Sunday, February 28, 2021

Pg. 99: Paula Marantz Cohen's "Of Human Kindness"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Of Human Kindness: What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Empathy by Paula Marantz Cohen.

About the book, from the publisher:
An award-winning scholar and teacher explores how Shakespeare’s greatest characters were built on a learned sense of empathy

While exploring Shakespeare’s plays with her students, Paula Marantz Cohen discovered that teaching and discussing his plays unlocked a surprising sense of compassion in the classroom. In this short and illuminating book, she shows how Shakespeare’s genius lay with his ability to arouse empathy, even when his characters exist in alien contexts and behave in reprehensible ways.

Cohen takes her readers through a selection of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and The Merchant of Venice, to demonstrate the ways in which Shakespeare thought deeply and clearly about how we treat “the other.” Cohen argues that only through close reading of Shakespeare can we fully appreciate his empathetic response to race, class, gender, and age. Wise, eloquent, and thoughtful, this book is a forceful argument for literature’s power to champion what is best in us.
Visit Paula Marantz Cohen's website.

The Page 99 Test: Of Human Kindness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top books to combat anti-Asian racism in America

Jae-Yeon Yoo is an MA candidate in English at New York University. Stefani Kuo (郭佳怡) is a poet/playwright/performer and native of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

At Electric Lit they assembled a literary guide books to combat anti-Asian racism in America. One title on the list:
The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel The Unpassing tells the story of a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet in Anchorage, Alaska. Against the bleak and cold backdrop of Alaskan winter, ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, falls into a coma and wakes a week later to find out his little sister Ruby was infected and died. As grief envelops the family, we see the remaining five members of the family struggle to stay afloat, navigate marginalization and alienation, and search for a sense of belonging in a foreign land. What does it mean to lose the ones you love in a place that is not home? What does it mean when there is no home to return to?
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Daniel Pyne

From my Q&A with Daniel Pyne, author of Water Memory: A Thriller:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

For some reason, I’ve always struggled with titles if they don’t come to me right away. I created a TV show about lawyers that was called The Antagonists, possibly one of the worst series titles ever, despite being incredibly accurate.

Calling my new book Water Memory is a bit of a misdirection; yes, it’s a story about memory; the main character is suffering serial concussion syndrome and worrisome memory loss. But it’s also a thriller, which is probably why the publisher added ‘A Thriller’ on the book cover.

Thematically, however, water memory refers to a folk belief that water -- which is ancient and immutable -- holds in it the memory of everything it’s touched, which means everything that’s ever happened, and everyone who has ever existed. And because the story takes place mostly on the ocean that idea, that memory is eternal and defines us, continually resonates throughout the novel.

What's in a name?

My protagonist is a private sector black ops specialist, and I named her Aubrey Sentro because it is an unusual and slightly gender-neutral name, both of which prepare the reader for...[read on]
Visit Daniel Pyne's website.

Q&A with Daniel Pyne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Ten top thrillers based on real-life events

Ben McPherson’s debut novel was the highly acclaimed A Line of Blood. He is a television producer and director, as well as a writer, and for more than ten years worked for the BBC, among other outlets.

[The Page 69 Test: A Line of Blood.]

McPherson's new novel, Love and Other Lies, is partly based on terrorist Anders Breivik’s slaughter of 77 people at a Norwegian summer camp in 2011.

At Publishers Weekly the author tagged ten thrillers based on real-life events, including:
The Long Drop by Denise Mina

Sixty years after Peter Manuel’s death, people in Scotland still shudder at his name. Mina takes an event known to have happened—Manuel’s 11-hour drinking session with William Watt, the man whose wife, sister-in-law, and daughter he had bestially killed—and intercuts that night with Manuel’s trial for their murder the following year. For both men the stakes are high. The police suspect Watt of murdering his own family; Watt believes Manuel to be the killer. This is true crime reimagined as fiction and marketed as a novel. It’s a superb trawl through the razor gangs and illegal bars of the 1950s Glasgow underworld—horrifying, but at times very funny. Traces of that world are still there, as anyone who grew up in Scotland will tell you.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Mark Wheaton's "The Quake Cities"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Quake Cities by Mark Wheaton.

About the book, from the publisher:
A woman tries trying to find her way home in a world decimated by earthquakes, but there are people determined to stop her and harvest her DNA.

Alice awakes with no idea where she is and why there appear to be mercenaries tracking her down. She is found and aided by Este, a pathfinder making a living in the quake-ravaged Los Angeles. Together they battle their way across the US to find Alice's family, all while discovering why Alice is valued so highly by those chasing her.
Visit Mark Wheaton's website.

Writers Read: M. G. Wheaton (April 2019).

The Page 69 Test: Emily Eternal.

The Page 69 Test: The Quake Cities.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Rachel Anne Gillett's "At Home in Our Sounds"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: At Home in Our Sounds: Music, Race, and Cultural Politics in Interwar Paris by Rachel Anne Gillett.

About the book, from the publisher:
At Home in Our Sounds illustrates the effect jazz music had on the enormous social challenges Europe faced in the aftermath of World War I. Examining the ways African American, French Antillean, and French West African artists reacted to the heightened visibility of racial difference in Paris during this era, author Rachel Anne Gillett addresses fundamental cultural questions that continue to resonate today: Could one be both black and French? Was black solidarity more important than national and colonial identity? How could French culture include the experiences and contributions of Africans and Antilleans?

