Sunday, February 28, 2010

David B. Coe's "The Dark-Eyes' War," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: The Dark-Eyes' War by David B. Coe.

The entry begins:
I love this site's concept and I'm happy to be a part of the fun.

My newest novel, The Dark-Eyes' War, is the third and final volume in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy (the other two volumes were The Sorcerers' Plague and The Horsemen's Gambit). Blood of the Southlands is an epic fantasy about prejudice and revenge and the unintended consequences of both. The population of the Southlands is divided between two races: the Qirsi, white-haired, pale-complexioned sorcerers who are physically frail, but wield powerful magic, and the Eandi, who are more like the people of our own world.

There are five characters in The Dark-Eyes' War who I'd like to cast, but finding the right actors exclusively from today's crop of Hollywood talent strikes me as too difficult. So, I'm going to take the liberty of traveling back and forth between Hollywood generations.

Grinsa ja Arriet -- Grinsa is a Qirsi Weaver, the most powerful kind of sorcerer. Weavers can bind together the magics of many Qirsi and wield them as a single weapon. They also tend to be more hale and physically powerful than other Qirsi. I think I'd like to see him played by Sean Bean (Boromir, from LOTR). Bean would have to grow his hair out and dye it white/blond, but he'd be terrific in the role.

Cresenne ja Terba -- Grinsa's love. She began (in an earlier book in my previous series, Winds of the Forelands) by seducing him on behalf of a renegade Qirsi Weaver, and then trying to have him killed. But she became pregnant with his child and eventually they fell in love. Long story; much drama. But back to the point: I'd like to go back in time for this one and cast...[read on]
Read sample chapters from The Dark-Eyes' War (and Coe's other books), and learn more about the books and author, at David B. Coe's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Dark-Eyes' War.

--Marshal Zeringue

The 10 best books of social concern by journalists

From Judith Paterson's list of the 10 best books of social concern by journalists, in the American Journalism Review (September 1994):
by Michael Herr (1977)

Nearly 10 years before its publication, much of this book had already appeared as a series of essays in Esquire magazine. It was those essays, based on the month the reporter spent sharing the jungles of Vietnam with the "grunts," that gave the American public its image of Vietnam as a place America had no business being. The picture Herr painted remains: Vietnam was a spooky war in a spooky place driving young men to drugs and madness and serving no rational purpose.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Susan Wise Bauer's "The History of the Medieval World"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade by Susan Wise Bauer.

About the book, from the publisher:
A masterful narrative of the Middle Ages, when religion became a weapon for kings all over the world.

From the schism between Rome and Constantinople to the rise of the T’ang Dynasty, from the birth of Muhammad to the crowning of Charlemagne, this erudite book tells the fascinating, often violent story of kings, generals, and the peoples they ruled.

In her earlier work, The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer wrote of the rise of kingship based on might. But in the years between the fourth and the twelfth centuries, rulers had to find new justification for their power, and they turned to divine truth or grace to justify political and military action. Right thus replaces might as the engine of empire.

Not just Christianity and Islam but the religions of the Persians and the Germans, and even Buddhism, are pressed into the service of the state. This phenomenon—stretching from the Americas all the way to Japan—changes religion, but it also changes the state.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Wise Bauer's blog and website.

The Page 99 Test: The Art of the Public Grovel.

The Page 99 Test: The History of the Medieval World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pg. 69: Kristina Springer's "The Espressologist"

This weekend's feature at the Page 69 Test: The Espressologist by Kristina Springer.

About the book, from the publisher:
What’s your drink of choice? Is it a small pumpkin spice latte? Then you’re lots of fun and a bit sassy. Or a medium americano? You prefer simplicity in life. Or perhaps it’s a small decaf soy sugar-free hazelnut caffe latte? Some might call you a yuppie. Seventeen-year-old barista Jane Turner has this theory that you can tell a lot about a person by their regular coffee drink. She scribbles it all down in a notebook and calls it Espressology. So it’s not a totally crazy idea when Jane starts hooking up some of her friends based on their coffee orders. Like her best friend, Em, a medium hot chocolate, and Cam, a toffee nut latte. But when her boss, Derek, gets wind of Jane’s Espressology, he makes it an in-store holiday promotion, promising customers their perfect matches for the price of their favorite coffee. Things are going better than Derek could ever have hoped, so why is Jane so freaked out? Does it have anything to do with Em dating Cam? She’s the one who set them up! She should be happy for them, right?

With overtones of Jane Austen’s Emma and brimming with humor and heart, this sweet, frothy debut will be savored by readers.
Read an excerpt from The Espressologist.

Learn more about Kristina Springer and her books at her website and blog, and become a Facebook fan of The Espressologist.

Writers Read: Kristina Springer.

The Page 69 Test: The Espressologist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best historical mystery novels

David B. Rivkin, Jr., a Washington-based lawyer who has served in the Justice Department, named a five best list of historical mysteries for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Fire Kimono
by Laura Joh Rowland
St. Martin's/Minotaur, 2008

In this entry from Laura Joh Rowland's beguiling series featuring the samurai detective Sano Ichirō at the turn of the 18th century in Japan, the shogun gives Sano three days to solve a 40-year-old mystery. Why? Because the mystery concerns a fire that nearly destroyed the shogun's city, Ido, and Sano's own mother has emerged as a suspect. But Sano has other pressing concerns as well: A rival is threatening his position at court, and the murder of a close relative of the shogun has outraged the tightly controlled social system. Rowland's tale is graced with evocative period detail, as when Sano is horrified to see his mother's maid cooking a duck—a culinary taboo at the time—only to be mollified when the woman explains that the dish is permissible because it is meant to restore his mother's fading strength. But "The Fire Kimono" lingers in the memory as a haunting story of an honest man trying to navigate in an honor-obsessed culture where elaborate ritual can conceal sinister intrigue.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Jenny Gardiner reading?

