Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pg. 69: David Anthony Durham's "Acacia: The Other Lands"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Acacia: The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham.

About the book, from the publisher:
The thrilling new installment in the ambitious Acacia trilogy, praised by the Washington Post as “gripping and sophisticated.”

A few years have passed since the conquering of the Mein, and Queen Corinn is firmly in control of the Known World-perhaps too firmly. With plans to expand her empire, she sends her brother, Daniel, on an exploratory mission to the Other Lands. There Daniel discovers a lush, exotic mainland ruled by an alliance of tribes that poses a grave danger to the stability of the Known World. Is Queen Corinn strong enough to face this new challenge? Readers of this bold, imaginative sequel will not be disappointed in the answer.
Read an excerpt from The Other Lands, and learn more about the book and author at David Anthony Durham's website and blog.

The Other Lands is one of Amazon's top 10 Science Fiction & Fantasy books for 2009.

The Page 69 Test: Acacia (Acacia, Book 1).

The Page 69 Test: Acacia: The Other Lands.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six great female short story authors

Sarah Crown is the editor of One of the six female short story writers she recently profiled:
Alice Munro

Set in the fields, farms and modest towns of her native Canada and thrumming with the rhythms and rotations of daily life, Munro's stories tend to focus, as the title of her second collection has it, on the lives of girls and women, digging down to uncover the passions and excesses that rumble beneath the surface of everyday life. While the stories themselves frequently unspool over pages, pressing up against the limits of the form, her prose is distinguished by its plain- spokenness and descriptive economy. A famously unassuming woman, her reputation has grown incrementally over the four decades since her first collection was published; fellow author, Cynthia Ozick, called her "our Chekhov", and her Man Booker International victory was widely viewed as a long-overdue coronation.

Three to read: A Wilderness Station (from Open Secrets), The Bear Came Over The Mountain (from Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage), Passion (from Runaway).
Read about another writer in Crown's feature.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Sheila Kohler reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Sheila Kohler, author of Becoming Jane Eyre and other books.

Her entry begins:
I recently read J.M. Coetzee's Summertime. It is such a remarkably honest and very funny book, a sort of faux-memoir which at the same time contains a great deal of truth. Coetzee writes of himself in the third person (he is supposed to be dead in this book) and a biographer interviews five people, four of them women who tell him about the writer, Coetzee. Their comments are often remarkably unflattering, but contain, we sense, in a wonderfully playful and imaginative way, some...[read on]
Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She later lived in Paris for fifteen years, where she married, completed her undergraduate degree in Literature at the Sorbonne, and a graduate degree in Psychology at the Institut Catholique. She moved to the U.S. in 1981 and earned an MFA in Writing at Columbia. She currently teaches at Princeton University. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, O Magazine and included in the Best American Short Stories. She has twice won an O’Henry Prize, as well as an Open Fiction Award, a Willa Cather Prize, and a Smart Family Foundation Prize. Her novel Cracks was nominated for an Impac Award, and has been made into a feature film to be distributed by IFC.

Among the early praise for Becoming Jane Eyre:
“Kohler offers an imaginative recreation of the woman who created this once-scandalous, now beloved classic. Sensitive, intelligent, and engaging… A beautiful complement to Brontë’s masterpiece.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Becoming Jane Eyre is lush and filled with dark sensuality and the tension of unsaid things. The style is quite different from Charlotte Brontë’s in Jane Eyre, yet the tone and imagery and spirit remain in the same realm. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and Sheila Kohler one of my favorite writers.”
—Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club
Visit Sheila Kohler's website.

Writers Read: Sheila Kohler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Coffee with a canine: Jennifer King & Poppy

The current featured duo at Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer King & Poppy.

King, on how Poppy joined her household:
Our family moved this past summer from Cincinnati, Ohio, US, to be expats in Prague, Czech Republic. We’ll be here for a few years, which is really exciting for us. But our former family dog died a few months before we moved—she was a Boxer, and was 10 years old, and her passing left a huge hole in our hearts. So when things settled down for us here after the move, Prague felt like home, but our new home was missing a dog. After mentioning this to a friend, we discovered another new expat family’s two Labradoodles had just had a litter of puppies. And the rest is history! Poppy joined our family about a month ago, and is a real delight to us all. We’re so...[read on]
Visit Jennifer King's website and blog, and follow her on Twitter.

About her book, The One Year Mini for Busy Women:
You're a busy woman on the go. From the competing demands of work to the whining voices of kids in the back seat, your days are crammed full of stuff to do. It's in the in-between times (waiting for the kids at a soccer match, on the commute home, during a lunch break at work) that you have time to center your thoughts back on the simple joys in life--the beauty of flowers in bloom, the exuberance of young toddlers at play, the excitement of kids coming home from school. The One Year Mini for Busy Women is there for you when you need.
Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer King & Poppy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five books that made a difference to Rachel McAdams

The actor Rachel McAdams told O, The Oprah Magazine about a few books that made a difference to her.

One book on her list:
Blue Planet Run
by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt

This giant book with amazing photos is part of a project founded by Jin Zidell, a philanthropist and environmentalist who wants as many people as possible to have clean drinking water. To raise awareness for the cause, he organized the Blue Planet Run (a 95-day relay race around the world) and asked 40 photojournalists to chronicle the global water crisis. The images—one of a person walking miles to get clean water—are heart-wrenching, but they're also inspiring. As one of the essayists writes, we don't know how to cure cancer yet, but we do know how to purify water. We have the technology, and it can be implemented in cheap ways. In one village, for instance, kids play on a merry-go-round that generates the energy to pump water out of the ground. I also love that the book is carbon neutral, and 100 percent of its profits go to the Blue Planet Run Foundation.
Read about another book that made a difference to McAdams.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Adriane Lentz-Smith's "Freedom Struggles"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I by Adriane Lentz-Smith.