Providing a well-rounded view of black reactions to jazz in interwar Paris, At Home in Our Sounds deals with artists from highly educated women like the Nardal sisters of Martinique, to the working black musicians performing at all hours throughout the city. In so doing, the book places this phenomenon in its historical and political context and shows how music and music-making constituted a vital terrain of cultural politics--one that brought people together around pianos and on the dancefloor, but that did not erase the political, regional, and national differences between them.
Learn more about At Home in Our Sounds at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: At Home in Our Sounds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 26, 2021

Eight books about the strange & curious world of early robots

Rebecca Morgan Frank’s fourth collection of poems is Oh You Robot Saints! (2021).

Her previous collections are Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country and The Spokes of Venus, and Little Murders Everywhere, finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

At Lit Hub she shared a reading list that is "an eclectic sampling to help you navigate the world of automata that live in libraries." One title on the list:
Adrienne Mayor, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines and Ancient Dreams of Technology

Was Pygmalion, to some degree, the first sex robot? Is realistic male chest armor the first artificial human enhancement? These are some of the assertions Mayor makes as she explores early imaginings of creatures that are “made not born,” and investigates aspects of “biotechne,” or “life through craft,” in tales of familiar mythical figures such as Hephaestus, Daedalus, Medea, and Pandora. Early robots are indeed the stuff of myths, as Mayor demonstrates in her unpacking of these early conceptions of artificial life; she also explores their materiality in ancient artifacts such as coins, vases, and mirrors. Perhaps most recognizable as a robot prototype is the hulking bronze automaton Talos, forged by Hephaestus, but Mayor teases out for the reader how these many myths of artificial life are precursors to the made automata and robots that follow. Mayor’s final chapter, “Myth and History,” does delve into the world of the made to note such engineers such as Philo, Heron, al-Jazari and Ma Jun, and crosses over into legends of automaton guardians of Buddhist relics in India. Through this guide to the ancient world of automata, Mayor reminds us that humans have already imagined pretty much everything.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Gods and Robots.

--Marshal Zeringue

James Brabazon's "All Fall Down," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: All Fall Down by James Brabazon.

The entry begins:
There is only one possible actor who could play Max McLean, the Irish spy-assassin protagonist in All Fall Down – and that’s the amazing Jason O’Mara. They’re even from the same part of Ireland! Jason read the audio book for All Fall Down (which is more like a one-man dramatization) and totally brought Max to life. When I hear Max’s voice in my head, it’s Jason’s I can hear. He’s a top chap, too – zero celeb bs – which I think is vital for playing Max, who has the world’s most finely tuned bs detector!

Commander Frank Knight – Max’s enigmatic operator… Gary Oldman, for sure. He has form for playing tricky spies, and Frank Knight is as tricky as they come.

Rachel Levy, the brilliant, beautiful and devastating spectre that rises from Max’s past… that would have to be...[read on]
Visit James Brabazon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Break Line.

My Book, The Movie: The Break Line.

Writers Read: James Brabazon (February 2019).

My Book, The Movie: All Fall Down.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Marti Leimbach

From my Q&A with Marti Leimbach, author of Dragonfly Girl:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Dragonfly Girl is about a high school senior who discovers a “cure” for death and ends up embroiled in an international rivalry. I thought about calling it The Death Cure, but that sounded like science fiction (the novel has some speculative fiction, but is very steeped in the real world). Also, it didn’t sound personal enough. This is about a girl, after all, one who is very smart in some ways, but woefully not in others, who can handle herself in very difficult situations that most teens wouldn’t cope with, but who can barely get through a school day without drama. How do you describe such a girl?

Within the first few chapters the reader will understand why the main character is called “dragonfly girl” but it isn’t until the end that the name has further significance, and we see that this girl has changed. She’s become something she wasn’t before. And this new identity will take...[read on]
Visit Marti Leimbach's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dragonfly Girl.

The Page 69 Test: Dragonfly Girl.

Q&A with Marti Leimbach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Top ten books about castaways

Lucy Clarke is the bestselling author of six psychological thrillers - The Sea Sisters, A Single Breath, The Blue/No Escape, Last Seen, You Let Me In, and The Castaways. Her debut novel was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and her books have been sold in over 20 territories.

Clarke is a passionate traveller, beach hut dweller, and fresh air enthusiast. She's married to a professional windsurfer and, together with their two young children, they spend their winters travelling and their summers at home on the south coast of England. Clarke writes from a beach hut, using the inspiration from the wild south coast to craft her stories.

At the Guardian she tagged ten favorite books about castaways, including:
The Beach by Alex Garland

Nick Hornby once described The Beach as “Lord of the Flies for Generation X”. When backpacker Richard is given a hand-sketched map, it promises to lead him to an unknown island and a secret beach untouched by tourism. Intrigued, Richard and two friends set off on a journey of discovery, eventually uncovering a community of travellers living on the shores of a Thai island. But utopia is laced with darkness, and the island paradise descends into violence and madness. An entire generation of travellers (me included) tucked this novel into their backpacks and went in search of the undiscovered.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Beach also appears on Hephzibah Anderson's list of eleven previously hip books that have not aged well, S J watson's list of six novels that could only take place at the seashore, Cat Barton's top five list of books on Southeast Asian travel literature, Kate Kellaway's ten best list of fictional holidays, Eleanor Muffitt top 12 list of books that make you want to pack your bags and trot the globe, Anna Wilson's top ten list of books set on the seaside, the Guardian editors' list of the 50 best summer reads ever, John Mullan's list of ten of the best swimming scenes in literature, and Sloane Crosley's list of five depressing beach reads.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Julia Fine's "The Upstairs House"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Upstairs House: A Novel by Julia Fine.

