Thursday, May 31, 2007

What is Niraj Kapur reading?

Niraj Kapur, author of Heaven's Delight, the debut novel in a romantic comedy trilogy, is the latest contributor to Writers Read.

In addition to his recent reading, Kapur also remarked on some new and old classics:
When I wrote my debut, Heaven's Delight, I mixed rom com with adventure, so I read everything from J.K. Rowling, which astounded me, to the Narnia series, which was nostalgic, to Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker - a novel for teenage boys that also appeals to parents like me. [read on]
Writers Read: Niraj Kapur.

The Page 69 Test: Heaven's Delight.

My Book, The Movie: Heaven's Delight.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Ann Brashares reading?

Ann Brashares, author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, talked to the Christian Science Monitor about what she's been watching and listening to.

And reading:

In the last month I read two books I absolutely loved. The first was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It has an unusual narrative structure, but do not be put off by it. It is a brilliant, funny, amazing book. The second was Lonesome Dove [by Larry McMurtry]. I was moved to go out and buy it when my trusted friend (and literary agent) said, "You haven't read 'Lonesome Dove'? I am jealous." Now I, in turn, am jealous of all of you who have yet to experience the pleasure of it.
Read more about Brashares's taste in movies and music.

Ann Brashares's new novel, The Last Summer (of You and Me) -- this one is for adult readers -- will be published by Riverhead on June 5.

--Marshal Zeringue

Books Chuck Cohen always wanted someone to write

Chuck Cohen writes at the Christian Science Monitor:
Recently I came upon a book titled – I am not making this up – "Hitler: Neither Vegetarian nor Animal Lover." Inspired by the "uniqueness" of this title, I have been searching for writers to flesh out some equally unexpected, and so far unavailable, manuscripts.
A few titles from Cohen's wish list:
Julia Child: The Basketball Years

Michelangelo: His Mother's Least Favorite Pastas

Chicken Caesar: Coward or Salad?

Harry S. Truman: Why the S. Didn't Stand for Sue

Read Cohen's full list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Bill Bryan's "Keep It Real"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Bill Bryan's Keep It Real.

About the book, from the author's website:
Ted used to be an investigative reporter — a good one. But that was before the divorce, the meltdown, the subsequent supervised visitation of his adorable little girl. Now he’s one of several peon producers for the inexplicably successful reality show, ‘The Mogul.’ Ted’s not a happy man. Unlike his viewers, he takes no joy in the vapid “reality” he helps edit together for ratings. That is, until it lands him in the middle of a murder investigation.
Among the praise for Keep It Real:

"Keep It Real is one of the funniest crime novels I've ever read. If you like Westlake, you'll love this. I did."
--J.A. Konrath, author of Whiskey Sour

"If you like to laugh, and you hate reality TV, you will love this wonderfully, viciously hilarious book."
--Dave Barry

“A scathing satire of… reality TV.. Every turn… provides one more excuse to rip away at the façade of today's hottest programming genre. And no, author Bryan doesn't care if this offends The Donald.”
--James Winter, January Magazine

“If Carl Hiaasen and Joseph Heller collaborated on a book to satirize reality TV, you’d get Bill’s Bryan’s Keep It Real. An instant classic.”
--Ken Bruen, author of The Guards

"Hilarious, profane, and dead-on funny. Keep It Real is a brilliant comic mystery which skewers the world of Reality TV, rap music, and Hollywood lawyers. Run out and buy it now and be prepared to stay up all night, choking with dark laughter."
--Robert Ward, author of Red Baker and Four Kinds of Rain

“TV writer and producer Bryan spoofs, satirizes, and burlesques his way through that kingdom of sin and sizzle, Hollywood, in this… funny debut crime novel… [that] shows a real gift for satire.”
--Publishers Weekly

“[A] funny… and politically incorrect romp.”
--Library Journal

Visit Bill Bryan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Bill Bryan's Keep It Real.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Matt Wray's "Not Quite White"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Matt Wray's Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness.

About the book, from the publisher:
White trash. The phrase conjures up images of dirty rural folk who are poor, ignorant, violent, and incestuous. But where did this stigmatizing phrase come from? And why do these stereotypes persist? Matt Wray answers these and other questions by delving into the long history behind this term of abuse and others like it. Ranging from the early 1700s to the early 1900s, Not Quite White documents the origins and transformations of the multiple meanings projected onto poor rural whites in the United States. Wray draws on a wide variety of primary sources — literary texts, folklore, diaries and journals, medical and scientific articles, social scientific analyses — to construct a dense archive of changing collective representations of poor whites.

Of crucial importance are the ideas about poor whites that circulated through early-twentieth-century public health campaigns, such as hookworm eradication and eugenic reforms. In these crusades, impoverished whites, particularly but not exclusively in the American South, were targeted for interventions by sanitarians who viewed them as “filthy, lazy crackers” in need of racial uplift and by eugenicists who viewed them as a “feebleminded menace” to the white race, threats that needed to be confined and involuntarily sterilized.

