Friday, April 30, 2010

Pg. 99: Hugh Raffles' "Insectopedia"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles.

About the book, from the publisher:
A stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with whom we share the world.

For as long as humans have existed, insects have existed, too. Wherever we’ve traveled, they’ve traveled, too. Yet we hardly know them, not even the ones we’re closest to: those that eat our food, share our beds, and live in our homes.

Organizing his book alphabetically with one entry for each letter, weaving together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, Hugh Raffles embarks on a mesmerizing exploration of history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture to show us how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations.

Raffles offers us a glimpse into the high-stakes world of Chinese cricket fighting, the deceptive courtship rites of the dance fly, the intriguing possibilities of queer insect sex, the vital and vicious role locusts play in the famines of west Africa, how beetles deformed by Chernobyl inspired art, and how our desire and disgust for insects has prompted our own aberrant behavior.

Deftly fusing the literary and the scientific, Hugh Raffles has given us an essential book of reference that is also a fascination of the highest order.
Read an excerpt from Insectopedia, and learn more about the book and author at the Insectopedia website.

The Page 99 Test: Insectopedia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Michele Young-Stone's "The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone.

About the book, from the publisher:
When lightning strikes, lives are changed.


On a sunny day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, eight-year-old Becca Burke was struck by lightning. No one believed her—not her philandering father or her drunk, love-sick mother—not even when her watch kept losing time and a spooky halo of light appeared overhead in photographs. Becca was struck again when she was sixteen. She survived, but over time she would learn that outsmarting lightning was the least of her concerns.


In rural Arkansas, Buckley R. Pitank’s world seemed plagued by disaster. Ashamed but protective of his obese mother, fearful of his scathing grandmother, and always running from bullies (including his pseudo-evangelical stepfather), he needed a miracle to set him free. At thirteen years old, Buckley witnessed a lightning strike that would change everything.

Now an art student in New York City, Becca Burke is a gifted but tortured painter who strives to recapture the intensity of her lightning-strike memories on canvas. On the night of her first gallery opening, a stranger appears and is captivated by her art. Who is this odd young man with whom she shares a mysterious connection?

When Buckley and Becca finally meet, neither is prepared for the charge of emotions—or for the perilous event that will bring them even closer to one another, and to the families they’ve been running from for as long as they can remember.

Crackling with atmosphere and eccentric characters, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors explores the magic of nature and the power of redemption in a novel as beautiful and unpredictable as lightning itself.
Read an excerpt from The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, and learn more about the book and author at Michele Young-Stone's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Bill McKibben's 5 favorite environmental books

Activist and writer Bill McKibben is the award-winning author of The End of Nature and The Age of Missing Information. His new book, Eaarth, argues that our planet already has been irrevocably remade by human activity.

For The Daily Beast, he named his five favorite environmental books. One book on the list:
Home Economics by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is the greatest writer at work in the English language—for five decades, in essay, novel, and poem, he's laid out an alternative version for an America that might actually work.
Read about another book on the list.

Also see: Bill McKibben's all-time favorite books.

The Page 69 Test: Bill McKibben's Deep Economy.

Learn more about McKibben's new book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pg. 99: Debra Galant's "Cars from a Marriage"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Cars from a Marriage by Debra Galant.

About the book, from the publisher:
An “auto-biography” of a marriage from the highly acclaimed author who deftly navigates the lives of one suburban couple with humor and insight

From a ’74 Mustang to a Chevy Suburban, Debra Galant’s Cars from A Marriage charts the important events—big and small—in one couple’s relationship by way of the automobiles that drive them throughout the course of their lives. Ivy is a transplanted Southern belle—the daughter of a car salesman— who continually wonders how she has ended up a New Jersey stay-at-home mom with a not-so-secret fear of driving. Her husband Ellis was a stand up comedian when they met, and the owner of that ’74 Mustang, but his ambitions were overshadowed by the responsibilities of a family. In the blink of an eye he became a PR executive with a mortgage, two kids, and a Buick LeSabre.

The cars steer us from their first meeting, to their first fight, and down the line to a family funeral. Finally, it’s on a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway that Ivy and Ellis come to some serious and illuminating realizations about their lives. With insights that alternate between hilarious and profound, Galant provides a unique, unforgettable portrait of a marriage.
Read an excerpt from Cars from a Marriage, and learn more about the book and author at Debra Galant's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Cars from a Marriage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sophie Thompson's six best books

Sophie Thompson (sister of Emma Thompson) appears in the forthcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; she plays Mafalda Hopkirk, a witch who works in the Improper Use of Magic Office at the Ministry of Magic.

For the Scottish Sunday Express, she named her six best books. One title on the list:
by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read this in India while filming a wee part in the big-screen version which is out this summer and which stars Julia Roberts. It’s a true account of a newly divorced woman who discovers food in Italy, spiritualism in India then love in Bali.
Read about another book on the list.

See: Elizabeth Gilbert's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Jason Vuic reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Jason Vuic, author of The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.

His entry begins:
I teach East European history, a dense and sometimes confusing subject that can be difficult for my students, so I’m always looking for books that are accessible to the average reader. I’ve come across two works of non-fiction recently that absolutely fit the bill: Julian Rubinstein’s Ballad of the Whiskey Robber and Reggie Nadelson’s Comrade Rockstar.