This weekend's featured contributor at Writers Read: Jenny Gardiner, author of the soon-to-be-released Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me.

Part of her entry:
[C]urrently on my Kindle I am reading a book by one of my new favorite authors and a new author friend, Ad Hudler, titled Househusband. It's a novel about a man who transfers to a new city when his wife gets a high-powered job, and in the midst of the transition decides to become a stay-at-home father to their young daughter. The perceptions and insights that Hudler brings to this novel so successfully bridge the gap between men and women, it really helps to portray the stay-at-home parent condition in such a clear light. He does so with snappy prose, amazing metaphors and similes and some awesome recipes to boot. It's laugh-out-loud but also has many...[read on]
Jenny Gardiner is the author of the novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Her writing has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post, and NPR’s Day to Day, and she has a column of humorous slice-of-life essays that runs in the Charlottesville, VA Daily Progress. Gardiner lives in central Virginia with her husband, three kids, two dogs, one cat, and one gregarious parrot.

Among the early praise for Winging It:
"As sweet as a song and sharp as a beak, Winging It really soars as a memoir about family -- children and husbands, feathers and fur -- and our capacity to keep loving though life may occasionally bite."
--Wade Rouse, bestselling author of At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, and Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler

"Jenny Gardiner's hilarious memoir will have you alternately laughing and crying, and watching the skies for winged pets out for your blood."
--Award-winning author of Catching Genius, Kristy Kiernan
Watch a video of Gardiner discussing Winging It, and learn more about the book and author at Jenny Gardiner's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Sleeping With Ward Cleaver.

Writers Read: Jenny Gardiner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pg. 99: Suzanne E. Smith's "To Serve the Living"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death by Suzanne E. Smith.

About the book, from the publisher:
From antebellum slavery to the twenty-first century, African American funeral directors have orchestrated funerals or “homegoing” ceremonies with dignity and pageantry. As entrepreneurs in a largely segregated trade, they were among the few black individuals in any community who were economically independent and not beholden to the local white power structure. Most important, their financial freedom gave them the ability to support the struggle for civil rights and, indeed, to serve the living as well as bury the dead.

During the Jim Crow era, black funeral directors relied on racial segregation to secure their foothold in America’s capitalist marketplace. With the dawning of the civil rights age, these entrepreneurs were drawn into the movement to integrate American society, but were also uncertain how racial integration would affect their business success. From the beginning, this tension between personal gain and community service shaped the history of African American funeral directing.

For African Americans, death was never simply the end of life, and funerals were not just places to mourn. In the “hush harbors” of the slave quarters, African Americans first used funerals to bury their dead and to plan a path to freedom. Similarly, throughout the long—and often violent—struggle for racial equality in the twentieth century, funeral directors aided the cause by honoring the dead while supporting the living. To Serve the Living offers a fascinating history of how African American funeral directors have been integral to the fight for freedom.
Read an excerpt from To Serve the Living, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Suzanne E. Smith is Associate Professor of History, George Mason University.

The Page 99 Test: To Serve the Living.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five favorite books of New York stories

Joanna Smith Rakoff is the author of the novel A Fortunate Age, which was a New York Times Editors' Pick, a winner of the Elle Readers' Prize, a selection of Barnes and Noble's First Look Book Club, an IndieNext pick, and a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. As a journalist and critic, she's written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post Book World, the Boston Globe, Vogue, Time Out New York, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other newspapers and magazines. Her poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, Western Humanities Review, Kenyon Review, and other journals.

She named her five favorite books of New York stories for C.M. Mayo's "Madam Mayo" blog.

One title on the list:
Brightness Falls, Jay McInerney.

A sublime dissection of New York in the 1980s, when even the underpaid publishing slaves weren’t immune to the money fever that defined the period, Brightness Falls follows a striving bourgeois couple as they succumb to the madness of their time. Russell Calloway, an editor at a literary publishing house, launches a plan to initiate a leveraged buy out of his failing company, ousting his lecherous boss, an industry legend. Meanwhile, his wife, Corinne, who’s job as a trader really pays the rent, is quietly losing her mind. And then, of course, the market crashes.
Read about another book on the list.

The Page 69 Test: A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: John McFetridge's "Let It Ride"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Let It Ride by John McFetridge.

About the book, from the publisher:
The author of two critically acclaimed Canadian crime novels, with Let It Ride John McFetridge takes us deep inside the gray zone that exists between the Canadian/American border, delivering all the up to the minute twists and edgy action of an episode of The Wire.

Vernard ‘Get’ McGetty is back from serving in Afghanistan, back dealing drugs in Detroit and looking to move up with his buddy JT, a guy he met in Kandahar who also happens to be the leader of the Saints of Hell—a notorious Ontario biker gang currently in the process of taking over all North of the border drug traffic. Commuting weekly across the line into the center of JT’s high flying empire, Get hooks up with Sunitha, a decidedly independent woman who’s gone from working seedy massage parlors to robbing them at gunpoint—and has dreams of a much bigger score: taking the Saints for the millions they have stashed in gold bars. Meanwhile, the Toronto cops have the Saints under a microscope. Detectives Price and McKeon are getting nowhere with a double drive-by killing on the Gardiner Expressway—a husband and wife returning from a swingers party—and the investigation keeps leading back to the Saints…
View the trailer for Let It Ride, and learn more about the author and his work at John McFetridge's website and blog.