Part historical inquiry and part sociological investigation, Not Quite White demonstrates the power of social categories and boundaries to shape social relationships and institutions, to invent groups where none exist, and to influence policies and legislation that end up harming the very people they aim to help. It illuminates not only the cultural significance and consequences of poor white stereotypes but also how dominant whites exploited and expanded these stereotypes to bolster and defend their own fragile claims to whiteness.
Among the praise for Not Quite White:
“White trash? What did you just call me? Not Quite White provides the best social history of America’s most quizzical moniker in the racial-class system. From its colonial origins to the era of eugenics to the public health campaign to eradicate hookworm in the South, Matt Wray’s careful analysis documents the roots of this label, showing what its apparently oxymoronic nature tells us about the larger system of symbolic stratification in the United States.”
—Dalton Conley, author of Honky

“Matt Wray’s Not Quite White is a richly textured social history of how and why the nation has come to conceive, categorize, and routinely vilify that part of its population known as ‘white trash.’ Because this subject has rarely been the focus of systematic scholarly inquiry, that alone would be a notable achievement. Yet the book aims for more — to propose a boundary theory of why ‘white trash’ has had so many uses — from literature to politics to social science. By any measure, this book is a major contribution.”
—Troy Duster, New York University
Matt Wray, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is currently a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard University. He is co-editor of White Trash: Race and Class in America, Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, and The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness.

The Page 99 Test: Not Quite White.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What is Michael Fullilove reading?

Michael Fullilove, who directs the global issues program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia, is the latest contributor to Writers Read.

He came to my attention with his recent article in Slate, "Chinese Love Triangle," which argues that however critical the bilateral relationship with China is, America "needs to understand that, in the future, its Asian relations will increasingly be dominated by trilateral configurations, as old allies and friends such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia move to accommodate the rising influence of the Middle Kingdom."

At Writers Read, Fullilove tagged a couple of books he was reading in preparation for a trip to Israel and Turkey as well as several other books, including one about David Hicks, the Australian held at Guantanamo until very recently.

Fullilove recently published an op-ed in the Financial Times on 30 March 2007 arguing that only Seinfeld can fully explain the US invasion of Iraq:
“This doctrine,” argues Fullilove, “recalls the classic episode of the TV comedy Seinfeld, “The Opposite,” in which George Costanza temporarily improves his fortunes by rejecting all the principles according to which he has lived his life and doing the opposite of what his training indicates he should do.” Fullilove believes that the Iraq policy pursued by the Bush administration satisfies the Costanza criterion because it is the opposite of every foreign policy the world has ever met.
For a follow-up on "the Costanza Doctrine," see Fullilove's Q & A.

Michael Fullilove is a Rhodes Scholar and former prime ministerial adviser who writes widely on politics and international relations. His work has appeared in publications such as Slate, the Financial Times, The National Interest and Foreign Affairs, and his first book, "Men and Women of Australia!": Our Greatest Modern Speeches, was published in 2005 by Vintage.

Writers Read: Michael Fullilove.

--Marshal Zeringue

The Rap Sheet's "one book project"

The best book blog feature I know of is The Rap Sheet's "one book project."

The Rap Sheet, spun off in May 2006 from the literary Web site January Magazine, and edited by J. Kingston Pierce, is a terrific news and feature resource for crime-fiction fans.

"[I]n anticipation of The Rap Sheet’s first birthday on May 22, [Pierce] e-mailed invitations to more than 100 crime novelists, book critics, and bloggers from all over the English-speaking world, asking them to choose the one crime/mystery/thriller novel they thought had been 'most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years.'” The response was outstanding, both in terms of quantity and quality.

I started adding titles to my To Be Read list as soon as Pierce published them, then decided to save the energy and simply earmark the posts listing the titles along with the contributors' supporting remarks.

Now Pierce has "compile[d] a master list of all the 'unjustly overlooked' books.... The titles are arranged alphabetically, according to the book’s name. [He has] boldfaced those five titles that received more than one vote. In addition, for anyone who didn’t catch The Rap Sheet’s 'one book' series the first time through ... and is hoping to read all 10 parts in the order they were posted, [Pierce] set up a separate archive blog site, containing all of the text and book covers. You can find that here."


--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: "You're Not the Boss of Me"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Erika Schickel's You're Not the Boss of Me.

About the book, from the publisher:
Sometimes described as “Erma Bombeck in leather,” Los Angeles writer Erika Schickel is sexier and hipper than the divine Erma, but just as side-splittingly funny as she shares her misadventures in marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood. It all begins with her discovery that unsafe sex with her hubby is hot — and impregnating. From Week 1 when Schickel’s embryo is as small as a pinhead to Week 39 when baby morphs to the size of Marlon Brando, she finds out that motherhood doesn’t change her mind or her irrepressible spirit (her body is another story).

Erika still detests the SUV she calls her 4,299 pound mistake, she now accepts the life-altering power of a girdle when it helps her squeeze into a tight dress to rock out at a Patti Smith concert. Here she shares a decade of marriage and motherhood in a smart, outrageous, and laugh-out-loud book ... perfect for anyone who’s done time in a modern American family.
Among the praise for You're Not the Boss of Me:
"Soda-through-the-nose hilarious!"
--Los Angeles Times

"[A] frequently funny, entirely irreverent and occasionally inappropriate essay collection."
--Publishers Weekly

"Witty, observant, and fearless."
--Merrill Markoe
Visit Erika Schickel's website and read an adapted excerpt from You're Not the Boss of Me.

The Page 69 Test: You're Not the Boss of Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The Name of the Wind," the movie

The current feature at My Book, The Movie is Patrick Rothfuss's debut fantasy novel The Name of the Wind, which has pulled some extremely good reviews and endorsements.

The overview to The Name of the Wind introduces--
the tale of Kvothe — from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe as a notorious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin. But The Name of the Wind is so much more — for the story it tells reveals the truth behind Kvothe's legend.
Rothfuss has some interesting ideas for screenwriter and director, and would like to see one of my favorite actors cast in an film adaptation of the novel. Perhaps more interesting is what he has to say about the actor who would portray his protagonist. Read on.

Visit Patrick Rothfuss's website and his blog, and read an excerpt from The Name of the Wind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Mark Haskell Smith's "Salty"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Mark Haskell Smith's Salty.