About the book, from the publisher:
For many of the 200,000 black soldiers sent to Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, encounters with French civilians and colonial African troops led them to imagine a world beyond Jim Crow. They returned home to join activists working to make that world real. In narrating the efforts of African American soldiers and activists to gain full citizenship rights as recompense for military service, Adriane Lentz-Smith illuminates how World War I mobilized a generation.

Black and white soldiers clashed as much with one another as they did with external enemies. Race wars within the military and riots across the United States demonstrated the lengths to which white Americans would go to protect a carefully constructed caste system. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric of self-determination but battered by the harsh realities of segregation, African Americans fought their own “war for democracy,” from the rebellions of black draftees in French and American ports to the mutiny of Army Regulars in Houston, and from the lonely stances of stubborn individuals to organized national campaigns. African Americans abroad and at home reworked notions of nation and belonging, empire and diaspora, manhood and citizenship. By war’s end, they ceased trying to earn equal rights and resolved to demand them.

This beautifully written book reclaims World War I as a critical moment in the freedom struggle and places African Americans at the crossroads of social, military, and international history.
Read an excerpt from Freedom Struggles, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Adriane Lentz-Smith is Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of History at Duke University.

The Page 99 Test: Freedom Struggles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pg. 69: M.R. Hall's "The Disappeared"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Disappeared by M.R. Hall.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the bestselling tradition of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, M. R. Hall's heroine Jenny Cooper makes her debut as a coroner with a detective's eye and a woman with a home life as complicated as her cases.

In this brilliant debut, Jenny investigates the disappearance of two young Muslim students, who vanished without a trace seven years ago. The police had concluded that the boys, under surveillance for some time for suspicion of terrorism, had fled to Pakistan to traffic in the atrocities of Islamic fanaticism. Now, sufficient time has passed for the law to declare the boys legally dead. A final declaration is left up to a coroner, Jenny Cooper.

As Jenny's official inquest progresses, the stench of corruption is unmistakable. Not only does it appear that British Security Services played a role, but the involvement of an American intelligence agent soon makes it clear that a vast conspiracy is in play. As Jenny builds an ever-strengthening case implicating a shocking collection of power and influence, she meets with a determined and increasingly menacing resistance. When she links the students' "vanishing" to the unidentified corpse of a beautiful young woman and the fate of a missing nuclear scientist, Jenny is forced into an arena in which she is pushed to the breaking point and beyond. She must struggle with her own inner demons while fighting a lone and desperate battle to bring an unspeakable crime to justice.
Browse inside The Disappeared, and learn more about the book and author at M.R. Hall's website.

Coinciding with the US publication of The Disappeared, BBC America have released an audio version of the first novel in the series, The Coroner. Click here for a taster.

The Page 69 Test: The Disappeared.

--Marshal Zeringue

SI's 5 most influential sports books of the decade

One title on Sports Illustrated's list of the most influential sports books of the decade:
Moneyball (2003)

Say what you want about Billy Beane's trophy case in Oakland, but when you read the first 50 pages of Michael Lewis' bestseller, chances are you'll never watch a baseball game the same way again. Moneyball has more than just entered the baseball lexicon; it's changed the way front offices conduct business. Sure, the A's haven't won a World Series adhering to Beane's once-unconventional strategies; but three of the teams that hired sabermetric analysts in Moneyball's wake have (Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees). Stay tuned for the on-again, off-again film adaptation starring Brad Pitt as Beane himself.
Read about another book on the list.

Moneyball also appears on Richard J. Tofel's list of the five best books on baseball as a business.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is John Koethe reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: John Koethe, author of Ninety-fifth Street and other works of poetry.

One book fr0m his entry:
The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved by Judith Freeman. This book is the record of a compelling obsession, as Judith Freeman chronicles her visits to all the places Chandler and his beloved wife Cissy lived in Los Angeles and other places in Southern California. Phillip Marlow is the nominal hero of Chandler’s novels, but their real protagonist is the atmospheric urban landscape through which he moves, and this biography in the form of a kind of travelog presents a vivid portrait of one of my favorite writers.[read on]
John Koethe received an A.B. from Princeton in 1967 and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard in 1973. Since then, he has taught in the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, from which he will retire as Distinguished Professor in January 2010.

His writings include eight books of poetry: Blue Vents, Domes, The Late Wisconsin Spring, Falling Water, The Constructor, North Point North: New and Selected Poems, Sally's Hair, and Ninety-fifth Street; two books on philosophy: The Continuity of Wittgenstein's Thought and Scepticism, Knowledge and Forms of Reasoning; and a book of literary essays: Poetry at One Remove.

Koethe has received the Frank O'Hara Award, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim foundation and the national Endowment for the Arts, and was the first Poet Laureate of Milwaukee. He was the 2008 Elliston Poet in Residence at the University of Cincinnati and will be the Bain-Swiggett Professor of Poetry at Princeton in the spring semester of 2010.

Among the praise for Ninety-fifth Street:
[Koethe's] eighth book of poems [is] full of beauty and feeling. Most of the poems revisit memories -- of a boyhood in California, of becoming a man at Princeton and Harvard, early friendships with the New York School poets, and much more. I think of Koethe as a descendant of Wordsworth, mixing autobiography and memory, in his darkly ruminative, highly readable poems.
--Henri Cole
Writers Read: John Koethe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2009

Coffee with a canine: Mike Angley & Brynn

The current featured duo at Coffee with a Canine: Mike Angley & Brynn, a two-year-old American Beagle.