About the book, from the publisher:
There’s a madwoman upstairs, and only Megan Weiler can see her.

Ravaged and sore from giving birth to her first child, Megan is mostly raising her newborn alone while her husband travels for work. Physically exhausted and mentally drained, she’s also wracked with guilt over her unfinished dissertation—a thesis on mid-century children’s literature.

Enter a new upstairs neighbor: the ghost of quixotic children’s book writer Margaret Wise Brown—author of the beloved classic Goodnight Moon—whose existence no one else will acknowledge. It seems Margaret has unfinished business with her former lover, the once-famous socialite and actress Michael Strange, and is determined to draw Megan into the fray. As Michael joins the haunting, Megan finds herself caught in the wake of a supernatural power struggle—and until she can find a way to quiet these spirits, she and her newborn daughter are in terrible danger.

Using Megan’s postpartum haunting as a powerful metaphor for a woman’s fraught relationship with her body and mind, Julia Fine once again delivers an imaginative and “barely restrained, careful musing on female desire, loneliness, and hereditary inheritances” (Washington Post).
Visit Julia Fine's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Upstairs House.

The Page 69 Test: The Upstairs House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Courtney E. Thompson's "An Organ of Murder"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: An Organ of Murder: Crime, Violence, and Phrenology in Nineteenth-Century America by Courtney E. Thompson.

About the book, from the publisher:
An Organ of Murder explores the origins of both popular and elite theories of criminality in the nineteenth-century United States, focusing in particular on the influence of phrenology. In the United States, phrenology shaped the production of medico-legal knowledge around crime, the treatment of the criminal within prisons and in public discourse, and sociocultural expectations about the causes of crime. The criminal was phrenology’s ideal research and demonstration subject, and the courtroom and the prison were essential spaces for the staging of scientific expertise. In particular, phrenology constructed ways of looking as well as a language for identifying, understanding, and analyzing criminals and their actions. This work traces the long-lasting influence of phrenological visual culture and language in American culture, law, and medicine, as well as the practical uses of phrenology in courts, prisons, and daily life.
Learn more about An Organ of Murder at the Rutgers University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: An Organ of Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Top ten queer protagonists in crime fiction

Russ Thomas grew up in the 80s reading anything he could get his hands on, writing stories, watching television, and playing videogames: in short, anything that avoided the Great Outdoors. After a few ‘proper’ jobs, he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Now a full-time writer, he also teaches creative writing classes and mentors new authors.

Thomas's new novel is Nighthawking.

At CrimeReads he tagged his "top ten list of the most memorable queer protagonists of crime fiction." One title on the list:
Leonard Pine

The 90s brought us Hap and Leonard, two best friends who have now been raising hell together across Texas for thirty years. It’s true to say they both break the mould. Hap Collins is the sensitive, brooding working-class labourer who avoids violence at almost any cost, while Leonard Pine is a gay black Vietnam veteran with a violent streak, who’s more than happy to shoot any man who underestimates him. We meet the pair in Joe R. Lansdale’s Savage Season (1990), a book chock full of memorable characters, sharp dialogue, and dark suspense. But it’s Leonard Pine who stands out as something special, a gay protagonist in the mystery genre who breaks every stereotype in the book.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Julia Fine's "The Upstairs House," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: The Upstairs House: A Novel by Julia Fine.

The entry begins:
The Upstairs House is about a new mother who is either experiencing postpartum psychosis, or being haunted by the ghosts of the author Margaret Wise Brown and her female lover. I’d love to see the film embrace all the messy, claustrophobic, feminist fractals of the novel—I envision a film that jumps between 1940s Manhattan and present-day Chicago, a film that blurs the line between fantasy and reality so that the viewer is just as unsettled as Megan, the protagonist.

Of the three lead characters, two are recent historical figures. I’ve tried to do their real-life counterparts justice in fiction, and in casting them I’d want to stick as close to their general real-life vibes as possible. Margaret Wise Brown was quirky and extravagantly generous and at the same time prickly. I envision an actress like Ruth Wilson or Kate Winslet in the role, someone who looks enough like Margaret in photographs, and could show us the vulnerability hiding underneath her many layers.

Michael Strange, Margaret’s partner of ten years, was a strong personality. She was extremely charismatic, and often very bossy—she definitely requires an actress with...[read on]
Visit Julia Fine's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Upstairs House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Emilya Naymark

From my Q&A with Emilya Naymark, author of Hide in Place:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think coming up with Hide in Place, the title, took longer than writing the novel. I’m kidding (not really). What I really wanted to call it was Minor Threat, but that would have been impossible—first, because it’s the name of a very famous punk hardcore band, and second, because it refers to my secondary protagonist, Alfie, the minor in the book. That title wasn’t thrilling enough. It wasn’t about my undercover detective. It implied something minor.

I recruited an army of friends and acquaintances to come up with a title for me. Dinner conversations, lunch conversations, Facebook threads, dozens of suggestions sent to my publisher. Nothing. When my agent suggested Hide in Place and my publisher accepted it, I was so happy I could have danced on the ceiling.