About the book, from the publisher:
Turk Henry is overweight, unemployed, and unafraid to have a cold beer for breakfast. He’s also a rock star (the bassist for the defunct megaplatinumselling Metal Assassin), married to a supermodel, and rich beyond his wildest dreams, and right now his pampered paunch is plopped on the beach in Phuket. Turk has discovered that Thailand is probably the last place a recovering sex addict should go on vacation, yet here he is, surrounded by topless groupies and haunted by the stares of hundreds of luscious bar girls. It is a catalytic environment cranked up to eleven. What would his therapist say?

Turk’s struggles with monogamy pale beside a greater challenge when his wife is abducted by a group of renegade, shipless Thai pirates. The U.S. government won’t help — they suspect the pirates are terrorists — and the law forbids Turk from paying the ransom. As Turk, his life skills limited to playing bass and partying, navigates the back alleys of Bangkok and the deadly jungles of Southeast Asia to save his wife, Salty heats up and sweats bullets.

Featuring skinflint American tourists, topless beaches, a hypochondriac U.S. government agent, suitcases loaded with cash, an overeager “full service” personal assistant, a horny Australian commando, inventive prostitutes, and an urbane pirate with a fetish for alabaster skin, this is a hilariously entertaining, thoroughly debauched novel — with a happy finish.
About the author, from his MySpace page:
I'm the author of three comic novels: Salty is the story of a pampered, paunchy rockstar bass player on vacation in Thailand and what happens to him when his wife is kidnapped by shipless Thai pirates. Author Tom Drury said "Graham Greene meets the Marx Brothers and the result is Salty, Mark Haskell Smith's riveting new novel about unquiet Americans on the loose in Thailand." Delicious is the story of a battle between local Hawaiians and outsiders for the film catering monopoly on Oahu told from the point of view of a young Hawaiian chef. It has been called "sexy and repulsive" by Publisher's Weekly; "brilliant" by Liz Smith; "utterly fresh" by author Jim Harrison, and "Rated NC-17" by Kirkus Reviews. It's kinda like taking a trip to Honolulu, getting drugged, robbed, and waking up on a beach with a nasty rum hangover and a ominous burning sensation when you urinate. Moist is about a young hipster in Los Angeles who falls in love with an erotic tattoo on a severed arm. Trouble comes in the form of the Mexican Mafioso who wants his arm back. Author TC Boyle called it, "Dark and mordantly funny", and the Los Angeles Times Book Review said "Smith's energetic thriller is an ode to the hard-boiled Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy spun out in brighter-than-life- Starburst colors." Moist will be re-issued by Grove Press in Fall '07.
Learn more about Salty at the author's website, and read some advance reviews.

The Page 69 Test: Salty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: "A Journeyman to Grief"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Maureen Jennings's A Journeyman to Grief.

About the book, from the author's website:

In 1858, a young woman on her honeymoon is forcibly abducted accross the Canadian border into United States and is sold into slavery. Thirty-eight years later, Detective Murdoch's latest case is a murder that it will take all of his resourcefulness to solve. The owner of one of Toronto's livery stables has been found dead. He has been horsewhipped and left hanging from his wrists in his tack room, and his wife claims that a considerable sum of money has been stolen. Then a second man is also murdered, his body strangely tied as if he were a rebellious slave. Murdoch has to find out whether Toronto's small "coloured" community has a vicious murderer in its midst – an investigation that puts his own life in danger.
Among the praise for the novel:

“When it comes to evoking a bygone era of dim gas lighting, ill-heated homes, the shenanigans of the criminal underclass and the corrupt hypocrisy of our ‘betters,’ Jennings has [Anne] Perry beat hands down.”
Calgary Herald

Jennings brings to life a violent but vital society of astonishing contradictions.”
New York Times Book Review

Jennings has always had a fine eye for telling details and good characters.”
Globe and Mail

A Journeyman to Grief is the seventh Detective Murdoch novel: others include Except the Dying, shortlisted for both the Anthony and the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Awards, Under the Dragon’s Tale, Poor Tom Is Cold, Let Loose the Dogs, shortlisted for the Anthony Best Historical Mystery Award, and Night’s Child, shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award, the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award, the Barry Award, and the Macavity Historical Mystery Award, and Vices of My Blood.

Three of Jennings’s novels have been made into TV movies under the title Murder 19C: The Murdoch Mysteries. Bravo/CHUM is currently developing a series based on the character of Detective William Murdoch for broadcast in 2007.

Visit Maureen Jennings's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Journeyman to Grief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2007

What is William Landay reading?

William Landay is the latest contributor to Writers Read. His write-up will be of interest to writers as well as readers because he caught a "brilliant" novel that temporarily threw him off the one that he's writing.

"How do you read in one voice then write in your own?," Landay asks. This novel "is precisely the sort of book that jams my creative gears. It is told in a voice so strong and so distinctive — so strange — that it is becoming hard, when I sit down to write, to hear my own voice."

Visit Writers Read and see what novel Landay refers to.

He's also been reading some "novels with narrative voices closer to what I’m trying to achieve. Lately I’ve been rereading Rosellen Brown’s Before and After, Sue Miller’s The Good Mother, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, books written in a closely observed, restrained style that suits me at the moment. Novels that unblock me, that help me write."

Landay is the author of the highly acclaimed Mission Flats, which was awarded the John Creasey Dagger as the best debut crime novel of 2003, and the widely-praised new novel, The Strangler.

Writers Read: William Landay.