Angley, on how Brynn joined his household:
We used to have an English Cocker, Shanna, who passed on in 2004 while we were stationed in Okinawa, Japan. We had had her for over 16 years, so she had a great life and got to see the world (two times in Japan!). It took us awhile to get our heads into the idea of a new dog, but a couple years back, our daughter Meghan (13 at the time) had been pining for a beagle puppy. I started looking via the Internet but found it very difficult to find beagle puppies in Colorado Springs. I even checked the neighboring states for breeders! We got lucky one day when I read a good old fashioned print newspaper and saw an ad from a breeder in Pueblo. She had a new litter ready for adoption. We made the drive and our kids fell in love with Brynn instantly. The rest is...[read on]
Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. When his debut novel, Child Finder, launched in June 2009 the prestigious Library Journal placed it on its Summer Reads List and called it a “compelling debut novel,” and “a real find.” It won the Silver Medal for fiction from the Military Writers Society of America in 2009. The second novel, Child Finder: Resurrection, released in November 2009, and is available for purchase, as is the first novel. The final story in the trilogy, Child Finder: Revelation, will release circa December 2010. Mike promises this one will “blow your mind!” On his website he says, “Some people think the truth is out there, but it’s not. It’s in here. In the final book, and it’s not anything you can imagine.”

Mike is a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI – similar to the NCIS). He served on five command tours, and in his last assignment as Commander of OSI Region 8, at Air Force Space Command, he was fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”

Visit Mike Angley at his website. He is also on FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, and PoliceLink. Links to his social network sites appear on his website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Mike Angley & Brynn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Carol Drinkwater: six best books

Carol Drinkwater starred in BBC1’s All Creatures Great And Small before becoming an author. She lives in the south of France with her film-maker husband Michel. Her books include The Olive Tree: A Personal Journey Through Mediterranean Olive Groves.

She named her six best books for the Daily Express. One title on the list:
by Graham Greene

This is set in Africa and Greene’s sense of location is excellent. The character’s marital crisis and the breakdown of a man at war with his emotions, physical sensuality and catholic conscience were elements which touched me. They’re issues Greene focuses on a good deal in his books.
Read about another book on Drinkwater's list.

The Heart of the Matter appears on Jeff Gordinier's list of Five Books That Will Make You Question the Wisdom of Ever Falling in Love — Probably While You Throw Yourself Headlong into It Anyway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Court Carney's "Cuttin’ Up"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Cuttin’ Up: How Early Jazz Got America’s Ear by Court Carney.

About the book, from the publisher:
The emergence of jazz out of New Orleans is part of the American story, but the creation of this music was more than a regional phenomenon: it also crossed geographical, cultural, and technological lines. Court Carney takes a new look at the spread and acceptance of jazz in America, going beyond the familiar accounts of music historians and documentarians to show how jazz paralleled and propelled the broader changes taking place in America’s economy, society, politics, and culture.

Cuttin’ Up takes readers back to the 1920s and early 1930s to describe how jazz musicians navigated the rocky racial terrain of the music business—and how new media like the phonograph, radio, and film accelerated its diffusion and contributed to variations in its styles. The first history of jazz to emphasize the connections between these disseminating technologies and specific locales, it describes the distinctive styles that developed in four cities and tells how the opportunities of each influenced both musicians’ choices and the marketing of their music.

Carney begins his journey in New Orleans, where pioneers like Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden set the tone for the new music, then takes readers up the river to Chicago, where Joe Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, featuring a young Louis Armstrong, first put jazz on record. The genre received a major boost in New York through radio’s live broadcasts from venues like the Cotton Club, then came to a national audience when Los Angeles put it in the movies, starting with the appearance of Duke Ellington’s orchestra in Check and Double Check.

As Carney shows, the journey of jazz had its racial component as well, ranging from New Orleans’ melting pot to Chicago’s segregated music culture, from Harlem clubs catering to white clienteles to Hollywood’s reinforcement of stereotypes. And by pinpointing specific cultural turns in the process of bringing jazz to a national audience, he shows how jazz opens a window on the creation of a modernist spirit in America.

A 1930 tune called “Cuttin’ Up” captured the freewheeling spirit of this new music—an expression that also reflects the impact jazz and its diffusion had on the nation as it crossed geographic and social boundaries and integrated an array of styles into an exciting new hybrid. Deftly blending music history, urban history, and race studies, Cuttin’ Up recaptures the essence of jazz in its earliest days.
Learn more about Cuttin’ Up at the publisher's website.

Court Carney is Assistant Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University, where he teaches courses on African American history, race and culture, and American music. His next book project looks at the connections between racial identity and public memory through the lens of memorializing the Civil War.

The Page 99 Test: Cuttin’ Up.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gail Dayton's "Heart's Blood," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Heart's Blood by Gail Dayton.

The entry begins:
Heart’s Blood is the second book in my blood magic universe, following New Blood, which was released March 2009. Grey Carteret is the main character in Heart’s Blood, but — since I cast my characters as I write them — the part was cast during the writing of the first book. I knew when I cast him that I would be giving him his own book. Secondary characters who have someone playing their part do tend to get uppity and demanding.

Grey is an aristocrat, the third or fourth son of a duke, with at least two older and two younger sisters as well. He’s the black-sheep member of the family, since magic is frowned upon by the nobility, and he is not only a conjurer associating with spirits, but he’s the magister of the conjurer’s guild. So I needed someone who could do both aristocratic and dissolute. Ralph Fiennes seemed to fill the bill perfectly.