First, Julian Rubinstein’s Ballad of the Whiskey Robber…. Here Rubinstein describes the life and times of Attila Ambrus, “a gentleman thief, a sort of Cary Grant—if only Cary Grant came from Transylvania, was a terrible professional hockey goalkeeper, and preferred women in leopard-skin hot pants.” To Hungarians, Ambrus was a loveable rogue. In the 1990s, he robbed nearly 30 banks. Ambrus eschewed violence, left flowers for women tellers, and once sent a bottle of wine to the police detectives pursuing him. (He earned the nickname “Whiskey Robber” because he liked to drink Johnny Walker Red while staking out future heists). Through six years of robberies, Ambrus became a latter-day Jessie James. He symbolized the...[read on]
Among the early praise for The Yugo:
“Jason Vuic provides a thoroughly researched and illuminating account of what turned into a spectacular disaster.”
The Economist

“[A] rollicking chronicle of the rise and fall of the homely little hatchback that couldn’t ... [Jason Vuic] weaves a tale about crazy socialist factories, just-as-crazy Western financial practices, geopolitics in the days of the Cold War and an American public yearning for affordable cars—all combined with the ‘cutting edge Serbo-Croatian technology,’ as the Yugo was referred to in the spoof movie version of ‘Dragnet’ ... Mr. Vuic is as hard on the Western capitalism that fleetingly embraced the car as he is on the socialist system that produced it.”
—Dick Teresi, Wall Street Journal

“Vuic has written a wonderfully sunny--and thoroughly researched--study of this iconic failure.”
—Stephen Lowman, Washington Post
Jason Vuic is an assistant professor of modern European history at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia.

Visit the official The Yugo website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Jason Vuic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Michael Stevens' "Fortuna"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Fortuna by Michael Stevens.

About the book, from the publisher:
Longing for escape from his mundane existence as a Stanford computer science major, Jason Lind signs up to play Fortuna, an online role-playing game set in Renaissance Florence.

From the first, fateful mouse click, Jason tumbles into the vibrant, lush, anonymous world of Fortuna. Swept up in this highly complex, highly addictive game of fame, fortune, and power, Jason quickly transitions from casual gamer to compulsive player.

Soon tangled up in a steamy virtual love triangle, Jason becomes obsessed with breaking Fortuna’s code of anonymity. But Fortuna is anything but fun and games, and when a sizeable debt incurred in the game spills over into reality, Jason is forced to leverage the legacy of his father, a high-tech legend killed in a car accident years before, to pay off the debt.

What started as a great escape may only leave Jason trapped, as the game that transported Jason deep into the past exposes a shocking, present-day reality.

In the world of Fortuna, it’s not how you play the game; it’s if you survive.
Read an excerpt from Fortuna, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Stevens’ website.

The Page 69 Test: Fortuna.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Top 10 love stories

Esther Freud was named by Granta magazine as one of the 20 Best of Young British Novelists in 1993. Her books include Hideous Kinky (1992), Peerless Flats (1993) and Gaglow (1997). Her most recent novel is Love Falls (2007).

She named her top ten love stories for the Guardian. One novel on the list:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Possibly the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy captures the rollercoaster arc of Anna's passion for Vronsky, and shows us the impossibility of her love ever being a match for what she's lost. The scenes between her and her small son whom she must abandon, are heartbreaking in their restraint, and it is these moments you remember, when Vronsky's ardour begins to fade.
Read about another novel on the list.

Anna Karenina also appears on Elizabeth Kostova's list of favorite books, James Gray's list of best books, Marie Arana's list of the best books about love, Ha Jin's most important books list, Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books list, Claire Messud's list of her five most important books, Alexander McCall Smith's list of his five most important books, Mohsin Hamid's list of his ten favorite books, Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers, and among the top ten works of literature according to Peter Carey and Norman Mailer. John Mullan put it on his list of ten of the best births in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Anna Mitchael & Isabella

Today's featured Texans at Coffee with a Canine: Anna Mitchael & Isabella.

Mitchael, on Isabella's favorite varmint:
Armadillos. By the truckload. She can’t get enough of them. When people who live around us hear the stories of her chasing down armadillos they always ask if they can borrow her for a day or two… even though I know she’d probably enjoy a fresh batch of ‘dillos to chase, I’m selfish and don’t like to give her up—even for...[read on]
Anna Mitchael is the author of Just Don’t Call Me Ma’am, a memoir that details her twentysomething experience living and working in cities across the country. A reformed nomad, Mitchael has now returned home to Texas. She will tolerate y’all but reserves the right to raise hell when anyone calls her ma’am.

Among the early praise for the memoir:
“Mitchael’s twentysomething survival story will strike a nerve with young women who can’t wait to ditch their home states and parents’ values, along with their pastel sweaters, in favor of the black uniform of big city life. She encounters inevitable heartbreaks and hilarious awkward moments, but her progress toward self-acceptance is at the heart of her tale. Her analysis of “cohabitation crime” is not to be missed! Patient parents and grandmothers can take heart that their wisdom is not perpetually ignored.”
—Prudence Mackintosh, Texas grandmother and author of the Sneaker trilogy: Thundering Sneakers, Retreads, and Sneaking Out
Read the daily chronicles of Mitchael's life at
her website and blog.

Writers Read: Anna Mitchael.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Anna Mitchael & Isabella.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Christie Mellor's "You Look Fine, Really"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: You Look Fine, Really by Christie Mellor.

About the book, from the publisher:
The bestselling author of The Three-Martini Playdate delivers a witty, get real guide to embracing and enjoying the adventure of midlife, complete with grooming shortcuts, tips on being your own personal trainer, perfect party recipes, and advice on how to add a sense of play and celebration to every day.