It's a great title because it refers to the way all the characters are playing a role. My undercover detective adopts alternate personas, my teenager tries on different behaviors to see which fits. My confidential informant hides in plain sight, and my detective’s ex-partner...[read on]
Visit Emilya Naymark's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hide in Place.

My Book, The Movie: Hide in Place.

Q&A with Emilya Naymark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pg. 69: Marti Leimbach's "Dragonfly Girl"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Dragonfly Girl by Marti Leimbach.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this spellbinding thriller and YA debut from bestselling author Marti Leimbach, Kira Adams has discovered a cure for death—and it may just cost her life.

Things aren’t going well for Kira. At home, she cares for her mother and fends off debt collectors. At school, she’s awkward and shy. Plus, she may flunk out if she doesn’t stop obsessing about science, her passion and the one thing she’s good at . . . very good at.

When she wins a prestigious science contest she draws the attention of the celebrated professor Dr. Gregory Munn (as well as his handsome assistant), leading to a part-time job in a top-secret laboratory.

The job is mostly cleaning floors and equipment, but one night, while running her own experiment, she revives a lab rat that has died in her care.

One minute it is dead, the next it is not.

Suddenly she’s the remarkable wunderkind, the girl who can bring back the dead. Everything is going her way. But it turns out that science can be a dangerous business, and Kira is swept up into a world of international rivalry with dark forces that threaten her life.
Visit Marti Leimbach's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dragonfly Girl.

The Page 69 Test: Dragonfly Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Steven B. Smith's "Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes by Steven B. Smith.

About the book, from the publisher:
A rediscovery of patriotism as a virtue in line with the core values of democracy in an extremist age

The concept of patriotism has fallen on hard times. What was once a value that united Americans has become so politicized by both the left and the right that it threatens to rip apart the social fabric. On the right, patriotism has become synonymous with nationalism and an “us versus them” worldview, while on the left it is seen as an impediment to acknowledging important ethnic, religious, or racial identities and a threat to cosmopolitan globalism.

Steven B. Smith reclaims patriotism from these extremist positions and advocates for a patriotism that is broad enough to balance loyalty to country against other loyalties. Describing how it is a matter of both the head and the heart, Smith shows how patriotism can bring the country together around the highest ideals of equality and is a central and ennobling disposition that democratic societies cannot afford to do without.
Learn more about Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Nine top novels about gossip

Priyanka Champaneri received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University and has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts numerous times. She received the 2018 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for The City of Good Death, her first novel.

At Electric Lit, Champaneri tagged "nine books to quell your appetite for a good gossip." One title on the list:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett

A chorus of women narrate the events of Brit Bennett’s debut novel, closely following the lives of three young members of their church’s congregation. Under this collective gaze, Nadia, Luke and Aubrey grow up—each carrying a personal burden that follows them into adulthood as they form attachments with each other, as well as deep secrets that threaten to crack open the carefully structured community that watches them. As the chorus notes,

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around in our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”
Read about another entry on the list.

The Mothers is among Patrick Coleman's eight top San Diego books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 22, 2021

What is D.W. Buffa reading?

Featured at Writers Read: D.W. Buffa, author of The Privilege.

His entry begins:
I first read The Great Gatsby by accident, when I was twenty-four, late one night at the end of my second year in graduate school, the night before I left to spend the summer in New York. I had finished packing my tattered second-hand suitcase and the small string tied cardboard box of books I was taking with me. With nothing left to do, I picked up a slim paperback edition, a copy of Gatsby, and started to read. It was, if I remember, a little after midnight when I started and a little after four in the morning when I finally finished it and knew immediately that I would one day read it again. And I have, at least half a dozen times, the last time just a few days ago. The astonishing thing is that each time is like reading something you have never read before. You remember that you have read it, you remember the story, you remember whole lines, but it still, somehow, comes as a surprise, the way Fitzgerald makes you feel that you know these people as well, or better, than anyone you have ever actually met.

It is like listening to a story told by one of your uncles about relatives you never knew, the story he tells you each time you see him and always...[read on]
About The Privilege, from the publisher:
Joseph Antonelli, who never lost a case he should have won and won nearly every case he should have lost, is about to see his client, Justin Friedrich, convicted for a crime he did not commit. His wife was found shot to death in the bedroom of their yacht in the San Francisco marina, and Friedrich does not have a chance. But then the real killer approaches Antonelli…

Famous and enigmatic, James Michael Redfield, the head of a high tech company that leads the world in the development of artificial intelligence, Redfield gives Antonelli evidence that proves Friedrich is innocent. But why did Redfield wait until the last minute to give Antonelli this proof?

Before Antonelli can even begin to solve that riddle, there is another murder, and Antonelli finds himself an unwilling participant in a conspiracy he does not understand. Antonelli has never known anyone like James Michael Redfield. Because for Redfield, it isn’t about murder at all; it is all about the trial. Because only a trial can show the world what Redfield believes it needs to know…no matter how many people need to die.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Writers Read: D.W. Buffa.

--Marshal Zeringue

The novels of the new Dark Academia canon

Amy Gentry is the author of the feminist thrillers Good as Gone, Last Woman Standing, and Bad Habits, as well as Boys for Pele, a book of music criticism in the 33 1/3 series.

