Saturday, June 12, 2021

Four unforgettable fictional serial killers

Jen Williams lives in London with her partner and their small ridiculous cat. Having been a fan of grisly fairy tales from a young age, these days Williams writes dark unsettling thrillers with strong female leads, as well as character-driven fantasy novels with plenty of adventure and magic. She has twice won the British Fantasy Award for her Winnowing Flame trilogy, and when she's not writing books she works as a bookseller and a freelance copywriter.

Her new novel is A Dark and Secret Place.

At CrimeReads Williams tagged four favorite dark and twisted villains of fictional lore, including:
Francis Dolarhyde of Red Dragon

You could hardly have a list like this without talking about Thomas Harris and his iconic cast of serial killers, and, specifically of course, Dr Hannibal Lector. First appearing in 1981’s Red Dragon, the doctor is in many ways the grandfather of fictional serial killers, undoubtedly giving birth to hordes of murderers after the huge success of The Silence of the Lambs. After all, it’s Dr. Lector who has really sold us on the idea of a murderer who is just so much cleverer than anyone else in the room, and if you’re a fan of the TV series Hannibal, one who dresses impeccably well, too. But for me the killer that truly haunts me from Thomas Harris’s excellent books is Francis Dolarhyde. Dubbed “the Tooth Fairy” by the press (and what a fantastically rubbish nickname that is), Dolarhyde is murdering entire families to quicken his transformation into a being he calls “the Great Red Dragon,” and Will Graham must enlist the help of Dr. Lector to stop him. Dolahyde is equal parts fascinating, terrifying, and tragic. He is obsessed with William Blake’s painting “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed With the Sun,” even going so far as to eat the original watercolour, and there is something flatly alien about his transformation into a beast. Yet Harris undercuts all this by having Dolahyde unexpectedly fall for a blind woman at his work place. This, combined with flashbacks to his horrifically abusive childhood, give the reader an uncomfortably intimate portrait of a monster.
Read about another entry on the list.

Red Dragon appears on Caroline Louise Walker's list of six terrifying villain-doctors in fiction, Peter Swanson's list of ten thrillers that explore mental health, John Verdon's list of the ten best whodunits, Laura McHugh's list of ten favorite books about serial killers, Kimberly Turner's list of the ten most disturbing sociopaths in literature, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best dragons in literature and ten of the best tattoos in literature, and the (U.K.) Telegraph 110 best books; Andre Gross says "it should be taught as [a text] in Thriller 101."

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Jocelyn C. Zuckerman's "Planet Palm"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World by Jocelyn C. Zuckerman.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the tradition of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a groundbreaking global investigation into the industry ravaging the environment and global health—from the James Beard Award–winning journalist

“Palm oil . . . has quietly become one of the most indispensable substances on Earth.” —Jocelyn Zuckerman, in the New Yorker

Over the past few decades, palm oil has seeped into every corner of our lives. Worldwide, palm oil production has nearly doubled in just the last decade: oil-palm plantations now cover an area nearly the size of New Zealand, and some form of the commodity lurks in half the products on U.S. grocery shelves. But the palm oil revolution has been built on stolen land and slave labor; it’s swept away cultures and so devastated the landscapes of Southeast Asia that iconic animals now teeter on the brink of extinction. Fires lit to clear the way for plantations spew carbon emissions to rival those of industrialized nations.

James Beard Award–winning journalist Jocelyn C. Zuckerman spent years traveling the globe, from Liberia to Indonesia, India to Brazil, reporting on the human and environmental impacts of this poorly understood plant. The result is Planet Palm, a riveting account blending history, science, politics, and food as seen through the people whose lives have been upended by this hidden ingredient.

This groundbreaking work of first-rate journalism compels us to examine the connections between the choices we make at the grocery store and a planet under siege.
Visit Jocelyn C. Zuckerman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Planet Palm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Laurie Frankel's "One Two Three"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: One Two Three: A Novel by Laurie Frankel.

About the book, from the publisher:
In a town where nothing ever changes, suddenly everything does...

Everyone knows everyone in the tiny town of Bourne, but the Mitchell triplets are especially beloved. Mirabel is the smartest person anyone knows, and no one doubts it just because she can’t speak. Monday is the town’s purveyor of books now that the library’s closed—tell her the book you think you want, and she’ll pull the one you actually do from the microwave or her sock drawer. Mab’s job is hardest of all: get good grades, get into college, get out of Bourne.

For a few weeks seventeen years ago, Bourne was national news when its water turned green. The girls have come of age watching their mother’s endless fight for justice. But just when it seems life might go on the same forever, the first moving truck anyone’s seen in years pulls up and unloads new residents and old secrets. Soon, the Mitchell sisters are taking on a system stacked against them and uncovering mysteries buried longer than they’ve been alive. Because it's hard to let go of the past when the past won't let go of you.

Three unforgettable narrators join together here to tell a spellbinding story with wit, wonder, and deep affection. As she did in This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel has written a laugh-out-loud-on-one-page-grab-a-tissue-the-next novel, as only she can, about how expanding our notions of normal makes the world a better place for everyone and how when days are darkest, it’s our daughters who will save us all.
Learn more about the book and author at Laurie Frankel's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Laurie Frankel and Calli.