Except during the writing of the story, Grey’s smart-ass side started coming out. He would just SAY these things ... and they wouldn’t be coming out of Ralph Fiennes’s mouth. Grey had decided...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Gail Dayton's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: New Blood.

My Book, The Movie: Heart's Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Alan Cheuse's book picks to warm a winter's night

For NPR, Alan Cheuse named a short list of books to warm a winter's night.

One title on the list:
Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, by Ron Schick, hardcover, 224 pages, Little, Brown and Company, list price: $40

Back to a more placid America. It turns out the artist Norman Rockwell painted from photographs. Some of the 18,000 photographs he made to jump-start his canvases are collected here, in Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, by Ron Schick. The images range through the entire carnival of plain-vanilla American life: beauty parlors and ice-cream shops, ball-parks and living rooms, America at peace and America at war.

The photographs and the paintings they led to stand side by side in these pages, making a wonderful case for a paradoxical Rockwell as the artist of the everyday, for whom reality wasn't quite enough. This is a book about one of our great homespun artists that will make you laugh, and also make you think. It's a real treasure.
Read about another book on Cheuse's list.

Also see the Independent's list of the fifty best winter reads.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Mary E. Mitchell's "Americans in Space"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Americans in Space by Mary E. Mitchell.

About the book, from the publisher:
Life is a challenge for 36-year-old Kate Cavanaugh, high school guidance counselor to a motley group of at-risk students. Two years after finding her young husband dead in bed beside her, Kate’s storybook life has vanished, and she and her two children are still reeling. Her daughter Charlotte, once a sweet girl, has morphed into an angry, tattooed, tongue-studded teen; and Hunter, Kate’s four-year-old, keeps his feelings sealed tight inside and an empty ketchup bottle clasped to his heart. When a tragedy occurs at the Alan B. Shepard High School, it’s Kate who finds herself in need of counsel and guidance. What she does next catapults her and her family down an unfamiliar road, on a trajectory into space—toward understanding, forgiveness and healing.
Read an excerpt from Americans in Space, and learn more about the book and author at Mary E. Mitchell's website.

The Page 69 Test: Americans in Space.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Five books about chocolate

One book from the Barnes and Noble Review mini-feature, five books about chocolate:
The True History of Chocolate
by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe

In this engaging volume, husband-and-wife anthropologists Michael and Sophie Coe team up to uncover the diverse history of the “Food of the Gods.” The Mayans used chocolate as currency, while the Aztecs mixed it with chilies to create a less valuable but more flavorful confection. The Spaniards shipped it back to Europe and began its transformation into the very altered commodity that would nevertheless be regarded as a heavenly delicacy. A surprising and informative historical tour.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: John Herron's "Science and the Social Good"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Science and the Social Good: Nature, Culture, and Community, 1865-1965 by John P. Herron.

About the book, from the publisher:
From the beginnings of industrial capitalism to contemporary disputes over evolution, nature has long been part of the public debate over the social good. As such, many natural scientists throughout American history have understood their work as a cultural activity contributing to social stability and their field as a powerful tool for enhancing the quality of American life. In the late Victorian era, interwar period, and post-war decades, massive social change, economic collapse and recovery, and the aftermath of war prompted natural scientists to offer up a civic-minded natural science concerned with the political well-being of American society. In Science and the Social Good, John P. Herron explores the evolving internal and external forces influencing the design and purpose of American natural science, by focusing on three representative scientists-geologist Clarence King, forester Robert Marshall, and biologist Rachel Carson-who purposefully considered the social outcomes of their work.

As comfortable in the royal courts of Europe as the remote field camps of the American West, Clarence King was the founding director of the U.S. Geological Survey, and used his standing to integrate science into late nineteenth century political debates about foreign policy, immigration, and social reform. In the mid-1930s, Robert Marshall founded the environmental advocacy group, The Wilderness Society, which transformed the face of natural preservation in America. Committed to social justice, Marshall blended forest ecology and pragmatic philosophy to craft a natural science ethic that extended the reach of science into political discussions about the restructuring of society prompted by urbanization and economic crisis. Rachel Carson deservedly gets credit for launching the modern environmental movement with her 1962 classic Silent Spring. She made a generation of Americans aware of the social costs inherent in the human manipulation of the natural world and used natural science to critique established institutions and offer an alternative vision of a healthy and diverse society. As King, Marshall, and Carson became increasingly wary of the social costs of industrialization, they used their scientific work to address problems of ecological and social imbalance. Even as science became professionalized and compartmentalized. these scientists worked to keep science relevant to broader intellectual debates.

John Herron offers a new take on King, Marshall, and especially Carson and their significance that emphasizes the importance of their work to environmental, political, and cultural affairs, while illuminating the broader impact of natural science on American culture.
Learn more about Science and the Social Good at the Oxford University Press website.

John P. Herron is Associate Professor of History at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the editor of Human/Nature: Biology, Culture, and Environmental History.

The Page 99 Test: Science and the Social Good.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 25, 2009

What is Lesley Kagen reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Lesley Kagen, author of Whistling in the Dark, Land of a Hundred Wonders, and the forthcoming Tomorrow River.

Her entry begins:
A little of this, a little of that.

I just finished Sue Grafton's newest mystery, U is for Undertow. I have favorite authors, like Ms. Grafton and Robert B. Parker, who I've been reading for years. I just about faint when I see they've got a new one coming out.

Next up...[read on]
Land of a Hundred Wonders was on the Heartland Bestseller list, selected by the American Booksellers Association as an Indie Next pick, and was selected as a Featured Alternate for The Literary Guild, The Mystery Guild and The Double Day Book Club.

Whistling in the Dark received the Honor Book Award from the Midwest Booksellers Association, was a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award and a Midwest Connections Pick.