At CrimeReads she tagged the books of “'Dark Academia,' after the gothic, bookish online aesthetic that adopts The Secret History as its foundational text." One title on the list:
They Never Learn, Layne Fargo (2020)

Fargo’s book is the rare one on this list that features a professor in the lead—but in keeping with the Dark Academia aesthetic, she’s not a detective, but a serial killer. Antihero Scarlett is sultry yet calculating, deeply committed to pleasure, and bent on exacting her revenge on campus rapists. In They Never Learn, Fargo cleverly interweaves chapters about Scarlet’s shocking habit of murdering men at her college with a parallel story of a young student that will have readers wishing she would bump off a couple more.
Read about another entry on the list.

They Never Learn is among Molly Odintz's six best vigilante thrillers.

My Book, The Movie: They Never Learn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Ashley Schumacher

From my Q&A with Ashley Schumacher, author of Amelia Unabridged: A Novel:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I was told very early in my pursuit of traditional publishing that the powers that be are more of an influence on titles than anything else. I had friends who warned that they had held onto a beloved title with both hands only to have it wrenched from their grasp, so I was very hesitant to let myself really love any title lest I should lose it.

Amelia Unabridged was actually courtesy of my husband after a joint brainstorming session. It represents the book beautifully, I think, bringing the main character Amelia right up against a literary term and hinting that stories will be a large part of the novel itself. I’m thrilled the title stood the test of time.

What's in a name?

Names play an important part in Amelia Unabridged, especially when it comes to N. E. Endsley, the mysterious author of the book series with which the main character, Amelia, is obsessed. What people...[read on]
Visit Ashley Schumacher's website.

Q&A with Ashley Schumacher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fifty great classic novels under 200 pages

Emily Temple holds a BA from Middlebury College and an MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns fellow and the recipient of a Henfield Prize.

Temple's first novel is The Lightness.

At Lit Hub she tagged fifty great classic novels under 200 pages. One title on the list:
James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1933) : 112 pages

A 20th century classic, and still one of the best, most important, and most interesting crime novels in the canon. Fun fact: Cain had originally wanted to call it Bar-B-Q.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is among Douglas Kennedy's ten favorite "novels on the agonies and ecstasies of the extramarital adventure," Vincent Zandri's top ten doomed and deadly romances in noir fiction, and Benjamin Black/John Banville's five top works of noir.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: John Howard Smith's "A Dream of the Judgment Day"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: A Dream of the Judgment Day: American Millennialism and Apocalypticism, 1620-1890 by John Howard Smith.

About the book, from the publisher:
The United States has long thought of itself as exceptional--a nation destined to lead the world into a bright and glorious future. These ideas go back to the Puritan belief that Massachusetts would be a "city on a hill," and in time that image came to define the United States and the American mentality. But what is at the root of these convictions? John Howard Smith's A Dream of the Judgment Day explores the origins of beliefs about the biblical end of the world as Americans have come to understand them, and how these beliefs led to a conception of the United States as an exceptional nation with a unique destiny to fulfill. However, these beliefs implicitly and explicitly excluded African Americans and American Indians because they didn't fit white Anglo-Saxon ideals. While these groups were influenced by these Christian ideas, their exclusion meant they had to craft their own versions of millenarian beliefs. Women and other marginalized groups also played a far larger role than usually acknowledged in this phenomenon, greatly influencing the developing notion of the United States as the "redeemer nation."

Smith's comprehensive history of eschatological thought in early America encompasses traditional and non-traditional Christian beliefs in the end of the world. It reveals how millennialism and apocalypticism played a role in destructive and racist beliefs like "Manifest Destiny," while at the same time influencing the foundational idea of the United States as an "elect nation." Featuring a broadly diverse cast of historical figures, A Dream of the Judgment Day synthesizes more than forty years of scholarship into a compelling and challenging portrait of early America.
Learn more about A Dream of the Judgment Day at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Dream of the Judgment Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Jack Heath's "The Missing Passenger"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Missing Passenger by Jack Heath.

About the book, from the publisher:
Jarli only narrowly escaped death after his world-shattering app made him infamous. Now there’s a new foe afoot and Jarli is far from safe in this thrilling sequel to The Truth App.

When a seemingly unoccupied plane crash lands in the middle of Kelton, Jarli’s attempts to lay low and out of Viper’s criminal crosshairs crash lands along with it.

The cause of the accident is a mystery until his Truth App uncovers a dangerous secret at the crash site—a secret Viper will do anything to keep buried.

Suddenly Jarli is a target again and on the run with his high school tormentor, Doug. There’s no one he can trust, not even the police—and Jarli’s starting to think Doug is hiding something, too. Constantly at odds and left with no other choice, they team up to conduct an investigation of their own. But when Doug’s past comes back to haunt them, Jarli fears that there’s little hope in getting out of this one alive.

Kelton was supposed to be the perfect hiding place. But there’s no hiding from the truth.
Visit Jack Heath's website.

Writers Read: Jack Heath (April 2020).

My Book, The Movie: The Truth App.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing Passenger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The best books on LGBT+ history

Michael Cashman is a British politician and life peer. Born and raised in the East End of London, he acted throughout his childhood and adulthood and is best known for his role as Colin Russell in Eastenders. He is the co-founder of the Stonewall Group and was the UK's first ever special envoy on LGBT issues. He was elected as an MEP in 1999, a position he filled for fifteen years. He has been awarded the Stonewall Politician of the Year, a Pink News Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the European Diversity Awards.