The world, apparently, thinks women need a makeover. If their teeth are less than white from the love of a strong cup of tea, they must be bleached to a blinding brightness. Waists should be whittled, nether regions made smooth and hairless or adorned with hearts or landing strips. Thighs must be sculpted, noses straightened, arms toned. Our homes must be spotless, well-designed showplaces, our dress size zero. Now that forty is the new thirty, there’s no excuse to be anything less than stunning -- right?

Not quite, says Christie Mellor. Filled with real style and beauty tips, and more information about lipstick than a woman has a right to know, You Look Fine, Really helps any female over the big 4-0 become her truly fabulous self, without injecting toxins into her forehead. In short, kicky sections like "Foundation: Your Own Personal Vinyl Siding," "Your Midlife Fashion Crisis: Now What?" and "Survival Skills for the Mature Woman," Mellor inspires women to reclaim their personal style and uncover their inner fun goddess.
Browse inside You Look Fine, Really, and learn more about the book and author at Christie Mellor's website.

The Page 99 Test: You Look Fine, Really.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pg. 69: James Thompson's "Snow Angels"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Snow Angels by James Thompson.

About the book, from the publisher:
The first thriller in a new series featuring Inspector Kari Vaara: the haunted, hardened detective who must delve into Finland's dark and violent underbelly.

Kaamos: Just before Christmas, the bleakest time of the year in Lapland. The unrelenting darkness and extreme cold above the Arctic Circle drive everyone just a little insane ... perhaps enough to kill.

A beautiful Somali immigrant is found dead in a snowfield, her body gruesomely mutilated, a racial slur carved into her chest. Heading the murder investigation is Inspector Kari Vaara, the lead detective of the small-town police force. The vicious killing may have been a hate crime, a sex crime-or one and the same. Vaara knows he must keep this potentially ex­plosive case out of the national headlines or else it will send shock waves across Finland, an insular nation afraid to face its own xenophobia.

The demands of the investigation begin to take their toll on Vaara and his marriage. His young American wife, Kate, newly pregnant with their first child, is struggling to adapt to both the unforgiving Arctic climate and the Finnish culture of silence and isolation. Meanwhile Vaara himself, haunted by his rough childhood and failed first marriage, discovers that the past keeps biting at his heels: He suspects that the rich man for whom his ex-wife left him years ago may be the killer.

Endless night can drive anyone to murder.
Read an excerpt from Snow Angels, and learn more about the book and author at James Thompson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Snow Angels.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Lia Purpura reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Lia Purpura, author of poems and essays, including the collections King Baby (poems) and On Looking (essays).

Her entry begins:
I'm reading the truly wonderful Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban -- a writer I've known, until very recently, only as the illustrator of the Bread and Jam for Francis books. This is absolutely not the kind of thing I'd pick up on my own; it was urged on me by a trusted novelist friend -- and it's stunning. Set in post-apocalyptic England and written in a kind of rudimentary/exploded/archaic-techno English, young Riddley intuits and listens his way towards wholeness ... there's a warmth and tenderness in this character that's just amazing, and although the language is "diminished," or spliced from many sources, it's expressive and organic, too. I'm attached to Riddley the way I used to attach to characters as a kid -- and I haven't felt that for a very very long time. I used to love them in the way of...[read on]
Visit Lia Purpura's website and sample her poems and essays, and read reviews and interviews about her work.

Among the praise for On Looking:
These lyrical essays, with their precise metaphors and vivid images, demonstrate why so many poets are able to make the leap from verse to nonfiction. Purpura’s essay, “Autopsy Report,” is worth the price of admission alone. After watching a day of autopsies performed in the morgue, Purpura steps outside to discover that “everything looked as it always had—bright and pearly, lush and arterial after the rain.”
--Jehanne Dubrow

I’m completely enraptured by ... On Looking, ... a collection of essays on the ethics and aesthetics of looking that I come back to again and again, re-reading it at least once a year and falling in love with it not just as a text but as a way of seeing the world.
--Steven Church
A graduate of Oberlin College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching/Writing Fellow in Poetry, Lia Purpura is Writer in Residence at Loyola University in Baltimore, MD and teaches in the MFA program at the Rainier Writing Workshop, in Tacoma, WA.

Writers Read: Lia Purpura.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best books on soldiers at war

Stephen Hunter retired in 2008 as chief film critic of the Washington Post. His most recent novel is I, Sniper (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about soldiers at war.

One book on the list:
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer Bantam, 2004

Water is fine to drink and to bathe in, but beyond that it can be problematic. The ocean, for instance, is cold and wet, and it wants you dead. Thus men who fight on it, under it or above it are a special kind of brave, and none were braver than the members of a ragtag flotilla of destroyers, destroyer escorts and Jeep carriers called "Taffy 3" that faced off in 1944 against a Japanese task force led by the Goliath battleship Yamamoto with its 18-inch guns. As a result of U.S. missteps and Japanese cunning, a few hundred American citizen-sailors aboard ships with more paint than armor, sailed by men who loved duty more than life, faced the job of protecting Gen. Douglas MacArthur's invasion force in the Philippines from a mighty Japanese armada. Rather than wait for obliteration, the pipsqueak Taffy 3 charged the enemy. "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors," James D. Hornfischer's account of what was called the Battle of Samar, is a splendid historical work that reads like a great novel. That it's true—that the hugely outnumbered and outgunned Americans succeeded in fending off the Japanese—is simply unbelievable. That some of the heroic survivors languished in shark-infested waters for several days is truly enraging. One hopes that these magnificent guys someday get their Spielberg.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Jenn McKinlay's "Sprinkle With Murder," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Sprinkle With Murder by Jenn McKinlay.