Visit Lesley Kagen's website.

Writers Read: Lesley Kagen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Michael Aspel's best books

Michael Aspel has presented British TV shows such as Crackerjack, This Is Your Life, and Antiques Roadshow in a showbiz career that has spanned nearly 50 years.

He named his six best books for the Daily Express. One title on the list:
by Cormac McCarthy

Ostensibly about the Old West, this tells the story of a teenage runaway who joins a gang of scalp hunters killing Indians on the US-Mexico border in the mid-19th century. The best book I’ve read in years. It’s magnificently written.
Read about another book on Aspel's list.

Blood Meridian is one authority's pick for the Great Texas novel and is among Clive Sinclair's top 10 westerns, the New York Times list of the best American fiction of the last 25 years, and the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King. It is one of six books that Maile Meloy wrote "have changed her idea of 'what’s possible in fiction'."

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pg. 69: Jesse Bullington's "The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington.

About the book, from the publisher:
Hegel and Manfried Grossbart may not consider themselves bad men - but death still stalks them through the dark woods of medieval Europe.

The year is 1364, and the brothers Grossbart have embarked on a naïve quest for fortune. Descended from a long line of graverobbers, they are determined to follow their family's footsteps to the fabled crypts of Gyptland. To get there, they will have to brave dangerous and unknown lands and keep company with all manner of desperate travelers-merchants, priests, and scoundrels alike. For theirs is a world both familiar and distant; a world of living saints and livelier demons, of monsters and madmen.

The Brothers Grossbart are about to discover that all legends have their truths, and worse fates than death await those who would take the red road of villainy.
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is one of Amazon's top ten Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2009,

Learn more about the book and author at Jesse Bullington's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top 10 bite-size books

Tim Key is the author of Instructions, Guidelines, Tuteledge, Suggestions, Other Suggestions, and Examples Etc: An Attempted Book.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of bite-size books. One title on the list:
The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

Another spot of Russian. Russian short stories are mental and Gogol wrote some real humdingers. This is the saddest and my favourite. About a titular clerk (obviously) who saves up his money to get a new overcoat and turn his life around. It goes quite well for him for a bit. But then Gogol leaves us all devastated.
The Overcoat appears on Peter Washington's top 10 list of ghost stories.

Read about another book on Key's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Elyssa East's "Dogtown"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East.

About the book, from the publisher:
The area known as Dogtown -- an isolated colonial ruin and surrounding 3,000-acre woodland in storied seaside Gloucester, Massachusetts -- has long exerted a powerful influence over artists, writers, eccentrics, and nature lovers. But its history is also woven through with tales of witches, supernatural sightings, pirates, former slaves, drifters, and the many dogs Revolutionary War widows kept for protection and for which the area was named. In 1984, a brutal murder took place there: a mentally disturbed local outcast crushed the skull of a beloved schoolteacher as she walked in the woods. Dogtown's peculiar atmosphere -- it is strewn with giant boulders and has been compared to Stonehenge -- and eerie past deepened the pall of this horrific event that continues to haunt Gloucester even today.

In alternating chapters, Elyssa East interlaces the story of this grisly murder with the strange, dark history of this wilderness ghost town and explores the possibility that certain landscapes wield their own unique power.

East knew nothing of Dogtown's bizarre past when she first became interested in the area. As an art student in the early 1990s, she fell in love with the celebrated Modernist painter Marsden Hartley's stark and arresting Dogtown landscapes. She also learned that in the 1930s, Dogtown saved Hartley from a paralyzing depression. Years later, struggling in her own life, East set out to find the mysterious setting that had changed Hartley's life, hoping that she too would find solace and renewal in Dogtown's odd beauty. Instead, she discovered a landscape steeped in intrigue and a community deeply ambivalent about the place: while many residents declare their passion for this profoundly affecting landscape, others avoid it out of a sense of foreboding.

Throughout this richly braided first-person narrative, East brings Dogtown's enigmatic past to life. Losses sustained during the American Revolution dealt this once thriving community its final blow. Destitute war widows and former slaves took up shelter in its decaying homes until 1839, when the last inhabitant was taken to the poorhouse. He died seven days later. Dogtown has remained abandoned ever since, but continues to occupy many people's imaginations. In addition to Marsden Hartley, it inspired a Bible-thumping millionaire who carved the region's rocks with words to live by; the innovative and influential postmodernist poet Charles Olson, who based much of his epic Maximus Poems on Dogtown; an idiosyncratic octogenarian who vigilantly patrols the land to this day; and a murderer who claimed that the spirit of the woods called out to him.

In luminous, insightful prose, Dogtown takes the reader into an unforgettable place brimming with tragedy, eccentricity, and fascinating lore, and examines the idea that some places can inspire both good and evil, poetry and murder.
Read the prologue to Dogtown, and view the author's video introduction to the book.

Visit the official Dogtown website.

The Page 99 Test: Dogtown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Five best debut novels of the past 10 years

Brian DeLeeuw named a "five best debut novels of the decade" list for the Tin House Blog. One title to make the grade:
Indecision — Benjamin Kunkel (Random House, 2005)

This novel prompted some strange responses when it was first published, including Michiko Kakutani’s review written from the point of Holden Caulfield and buckets of ad hominem vitriol from Gawker. But if you ignore all the extra-curriculars, you’ll find a very funny first book, the greatest strength of which is its perfectly calibrated voice, stuck somewhere between a grad-school seminar and a Phish concert parking lot.
Read about another book on DeLeeuw's list.

Brian DeLeeuw is an editor at Tin House magazine and a contributor to the website He received his BA from Princeton University and his MFA from The New School. He now lives in New York City, where he was born and raised. In This Way I Was Saved, his debut novel, was published in 2009.