Cashman's memoir is One of Them: From Albert Square to Parliament Square.

At the Guardian he tagged his favorite books on LGBT+ history, including:
[M]y reading list is dominated by love, loss, diversity and friendship – but above all, by themes of identity. The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara reminds me of that trip to New York; a place of hope and refuge, where everything was possible as long as you had the rent for the landlord and the wit to survive. And how these boys – some transitioning – survive; the love, camaraderie and support is both uplifting and heartbreaking. Heartbreak – yes, I’m a romantic – is also what we get from Tomasz Jedrowski’s exquisite debut novel, Swimming in the Dark. Set in 1980s Poland, this love story captivates and is so beautifully written I return to it again and again.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Marti Leimbach's "Dragonfly Girl," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: Dragonfly Girl by Marti Leimbach.

The entry begins:
You never write a book expecting it to be made into a film, but I would love to see Dragonfly Girl on-screen and there’s lots about the story, such as its dynamic female lead and pacey backstory, that would make it easy to adapt.

As for my dream cast, let’s start with the guy who makes everything happen for the heroine. That’s Dr. Munn, Scientific Director of the Mellin Institute, where Kira figures out how to bring a lab rat back to life. He’s a forever-young older man with a wicked intelligence and a commanding presence. I’m thinking Bill Nighy, one of my favourite actors and the only actor whose movies I will watch regardless of content. But I’d also love to see Lucian Msamati, another giant in the world of film and theatre, tackle the role, as he, too, is an actor you can’t take your eyes from.

Kira…my heroine! I would need someone who can be, in turns, tough, mature, insecure, vulnerable, and witty. She has to be...[read on]
Visit Marti Leimbach's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dragonfly Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Kateřina Tučková

photo credit: Lenka Hatašová
From my Q&A with Kateřina Tučková, author of Gerta: A Novel, translated by Véronique Firkusny:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The book, which American readers can read under the title Gerta, in its original language bears a much more explicit title – Vyhnání Gerty Schnirch [The Expulsion of Gerta Schnirch]. In a Czech context, the German name of the title character immediately raises several questions: Why was a German girl expelled from a country inhabited by Czechs? Was she guilty of some offence? Did she deserve her punishment? What happened to her? Using the second half of the twentieth century as a backdrop, I then offer an answer that is a criticism of collective guilt, which after the end of World War II was brought down on the heads of even those who were innocent. Many of them paid with their lives – in the so-called Brno Death March in May of 1945, some 1,700 women, children and elderly persons died and were buried in a mass grave about which nothing was known for over forty years.

What's in a name?

I named my heroine Gerta in memory of...[read on]
Visit Kateřina Tučková's website.

Q&A with Kateřina Tučková.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 19, 2021

Ten top maternity leave noir titles

Molly Odintz is the Senior Editor for CrimeReads. She grew up in Austin and worked as a bookseller at BookPeople for years before her recent move up to New York City for a life in crime. She likes cats, crime novels, and coffee.

At CrimeReads, Odintz tagged ten titles that "were begun, polished, imagined, or perfected during the short window allotted to their authors to bond with their newborns." One title on the list:
The Upstairs House, Julia Fine

Julia Fine’s worn-out narrator is on indefinite maternity leave, stressing over her newborn and trying to finish her dissertation, when she finds her way to the ghost of Margaret Wise Brown through a mysterious door upstairs in her apartment building. Both a gothic tale of madwomen in the attic, and an erudite digression on mid-century American children’s literature, The Upstairs House is as fascinating to read as it is hard to describe, and an intriguing exploration of the boundaries between physical and intellectual creations.
Read about another novel on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Richard Thompson Ford's "Dress Codes"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History by Richard Thompson Ford.

About the book, from the publisher:
A revelatory exploration of fashion through the ages that asks what our clothing reveals about ourselves and our society.

Dress codes are as old as clothing itself. For centuries, clothing has been a wearable status symbol; fashion, a weapon in struggles for social change; and dress codes, a way to maintain political control. Merchants who dressed like princes and butchers’ wives wearing gem-encrusted crowns were public enemies in medieval societies structured by social hierarchy and defined by spectacle. In Tudor England, silk, velvet, and fur were reserved for the nobility and ballooning pants called “trunk hose” could be considered a menace to good order. The Renaissance era Florentine patriarch Cosimo de Medici captured the power of fashion and dress codes when he remarked, “One can make a gentleman from two yards of red cloth.” Dress codes evolved along with the social and political ideals of the day, but they always reflected struggles for power and status. In the 1700s, South Carolina’s “Negro Act” made it illegal for Black people to dress “above their condition.” In the 1920s, the bobbed hair and form-fitting dresses worn by free-spirited flappers were banned in workplaces throughout the United States and in the 1940s the baggy zoot suits favored by Black and Latino men caused riots in cities from coast to coast.

Even in today’s more informal world, dress codes still determine what we wear, when we wear it—and what our clothing means. People lose their jobs for wearing braided hair, long fingernails, large earrings, beards, and tattoos or refusing to wear a suit and tie or make-up and high heels. In some cities, wearing sagging pants is a crime. And even when there are no written rules, implicit dress codes still influence opportunities and social mobility. Silicon Valley CEOs wear t-shirts and flip flops, setting the tone for an entire industry: women wearing fashionable dresses or high heels face ridicule in the tech world and some venture capitalists refuse to invest in any company run by someone wearing a suit.