The entry begins:
I think a cupcake bakery definitely lends itself to the visual. My three main characters (Melanie, Angie and Tate) happen to be old movie aficionados, and spend their weekends watching old movies together. They are always trying to stump one another with movie quotes. If this book were made into a film, it would be a kick to see the movie maker edit in the original footage of the quote. So, in the midst of a scene, a clip from Some Like It Hot would be spliced into the dialogue. Then again maybe I've just watched too much Mystery Science Theater!

Now as for the casting, you've got Melanie Cooper our main character, who is tall and thin with short blonde hair. She has a wicked sense of humor so it has to be someone who can deliver the joke: Elizabeth Banks seems like a perfect fit. As for her sidekick and best friend, Angie DeLaura, it needs to be someone who can be funny and tough (Angie is known for her firecracker like temper). Physically, she's shorter than Mel and curvier with long dark hair, so...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jenn McKinlay's website. McKinlay is also a member of the The Mystery Lover's Kitchen group blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Jenn McKinlay-Orf & Lucy.

My Book, The Movie: Sprinkle With Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pg. 99: Laurie Maffly-Kipp's "Setting Down the Sacred Past"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Setting Down the Sacred Past: African American Race Histories by Laurie Maffly-Kipp.

About the book, from the publisher:
As early as the 1780s, African Americans told stories that enabled them to survive and even thrive in the midst of unspeakable assault. Tracing previously unexplored narratives from the late eighteenth century to the 1920s, Laurie Maffly-Kipp brings to light an extraordinary trove of sweeping race histories that African Americans wove together out of racial and religious concerns.

Asserting a role in God’s plan, black Protestants sought to root their people in both sacred and secular time. A remarkable array of chroniclers—men and women, clergy, journalists, shoemakers, teachers, southerners and northerners—shared a belief that narrating a usable past offered hope, pride, and the promise of a better future. Combining Christian faith, American patriotism, and racial lineage to create a coherent sense of community, they linked past to present, Africa to America, and the Bible to classical literature. From collected shards of memory and emerging intellectual tools, African Americans fashioned stories that helped to restore meaning and purpose to their lives in the face of relentless oppression.

In a pioneering work of research and discovery, Maffly-Kipp shows how blacks overcame the accusation that they had no history worth remembering. African American communal histories imagined a rich collective past in order to establish the claim to a rightful and respected place in the American present. Through the transformative power of storytelling, these men and women led their people—and indeed, all Americans—into a more profound understanding of their interconnectedness and their prospects for a common future.
Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Read about Maffly-Kipp's research and teaching, and learn more about Setting Down the Sacred Past at the Harvard University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Setting Down the Sacred Past.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the most vivid accounts of being marooned in literature

For the Observer, William Skidelsky named a list of ten of the most vivid accounts of being marooned in literature. One book on the list:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Does being a survivor of global apocalypse qualify as being stranded? Not if the word implies having a normal life to get back, but yes if it means being marooned in a wholly unfamiliar and terrifying situation. McCarthy's acclaimed novel tells the story of a father and son who, following an unspecified global catastrophe, endlessly cross a ruined American landscape, assailed by gangs, "each other's world entire". McCarthy describes their plight in prose that soars, at its best, to remarkable poetic heights.
Read about another book on the list.

The Road appears on Liz Jensen's top 10 list of environmental disaster stories, the Guardian's list of books to change the climate, David Nicholls' top ten list of literary tear jerkers, and the Times (of London) list of the 100 best books of the decade. Sam Anderson of New York magazine claims "that we'll still be talking about [The Road] in ten years."

Fans of The Road include Paulette Jiles, Joshua Clark, David Dobbs, Andrew Pyper, Dan Rather, Jim Lehrer, Michael J. Fox, Mark McGurl, and this guy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Nan Marino & Chi

Today's featured couple at Coffee with a Canine: Nan Marino & Tai Chi Marino.

The writer Marino, on how they were united:
One day, I told my husband I was going out to see if I could find a new table for our dining room. Instead I ended up in the local animal shelter. I’d never been there before and had no idea why I decided to stop by. The moment I saw the scrappy-looking dog in the first cage, I knew why I was there. She was meant to be part of our family.

Before we went into the meeting room, I was warned that dogs are often way too excited to get out of their cages to pay attention to the visiting humans. Chi scrambled round, sniffing everything in sight. I called her, but all those smells in that room were way too tempting. Finally I said, “If you come over and sit down, I will take you home.” As if on cue, she did.

I realized immediately that I’d made a promise to Chi without talking it over with my husband and broke every rule about the proper way to bring a dog into your family. While...[read on]
Marino's debut novel Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me was released in May 2009 by Roaring Brook Press.

Among the praise for the book:
“It is rare to have a story told with sympathy from the viewpoint of a bully. This debut novel, set in upstate New York in the summer of 1969, does just that with wit and a light touch that never denies the story’s sorrows.”
Booklist, starred review

“Marino paints a detailed portrait of the seeming gulf that surrounds a person after loss and the surprising companionship one discovers in the face of desolation.” —School Library Journal, starred review
Read an excerpt from Neil Armstrong is My Uncle.

Learn more about the book, the author, and Tai Chi Marino at Nan Marino's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Nan Marino & Tai Chi Marino.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Junius Podrug's "Feathered Serpent 2012"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Feathered Serpent 2012 by Junius Podrug.