John McFetridge lives in Toronto and works as a staff writer for the TV cop show The Bridge, airing on CBS this fall. He is the author of the crime novels Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. See McFetridge's Author Snapshot at January Magazine.

The Page 69 Test: Dirty Sweet.

The Page 69 Test: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

Writers Read: John McFetridge.

The Page 69 Test: Let It Ride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What is JT Ellison reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: JT Ellison, bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson series, including All The Pretty Girls, 14, Judas Kiss, and The Cold Room.

Her entry begins:
Don’t laugh, but I’m in the frantic last week prior to a book release, waiting on copyedits for my October book, and trying to write my 2011 book, which means I’m not in a good way when it comes to reading. The closer I get to these big dates, the less fiction I can manage. I’m not sure why that is – guilt, probably, that I’m being swept away when there is so much work to do.

But without reading, I go a little mad, so I have to find a compromise. And that is non-fiction. I’ve never been much of a read non-fiction for pleasure kind of girl until the past year or so. I read a lot of non-fiction for research, of course, but it wasn’t until a friend recommended The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty Moore that it hit me – non-fiction can be...[read on]
About The Cold Room:
Homicide Detective Taylor Jackson thinks she's seen it all in Nashville—from the Southern Strangler to the Snow White Killer. But she's never seen anything as perverse as the Conductor. Once his victim is captured, he contains her in a glass coffin, slowly starving her to death. Only then does he give in to his attraction.

When he's finished, he creatively disposes of the body by reenacting scenes from famous paintings. And it seems similar macabre works are being displayed in Europe. Taylor teams up with her fiancé, FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin, and a New Scotland Yard detective named James "Memphis" Highsmythe, a haunted man who only has eyes for Taylor, to put an end to the Conductor's art collection.

Has the killer gone international with his craft? Or are there dueling artists, competing to create the ultimate masterpiece?
Learn more about the book and author at J.T. Ellison's website.

The Page 69 Test: All the Pretty Girls.

The Page 99 Test: 14.

The Page 69 Test: 14.

The Page 99 Test: Judas Kiss.

My Book, The Movie: the Taylor Jackson series.

Writers Read: JT Ellison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Jason K. Dempsey's "Our Army"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations by Jason K. Dempsey.

About the book, from the publisher:
Conventional wisdom holds that the American military is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican, and extremely political. Our Army paints a more complex picture, demonstrating that while army officers are likely to be more conservative, rank-and-file soldiers hold political views that mirror those of the American public as a whole, and army personnel are less partisan and politically engaged than most civilians.

Assumptions about political attitudes in the U.S. Army are based largely on studies focusing on the senior ranks, yet these senior officers comprise only about 6 percent of America's fighting force. Jason Dempsey provides the first random-sample survey that also covers the social and political attitudes held by enlisted men and women in the army. Uniting these findings with those from another unique survey he conducted among cadets at the United States Military Academy on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, Dempsey offers the most detailed look yet at how service members of all ranks approach politics. He shows that many West Point cadets view political conservatism as part of being an officer, raising important questions about how the army indoctrinates officers politically. But Dempsey reveals that the rank-and-file army is not nearly as homogeneous as we think--or as politically active--and that political attitudes across the ranks are undergoing a substantial shift.

Our Army adds needed nuance to our understanding of a profession that seems increasingly distant from the average American.
Read an excerpt from Our Army, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Jason K. Dempsey is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan. He has a PhD in political science from Columbia University and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy.

The Page 99 Test: Our Army.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top 10 jobs in fiction

Aifric Campbell is the author of The Semantics of Murder and The Loss Adjustor.

For the Guardian, she named a top ten list of favorite jobs in fiction. One item on her list:
Car salesman
The Rabbit novels by John Updike

When Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom reaches middle age he takes pleasure in knowing "that the earth is mortal too" as he looks out the car showroom window. From high school basketball hero, to linotype printer to car dealer, we grow up with Rabbit through the last four decades of 20th century America. Lyrical, brutal drama of the everyday and a true celebration of the human condition in all its wonder.
Read about another book/job on the list.

Rabbit, Run
figures among Julian Barnes' best books to travel with and is one of William Sutcliffe's top 10 relationship novels.

"[I]n the Rabbit books, [Updike] seems to me, more than any writer I can think of, the great American poet of death and loneliness."
--Whitney Terrell

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pg. 69: Heidi W. Durrow's "The Girl Who Fell From the Sky"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow.

About the book, from the publisher:
This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy.

With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl— and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty. It is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.
Read an excerpt from The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, and learn more about the book and author at Heidi W. Durrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Twenty best science fiction books of the noughties

Annalee Newitz and io9 came up with a list of the 20 best science fiction books of the last decade.