In Dress Codes, law professor and cultural critic Richard Thompson Ford presents an insightful and entertaining history of the laws of fashion from the middle ages to the present day, a walk down history’s red carpet to uncover and examine the canons, mores, and customs of clothing—rules that we often take for granted. After reading Dress Codes, you’ll never think of fashion as superficial again—and getting dressed will never be the same.
Visit Richard Thompson Ford's website.

The Page 69 Test: Racial Culture.

The Page 99 Test: Dress Codes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Meg Mason's "Sorrow and Bliss"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Sorrow and Bliss: A Novel by Meg Mason.

About the book, from the publisher:
A compulsively readable debut novel—spiky, sharp, intriguingly dark, and tender—about a woman on the edge that combines the psychological insight of Sally Rooney with the sharp humor of Nina Stibbe and the emotional resonance of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

Martha Friel just turned forty. Once, she worked at Vogue and planned to write a novel. Now, she creates internet content. She used to live in a pied-à-terre in Paris. Now she lives in a gated community in Oxford, the only person she knows without a PhD, a baby or both, in a house she hates but cannot bear to leave. But she must leave, now that her husband Patrick—the kind who cooks, throws her birthday parties, who loves her and has only ever wanted her to be happy—has just moved out.

Because there’s something wrong with Martha, and has been for a long time. When she was seventeen, a little bomb went off in her brain and she was never the same. But countless doctors, endless therapy, every kind of drug later, she still doesn’t know what’s wrong, why she spends days unable to get out of bed or alienates both strangers and her loved ones with casually cruel remarks.

And she has nowhere to go except her childhood home: a bohemian (dilapidated) townhouse in a romantic (rundown) part of London—to live with her mother, a minorly important sculptor (and major drinker) and her father, a famous poet (though unpublished) and try to survive without the devoted, potty-mouthed sister who made all the chaos bearable back then, and is now too busy or too fed up to deal with her.

But maybe, by starting over, Martha will get to write a better ending for herself—and she’ll find out that she’s not quite finished after all.
Visit Meg Mason's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sorrow and Bliss.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Q&A with Marshall Ryan Maresca

From my Q&A with Marshall Ryan Maresca, author of The Velocity of Revolution:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I struggle a lot with titles, to be honest. With a lot of my other novels, the titles were very fluid in the development process. Sometimes I’m not 100% sure what a book is really about, and thus what the title should be, until the draft is done.

But with The Velocity of Revolution, a novel about cycle riders who race through the streets as part of a rebellion to throw off a colonial yoke? That title— a term used in math and physics-- came to me early on and was perfect. You’re going to get speed. You’re going to get a revolution.

What's in a name?

So, my central character, Wenthi Tungét, goes undercover with the name Renzi Llionorco, and the names “Wenthi" and “Renzi" were designed to be...[read on]
Visit Marshall Ryan Maresca's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Velocity of Revolution.

My Book, The Movie: The Velocity of Revolution.

Q&A with Marshall Ryan Maresca.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten classic stories retold

The Smash-Up, Ali Benjamin's new novel, is based on Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton's novella about a strained marriage in a small town.

At the Guardian, Benjamin tagged ten "terrific books that breathe fresh life into the familiar," including:
Circe by Madeline Miller

In Homer’s Odyssey, Circe plays a minor role as the goddess/witch who transforms Odysseus’s men into pigs, only to be outwitted, defeated, and bedded by the wily mortal. Thousands of years later, Circe gets her due in Miller’s fierce – retelling. We learn of the casual, bored cruelty of the Titans and Olympians, the “great chain of fear” in which they delight, and the reason for Circe’s exile (as with all witch stories, it’s because Circe discovered her powers, and used them). A powerful story of rage and grace, healing and becoming, told in shimmering prose.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Circe is among Lucile Scott's eight books about hexing the patriarchy, E. Foley and B. Coates's top ten goddesses in fiction, Jordan Ifueko's five fantasy titles driven by traumatic family bonds, Eleanor Porter's top ten books about witch-hunts, Emily B. Martin's six stunning fantasies for nature lovers, Allison Pataki's top six books that feature strong female voices, Pam Grossman's thirteen stories about strong women with magical powers, Kris Waldherr's nine top books inspired by mythology, Katharine Duckett's eight novels that reexamine literature from the margins, and Steph Posts' thirteen top novels set in the world of myth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Elizabeth Frazer's "Shakespeare and the Political Way"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Shakespeare and the Political Way by Elizabeth Frazer.

About the book, from the publisher:
Studies of Shakespeare and politics often ask the question whether his dramas are on the side of aristocratic or monarchical sovereign authority, or are on the side of those who resist; whether he endorses a standard view of male and patriarchal authority, or whether his cross-dressing heroines put him among feminist thinkers. Scholars also show that Shakespeare's representations of rule, revolt, and arguments about laws and constitutions draw on and allude to stories and real events that were contemporaneous for him, as well as historical ones.