Visit Landay's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Strangler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Gordon Brown's reading list

What sort of prime minister will Gordon Brown, Tony Blair's replacement, make -- especially regarding Britain's relations with America? On the one hand, Brown is more sympathetic with America on some important fronts than Blair was; on the other, there's that problem in Iraq, to which few observers think Brown is as committed as was Blair. Even the well-informed politics junkies I know here and in London are curious about what the new prime minister will do.

Thanks to the London Times, we know what Brown will be reading this summer:
Arguably our most profoundly bookish leader since Churchill, Mr Brown has revealed his summer reading selection exclusively to The Times. The first two choices are fairly predictable: The Assault on Reason by Al Gore, the former US Vice-President; and The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board.
Read on to learn about the third book Brown mentioned.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: "When the Press Fails"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina by W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston.

About the book, from the publisher's website:
During the gravest moments of George W. Bush’s tenure — the response to 9/11, the buildup to war with Iraq, the Abu Ghraib scandal — the media largely reported reality as his administration scripted it. Why, in these times when we most need a critical, independent press, does this essential pillar of democracy fail us? A sobering look at the intimate relationship between political power and the news media, When the Press Fails argues that reporters’ dependence on official sources disastrously thwarts coverage of dissenting voices from outside the beltway.

The result is both an indictment of official spin and an urgent call to action that begins by questioning why the mainstream press neglected to cover considerable evidence against the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Drawing on hard-hitting interviews with journalists and analysis of content from major news outlets, the authors show that such catastrophic blind spots, particularly during the Abu Ghraib controversy, have stemmed from a lack of high-level sources within government willing to question the administration publicly. Contrasting these grave failures with the refreshingly critical reporting on Hurricane Katrina — a rare event that caught officials off guard, enabling journalists to enter a no-spin zone — When the Press Fails concludes by proposing new practices to reduce reporters’ dependence on power.

The authors ultimately contend that if ordinary Americans start to hear alternative perspectives aired in the legitimizing arena of the mainstream press, they just might begin to act as a public — no longer suffering with private shock and awe as world-changing events unfold before their eyes.
Among the praise for When the Press Fails:

"When the Press Fails confronts some of the most important questions now facing the press, the public, and our shared democracy-and does so with rare precision and insight. This book has the power to ignite a much-needed public discussion about the role of `the media' in public life and it should be required reading in newsrooms across the country."

--Dan Rather, global correspondent, HDNet

"When the Press Fails is a valuable and clarifying book for people in the news media-and perhaps even more for members of the public who feel abused by the press's failures. Inside and outside the news business, everyone knows that something serious is wrong with the way Americans get and assess information. This book does a very good job of explaining what that something is, and what parts of it can be addressed."

--James Fallows, author of Breaking the News and correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly

"Political partisans have tried for years to discredit journalists, resulting in a press corps now overly conscious of its image. This book illustrates how America gets hurt when journalists are too intimidated to do their jobs."

--Bob Edwards, host of the Bob Edwards Show and former host of Morning Edition

"Not all Washington journalists will applaud the arrival of When the Press Fails, but they should and probably will read it. It is a stinging critique of media coverage of the Bush administration, especially its policy in Iraq, and it raises serious questions about how the White House has `spun' much of the media into a form of docile dependency on official handouts, leading to an overall failure of accountability. Thus is the public shortchanged. Between the lines is a cry for the media to wake up to its social and political responsibilities."

--Marvin Kalb, founding director and senior fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center

Learn more about When the Press Fails at the publisher's website, and read an excerpt from the book.

W. Lance Bennett is Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor Communication and Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington; Regina G. Lawrence is Department Chair and Professor of Political Science in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University; and Steven Livingston is Professor of Political Communication in the School of Media and Public Affairs and holds a joint appointment in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

The Page 69 Test: When the Press Fails.

--Marshal Zeringue

Most important books: Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde told Newsweek about his five most important books.

And one book that is not so important to him:
A classic that, on rereading, disappointed:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I had thought it was deep and full of painful unrequited love, but on rereading I think it's a bunch of very drippy people who accept being bullied for no very good reason.
Read more about Jasper Fforde's five most important books.

Fforde's new novel, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, releases this summer.

For another view of Wuthering Heights, see the entry on the Emily Brontë novel at the Page 99 Test.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pg. 99: Hal Spacejock -- "Just Desserts"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Simon Haynes's third "Hal Spacejock" novel, Just Desserts.

About the book, from the author's website:
A mysterious sealed crate, a pair of shady mercenaries with more guns than brain cells and the amnesiac robot which may or may not be on a secret mission ... Only interstellar ignoramus Hal Spacejock and the unflappable Clunk could turn a straightforward cargo delivery into space opera with clowns.

Three simmering planets, two cocky spacemen and one huge mess: Just Desserts, for your pleasure.
Among the praise for Just Desserts:
"You can't read a chapter without running across a pun, joke or double-entendre that will get you smiling, chuckling or outright chortling. [...] You really care about these characters and are on the edge of your seat as you follow their adventures. A real page turner."

"How Haynes dreams up his improbable scenarios is a mystery to me, but I'm glad he does it ... enjoy another fast and furious ride with the zap-happy, zany rapscallions."

"Think A Night At The Opera or any other Marx Brothers movie, in which pompous characters get their -- er -- just desserts, in the midst of mostly unintended chaos.... If you enjoy golden age comic space operas, such as Harry Harrison’s, you’ll like this."
--Sue Bursztynski, January Magazine
Visit Simon Haynes's website to learn more about Just Desserts as well as the past and future adventures of Hal Spacejock.

The Page 99 Test: Just Desserts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: "The Virgin's Guide to Mexico"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Eric B. Martin's The Virgin's Guide to Mexico.