Read an excerpt from In This Way I Was Saved, and learn more about the book and author at Brian DeLeeuw's website.

The Page 69 Test: In This Way I Was Saved.

--Marshal Zeringue

Vonda McIntyre's "Starfarers," the miniseries

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Vonda McIntyre's Starfarers quartet.

The entry begins:
Starfarers didn’t start out as a novel quartet. It didn’t start out as a single novel, a short story, or prose.

It started out as a hoax.

Some years back, I was to be on a SF convention panel, “Science Fiction on Television.” This panel used to turn up at conventions with some regularity, and it always followed the same pattern: Somebody pulled out a list of all the SF television series of the recent past and read it aloud, inviting the audience to agree how terrible all the shows were. (Since then, things have changed, and some good SF has been on tv, but at that time aside from Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek, you had choices such as Time Tunnel and Lost in Space.)

This particular panel bores me to death, so, having promised to be on it, I had to do something different.

I had always thought the TV miniseries was the perfect form for SF — I wished Masterpiece Theater would produce one of our field’s classics — but at the time no one had tried it.

When the panelist next to me whipped out his list and started to read titles, to the audience’s groans, I let him get through a couple of lines before I raised an eyebrow.

“Hold on,” I said. “Haven’t you seen Starfarers? Hasn’t anybody seen Starfarers?”

Of course nobody had...[read on]
The Starfarers Quartet debuted at Book View Café on 20 December 2009. For more about Vonda N. McIntyre, please visit her website.

My Book, The Movie: Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.

My Book, The Movie: the Starfarers quartet.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Doranna Durgin reading?

The current featured contributor at Writer's Read: Doranna Durgin, author of over twenty novels, including Dun Lady's Jess, winner of the 1995 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall award for the best first book in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres.

Her entry begins:
At the bedside, I'm reading Julie Czerneda's Rift in the Sky. It's hard to be objective about Julie's books because she's such a good friend, but the truth is that I found her work before I ever realized that she enjoyed mine, and we have many things in common as writers and people -- so in the end it's only natural that I wait for her releases with anticipation! Her stories are always interwoven with the most fascinating biological foundation, as well as characters that are utterly true to themselves, their origins, and their species needs. She always manages to give me a good kick in the heart, too. Rift is...[read on]
Visit Doranna Durgin's website and blog.

Among the praise for Durgin's Sentinel series:
"...Complex characters and an interesting storyline..."
--Romantic Times

“An emotional story, and a sexy jaguar shifter readers will love.”
--ParaNormal Romance

"Vivid imagery and magical circumstances ... believable and profoundly emotional... a story packed with hidden intrigue and an abundance of magical adventures."
When she's not writing, Durgin builds web pages, wanders around outside with a camera, and works with horses and dogs.

Writer's Read: Doranna Durgin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ten of the best child narrators in fiction

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best child narrators in literature.

One book on the list:
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Doyle's eponymous narrator is a 10-year-old living on a Dublin housing estate. He discusses all that matters to him: his games, his friendships, his fights. Violence is reported with cold-eyed curiosity. Meanwhile the story of his parents' fragmenting marriage seeps through almost despite his best efforts to pretend that things are fine.
Read about another novel on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Hank Stuever's "Tinsel"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present by Hank Stuever.

About the book, from the publisher:
In TINSEL, Hank Stuever turns his unerring eye for the idiosyncrasies of modern life to Frisco, Texas, a suburb at once all-American and completely itself, to tell the story of the nation's most over-the-top celebration: Christmas.

Stuever starts the narrative as so many start the Christmas season: standing in line with the people waiting to purchase flat-screen TVs on Black Friday. From there he follows three of Frisco's true holiday believers as they navigate through the Nativity and all its attendant crises. Tammie Parnell, an eternally optimistic suburban mom, is the proprietor of "Two Elves with a Twist," a company that decorates other people's big houses for Christmas. Jeff and Bridgette Trykoski own that house every town has: the one with the visible-from-space, most awe-inspiring Christmas lights. And single mother Caroll Cavazos just hopes that the life-affirming moments of Christmas might overcome the struggles of the rest of the year. Stuever's portraits of this happy, megachurchy, shopariffic community are at once humane, heartfelt, revealing - and very funny.

TINSEL is a compelling tale of our half-trillion-dollar holiday, measuring what we we've become against the ancient rituals of what we've always been.
Learn more about the book and author at Hank Stuever's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Tinsel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: James Hime's "Where Armadillos Go to Die"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Where Armadillos Go to Die by James Hime.

About the book, from the publisher:
Sylvester Bradshaw owns the Bouree restaurant, home of the best catfish within a hundred miles of Brenham, Texas. Besides being known for his cooking and for being one of the town’s nastiest residents, he also happens to have invented a machine that several venture capitalists and one former NFL star would like to invest in at almost any cost. But Bradshaw---stubborn and miserly---can’t be enticed no matter what offer they put on the table. Nobody gets a look and nobody gets to know how the device works, not even his family.

When the restaurant is ransacked and he goes missing, the only person willing to take his disappearance seriously is Jeremiah Spur. The retired Texas Ranger and rancher is a dedicated customer, if not a friend, which makes him the only man on whom the Bradshaws can pin their hopes.

James Hime’s Where Armadillos Go to Die eloquently captures the voice and spirit of a small Texas town with troubles every bit as big as the whole state, making for some of the most engaging crime fiction on bookshelves today.
Read an excerpt from Where Armadillos Go to Die, and learn more about the book and author at James Hime's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Where Armadillos Go to Die.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 21, 2009

Books that made a difference to Jay-Z

Musician-mogul Jay-Z told O, The Oprah Magazine about a few books that made a difference to him.