About the book, from the publisher:
December 21, 2012: The fabled Feathered Serpent begins his relentless ascent out of the bowels of the earth, escaping thousands of years of torturous confinement. Controversial astrobiologist and archaeologist Caden Montez—who believes Teotihuacan is the best site on earth to find alien life forms, such as the Serpent—is on his trail. While exploring this so-called “City of the Gods”—a place so eerie it terrified even the most ferocious Aztecs—she discovers that the Serpent has broken free.

Ancient Mayan priests prophesied that when the God-King returned, he would open the gates to the End Time. Together with an ancient 1000-year-old Mayan warrior—who has crossed the Gulf of Time to save humanity from extinction—the outrageous and beautiful Caden must stop him. Scientists, political leaders, and journalists who have long ridiculed Caden’s theories have no one else to turn to. The Mayans’ Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse is on the move, and humanity’s survival hangs in the balance.
Read an excerpt from Feathered Serpent 2012, and learn more about the book and author at Junius Podrug's website.

The Page 69 Test: Feathered Serpent 2012.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What is Joe Bonomo reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Joe Bonomo, author of AC/DC's Highway to Hell (33 1/3 Series, 2010).

His entry begins:
Here are a few books I can’t shake:

Larry Brown, A Miracle Of Catfish

Apart from a few early stories and one self-consciously experimental miss (The Rabbit Factory), Brown’s work is uniformly strong. I love Joe, Fay, and Father and Son, but his last novel indicates how far he’d come as a storyteller and what he might have produced had he not died of a heart attack in 2004. A Miracle of Catfish is unfinished, but the world Brown creates is so full, the characters so round and naturalistic, the rolling, tense, verdant Mississippi landscape so sensually rendered, that the lack of a conventional resolution feels more realistic than not: this world is alive, unending. Brown’s final-draft notes included at the end of the book offer a glimpse of fates and possibilities, but they’re superfluous. Loneliness, alienation, aimless driving, splintered families, beers on ice in a cooler in a truck’s floorboards, and sticky heat and human anxieties and drama: it’s all here in a book that I...[read on]
About AC/DC's Highway To Hell, from the publisher:
Released in 1979, AC/DC’s Highway To Hell was the infamous last album recorded with singer Bon Scott, who died of alcohol poisoning in London in February of 1980. Officially chalked up to “Death by Misadventure,” Scott’s demise has forever secured the album’s reputation as a partying primer and a bible for lethal behavior, branding the album with the fun chaos of alcoholic excess and its flip side, early death. The best songs on Highway To Hell achieve Sonic Platonism, translating rock & roll’s transcendent ideals in stomping, dual-guitar and eighth-note bass riffing, a Paleolithic drum bed, and insanely, recklessly odd but fun vocals.

Joe Bonomo strikes a three-chord essay on the power of adolescence, the durability of rock & roll fandom, and the transformative properties of memory. Why does Highway To Hell matter to anyone beyond non-ironic teenagers? Blending interviews, analysis, and memoir with a fan’s perspective, Highway To Hell dramatizes and celebrates a timeless album that one critic said makes “disaster sound like the best fun in the world.”
Joe Bonomo is also the author of Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found (2009), Installations (National Poetry Series, 2008), Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band (2007), and numerous essays and prose poems. He teaches in the English Department at Northern Illinois University.

Visit Joe Bonomo's blog.

Writers Read: Joe Bonomo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five great fictional prime ministers

Michael Dobbs served as Chief of Staff to British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major and was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in the mid-1990s. His many books include House of Cards, the first in what would become a trilogy of political thrillers based on the character Francis Urquhart.

His latest novel is The Reluctant Hero.

Dobbs named a brief list of great fictional Prime Ministers for the Times (London).

One PM on the list:
Adam Lang in The Ghost by Robert Harris (2007)

Like Perkins, Lang is also a Labour PM but there the similarities peter out. Idealism for Lang is only speech-deep; he is a barely disguised Blair. The Ghost is a stomach-scouring denunciation of new Labour by one of its most enthusiastic early supporters.
Read about another Prime Minister on Dobbs' list.

Read about Michael Dobbs and his books.

The Page 69 Test: The Lords’ Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Hugh Bowden's "Mystery Cults of the Ancient World"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Mystery Cults of the Ancient World by Hugh Bowden.

About the book, from the publisher:
This is the first book to describe and explain all of the ancient world's major mystery cults--one of the most intriguing but least understood aspects of Greek and Roman religion. In the nocturnal Mysteries at Eleusis, participants dramatically re-enacted the story of Demeter's loss and recovery of her daughter Persephone; in the Bacchic cult, bands of women ran wild in the Greek countryside to honor Dionysus; and in the mysteries of Mithras, men came to understand the nature of the universe and their place within it through frightening initiation ceremonies and astrological teachings. These cults were an important part of life in the ancient Mediterranean world, but their actual practices were shrouded in secrecy, and many of their features have remained unclear until now.

By richly illustrating the evidence from ancient art and archaeology, and drawing on enlightening new work in the anthropology and cognitive science of religion, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World allows readers to imagine as never before what it was like to take part in these ecstatic and life-changing religious rituals--and what they meant to those who participated in them. Stunning images of Greek painted pottery, Roman frescoes, inscribed gold tablets from Greek and South Italian tombs, and excavated remains of religious sanctuaries help show what participants in these initiatory cults actually did and experienced.

A fresh and accessible introduction to a fascinating subject, this is a book that will interest general readers, as well as students and scholars of classics and religion.
Read more about Mystery Cults of the Ancient World at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Mystery Cults of the Ancient World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pg. 69: Deanna Fei's "A Thread of Sky"

This weekend's feature at the Page 69 Test: A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei.