About the book, from the publisher's website:

A novel about crossing the border in the opposite direction: from wealthy, suburban Texas into the wild heart of Mexico.

Alma Price is seventeen — she’s smart, she’s angry, and she’s going to Mexico. Her grandfather lives there, or so she thinks, although it’s hard to know what’s true with a lying mother who raised her amongst the blond brigade of their rich Texas neighborhood. Sick of suburbia, Alma hops a bus, crosses the border, gets a disguise, and winds through the thugs and witches and whores, ultimately disappearing in the heart of Mexico City.

Her parents, Hermelinda and Truitt, are right behind her, swerving their big SUV around hallucinogenic cacti and through herds of wild pigs, trying to save their daughter and maybe even their marriage. But in her effort to bring her daughter home to Texas, Hermelinda finds that Mexico is slowly drawing her back in, reminding her of who she is and where she’s from, and just maybe leading her toward a reconciliation with both her past and her estranged daughter.

Among the praise for the novel:

“This is a startling book. It's vivid to the point of hallucination. You start to wonder where he learned all he knows. If you love Mexico, or if you fear Mexico, you will be thrown in either direction will equal vigor. This is very cool stuff indeed.”
– Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and The Devil’s Highway

“…earnestly beat…Part bildungs-road novel, part family saga and part identity lit, Martin's third novel is all heart.”
Publishers Weekly

“…invokes both On the Road and The Catcher in the Rye…”
Texas Monthly

"Introducing your next summer beach book ... fast-paced strangeness gives the novel a fluid, cinematic feel... Witches, wild boars, crowded Mexican bars -- finally, a guidebook that tells you how to experience the real Mexico."

“ of those works that urges you to read its passages again and again....”
The Skinny Magazine

“Eric Martin is one of our most intelligent and compassionate novelists. His new novel set in a thankfully unromanticized Mexico is his finest work to date.”
– Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and The Esther Stories

“...The Virgin's Guide to Mexico is somehow still more than the sum of its parts, and somehow, against all odds, absolutely new.”
– Stephen Elliott, author of Happy Baby and My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up

Visit Eric B. Martin's website to read the novel's first line, its last word, and a favorite paragraph.

The Page 69 Test: Eric B. Martin's The Virgin's Guide to Mexico.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What’s Elmore Leonard’s best novel?

"What’s Elmore Leonard’s best novel?," asks Dwight Garner in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. "In the right bar, that question could start a rumble. But Mark Reiter tackles it with elegance and wit in his recent book The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything, which he wrote with Richard Sandomir and Nigel Holmes."

I'm such a fan of the writer that I wouldn't even pretend to rank his novels, although I would have guessed Get Shorty would have made the Final Four. It didn't.

Nor did the new novel, Up in Honey's Room.

Click over to the Times to see which books made Dutch's Final Four.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Rhonda Pellero's "Knock Off"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Rhonda Pellero's Knock Off.

About the book, from the publisher's website:
Get ready for a rollicking, wickedly fun new mystery series from USA Today Bestselling Author Rhonda Pollero, featuring the most delicious sleuth ever to solve the crime, get the guy, and save a bundle on discount Gucci, all at the same time. Once Finley Tanner’s on the case, shopping and murder will never be the same…

Meet Finley Anderson Tanner. F.A.T. to her enemies. Underachiever extraordinaire. This West Palm Beach paralegal hates the gym, still rents her condo, and loves two-hour lunches with her friends. But what really gets Finley’s blood pumping is the thrill of the hunt — shopping for deeply discounted designer goods she can wear at her upscale law firm. Hey, if she holds that Chanel bag just right, no one will ever notice the weird smear on the pale pink lambskin.

Too bad work isn’t all about fashion. Especially when a grieving widow is sitting in your office, convinced that her husband’s accidental death was really murder. Okay, so she’s sincere…but crazy. She’s also a close personal friend of the boss, and the boss wants Finley to personally oversee the investigation. Good-bye outlet malls; hello pain-in-my-Asprey.

Investigating murder isn’t really Finley’s bag. (That would be Prada, 75% off.) But the deeper Finley digs, the stranger things get. There are an awful lot of “accidental” deaths out there. This discount shopper knows slightly irregular when she sees it, and this case is clearly not right. Kind of like sexy Liam McGarrity. Everything about the hot, hunky P.I. assigned to the investigation screams, “Get out while you still have your underwear!” When he’s not working the case, he’s working on Finley. Who knew crime could be this much fun?

Now, for a girl whose biggest ambition was take-out Moo Shu at exactly 5:01, life is taking some exciting, unpredictable, and decidedly dangerous turns. But someone doesn’t like Finley’s new work ethic. And if this paralegal wants to bring home the real goods, she’ll have to keep from becoming a killer’s total knock off…
Among the praise for Knock Off:
“Rhonda will take you on a fun, fanciful and fascinating journey. If you’re looking for romance and intrigue with an interesting twist, you won’t want to miss her.”
NYT bestselling author Nora Roberts

“Rhonda Pollero is an amazing talent. Murder has never been this much fun!”
NYT bestselling author Cherry Adair

“Rhonda Pollero's humor and compelling mystery will keep you turning pages.”
NYT bestselling author Tess Gerritsen

“Witty, upbeat, all-around entertaining. A great read with plenty of attitude.”
—Janet Evanovich
Visit Rhonda Pellero's website and her blog; read an excerpt from Knock Off; and view the trailer.

The Page 69 Test: Knock Off.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Andrew Rehfeld reading?

Andrew Rehfeld is the latest contributor to Writers Read.