One book on the list:
The Alchemy of Stone, by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime)

Here is what io9 had to say about this book when it came out last year:
With a face made of porcelain, a wind-up heart, and a talent for alchemy, Mattie is hardly a typical science fictional robot. While most novels about robots focus on how these humanoid machines are stronger and smarter than humans, Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone explores the vulnerability of mechanical beings who depend on humans for repairs and survival. Mattie is a rare emancipated automaton in an industrial city hovering on the edge of a workers' revolution. She's gone against the wishes of her Mechanic creator and joined the ranks of the biochemist-mystic Alchemists, selling medicines and perfumes to the city's middle class. Sedia's novel captures the surreal strangeness of a city whose power structure is about to be toppled, and her focus on Mattie's relationship with her creator allows her to grapple with the tiny power struggles inherent in all human relationships - especially those between men and women.
Read about another book on the list.

The Alchemy of Stone also appears on Annalee Newitz's list of "Thirteen Books That Will Change The Way You Look At Robots."

The Page 99 Test: The Alchemy of Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Iain McLean's "What's Wrong with the British Constitution?"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: What's Wrong with the British Constitution? by Iain McLean.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this provocative new study, Iain McLean argues that the traditional story of the British constitution does not make sense. It purports to be both positive and normative: that is, to describe both how people actually behave and how they ought to behave. In fact, it fails to do either; it is not a correct description and it has no persuasive force. The book goes on to offer a reasoned alternative.

The position that still dominates the field of constitutional law is that of parliamentary sovereignty (or supremacy). According to this view, the supreme lawgiver in the United Kingdom is Parliament. Some writers in this tradition go on to insist that Parliament in turn derives its authority from the people, because the people elect Parliament. An obvious problem with this view is that Parliament, to a lawyer, comprises three houses: monarch, Lords, and Commons. The people elect only one of those three houses.

This book aims to show, contrary to the prevailing view, that the UK exists by virtue of a constitutional contract between two previously independent states. Professor McLean argues that the work of the influential constitutional theorist A.V. Dicey has little to offer those who really want to understand the nature of the constitution. Instead, greater understanding can be gleaned from considering the 'veto plays' and 'credible threats' available to politicians since 1707. He suggests that the idea that the people are sovereign dates back to the 17th century (maybe the 14th in Scotland), but has gone underground in English constitutional writing. He goes on to show that devolution and the UK's relationship with the rest of Europe have taken the UK along a constitutionalist road since 1972, and perhaps since 1920. He concludes that no intellectually defensible case can be made for retaining an unelected house of Parliament, an unelected head of state, or an established church.

The book will be essential reading for political scientists, constitutional lawyers, historians, and politicians alike.
Learn more about What's Wrong with the British Constitution? at the Oxford University Press website.

Iain McLean is Professor of Politics at Oxford University, and a fellow of Nuffield College.

The Page 99 Test: What's Wrong with the British Constitution?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Magazine Man & Blaze

Today's featured duo at Coffee with a Canine: Magazine Man & Blaze.

Magazine Man on Blaze's proudest moment ... and most embarrassing:
Well, I’ve been proudest of Blaze whenever he’s leapt to the defense of my family, which has happened about a dozen times. I suspect Blaze’s finest hour (aside from a nasty moment last year with his former owner, which is a story I’m not ready to tell yet) was the time he saved the Brownie from a crazy blackbird that was dive-bombing her (and many of our neighbors). Blaze caught the bird in mid-air and bit its head off. People came out of their houses to watch and made a big fuss over Blaze when it was all over. You could tell he was proud of himself, the way everyone ooh-ed and ahh-ed and he stood there, looking off into the distance like none of it mattered (except that he kept looking back over his shoulder to make sure we were all still looking at him). It was a sweet moment.

As for most embarrassing, I’d wager that was the time he ate an industrial-size bag of Tootsie Rolls (wrappers and all), then promptly threw them up.

Or perhaps the time he was being chased by the kids and my son ran into him, accidentally poking him in the rear-end with...[read on]
Magazine Man is a semi-anonymous writer and editor who, since 2004 (and despite an egregious three-month absence recently) writes the blog “Somewhere on the Masthead.” Unconfirmed rumors have linked him to a fellow by the name of Stephen C. George, who is also a writer and editor—who is in fact the editor-in-chief of The Saturday Evening Post. But really, how much stock can you put in these rumors?

Blaze is a purebred male mutt: part Rottweiler, part beagle (perhaps), with a little lab thrown in. He’s about 8 years old.

Visit the Magazine Man's blog, Somewhere on the Masthead.

Watch two YouTube videos—links
here and here—both involving Blaze and his interactions with the Éclair, the Magazine Man's youngest. You can hear her calling him “Bazey.”

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Magazine Man & Blaze.

--Marshal Zeringue

Mark Greaney's "The Gray Man," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: The Gray Man by Mark Greaney.

The entry begins:
The Gray Man has been optioned for film by a Hollywood/London studio partnership, so I am constantly asked who I see in a big screen adaptation of my book. Consequently I’ve had time to consider this, though as far as I understand these convoluted film contracts, they could make my hard edge thriller into an animated film or a Bollywood dance spectacular, or they could populate the roles with cats or Claymation characters if they chose to do so. I have no say in the matter… but if I did?

The hero, Court Gentry, is the Gray Man. He travels the world in a low profile manner; he’s the guy that sat on the bench next to you at the train station who you never noticed, the man on the street that no one remembers one second after he passes. But both mentally and physically he is a coiled spring of potential energy, ready to go into action if the need arises. I like...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Gray Man, and learn more about the book and author at Mark Greaney's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Gray Man.

My Book, The Movie: The Gray Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pg. 69: Joanna Smith Rakoff's "A Fortunate Age"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff.