About the book, from the publisher:
Looking to reconnect with their ancestral home and with one another, three generations of women tour mainland China on a journey that will change their family forever.

A stunning debut, A Thread of Sky is the story of a family of women and the powerful thread that binds their lives. In following the paths chosen by six fiercely independent women, A Thread of Sky explores the terrain we must travel to recognize the strength and vulnerability of those closest to us.

When her husband of thirty years is killed in a devastating accident, Irene Shen and her three daughters are set adrift. Nora, the eldest, retreats into her high-powered New York job and a troubled relationship. Kay, the headstrong middle child, escapes to China to learn the language and heritage of her parents. Sophie, the sensitive and artistic youngest, is trapped at home until college, increasingly estranged from her family-and herself. Terrified of being left alone with her grief, Irene plans a tour of mainland China's must sees, reuniting three generations of women-her three daughters, her distant poet sister, and her formidable eighty-year-old mother-in a desperate attempt to heal her fractured family.

If only it was so easy. Each woman arrives bearing secrets big and small, and as they travel-visiting untouched sections of the Great Wall and the seedy bars of Shanghai, the beautiful ancient temples and cold, modern shopping emporiums-they begin to wonder if they will ever find the China they seek, the one their family fled long ago.

Over days and miles they slowly find their way toward a new understanding of themselves, of one another, and of the vast complexity of their homeland, only to have their new bonds tested as never before when the darkest, most carefully guarded secret of all tumbles to the surface and threatens to tear their family apart forever. A Thread of Sky is a beautifully written and deeply haunting story about love and sacrifice, history and memory, sisterhood and motherhood, and the connections that endure.
Read an excerpt from A Thread of Sky, and learn more about the book and author at Deanna Fei's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Thread of Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the best visions of hell in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best visions of hell in literature.

One book on the list:
Inferno by Dante

"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate." In Dante's nine deepening circles, sinners get what they have deserved. The lustful are blown forever in tormenting storms; corrupt politicians simmer in bubbling tar; professional flatterers are bathed in excrement.
Read about another book on the list.

Dante is one of Angus Clarke's favorite religious poets.

The Divine Comedy is one of George Weigel's five essential books for understanding Christianity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pg. 99: John Ragosta's "Wellspring of Liberty"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty by John Ragosta.

About the book, from the publisher:
Before the American Revolution, no colony more assiduously protected its established church or more severely persecuted religious dissenters than Virginia. Both its politics and religion were dominated by an Anglican establishment, and dissenters from the established Church of England were subject to numerous legal infirmities and serious persecution. By 1786, no state more fully protected religious freedom.

This profound transformation, as John A. Ragosta shows in this book, arose not from a new-found cultural tolerance. Rather, as the Revolution approached, Virginia's political establishment needed the support of the religious dissenters, primarily Presbyterians and Baptists, for the mobilization effort. Dissenters seized this opportunity to insist on freedom of religion in return for their mobilization. Their demands led to a complex and extended negotiation in which the religious establishment slowly and grudgingly offered just enough reforms to maintain the crucial support of the dissenters.

After the war, when dissenters' support was no longer needed, the establishment leaders sought to recapture control, but found they had seriously miscalculated: wartime negotiations had politicized the dissenters. As a result dissenters' demands for the separation of church and state triumphed over the establishment's efforts and Jefferson's Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom was adopted.

Historians and the Supreme Court have repeatedly noted that the foundation of the First Amendment's protection of religious liberty lies in Virginia's struggle, turning primarily to Jefferson and Madison to understand this. In Wellspring of Liberty, John A. Ragosta argues that Virginia's religious dissenters played a seminal, and previously underappreciated, role in the development of the First Amendment and in the meaning of religious freedom as we understand it today.
Read more about Wellspring of Liberty at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Wellspring of Liberty.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Sheila Roberts reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Sheila Roberts, author of Small Change.

Her entry begins:
I’m always reading something. I especially love to read cookbooks and food magazines. (Hmmm. Could there be a connection between that and the growing size of my waist?) I also love to read books that give me a laugh, which puts Donald E. Westlake’s caper books at the top of my fun list. But I’m also drawn to books that will teach and inspire me, and I think my recent read, Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, would fall in that category.

What a fascinating peek into the mind of an entertainment icon and Renaissance man! I found so many interesting tidbits. Steve Martin’s first exposure to the general public was when he was a boy, working at Disneyland hawking tickets. He had a passion for magic tricks, and as a teenager had a magic act. He worked at Knott’s Berry Farm in its early days, performing on a small stage for small audiences. When he started working clubs as a comic his audiences there weren’t so big either. Why did it surprise me to read of his...[read on]
About Small Change, from the publisher:
Take a trip to the charming little town of Heart Lake, and meet three best friends who you’ll never forget

Rachel, Jessica and Tiffany have money problems—major money problems. Tiffany’s whipped out the plastic one too many times, and now a mountain of debt is about to come crashing down on her. Jessica’s husband lost his job—thrusting this longtime stay-at-home mom out into the cold, cruel workforce. And Rachel’s divorce has transformed her from an upper-middle-class mom to a strapped-for-cash divorcee. What are three best friends to do?

Get financially fit, that’s what! Together, Rachel, Jessica and Tiffany start a financial support group called The Small Change Club—challenging each other to bring balance back to their checkbooks, and their lives. Even though frugality is a lot harder than they ever imagined, these women are about to learn some very important lessons: that small changes can make a big difference…and that some things in life, like good friends, are truly priceless.
Visit Sheila Roberts' website and blog.