Rehfeld is the author of The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design, which "asks whether liberal democracies are justified in using residency to define electoral constituencies for their national legislatures. US citizens, for example, are represented in Congress by where they live. The book explains the history of the territorial district in the United States, demonstrating that electoral districts at the founding were never intended to translate local interests into national policy (as they arguably do now) but rather were meant to defeat localism and particularity. Arguing for particular principles of republican deliberation, accountability, and stability, extremely large territorial districts have little justification today. Rather than promoting group or proportional representation, Rehfeld suggests that we randomly assign citizens into national, non-territorial electoral constituencies for life."

Jacob T. Levy wrote that "Rehfeld presents a surprisingly powerful argument for breaking the power of gerrymandering.... [P]eople ought to be thinking about both his proposal and his arguments about constituency more generally in trying to understand what to do about the American gerrymandering mess."

Visit Writers Read to see what Rehfeld has been reading outside his scholarly research.

The Page 69 Test: The Concept of Constituency.

--Marshal Zeringue

A 5 best list of books about soldiers in battle

In honor of Memorial Day, Senator John McCain picked a five best list of books about soldiers in battle for Opinion Journal.

One title is about the so-called "war to end all wars:"

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

In Erich Maria Remarque's extraordinary novel, based on his experience fighting for Germany in World War I, a young man and his classmates march off to the trenches full of bravado -- but in their first encounter with battle, they fall apart. All his vanity gone, the young man learns to hate the thing he thought would be an adventure. "All Quiet on the Western Front" is an indelible depiction of World War I, but it is also a timeless reminder that whether a conflict is necessary or not, whether it is ably commanded or mishandled, whether its outcome is just or unjust, war is a deadly enterprise. We should all shed a tear when war claims its wages.

Read about the book that topped McCain's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pg. 99: "Pretty Little Mistakes"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Heather McElhatton's Pretty Little Mistakes.

About the book
, from the author's website:
Heather McElhatton’s singularly-original debut novel has more than 150 possible endings. From your first choice – where to go after school - you decide which of your dreams to chase. Should you travel abroad or get a masters degree? Marry or stay single? Become an artist, an entrepreneur, a homemaker, a doctor, or a drug dealer? There are hundreds of lives sewn inside one book, some end fabulously and others in total disaster.

You may end up in an opulent mansion or homeless down by the river. Happily married with your own corporation, or alone and pecked to death by ducks in London. As a Zen master in Japan or morbidly obese in a trailer park. The book asks, is it destiny or decision that controls our fate? In real life you can’t go back and do your life over – but in Pretty Little Mistakes, you can.

The genesis of this book is the age-old game we all play called the What if Game. What if I would have taken that job? What if I hadn’t broken up with that guy? What if I quit my job and took a trip around the world? We can’t stop wondering if we’ve made the right choices in our life. If it’s decision or destiny running our lives. In real life we can’t stop, turn back and get a do over – but in Pretty Little Mistakes, you can.
Read more about the book -- including reviews, an excerpt, and FAQs -- at the author's website and at the Pretty Little Mistakes site.

Heather McElhatton is a writer and independent producer for Public Radio International. Her commentaries and stories have been heard nationally on This American Life, Marketplace, Weekend America, Sound Money and The Savvy Traveler. Her new radio show is called Stage Sessions and is held in front of a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul, Minnesota.

Pretty Little Mistakes is her first novel.

The Page 99 Test: Pretty Little Mistakes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Sophie Hannah's "Hurting Distance"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Sophie Hannah's Hurting Distance.

About the book, from the author's website:

Sundial-maker Naomi Jenkins is used to living with secrets: three years ago something terrible happened to her, so terrible that she never told anyone...

Now, Naomi has another secret: the man she has fallen passionately in love with, unhappily married Robert Haworth. When Robert vanishes without warning or explanation, Naomi knows he must have come to harm. But the police are less convinced, particularly when Robert's wife insists he is not missing.

In desperation, Naomi has an idea. If she can't persuade the police that Robert is in danger, perhaps she can convince them that he is a danger to others. Then they will have to look for him - urgently. Naomi knows how to describe in detail the actions of a psychopath. All she needs to do is dig up her own traumatic past.
Among the praise for Hurting Distance:

"This is a far better-written book than any genre label might suggest. Hannah is a respected poet and uses the fascinating motif of the sundial not only to provide the reader with clues but to underline perceptions of life, time and death. It’s also significant that she won a Daphne du Maurier award. Her powerful subjects of obsession with the past, and fear in the present, testify that she has made a transition to the narrative world of that iconic writer."

"Thrilling from the first page, and not simply a whodunit. I thought I had the whole book pegged after the first chapter, but how wrong I was. Pick it up, but be warned, you won’t put it down."
--Caroline Davison, Birmingham Post

"The terror will continue to lurk on the edges of your subconscious long after you’ve put this book down."
--News of the World

Sophie Hannah is a bestselling poet, short story writer, and novelist.

Visit Hannah's website and read the beginning of Hurting Distance.

The Page 69 Test: Sophie Hannah's Hurting Distance.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Nathaniel Philbrick reading?

National Book Award-winner Nathaniel Philbrick talked to the Christian Science Monitor about what he's been watching and listening to.

And reading:

I'm in the middle of two books. The final installment of Larry McMurtry's Berrybender novels [Folly and Glory]. I've been inhaling him for this last year and now I'm on the fourth one [in the series] and I'm enjoying it. I just picked up Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Rifles, so I'm beginning that series, which I have never read.
Read more about Philbrick's taste in movies, television and music.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Robert Kurson's list

This week at The Week magazine, Robert Kurson named "The List."