About the book, from the publisher:
Like The Group, Mary McCarthy's classic tale about coming of age in New York, Joanna Smith Rakoff 's richly drawn and immensely satisfying first novel details the lives of a group of Oberlin graduates whose ambitions and friendships threaten to unravel as they chase their dreams, shed their youth, and build their lives in Brooklyn during the late 1990s and the turn of the twenty-first century.

There's Lil, a would-be scholar whose marriage to an egotistical writer initially brings the group back together (and ultimately drives it apart); Beth, who struggles to let go of her old beau Dave, a onetime piano prodigy trapped by his own insecurity; Emily, an actor perpetually on the verge of success -- and starvation -- who grapples with her jealousy of Tal, whose acting career has taken off. At the center of their orbit is wry, charismatic Sadie Peregrine, who coolly observes her friends' mistakes but can't quite manage to avoid making her own. As they begin their careers, marry, and have children, they must navigate the shifting dynamics of their friendships and of the world around them.

Set against the backdrop of the vast economic and political changes of the era -- from the decadent age of dot-com millionaires to the sobering post-September 2001 landscape -- Smith Rakoff's deeply affecting characters and incisive social commentary are reminiscent of the great Victorian novels. This brilliant and ambitious debut captures a generation and heralds the arrival of a bold and important new writer.
Read an excerpt from A Fortunate Age, and learn more about the book and author at Joanna Smith Rakoff's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Fortunate Age.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six books about rethinking of the rules of artistic appropriation

David Shields’s new book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, is:
an ars poetica for a burgeoning group of interrelated but unconnected artists who, living in an unbearably artificial world, are breaking ever larger chunks of “reality” into their work. The questions Shields explores—the bending of form and genre, the lure and blur of the real—play out constantly around us, and Reality Hunger is a rigorous, radical reframing of how we might think about this “truthiness”: about literary license, quotation, and appropriation in television, film, performance art, rap, and graffiti, in lyric essays, prose poems, and collage novels.
For The Week magazine, he named six books that inspired the project. One title on the list:
The Art Lover by Carole Maso

I love this obsessively quotation-crazy book to death. She can’t stop thinking; she can’t stop thinking about what other people are thinking; she can’t stop thinking via what other people are thinking.
Read about another book on Shields's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Jennifer Stuller's "Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology by Jennifer K. Stuller.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this comprehensive history, inquiry, critique, and reference guide, Stuller argues that Superwomen, from Wonder Woman to Charlie’s Angels, are more than just love interests or sidekicks who stand by their supermen. She shows how the female hero in modern mythology has broken through the traditional boy's club barrier to reveal the pivotal role of high-heeled crimefighters in popular culture. Chapter topics include love and compassion, spies and sexuality, daddy’s girls, and the complicated roles of superwomen who are also mothers. The book also includes a glossary of modern mythic women, as well as a foreword by acclaimed cultural commentator Roz Kaveney, author of Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films.
Read more about Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology.

Visit Jennifer K. Stuller's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a canine: Jennifer K. Stuller & Giles and Wesley.

The Page 99 Test: Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Craig McDonald reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Craig McDonald, author of the newly released novel, Print the Legend.

His entry begins:
I tend to have several books going at any given time. This past year, I agreed to serve on a reading committee for one of crime fiction’s major genre awards and my reading material was largely mandated for me — there were nearly 300 novels to consider.

With that task behind me, I’ve turned back to some old preoccupations/favorite books.

At the moment, I’m re-reading Michael S. Reynolds’ excellent and definitive multi-volume biography of Ernest Hemingway. I just concluded An American Homecoming, which covers the period roughly between the completion of The Sun Also Rises and the wrapping up of the composition of A Farewell To Arms.

I’ve now turned to the equally excellent follow-up volume, Hemingway: The 1930s, which moves in to the Key West period of Hemingway’s life, taking him...[read on]
Among the early praise for Print the Legend:
Ingeniously plotted and executed, Print the Legend is an epic masterpiece from Craig McDonald. Beginning to end, I was riveted by this story of character, history and intrigue.

The competition for the future of crime fiction is fierce, but don't take your eyes off Craig McDonald. He's wily, talented and -- rarest of the rare -- a true original. I am always eager to see what he's going to do next."

With Print the Legend, with a James Ellroy-like scope and vision of national history, McDonald takes on governmental conspiracy, Hemingway hagiography, the under-history of the FBI, the Death of the Author (literal and figurative) and the tantalizing, destructive mythologization of the Writer's Life. While the scale is immense, McDonald's hand is deft, and we never forget that, at its center, this is a human story, complex and bruising and deeply felt.

"Print the Legend is a landmark book. Lassiter for me is the Flashman/Zelig of the new era, but with a ferocious literary knowledge that is worn so lightly. A book beyond genre, stunning."
Read more about Print the Legend, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website, blog, and Crimespace page.

Read "The Story Behind the Story: Print the Legend, by Craig McDonald," at The Rap Sheet.

Writers Read: Craig McDonald.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ten of the best monsters in literature

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

One monster on the list:

Down in the mines of Moria, things are pretty grim, but something worse than orcs is after the brave fellowship of the ring. It is a big, horrid Balrog, swathed in both darkness and fire, and carrying a whip. Close textual analysis of Lord of the Rings fails to reveal whether it has wings or not.
The Lord of the Rings also made Lev Grossman's list of the six greatest fantasy books of all time, and appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best volcanoes in literature and ten of the best chases in literature.

