her entry begins:
I recently finished a book called Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It's the third of his books I've read now, all about the use of meditation and the art of being, as opposed to doing, toward improving a person's physical health. What I really like about his books, especially Full Catastrophe Living is that he takes on the subject of meditation which is often dealt with in a religious, woo-woo, spiritual and mystic manner (which doesn't fit with my personal world view) and he deals with them very straightforwardly, empirically and in a way that I find very intellectually comfortable. Turns out Dr. Kabat-Zinn isn't a medical doctor but a Ph.D. who was trained as a laboratory scientist and I think that's what why his general outlook on the subject consistently works for me, makes sense and never grates. That and he's a really wonderful writer. And because he deals in actual observations, studies and practices and he leaves mysticism and religion at the door, I find the book and its message - that there is a lot of physical healing that can come from working with the mind through meditation - especially hopeful. It's...[read on]
Carol Kaesuk Yoon received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University and has been writing about biology for the New York Times since 1992. Recent stories covered the sensory capabilities of plants and the field of “evodevo,” or evolution and development. Her articles have also appeared in Science, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. Dr. Yoon has taught writing as a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University’s John S. Knight Writing Program, working with professors to help teach critical thinking in biology classes. She has also served as a science education consultant to Microsoft.

Read an excerpt from Naming Nature, and learn more about the author and her work at Carol Kaesuk Yoon's website.

Among the early praise for Naming Nature:
"A sensuous delight...”
--Oprah Magazine

“In this bracing and brilliant book, Yoon ... delivers a thrill ride.”
--Boston Globe

“Wondrous ... rivets unsuspecting readers to the page. Superb.”
--Kirkus (starred review)
Writers Read: Carol Kaesuk Yoon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Michelle Huneven's "Blame"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Blame by Michelle Huneven.

About the book, from the publisher:
Michelle Huneven, Richard Russo once wrote, is “a writer of extraordinary and thrilling talent.” That talent explodes with her third book, Blame, a spellbinding novel of guilt and love, family and shame, sobriety and the lack of it, and the moral ambiguities that ensnare us all.

The story: Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor in her late twenties with a brand-new Ph.D. from Berkeley and a wild streak, wakes up in jail—yet again—after another epic alcoholic blackout. “Okay, what’d I do?” she asks her lawyer and jailers. “I really don’t remember.” She adds, jokingly: “Did I kill someone?”

In fact, two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, are dead, run over in Patsy’s driveway. Patsy, who was driving with a revoked license, will spend the rest of her life—in prison, getting sober, finding a new community (and a husband) in AA—trying to atone for this unpardonable act.

Then, decades later, another unimaginable piece of information turns up.

For the reader, it is an electrifying moment, a joyous, fall-off-the-couch-with-surprise moment. For Patsy, it is more complicated. Blame must be reapportioned, her life reassessed. What does it mean that her life has been based on wrong assumptions? What can she cleave to? What must be relinquished?

When Huneven’s first novel, Round Rock, was published, Valerie Miner, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, celebrated Huneven’s “moral nerve, sharp wit and uncommon generosity.” The same spirit electrifies Blame. The novel crackles with life—and, like life, can leave you breathless.
Read an excerpt from Blame, and learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Huneven's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blame.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten books about Poland during World War II

Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at The New Republic, is writing a book about Holocaust literature. For Newsweek, she named a ten best list of books about Poland during World War II.

One title on the list:
Ashes and Diamonds, by Jerzy Andrzejewski

This novel by one of Poland's major postwar writers takes place in 1945, as the country was still reeling amid devastation. A young former soldier in the underground Home Army accepts a final assignment: to murder a local Communist Party official, himself a survivor of the camps. There are no heroes here, just two men caught in the trap of history. A great film by Andrzej Wajda was based on this book.
Read about another book on Franklin's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Steve Pincus' "1688: The First Modern Revolution"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: 1688: The First Modern Revolution by Steve Pincus.

About the book, from the publisher:
For two hundred years historians have viewed England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 as an un-revolutionary revolution—bloodless, consensual, aristocratic, and above all, sensible. In this brilliant new interpretation Steve Pincus refutes this traditional view.

By expanding the interpretive lens to include a broader geographical and chronological frame, Pincus demonstrates that England’s revolution was a European event, that it took place over a number of years, not months, and that it had repercussions in India, North America, the West Indies, and throughout continental Europe. His rich historical narrative, based on masses of new archival research, traces the transformation of English foreign policy, religious culture, and political economy that, he argues, was the intended consequence of the revolutionaries of 1688–1689.

James II developed a modernization program that emphasized centralized control, repression of dissidents, and territorial empire. The revolutionaries, by contrast, took advantage of the new economic possibilities to create a bureaucratic but participatory state. The postrevolutionary English state emphasized its ideological break with the past and envisioned itself as continuing to evolve. All of this, argues Pincus, makes the Glorious Revolution—not the French Revolution—the first truly modern revolution. This wide-ranging book reenvisions the nature of the Glorious Revolution and of revolutions in general, the causes and consequences of commercialization, the nature of liberalism, and ultimately the origins and contours of modernity itself.
Read more about the book at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: 1688: The First Modern Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 21, 2009

What is Sarah Wendell reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Sarah Wendell, co-author (with Candy Tan) of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels.

Her entry begins:
My reading cravings right now are for shorter-length, character-driven romance narratives with strong, autonomous protagonists and emotion-based tension in a contemporary setting. In one word: Harlequin.

People sniff at Harlequin as "dime store throwaway novels," or "bodice rippers" - both of which are such inaccurate representations I can't even begin to argue without my bosoms heaving in indignation. Harlequin, also known as category romance, is an art when it's done well, and an exercise in abdominal-exercising-hilarity when it's done silly and awful. Nora Roberts likened it to performing Swan Lake in a phone booth - and she's bang on as usual. The short length and structure of a category romance force the author to employ words that represent a lot in only a few letters. Sometimes, that's an overladen cliche that makes me giggle. Other times, it's a turn of phrase so evocative and simple, I have to read it again.

I'm craving category romances right now because...[read on]
Sarah Wendell is also known as Smart Bitch Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The site specializes in reviewing romance novels, examining the history and future of the genre, and bemoaning the enormous prevalence of bodacious pectorals adorning male cover models.

Among the praise for Beyond Heaving Bosoms:
“Funny, irreverent, insightful and thorough, this guide zeros in on the joys and the woes of the Romance genre. Like a pair of strong heroines, Sarah and Lay Ping celebrate the virtues of their beloved, and recognize the flaws. They give the genre a passionate kiss and a kick in the ass, delivering both in delightful, readable style.”
New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts
Visit Sarah Wendell at her website and the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website.

Writers Read: Sarah Wendell.

--Marshal Zeringue