One of Kurson's picks:
Patrimony by Philip Roth

A brave and loving and beautifully honest farewell by the author to his dying father. It is impossible to read Roth’s true account without realizing how we say goodbye to our aging parents every day — and that we say goodbye to ourselves just as often.
Read about another title that Kurson called "The single book that truly changed my life."

Robert Kurson is the author of the 2004 bestseller Shadow Divers and the new book, Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See, "the stunning true story of one man’s heroic odyssey from blindness into sight."

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Garance Franke-Ruta reading?

Garance Franke-Ruta, a senior editor at The American Prospect magazine, is the latest contributor to Writers Read.

Most of her reading time is taken up with timely periodicals and newspapers, yet she did tag a few books, including:
Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War.
Visit Franke-Ruta's entry at Writers Read to see what else she has her eyes on.

Franke-Ruta has also worked at The Washington City Paper, The New Republic, and National Journal magazine, and had stories, criticism, or reviews published in them and: The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Monthly, Salon, The Utne Reader and Legal Affairs magazine.

Visit Garance Franke-Ruta's website,, and The American Prospect.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Lev Raphael's "Hot Rocks"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Lev Raphael's Hot Rocks.

About the book, from the author's website:
Fitness = Death when Nick Hoffman heads back to the gym right after a vacation, finding himself caught in a Desperate Housewives-type mystery. Michigan Muscle is a state-of-the-art health club adjacent to the State University of Michigan. Boasting luxurious facilities, the latest equipment, and topnotch personal trainers, it's a palatial complex for fitness. But every palace has its intrigue, and when Nick stumbles across a dead trainer, he's drawn into a web of passion and privilege unlike anything he's ever experienced before. The prime suspect because he's the one who discovered the body, Nick has to work this mystery out to its bitter end.
Among the praise for Hot Rocks:
"If you like your mysteries smart, witty, and steaming with suspense, you won't find a better read than Lev Raphael's Hot Rocks. The new spa in town is proving hazardous to Nick's health, and it's great to be back at his side while he sleuths in the sauna. Lev's turned up the heat in one of my favorite series in crime fiction."
--Linda Fairstein, author of Bad Blood

"Hot Rocks is a comic mystery of bad manners, written with the suspenseful touch of Alfred Hitchcock bred to the epigrammatic wit of Oscar Wilde. The hero of the tale, assistant professor Nick Hoffman, is among the most lovably erudite characters in all of mystery fiction."
--Robert Eversz, author of Zero to the Bone

"This is a refreshingly literate mystery without being the least bit pretentious. It's filled with evocative, beautifully readable prose that has plenty of flow, and no unnecessary words. It's also a lot of fun, sparkling with sharp wit and earthy humor, lightly seasoned with a sprinkle of the sort of casual literary capping I adore in British Golden Age mysteries. The plot is given depth through a variety of subplots, such as the new twist in Stefan's life — and therefore in Nick's — that promises to make things interesting going forward... However, what really makes the story, and the whole series, is the engaging protagonist. Nick is... very funny and very good company.... This is a series entry, but perfectly enjoyable as a standalone. Recommended."
--Kim Malo,

"Raphael's series hero, Nick Hoffman, is in midlife crisis when he and partner Stefan Borowski return from their Caribbean vacation (marred by murder, of course; see Tropic of Murder, 2004) to resume teaching at the State University of Michigan. Nick's musings over getting older halt abruptly when he realizes that his companion in the health-club steam room is head trainer and all-around stud Vlado Zamario, and he's dead. Before you can say 'smoldering temptress,' series regular Professor Juno Dromgoole is on the scene, spreading the news that it's murder and proposing to solve it with Nick, the obvious suspect because of his previous involvements with homicide. Given Vlado's encounters with the women at Michigan Muscle, the plot quickly and deliciously thickens into layers of domestic discord highly seasone d with compromising photos. Raphael's latest smoothly delivers a satisfying mystery while providing insight into the middle-aging of America, gay marriage, the excitement of sleuthing as a means of exercising control over our lives, the 'Orwellian' Patriot Act, and more."
Lev Raphael is the author of Tropic of Murder, Burning Down the House, Little Miss Evil, The Death of a Constant Lover, The Edith Wharton Murders, and Let's Get Criminal.

Visit Lev Raphael's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hot Rocks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Calculated Loss," the movie

Linda L. Richards is the author of three Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex, and Calculated Loss.

Which actor should play her protagonist if the novels are adapted for the screen?
As I write, I never have any real living and breathing human in my head. My characters are so real to me, they seem to occupy all available space. I know just what they look like, and they don't look like anyone else, if you follow.

Sometimes, if I'm watching a movie or something on TV, I'll say, "Now she could play Madeline." And who have I said that about?
Read on to discover which actors get the nod from the character's creator.

Read more about the Madeline Carter novels at Linda L. Richards's website.

Richards is editor of January Magazine, maintains an active blog, and is one of the "usual suspects" posting at The Rap Sheet.

Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published January 2008 by St. Martin’s Minotaur and the advance praise for the novel is pretty damn impressive. A taste:
“You're about to meet a new great dame of crime fiction in Death was the Other Woman. Linda L. Richards does a stunning job in creating a character with a voice and eye right out of a 1930's L.A. hard-boiled classic: guns and gams, booze and bodies, peepers and perps. Move over, Sam Spade: Kitty Pangborn is on the case.”
--Linda Fairstein, author of Death Dance
The Page 69 Test: Calculated Loss.

My Book, The Movie: Calculated Loss.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: "The Price of Motherhood"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood.