Read about another monster on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Paul Tremblay's "No Sleep till Wonderland"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: No Sleep till Wonderland by Paul Tremblay.

About the book, from the publisher:
Mark Genevich, narcoleptic detective, is caught between friends and a police investigation in this wickedly riveting PI novel with a twist—a follow-up to The Little Sleep

Mark Genevich is stuck in a rut: his narcolepsy isn’t improving, his private-detective business is barely scraping by, and his landlord mother is forcing him to attend group therapy sessions. Desperate for companionship, Mark goes on a two-day bender with a new acquaintance, Gus, who is slick and charismatic—and someone Mark knows very little about. When Gus asks Mark to protect a friend who is being stalked, Mark inexplicably finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation and soon becomes the target of the police, a sue-happy lawyer, and a violent local bouncer. Will Mark learn to trust himself in time to solve the crime—and in time to escape with his life?

Written with the same “witty voice that doesn’t let go”* that has won Paul Tremblay so many fans, No Sleep Till Wonderland features a memorable detective whose only hope for reconciling with his difficult past is to keep moving—asleep or awake—toward an uncertain future.
Read an excerpt from No Sleep till Wonderland and watch the video.

Learn more about the author and his work at Paul Tremblay's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Little Sleep.

The Page 69 Test: No Sleep till Wonderland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: William A. Callahan's "China: The Pessoptimist Nation"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: China: The Pessoptimist Nation by William A. Callahan.

About the book, from the publisher:
The rise of China presents a long-term challenge to the world not only economically, but politically and culturally. Callahan meets this challenge in China: The Pessoptimist Nation by using new Chinese sources and innovative analysis to see how Chinese people understand their new place in the world. The heart of Chinese foreign policy is not a security dilemma, but an identity dilemma. Chinese identity emerges through the interplay of positive and negative feelings: China thus is the pessoptimist nation. This positive/negative dynamic intertwines China's domestic and international politics because national security is closely linked to nationalist insecurities.

To chart the trajectory of its rise, the book shifts from examining China's national interests to exploring its national aesthetic. Rather than answering the standard social science question "what is China?" with statistics of economic and military power, this book asks "when, where, and who is China?" to explore the soft power dynamics of China's identity politics.

China: The Pessoptimist Nation examines Beijing's propaganda system and its patriotic education policy to see how Chinese identity is formed through a celebration of ancient civilization and a commemoration of humiliation suffered in modern history. It shows how China's relationship with itself and the world takes shape in the pessoptimist dynamics of patriotic education policy and the national humiliation curriculum, national days and national humiliation days, national maps and national humiliation maps, foreign brothers and domestic strangers, and Chinese patriots and foreign devils. Together the chapters demonstrate how the identity politics of Chinese nationalism produce the security politics of Chinese foreign policy. They show how the pessoptimist link between China's dream of civilization and its nightmare of humiliation is not fading away. It provides the template of China's foreign relations that inflames popular feelings for future demonstrations, and primes the indignant youth for explosive protests.

Callahan concludes that Chinese identity grows out of a dynamic of reciprocal influence that integrates official policy and popular culture. This interactive view of China's pessoptimist identity means that we need to rethink the role of the state and public opinion in Beijing's foreign policy-making.
Read an excerpt from China: The Pessoptimist Nation, and learn more about the book at the Oxford University Press website.

William A. Callahan is Professor of International Politics and China Studies at the University of Manchester, and Co-Director of the British Inter-University China Center at Oxford University.

The Page 99 Test: China: The Pessoptimist Nation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Leslie Larson & Leyla

Today's featured duo at Coffee with a Canine: Leslie Larson & Leyla.

Larson, on how she and Leyla were united:
We had gone to an appliance warehouse to look at refrigerators. On the way home I casually suggested we stop at the SPCA—just for fun. Leyla and her five brothers and sisters were romping in a room together. They were six weeks old. Who could resist? Leyla and I locked eyes and that was it. I think stopping at the shelter was like couples who get pregnant “accidentally on purpose.” I fell deeply in love right away. I honestly fantasized about being stranded on a desert island with...[read on]
Leslie Larson is a writer who lives in Berkeley. Her second novel, Breaking Out of Bedlam, came out the first month of 2010.

Among the early praise for Breaking out of Bedlam:
"Few women have kept me as worried and curious and awake at night as Cora Sledge…. Read Breaking Out of Bedlam to see redemption."
—Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon

“Delightful… Plenty of heart and humor.”
Publishers Weekly

"Heartwarming and funny with nary a slip into sentimentality."
Kirkus Reviews
Read an excerpt from Breaking Out of Bedlam, and learn more about the book and author at Leslie Larson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Breaking Out of Bedlam.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Leslie Larson & Leyla.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What is Jerald Winakur reading?

The current feature contributor at Writers Read: Jerald Winakur, author of Memory Lessons: A Doctor's Story.