One book on his list:
The Seat of the Soul
by Gary Zukav

There are two books that I absolutely live my life by. This is one of them. Growing up, I was always curious about religion. This book made the most sense to me; it's about the way you live your life. I believe in karma and doing the right thing even if it may not advance you as far as you want. If every single person felt the same way about karma and intention, then the world gets fixed tomorrow. But temptation gets in the way. Zukav is right: It may take lifetimes to learn.
Read about another book on Jay-Z's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Henri Cole reading?

Today's featured contributor at Writers Read: Henri Cole, a poet whose collections include the Pulitzer Prize nominated Middle Earth.

His entry opens:
At present, I'm reading an assortment of things: a new book of poems called Ninety-fifth Street, by University of Wisconsin philosophy professor John Koethe. It's his eighth book of poems and full of beauty and feeling. Most of the poems revisit memories -- of a boyhood in California, of becoming a man at Princeton and Harvard, early friendships with the New York School poets, and much more. I think of Koethe as a descendant of Wordsworth, mixing autobiography and memory, in his darkly ruminative, highly...[read on]
Henri Cole is the author of six books of poems: Blackbird and Wolf, Middle Earth (a finalist for the Pulitzer), The Visible Man , The Look of Things, The Zoo Wheel of Knowledge, and The Marble Queen. He is the winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Berlin Prize, the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, among other prestigious awards.

About his new collection, Pierce the Skin: Selected Poems -- 1982-2007, which is forthcoming in the Spring 2010:

Henri Cole has been described as a “fiercely somber, yet exuberant poet” by Harold Bloom, who identifies him as the central poet of his generation. Cole’s most recent poems have a daring sensitivity and imagistic beauty unlike anything on the American scene today. Whether they are exploring pleasure or pain, humor or sorrow, triumph or fear, they reach for an almost shocking intensity. Cole’s fourth book, Middle Earth, awakened his audience to him as a poet now writing the poems of his career.

Pierce the Skin brings together sixty-six poems from the past twenty-five years, including work from Cole’s early, closely observed, virtuosic books, long out of print, as well as his important more recent books, The Visible Man (1998), Middle Earth (2003), and Blackbird and Wolf (2007). The result is a collection reconsecrating Cole’s central themes: the desire for connection, the contingencies of selfhood and human love, the dissolution of the body, the sublime renewal found in nature, and the distance of language from experience. “I don’t want words to sever me from reality,” Cole says, striving in Pierce the Skin to break the barrier even between word and skin. Maureen N. McLane wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Cole is a poet of “self-overcoming, lusting, loathing and beautiful force.” This book will have a permanent place with other essential poems of our moment.
Visit Henri Cole's website.

Writers Read: Henri Cole.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara

Today's featured quartet at Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

Marillier, on how her dogs joined her household near Perth, Western Australia:
They are all rescue dogs. Gretel has been with me for six years. She was found wandering in an industrial district and taken to a refuge – she was there several months before I adopted her. It is amazing that nobody took her earlier as she is a good-tempered, pretty little dog. She does have a major health issue – she’s epileptic and needs daily medication for life. My best companion.

I’ve had elderly, blind Sara for just over a year. Most of the time she’s sweet as pie, but she can transform instantly into a growling, biting ball of aggression. I took her in as a foster dog, and once she was settled here it seemed too cruel to expect her to move again. She has a heart condition but is doing OK thanks to good veterinary attention plus love and care. She spends a lot of the time sleeping.

Pippa is the newest arrival. Her owner was an elderly acquaintance of mine who died suddenly last winter. Pip was his precious only child, and I took her rather than see her go to a refuge. She came complete with a wardrobe of hand-sewn dog coats ranging from brocade to faux fur. She’s had to learn to share her house and her human with other animals. A bundle of energy in a small body. Oh, and she’s so good at...[read on]
Visit Juliet Marillier's website to learn more about her books and works in progress, and read her "author's spotlight" essay at the Random House website. Also, check out Writer Unboxed, a genre writing blog which she shares with several other writers and editors.

Marillier's Wildwood Dancing is on Amazon's 2007 list of top ten books for young adults; it also won the 2006 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Heart’s Blood.

Read an excerpt from Heart’s Blood.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Financial Times: books of the year, 2009

The critics at the Financial Times picked their best books of 2009.

One title on the list:
Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century
by PW Singer

The definitive work on a killer subject: the role of robots in war. More than 12,000 warbots have already been deployed in Iraq, yet there are no agreed frameworks for accountability when things go wrong. Singer’s riveting and terrifying account covers all sides, from historical to ethical.
Read about another book on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Wired for War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Sharon Zukin's "Naked City"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places by Sharon Zukin.

About the book, from the publisher:
As cities have gentrified, educated urbanites have come to prize what they regard as "authentic" urban life: aging buildings, art galleries, small boutiques, upscale food markets, neighborhood old-timers, funky ethnic restaurants, and old, family-owned shops. These signify a place's authenticity, in contrast to the bland standardization of the suburbs and exurbs.

But as Sharon Zukin shows in Naked City, the rapid and pervasive demand for authenticity--evident in escalating real estate prices, expensive stores, and closely monitored urban streetscapes--has helped drive out the very people who first lent a neighborhood its authentic aura: immigrants, the working class, and artists. Zukin traces this economic and social evolution in six archetypal New York areas--Williamsburg, Harlem, the East Village, Union Square, Red Hook, and the city's community gardens--and travels to both the city's first IKEA store and the World Trade Center site. She shows that for followers of Jane Jacobs, this transformation is a perversion of what was supposed to happen. Indeed, Naked City is a sobering update of Jacobs' legendary 1962 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Like Jacobs, Zukin looks at what gives neighborhoods a sense of place, but argues that over time, the emphasis on neighborhood distinctiveness has become a tool of economic elites to drive up real estate values and effectively force out the neighborhood "characters" that Jacobs so evocatively idealized.