The Page 69 Test: The Atlas of Love.

My Book, The Movie: Goodbye for Now.

The Page 69 Test: Goodbye for Now.

My Book, The Movie: This Is How It Always Is.

The Page 69 Test: This Is How It Always Is.

Writers Read: Laurie Frankel (February 2017).

The Page 69 Test: One Two Three.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 11, 2021

Eight books about small-town woman detectives

Sophie Stein is an intern at Electric Literature. She was born in Chicago and is currently an MFA candidate at Indiana University, where she is the Fiction Editor of the Indiana Review. Her short fiction has won awards from The Hypertext Review and december magazine; her work has also appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, The Tangerine, and elsewhere.

At Electric Lit Stein tagged eight titles about small-town woman detectives, including:
The Likeness by Tana French

Detective Cassie Maddox of the Dublin Murder Squad has had a rough go of it. Her last investigation brought her into conflict with a psychopath, leaving her with stab wounds and forcing her to quit the murder beat. But when a woman who looks eerily identical to Cassie turns up dead, her old boss talks her into a dangerous plan: Cassie will go undercover in the victim’s place to tempt the killer out of hiding. As Cassie gets drawn into the life her double left behind, she loses track of the boundaries between her real and undercover identities.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Likeness is among Alison Wisdom's sven great thrillers featuring communal living, Christopher Louis Romaguera's nine books about mistaken identity, and Simon Lelic's top ten false identities in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Scott Radnitz's "Revealing Schemes"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Revealing Schemes: The Politics of Conspiracy in Russia and the Post-Soviet Region by Scott Radnitz.

About the book, from the publisher:
Conspiracy theories are not just outlandish ideas. They can also be political weapons.

Conspiracy theories have come to play an increasingly prominent role in political systems around the world. In Revealing Schemes, Scott Radnitz moves beyond psychological explanations for why people believe conspiracy theories to explore the politics surrounding them, placing two questions at the center of his account: What leads regimes to promote conspiracy claims? And what effects do those claims have on politics and society? Focusing on the former Soviet Union—a region of the world where such theories have long thrived—he shows that incumbent politicians tend to make conspiracy claims to demonstrate their knowledge and authority at moments of uncertainty and threat. They emerge more often where there is serious political competition rather than unbridled autocracy and in response to events that challenge a regime's ability to rule. Yet conspiracy theories can also be habit-forming and persist as part of an official narrative even where immediate threats have subsided—a strategy intended to strengthen regimes, but that may inadvertently undermine them. Revealing Schemes explores the causes, consequences, and contradictions of conspiracism in politics with an original collection of over 1,500 conspiracy claims from across the post-Soviet region, two national surveys, and 12 focus groups. At a time of heightened distrust in democratic institutions and rising illiberal populism around the world, understanding how conspiracy theories operate in a region where democracy came late—or never arrived—can be instructive for concerned citizens everywhere.
Learn more about Revealing Schemes at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Weapons of the Wealthy.

The Page 99 Test: Revealing Schemes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Mary Bly

From my Q&A with Mary Bly, author of Lizzie & Dante: A Novel:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My working title was “Elba novel,” because the novel takes place on the island. It became Lizzie and Dante when I realized the characters mattered more than the island. I hope readers grow to love all three.

What's in a name?

Lizzie is an American name, and Dante is clearly Italian. Dante’s twelve-year-old daughter is called Etta: an unusual name for...[read on]
Visit Mary Bly/Eloisa James's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lizzie & Dante.

Q&A with Mary Bly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Pg. 69: Marius Gabriel's "The Girls in the Attic"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Attic by Marius Gabriel.

About the book, from the publisher:
The bestselling author of The Designer presents a sweeping story of blind faith, family allegiance and how love makes one man question everything he thought he knew.

Max Wolff is a committed soldier of the Reich. So when he is sent home wounded, only to discover that his mother is sheltering two young Jewish women in their home, he is outraged.

His mother’s act of mercy is a gross betrayal of everything Max stands for. He has dedicated his life to Nazism, fighting to atone for the shame of his anti-Hitler father’s imprisonment. It’s his duty to turn the sisters over to the Gestapo. But he hesitates, and the longer Max fails to do his duty, the harder it becomes.

When Allied bombers fill the skies of Germany, Max is forced to abandon all dogma and face the brutality of war in order to defend precious lives. But what will it cost him?
Follow Marius Gabriel on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Parisians.

My Book, The Movie: The Parisians.

Writers Read: Marius Gabriel (January 2019).

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Attic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Sam Apple's "Ravenous"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection by Sam Apple.

About the book, from the publisher:
The extraordinary story of the Nazi-era scientific genius who discovered how cancer cells eat—and what it means for how we should.

The Nobel laureate Otto Warburg—a cousin of the famous finance Warburgs—was widely regarded in his day as one of the most important biochemists of the twentieth century, a man whose research was integral to humanity’s understanding of cancer. He was also among the most despised figures in Nazi Germany. As a Jewish homosexual living openly with his male partner, Warburg represented all that the Third Reich abhorred. Yet Hitler and his top advisors dreaded cancer, and protected Warburg in the hope that he could cure it.