His entry begins:
Well, I'm reading two books at the moment:

--My wife, Lee Robinson, and I teach part-time at our local medical school, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. I am a geriatrician, she a retired attorney and a poet, and we try to nurture these young doctors-to-be in a "Literature and Medicine" elective each year. I am re-reading, The Doctor Stories by Dr. William Carlos Williams, general practitioner, pediatrician, famous Imagist poet and one incredibly insightful human being. His stories of his encounters with patients during the tough years of the 30s in the tenements of Rutherford, New Jersey are gems of observation, nuance and raw emotion. He shows--like no doctor before or since--the complexities of the doctor-patient bond, how difficult it can be, but how rewarding. Of course, every practicing doctor and every doctor-in-training should read this book. And re-read it. But...[read on]
Among the praise for Memory Lessons:
"[A] gorgeously written memoir about a geriatrician caring for his father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.... I find it so soothing and his prose is just delightful."
--Randi Hutter Epstein, author of Get Me Out

"[T]he book is unusual for the author's honesty about the anxiety and guilt that can afflict a specialist trying to make quality of life decisions for a patient ("What is 'quality of life' when one is demented?") or a child making crucial choices for an elderly parent. A brave, achingly tender look at the end of life."
--O, The Oprah Magazine

"[Winakur] tells his story with the sort of elegant prose that puts him in the ranks of Jerome Groopman or Atul Gawande -- that rare physician who can frame the byzantine machinations of his practice in terms the rest of us can understand.... Winakur is tackling the same fundamental problems that all great literature addresses: How do we give our lives meaning, minimize suffering and love one another?"
--Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Read the introduction to Memory Lessons, and learn more about the author and his work at Jerald Winakur's website.

Writers Read: Jerald Winakur.

--Marshal Zeringue

Benjamin Zephaniah's 6 best books

Benjamin Zephaniah is a well-known British poet.

He named his six best books for the Daily Express. One book on his list:
A Book of Nonsense
by Mervyn Peake

An old favourite of mine, this is a book of poems about animals living in jars and that kind of thing. It’s completely off the wall and when I learnt to read properly in my 20s I found it such good fun. It doesn’t talk down to readers.
Read about another title on Zephaniah's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Justin Taylor's "Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever: Stories by Justin Taylor.

About the book, from the publisher:
Each story in this crystalline, spare, oddly moving collection cuts to the quick. Taylor′s characters are guided by delusions and misapprehensions that quickly bring them to impasses with reality. Moving through this collection the reader will meet a young man who has reasoned away certain boundaries in relation to his budding, girl cousin; a high schooler whose desire to win back his crush leads him to experiment with goth magic; a man whose girlfriend is stolen by angels; and a Tetris player who, as the advancing white wall of the Apocalypse slowly churns up his driveway, decides that Death is a kindness.

Fearless and funny, Taylor imagines this and more, in a collection that paints a dark picture of his generation -- one that is upwardly mobile yet adrift, fumbling for connection but hopelessly self-involved. And it′s all held together by a thread of wounding humor and candid storytelling that marks Taylor as a distinct and emerging literary talent.
Read "Tennessee," a story from Everything Here, at Fifty-two Stories, and learn more about the book and author at Justin Taylor's website.

Writers Read: Justin Taylor.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Rebecca Nedostup's "Superstitious Regimes"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Superstitious Regimes: Religion and the Politics of Chinese Modernity by Rebecca Nedostup.

About the book, from the publisher:
We live in a world shaped by secularism—the separation of numinous power from political authority and religion from the political, social, and economic realms of public life. Not only has progress toward modernity often been equated with secularization, but when religion is admitted into modernity, it has been distinguished from superstition. That such ideas are continually contested does not undercut their extraordinary influence.

These divisions underpin this investigation of the role of religion in the construction of modernity and political power during the Nanjing Decade (1927–1937) of Nationalist rule in China. This book explores the modern recategorization of religious practices and people and examines how state power affected the religious lives and physical order of local communities. It also looks at how politicians conceived of their own ritual role in an era when authority was meant to derive from popular sovereignty. The claims of secular nationalism and mobilizational politics prompted the Nationalists to conceive of the world of religious association as a dangerous realm of “superstition” that would destroy the nation. This is the first “superstitious regime” of the book’s title. It also convinced them that national feeling and faith in the party-state would replace those ties—the second “superstitious regime.”
Learn more about Superstitious Regimes at the Harvard University Press website.

Rebecca Nedostup is Associate Professor of History at Boston College.

The Page 99 Test: Superstitious Regimes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Graham Brown's "Black Rain," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Black Rain by Graham Brown.

The entry begins:
What a great idea this blog is. What writer hasn’t cast their movie a hundred times in their own heads?

First, a little about the plot. Black Rain is a techno-thriller that takes place in the jungle. It meshes the actual Mayan creation legend with a race for elements that could bring about working cold fusion and provide the energy source of the 21st century.

The characters include Danielle Laidlaw, the young, attractive team leader, thrust into the spotlight when her mentor is called back to Washington D.C. An ex-CIA mercenary who goes by the name of Hawker. Unlike most “rogue cops,” Hawker played by his own rules and got burned. He’s now a fugitive and a pariah, hired only because he is expendable. He’s ready to let go of any moral compunction if it means getting back to the world’s good graces. The third main character is a university professor named McCarter. He’s grieving from the loss of his wife after a long battle with cancer and joins the team despite its seemingly absurd goals, just to get away from himself.

So who to play these characters? They’re somewhat archetypical, but I think I’ve taken a fresh angle on all them. The readers will have to be the judge of that.

In many ways, Danielle is the main character, and the most difficult to cast. She has to come across as smart, formidable. That’s far more important than her being beautiful, on the other hand if we can cover all the bases… Angelina Jolie would work, the character is roughly thirty, attractive and forced to be manipulative to get what she’s after. And she’s smart. Whatever some people think about Angelina, she’s definitely smart, stunning and if can be manipulative if she needs to be: a force to be reckoned with, I like that. But if she wasn’t available...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Black Rain, and learn more about the book and author at Graham Brown's website and blog.