Writers Read: Sheila Roberts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Shirley Williams' six best books

Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, is a British politician and academic. Originally a Labour Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, she was one of the "Gang of Four" rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. She later served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, and since 2007 has served as Adviser on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Last year she told the Scottish Sunday Express about her six best books. One title on the list:
Testament of Youth
by Vera Brittan

I have to include my mother’s moving First World War memoir about the loss of her male friends and relatives. Perhaps inevitably, because the experience had such a profound effect on her, it also had an effect on me.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Natasha Friend's "For Keeps," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: For Keeps by Natasha Friend.

The entry begins:
The storyline:

For sixteen years, Josie Gardner and her mom, Kate, have been a team. It’s been the Gardner Girls against the world, and that’s how Josie likes it. Until one day, in the pet food aisle of Shop-Co, they run into the parents of Paul Tucci, Kate’s high school boyfriend—the father Josie has never met. If Mr. and Mrs. Tucci are back in town, it’s only a matter of time until Paul shows up. Suddenly Josie’s mature, capable mother regresses to the heartbroken teenager she was when Paul moved away. Meanwhile, Josie’s on the verge of having her first real boyfriend, while her free-lovin’ best friend, Liv, begins yet another no-strings-attached fling. When Josie learns some surprising truths about Paul Tucci, she finds herself questioning what she’s always believed about her parents—and about herself. In For Keeps, Natasha Friend tells a fresh, funny, smart story about what happens when a girl gets the guy she always wanted and the dad she never knew she needed.

The cast:

Josie Gardner: Ellen Page (cast her quick; she won't be able to pull off 16 much longer....)

Kate Gardner:...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Natasha Friend's official Facebook page and website.

My Book, The Movie: For Keeps.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pg. 69: Robert J. Sawyer's "WWW: Watch"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer.

About the book, from the publisher:
Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer continues his "wildly though- provoking" science fiction saga of a sentient World Wide Web.

Webmind is an emerging consciousness that has befriended Caitlin Decter and grown eager to learn about her world. But Webmind has also come to the attention of WATCH-the secret government agency that monitors the Internet for any threat to the United States-and they're fully aware of Caitlin's involvement in its awakening.

WATCH is convinced that Webmind represents a risk to national security and wants it purged from cyberspace. But Caitlin believes in Webmind's capacity for compassion-and she will do anything and everything necessary to protect her friend.
Read an excerpt from WWW: Watch, and learn more about the book and author at Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

Robert J. Sawyer has been called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen. He is one of only seven writers in history to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won in 2003 for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won in 2005 for Mindscan).

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Wake.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Watch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wayward women: great books where women hit the road

At Flashlight Worthy, Anne Matthews, co-author of Deep Creek, named a list of six great books where women find adventure away from home.

One book on the list:
The Journal of Madam Knight
by Sarah Kemble Knight

A New England business-woman's 1704 horseback journey from Boston to New York yields the first U. S. road-trip book. Still among the best, thanks to Kemble's high spirits and sardonic eye.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Laura Brodie's "Love in a Time of Homeschooling"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Love in a Time of Homeschooling by Laura Brodie.

About the book, from the publisher:
"I had always thought of homeschooling as a drastic measure.... But when my daughter decided that she would rather hide in a closet than complete her homework, I knew that it was time for me to become a schoolteacher, if only for a little while."

After years of watching her eldest daughter, Julia, struggle in a highly regimented public school system, Laura Brodie determined to teach her ten-year-old at home for a year. Although friends were skeptical and her husband predicted disaster—"You can't be serious"—Brodie had visions of one ideal year of learning. The monotony of fill-in-the-blank history and math worksheets would be replaced with studying dinosaurs and Mayan hieroglyphics, conversational French, violin lessons, and field trips to art museums, science fairs, bookstores, and concerts.

But can one year of homeschooling make a difference? And what happens to the love between mother and daughter when fractions and spelling enter the relationship?

Love in a Time of Homeschooling is a funny and inspiring story of human foibles and human potential, in which love, anger, and hope mingle with reading, math, and American history. As today's parents ponder their children's educations, wondering how to respond to everything from homework overload to bullying to the boredom of excessive test preparations, homeschooling has become a popular alternative embraced by millions. Short-term homeschooling is the latest trend in this growing movement.

Brodie gave her daughter a sabbatical to explore, learn, create, and grow—a year of independent research and writing to rejuvenate Julia's love of learning. The experiment brought out the best and worst in the pair, but they worked through their frustrations to forge an invaluable bond. Theirs is a wonderful story no parent should miss.
Read an excerpt from Love in a Time of Homeschooling, and learn more about the book and author at Laura Brodie's website.

The Page 99 Test: Love in a Time of Homeschooling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What is Jehanne Dubrow reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow, author of three poetry collections including Stateside (Northwestern University Press 2010).