About the book
, from the author's website:
The Price of Motherhood, a widely acclaimed bestseller, was listed by the Chicago Tribune as one of the Top Ten feminist literary works since publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1964. The book argues that although women have been liberated, mothers have not. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, and the latest research in economics, family law, sociology, history, and child development, this provocative book shows how mothers are uniquely disadvantaged economically. Unlike most other nations, the United States systematically refuses to value or support unpaid caring labor. As a result, mothers, children, and society as a whole pay an enormous price. Crittenden makes a forceful argument that the anachronistic, dependent status of mothers and other caregivers is the finished business of the woman's movement. [read on]
Among the praise for the book:
"Written with a fine passion, The Price of Motherhood challenges the received ideas of economists, feminists and conservatives alike and ought to be read by all of them."
--Paul Starr, New York Times Book Review

"A bracing call to arms...Crittenden rows against the ideological current and has the temerity to suggest a mind-blowingly sensible alteration of America's present parenting arrangements."
--Ben Dickinson, Elle

"Fascinating...shows how women have been consistently denied social and, more importantly, monetary equality for raising their families."
--Susan Straight, Los Angeles Times

"A scathing indictment of policies that cheat mothers...Crittenden turns out a fresh, persuasive argument. Sure to inspire vigorous debate."
--Megan Rutherford, Time

"Powerful and important."
--New York Times
Ann Crittenden is an award-winning journalist, author, and lecturer. Her latest book, If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, received critical praise and was featured in People magazine. Her previous book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued, was named one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year in 2001.

Her previous books include Sanctuary: A Story of American Conscience and the Law in Collision, one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year in 1988, and Killing the Sacred Cows: Bold Ideas for a New Economy (1993). Her articles have appeared in every national newspaper and numerous magazines, including Foreign Affairs, The Nation, Barron's, and Working Woman.

The Page 99 Test: Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Ben Dolnick's "Zoology"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Ben Dolnick's Zoology.

About the book, from the publisher's website:
Zoology is the story of Henry Elinsky, a college flunk-out who takes a job at the Central Park Zoo and discovers that becoming an adult takes a lot more than just a weekly paycheck.
Among the praise for Zoology:
"Ben Dolnick is a writer of incredible sensitivity. Zoology explores the tricky journey to adulthood with honesty, humor, and generosity."
—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated

“An exciting, confident, and thoroughly endearing debut. Dolnick writes with a maturity that belies his years, and Zoology – distinguished by a rare combination of narrative patience and instinctive kindness – is a real cause for celebration.”
—George Saunders, author of In Persuasion Nation

Zoology is a wonderful first novel. It shines a light on that tricky time when you are trying to get a life, own it, make it yours. Ben Dolnick is as funny as he is wise, as honest as he is charming – and he has won me over entirely.”
—Laura Dave, author of London is the Best City in America

“Ben Dolnick's Zoology is a bright, sweet, sad, fresh, and funny novel, very honest and ultimately quite moving.”
—Gabriel Brownstein, author of The Man from Beyond

“I love Zoology. Ben Dolnick's narrator, Henry, is painfully familiar to those of us who have done some serious stumbling along life's road, and he is as engaging and interesting a character as I've come across in a long, long time. Best of all, he makes me laugh out loud.”
—Abigail Thomas, author of A Three Dog Life
Read an excerpt from Zoology and visit Ben Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: Ben Dolnick's Zoology.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What is Keith Dixon reading"

Keith Dixon is the current featured contibutor at Writers Read.

Ghostfires, his first novel, was named one of the five best first novels of 2004 by Poets & Writers magazine.

His new novel, The Art of Losing, was published in February.

I recently asked him what he was reading and part of his reply included:
I'm most of the way through Martin Amis's Money -- I'm beginning to think I have some sort of literary crush on Amis, as I can't stop reading (and rereading) his stuff and marveling at what he has going on on the page. I finished his House of Meetings about two days after it hit the shelves and was awestruck by how far his tone and style have advanced. I'd always had The Information pegged as his best but I think House of Meetings runs neck and neck with it.
There's more: read Dixon's write-up at Writers Read.

Visit Keith Dixon's website to learn more about his novels.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Losing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: "Accidents Waiting to Happen"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Simon Wood's Accidents Waiting to Happen.

About the book, from the author's website:
Josh Michaels is worth more dead than alive. He just doesn’t know it yet. He has no idea why someone would try to kill him, clearly that’s exactly what happened. When an SUV forced Josh’s car off the road and into a river, it might have been an accident. But when Josh looked up at the road, expecting to see the SUV’s driver rushing to help him, all he saw was the driver watching him calmly…then giving him a “thumbs down” sign. That was merely the first attempt on Josh’s life, all of them designed to look like accidents, and all of them very nearly fatal. With his timeand maybe his luck running out and no one willing to believe him, Josh had better figure out who wants him dead and why … before it’s too late.
Among the praise for the novel:

Accidents Waiting to Happen is a briskly plotted thriller that uses point of view shifts better than any novel I’ve read in quite a while in his debut.”
CrimeSpree Magazine

One of the most riveting first chapters I have read in some time. The pacing is spectacular and gets progressively faster as the reader nears the finale. An unqualified recommendation.”
Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine

“An impressive debut.”
Mystery Scene Magazine

“Simon Wood...delivers a suspenseful, brisk tale in his debut.”
Florida Sun Sentinel

“What a thrill ride!”
— Literary Editor for the
East Bay Express

Simon Wood is the author of a robust and expanding list of novels and stories.

Visit Wood's website, his MySpace page, and his contributions to Murderati.

The Page 69 Test: Accidents Waiting to Happen.

--Marshal Zeringue