Building on scholarship about Shakespeare and politics, this book argues that Shakespeare's representations and stagings of political power, sovereignty, resistance, and controversy are more complex. The merits of political life, as opposed to life governed by monetary exchange, religious truth, supernatural power, military heroism, or interpersonal love, are rehearsed in the plots. And the clashing and contradictory meanings of politics -- its association with free truthful speech but also with dishonest hypocrisy, with open action and argument as much as occult behind the scenes manoevring -- are dramatized by him, to show that although violence, lies, and authoritarianism do often win out in the world there is another kind of politics, and a political way that we would do well to follow when we can. The book offers original readings of the characters and plots of Shakespeare's dramas in order to illustrate the subtlety of his pictures of political power, how it works, and what is wrong and right with it.
Learn more about Shakespeare and the Political Way at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Shakespeare and the Political Way.

--Marshal Zeringue

Emilya Naymark's "Hide in Place," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: Hide in Place by Emilya Naymark.

The entry begins:
I set Hide in Place in my (new as of 2013) home of Rockland County, NY. This means I started by picturing real people I know for most of my characters. However, very quickly I began to fantasize about Hide in Place, the Movie, and immediately cast a young Annie Lennox as my lead, Laney Bird. Think Annie Lennox circa Sweet Dreams, sporting short hair and cheekbones you can cut glass with. I especially like her in her man’s suit and tie. Laney would rock that look.

The second POV character in the book is a teenage boy, Alfie, and the closest actor I can think of for him would be...[read on]
Visit Emilya Naymark's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hide in Place.

My Book, The Movie: Hide in Place.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Q&A with Sam Taylor

From my Q&A with Sam Taylor, author of We Are the Fire:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My editor, Emily Settle at Macmillan, came up with the title We Are the Fire. It’s partly inspired by some lyrics from the song “Missile” by Dorothy, which my editor said would be a great theme song for my book. And she’s right!

I loved this title the moment my editor suggested it because it had the bold, powerful, punchy vibe that I’d been searching for to draw readers into this story. In my book, the fire magic is forced onto the teen characters through alchemical transformations. And some of them—particularly Oksana—greatly struggle with what they’ve become. But winning the fight for their freedom starts with reclaiming themselves and repurposing these powers they didn’t choose to have. They truly have to...[read on]
Visit Sam Taylor's website.

The Page 69 Test: We Are the Fire.

Q&A with Sam Taylor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Twenty-five actually pretty happy couples in literature

The Lit Hub staff compiled a list of twenty-five "truly happy couples in literature," which is not so easy "especially when you aren’t just talking about the ending." One entry on the list:
Jane and Charles Bingley in Pride and Prejudice

A rare instance of uncomplicated love in a Jane Austen novel—where most couples are in a state of despair, estrangement, abandonment, or (worst of all!) mismatched wealth—Jane and Charles Bingley genuinely seem to like each other. Imagine! He takes care of her when she’s sick; in return, she forgives him for leaving her with no notice because she is insufficiently wealthy and then changing his mind, which (I guess) seems like a fair trade for the era. The biggest issue that emerges during their courtship, that Jane’s shy affection leaves room for doubt as to whether her love for Charles is genuine, is a story as old as time, and one easily fixed, albeit with the intervention of a fabulously wealthy friend who had previously conspired to keep them apart. Typical dating problem. –Corinne Segal, Lit Hub Senior Editor
Read about another entry on the list.

Pride and Prejudice also appears on Ellie Eaton's list of eight of literature's notable mean girls, Sarah Vaughan's list of nine fictional bad mothers in fiction, Jessica Francis Kane's top ten list of houseguests in fiction, O: The Oprah Magazine's twenty greatest ever romance novels, Cristina Merrill's list of eight of the sexiest curmudgeons in romance, Sarah Ward's ten top list of brothers and sisters in fiction, Tara Sonin's lists of fifty must-read regency romances and seven sweet and swoony romances for wedding season, Grant Ginder's top ten list of book characters we love to hate, Katy Guest's list of six of the best depictions of shyness in fiction, Garry Trudeau's six favorite books list, Ross Johnson's list of seven of the greatest rivalries in fiction, Helen Dunmore's six best books list, Jenny Kawecki's list of eight fictional characters who would make the best travel companions, Peter James's top ten list of works of fiction set in or around Brighton, Ellen McCarthy's list of six favorite books about weddings and marriage, the Telegraph's list of the ten greatest put-downs in literature, Rebecca Jane Stokes' list of ten fictional families you might enjoy more than the one you'll actually spend the holidays with, Melissa Albert's lists of five fictional characters who deserved better, [fifteen of the] romantic leads (and wannabes) of Austen’s brilliant books and recommended reading for eight villains, Molly Schoemann-McCann's list of ten fictional men who have ruined real live romance, Emma Donoghue's list of five favorite unconventional fictional families, Amelia Schonbek's list of five approachable must-read classics, Jane Stokes's top ten list of the hottest men in required reading, Gwyneth Rees's top ten list of books about siblings, the Observer's list of the ten best fictional mothers, Paula Byrne's list of the ten best Jane Austen characters, Robert McCrum's list of the top ten opening lines of novels in the English language, a top ten list of literary lessons in love, Simon Mason's top ten list of fictional families, Cathy Cassidy's top ten list of stories about sisters, Paul Murray's top ten list of wicked clerics, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best housekeepers in fiction, ten great novels with terrible original titles, and ten of the best visits to Brighton in literature, Luke Leitch's top ten list of the most successful literary sequels ever, and is one of the top ten works of literature according to Norman Mailer. Richard Price has never read it, but it is the book Mary Gordon cares most about sharing with her children.

The Page 99 Test: Pride and Prejudice.

--Marshal Zeringue