Part of her entry:
My second work-in-progress is a collection of linked essays about my experiences as a military wife. When I finished writing the poems in Stateside, I realized that I wasn’t yet done with the subject of “milspouse” life. There were still other stories I wanted to tell, not as poems but as prose. So, I’ve been reading a lot of creative nonfiction. I’ve just started Alison Buckholtz’s memoir, Standing By: The Making of a Military Family in a Time of War. I’m interested in the book’s perspective because, like me, Buckholtz falls into the category of a “nontraditional” military wife. I’m also rereading Lia Purpura’s exquisite book, On Looking. These lyrical essays, with their precise metaphors and vivid images, demonstrate why so many poets are able to make the leap from verse to nonfiction. Purpura’s essay, “Autopsy Report,” is worth the price of admission alone. After watching a day of autopsies performed in the morgue, Purpura steps outside to discover that “everything looked as it always had—bright and pearly, lush and arterial after the rain.”...[read more]
Among the early praise for Stateside:
In Jehanne Dubrow’s Stateside, the formalities of structure—rhyme and meter—play against the formalities imposed upon the life of a military wife. there are poems in marching meters and poems that provide counterpoint to those rhythms, but most of all, hers is a fully experienced suite, fully composed in every sense of that word, both intimate and public, an accomplished book. She is a contemporary Penelope whose tale is epic.
—Sam Hamill, author of Almost Paradise: Selected Poems & Translations
Jehanne Dubrow is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Stateside (Northwestern University Press 2010), which describes her experiences as a "milspouse." Her first book, The Hardship Post (2009), won the Three Candles Press Open Book Award, and her second collection From the Fever-World, won the Washington Writers' Publishing House Poetry Competition (2009). Finishing Line Press published her chapbook, The Promised Bride, in 2007.

Read "Against War Movies" and sample other poems by Jehanne Dubrow, and visit her website and blog.

Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten absurd classics

Michael Foley was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, but since 1972 he has lived in London, working as a Lecturer in Information Technology. He has published four novels, four collections of poetry and a collection of translations from French poetry, which have earned impressive reviews from the Guardian, New Statesman and New York Times. The Age of Absurdity is his first non-fiction book.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of books that best express the absurdity of the human condition. One title on the list:
The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien

This is another vision of life as absurd repetition – but eerie, nightmarish, totally black. In the key scene Sergeant Pluck and Policeman MacCruiskeen take the narrator on a visit to eternity (up an Irish country lane and deep underground) and tell him he can order whatever he wants. After some thought the narrator requests, and is given, 50 cubes of gold, a bottle of whiskey, precious stones to the value of £200,000, some bananas, a fountain pen and writing materials, a serge suit of blue with silk lining and a weapon capable of exterminating all adversaries. But as he is about to enter the lift on the way out he is informed that he must exit with the same weight as he came in. Obliged to abandon his treasures, he weeps silent bitter tears – excruciatingly funny and also strangely moving.
Read about another book on the list.

Flann O'Brien is on Max McGuinness' list of four of the greatest alternative Irish writers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Fernanda Eberstadt's "Rat"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt.

About the book, from the publisher:
Of The Furies, Fernanda Eberstadt’s last novel, Alexandra Jacobs wrote in the New York Observer that it “veers pretty close to genius ... Eberstadt is an expert, sensual, and at times truly breathtaking conjurer of New York City.” With Rat, Eberstadt has found a new setting she knows well, the South of France, and the story she tells is original, powerful, and heartrending—about a child’s search for a father she has never known.

Rat is fifteen-year-old Celia Bonnet, who lives with her unmarried mother, Vanessa, a free-spirited local beauty, in a farmhouse compound with other single-parent families in the Pyrénées Orientales, a gorgeous but forlorn Mediterranean no-man’s-land just north of the Spanish Catalan border. Rat is the result of a one-night encounter between Vanessa and Gillem, the son of a London model from the 1960s, who used to spend summers in the area and whom Rat has never spoken to or met. But when Vanessa’s current boyfriend starts preying on Morgan, the orphaned nine-year-old who is Rat’s adopted brother, she decides to take Morgan and run away to her father in London. As the novel unfolds, the two children undertake a difficult journey to find the man who might finally explain to Rat who she is and where she belongs.

This is an enthralling novel with a luminous sense of place—both physical and emotional—and, at its core, a bold, engaging young heroine for our times.
Learn more about the book and author at Fernanda Eberstadt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Rat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pg. 99: Kai Bird's "Crossing Mandelbaum Gate"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 by Kai Bird.

About the book, from the publisher:
PULITZER PRIZE WINNER KAI BIRD’S fascinating memoir of his early years spent in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon provides an original and illuminating perspective into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Weeks before the Suez War of 1956, four-year-old Kai Bird, son of a garrulous, charming American Foreign Service officer, moved to Jerusalem with his family. They settled in a small house, where young Kai could hear church bells and the Muslim call to prayer and watch as donkeys and camels competed with cars for space on the narrow streets. Each day on his way to school, Kai was driven through Mandelbaum Gate, where armed soldiers guarded the line separating Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem from Arab-controlled East. He had a front-seat view to both sides of a divided city—and the roots of the widening conflict between Arabs and Israelis.

Bird would spend much of his life crossing such lines—as a child in Jerusalem, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and later, as a young man in Lebanon. Crossing Mandelbaum Gate is his compelling personal history of growing up an American in the midst of three major wars and three turbulent decades in the Middle East. The Zelig-like Bird brings readers into such conflicts as the Suez War, the Six Day War of 1967, and the Black September hijackings in 1970 that triggered the Jordanian civil war. Bird vividly portrays such emblematic figures as the erudite George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening; Jordan’s King Hussein; the Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled; Salem bin Laden, Osama’s older brother and a family friend; Saudi King Faisal; President Nasser of Egypt; and Hillel Kook, the forgotten rescuer of more than 100,000 Jews during World War II.

Bird, his parents sympathetic to Palestinian self-determination and his wife the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, has written a masterful and highly accessible book—at once a vivid chronicle of a life spent between cultures as well as a consummate history of a region in turmoil. It is an indispensable addition to the literature on the modern Middle East.
Browse inside Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, and learn more about the book and author at Kai Bird's website.

The Page 99 Test: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate.

--Marshal Zeringue