Graham Brown is a former pilot, lawyer and executive at a small health care company. He lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he is currently at work on his second novel, a sequel to the recently released Black Rain.

My Book, The Movie: Black Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best books on British military deception

Nicholas Rankin is the author of A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars (2009).

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about British military deception.

One title on the list:
The Man Who Never Was
by Ewen Montagu
Lippincott, 1953

Operation Mincemeat, designed to divert German attention away from the Allies' impending invasion of Sicily in 1943, involved planting false papers on a genuine corpse outfitted to be a British Royal Marine, "Maj. William Martin." The body was dropped in the ocean off the coast of Spain; when it washed ashore, the Germans soon discovered what seemed to be plans for an invasion of Greece and Sardinia. Mincemeat worked perfectly—the Nazis took the poisoned bait and rushed to bolster their Greek defenses. A novel published soon after World War II told the tale of the operation, but readers had no idea how close to the truth the improbable story was until the appearance a few years later of "The Man Who Never Was." Lawyer Ewen Montagu, who had been the naval-intelligence representative on the Twenty Committee during the war, was given official permission to write the book after a reporter began digging for the half-buried facts in the fictional version. Montagu produced a genuine wartime thriller.
Read about another book on the list.

The Man Who Never Was also appears on Ben Macintyre's top six list of true-life spy stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Michael Shea's "The Extra"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: The Extra by Michael Shea.

About the book, from the publisher:
Books and films have skewered Hollywood's excesses, but none has ever portrayed one man's crazy vision of the future of big action/adventure films as The Extra does. As over-the-top as Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles, as savagely dark as Robert Altman's The Player, and more violent than Rollerball, this is the story of the ultimate, so-insane-it-could-only-happen-in-Hollywood formula for success, a brave new way to bring the ultimate in excitement to the silver screen. Producer Val Margolian has found the motherlode of box-office gold with his new "live-death" films whose villains are extremely sophisticated, electronically controlled mechanical monsters. To give these live-action disaster films greater realism, he employs huge casts of extras, in addition to the stars. The large number of extras is important, because very few of them will survive the shoot.

It's all perfectly legal, with training for the extras and long, detailed contracts indemnifying the film company against liability for the extras' injury or death. But why would anyone be crazy enough to risk his or her life to be an extra in such a potentially deadly situation?

The extras do it because if they survive they'll be paid handsomely, and they can make even more if they destroy any of the animatronic monsters trying to stomp, chew, fry, or otherwise kill them. If they earn enough, they can move out of the Zoo--the vast slum that most of L.A. has become. They're fighting for a chance at a reasonable life. But first, they have to survive...
Read an excerpt from The Extra, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Shea's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Extra.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pg. 99: Howard Jones' "Blue and Gray Diplomacy"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations by Howard Jones.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this examination of Union and Confederate foreign relations during the Civil War from both European and American perspectives, Howard Jones demonstrates that the consequences of the conflict between North and South reached far beyond American soil.

Jones explores a number of themes, including the international economic and political dimensions of the war, the Norths attempts to block the South from winning foreign recognition as a nation, Napoleon III's meddling in the war and his attempt to restore French power in the New World, and the inability of Europeans to understand the interrelated nature of slavery and union, resulting in their tendency to interpret the war as a senseless struggle between a South too large and populous to have its independence denied and a North too obstinate to give up on the preservation of the Union. Most of all, Jones explores the horrible nature of a war that attracted outside involvement as much as it repelled it.

Written in a narrative style that relates the story as its participants saw it play out around them, Blue and Gray Diplomacy depicts the complex set of problems faced by policy makers from Richmond and Washington to London, Paris, and St. Petersburg.
Read more about Blue and Gray Diplomacy at the publisher's website.

Howard Jones is University Research Professor of History at the University of Alabama. His books include Mutiny on the Amistad, Death of a Generation, and The Bay of Pigs.

The Page 99 Test: The Bay of Pigs.

The Page 99 Test: Blue and Gray Diplomacy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Susan Breen & Tino and Spencer

This weekend's featured trio at Coffee with a Canine: Susan Breen & Tino and Spencer.

Breen, on how they came together and the origin of the dogs' names:
I had a Golden Retriever growing up and knew I wanted one for my family. We got Tino from a breeder. Spencer, I have to confess, I saw in a pet store window. I fell in love with him the moment I saw him.

Tino is named for Tino Martinez, who was a first baseman for the Yankees at the time. Spencer is named for Shane Spencer, who was...[read on]
Susan Breen's novel, The Fiction Class, is the story of a woman's relationship with her ailing mother and the offbeat members of the creative writing workshop she leads. Among the praise for the novel:
“In this poignant, funny novel, a writing teacher, nearly 40 and single, is concerned not with romance or writing, but with her difficult, dying mother—until she teaches her mother to write.”
--MORE magazine, which named The Fiction Class a “Don’t Miss Book.”

“This is a delightful first novel written with genuine wit and personality.”
Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Breen's short stories have been published by a number of literary magazines, among them American Literary Review and anderbo (which lists her story “Triplet” as an anderbo classic).

Susan Breen's website and blog.

Writers Read: Susan Breen.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Susan Breen & Tino and Spencer.

--Marshal Zeringue