With a journalist's eye and the understanding of a longtime critic and observer, Zukin's panoramic survey of contemporary New York explains how our desire to consume authentic experience has become a central force in making cities more exclusive.
Learn more about Naked City at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Naked City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Martin Edwards' "Dancing for the Hangman"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Dancing for the Hangman by Martin Edwards.

About the book, from J. Kingston Pierce's account at January Magazine:
Most students of criminal history know the fundamentals of the Hawley Harvey Crippen murder case. In 1910, that reportedly mild-mannered, Michigan-born homeopathic practitioner is said to have slain and then buried the partial remains of his domineering and unfaithful spouse, music hall singer Cora Crippen (aka “Belle Elmore”), beneath the brickwork floor of their London basement. Afterward, Crippen and his much younger employee and lover, Ethel Le Neve -- the two disguised as father and son -- fled Great Britain aboard the SS Montrose, bound for Canada, where they dreamed of beginning a new life together. However, their plans were foiled in dramatic fashion by Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Walter Dew. After being tipped to their escape via wireless telegram (a technological turning point well recounted by Erik Larson in Thunderstruck), Dew set off in pursuit on a faster ship, and was waiting for the Montrose when it finally entered Canada’s St. Lawrence River. He quickly took Crippen into custody and returned him to England, where the culprit was found guilty of homicide and hanged. That’s the framework of this tale, but around it Martin Edwards packs considerable substance -- emotional, entertaining and intriguing -- as he seeks to make sense of what led Crippen to poison Cora and then try to conceal her dismembered corpse. Retelling the story from Crippen’s point of view, Edwards casts his protagonist as a man too naïve and stoic for his own good, falling for a woman who manipulated him without compunction, abused him verbally and then cheated on him with younger admirers. Crippen trusted in people when he should not have, stayed in a marriage he ought to have abandoned long before violence resulted (if only the prejudice against divorce had not been so intense in his era) and may have put more faith in his legal defenders than they deserved. Edwards sees Crippen as a romantic, hungry for happiness, even if it only lasted briefly. Other fictionists have tackled the Crippen case, but none so successfully as Edwards does in Dancing for the Hangman.
Learn more about the book and author at Martin Edwards’ website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dancing for the Hangman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best books: Quentin Blake

Quentin Blake, the artist and author best known for his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, recently collaborated with author David Walliams on The Boy in the Dress, a children’s novel.

For The Week magazine, Blake named his six best books.

One title on the list:
Pictures From Italy by Charles Dickens

This is a slight book compared with such great works as Bleak House and Little Dorrit, but Dickens was a brilliant journalist and letter writer, and this is a fluent and engaging account of the year he and his family spent in Italy in 1844. He describes his mansion in Genoa as “like a pink jail.”
Read about another book on Blake's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Maggie Anton reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Maggie Anton, author of the Rashi's Daughters trilogy -- Book I: Joheved, Book II: Miriam, and Book III: Rachel -- and the YA novel, Rashi's Daughter, Secret Scholar.

Her entry begins:
I'm currently reading Julian by Gore Vidal, who is probably one of this country's best writers of historical fiction. I'm actually reading it as research for my next book, which takes place in Babylonia at about the time. But I can hardly put Julian down and I feel guilty for enjoying this book so much when I'm reading it for work. I envy Gore Vidal's ability to bring his character's personality to life so vividly and to perfectly capture the deadly political intrigues of 4th-century Rome. I know it was...[read on]
Among the praise for Book III: Rachel:
"Rashi’s Daughters: Rachel is an enlightened, empowering, and engaging journey of Rashi’s youngest daughter Rachel, who enacts the forbidden during the Middle Ages—studying and teaching Talmud as a female. Thought-provoking, research-rich, psychologically complex, Rachel is a mirror of our own hearts and minds, a tale of pathos that awakens the tenderest of emotions, even if time separates us by nine hundred years."
--Elissa Elliott, author of Eve: A Novel of the First Woman

"Imaginative and talented novelists have the ability to shed fresh light on corners of history otherwise inaccessible. Maggie Anton’s new book, Rashi’s Daughters: Rachel, takes us once again into the Medieval Jewish world of love and learning and the love of learning. One can only be grateful for such an intriguing and engaging work."
--Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, Professor of Bible, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion; editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (Winner of National Jewish Book Award).
Visit Maggie Anton's website and blog.

Writers Read: Maggie Anton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Claudia Dain's "Courtesan Chronicles," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: "The Courtesan Chronicles" by Claudia Dain.

The entry begins:
This is so easy, the actor part of the equation, anyway. I always work from a photo to create and cement a character. I like to be able to stare at an intriguing face, to see the subtle and not so subtle differences between one brown-eyed brunette and another. Plus, then I don't forget the details, like the scar is on the left cheek and not the right.

I didn't use to need physical props to remember my characters, but now I do. I'd like to blame it on age but since I'm not 92, is age really the factor here?

Don't answer that.

I'm writing a long-running series (the fifth book out in July 2010) and the central heroine must be played by...[read on]
Claudia Dain is a two-time Rita finalist and a USA Today bestselling author.

Learn more about the author and her novels at Claudia Dain's website.

My Book, The Movie: "The Courtesan Chronicles."

--Marshal Zeringue