In Ravenous, Sam Apple reclaims Otto Warburg as a forgotten, morally compromised genius who pursued cancer single-mindedly even as Europe disintegrated around him. While the vast majority of Jewish scientists fled Germany in the anxious years leading up to World War II, Warburg remained in Berlin, working under the watchful eye of the dictatorship. With the Nazis goose-stepping their way across Europe, systematically rounding up and murdering millions of Jews, Warburg awoke each morning in an elegant, antiques-filled home and rode horses with his partner, Jacob Heiss, before delving into his research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society.

Hitler and other Nazi leaders, Apple shows, were deeply troubled by skyrocketing cancer rates across the Western world, viewing cancer as an existential threat akin to Judaism or homosexuality. Ironically, they viewed Warburg as Germany’s best chance of survival. Setting Warburg’s work against an absorbing history of cancer science, Apple follows him as he arrives at his central belief that cancer is a problem of metabolism. Though Warburg’s metabolic approach to cancer was considered groundbreaking, his work was soon eclipsed in the early postwar era, after the discovery of the structure of DNA set off a search for the genetic origins of cancer.

Remarkably, Warburg’s theory has undergone a resurgence in our own time, as scientists have begun to investigate the dangers of sugar and the link between obesity and cancer, finding that the way we eat can influence how cancer cells take up nutrients and grow. Rooting his revelations in extensive archival research as well as dozens of interviews with today’s leading cancer authorities, Apple demonstrates how Warburg’s midcentury work may well hold the secret to why cancer became so common in the modern world and how we can reverse the trend. A tale of scientific discovery, personal peril, and the race to end a disastrous disease, Ravenous would be the stuff of the most inventive fiction were it not, in fact, true.
Follow Sam Apple on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Ravenous.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten novels told in a single day

James Clammer has worked at many kinds of jobs, including plumbing. He now lives in Sussex, where he writes in a shed at the bottom of a cliff. His first novel, Why I Went Back — a work of YA fiction compared with Susan Cooper and Alan Garner — was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and longlisted for the Branford Boase Award.

Insignificance is Clammer’s first novel for adults.

At the Guardian Clammer tagged ten novels that, like Insignificance, take place in a single day, including:
The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

Tightening the circadian focus even further, this story is packed, crammed, shoehorned within a single lunch break. Here the ingenious device of the extended footnote animates the internal life of young office worker Howie. Between bouts of “escalatorial happiness” ascending to his workplace, he ruminates on fraying shoelaces, the wonders of perforated paper, ice cubes, Marcus Aurelius and many other micro-matters. A treasure chest of the quotidian.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Mezzanine is among David Moloney's seven books about confinement and the need to escape, Aaron Robertson's seven books in which very little happens, and Alex Clark's eight best books set over twenty-hours.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Q&A with Connie Berry

From my Q&A with Connie Berry, author of The Art of Betrayal:
What's in a name?

Kate Hamilton got her name so long ago I can’t remember why I chose it, other than the fact that her late husband’s Scottish roots play a role in the plot of the first book, A Dream of Death. For my main characters, Kate and Tom, I chose simple names I liked and thought I could live with for a long time.

The real fun has been choosing names for the secondary characters.

Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde, for example—the last survivor of the Finchleys of Finchley Hall, a family with eleventh-century roots. When Lady Barbara saved the Hall from creditors by marrying the wealthy son of a Welsh family, Cedru fforde (yes, lower-case double ff’s), her father insisted their surnames be hyphenated, an affectation often associated with the British upper class.

The name I gave Kate’s friend and mentor in the antiquities trade, Ivor Tweedy, combines two elements. Ivor is a Norse name, a hold-over from the Viking incursion into East Anglia, where the book is set. The surname Tweedy has a Dickensian quality, implying eccentricity. Ivor is...[read on]
Visit Connie Berry's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Betrayal.

My Book, The Movie: The Art of Betrayal.

Q&A with Connie Berry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Patrick Chiles's "Frontier"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Frontier by Patrick Chiles.

About the book, from the publisher:
Marshall Hunter only wanted to fly: the faster, the higher, the better. But a life of rescuing wayward spacefarers and derelict satellites in the cislunar cruiser U.S.S. Borman is far from the adventure he’d imagined. But his fortunes change when a billionaire couple goes missing on their way to a near-Earth asteroid. Out of contact and on a course that will eventually send them crashing into Mars, the nuclear-powered Borman is dispatched on an audacious, high-speed interplanetary run to bring the couple home. As they approach the asteroid, however, the Borman itself becomes hopelessly disabled.

With the Borman suddenly out of commission and far beyond reach, cislunar space begins falling into chaos as critical satellites fail and valuable lunar mineral shipments begin disappearing in transit. Nothing is as it seems, and Marshall Hunter and the rest of the crew suspect none of it is by coincidence.
Visit Patrick Chiles's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Patrick Chiles & Frankie and Beanie.

The Page 69 Test: Frozen Orbit.

My Book, The Movie: Frontier.

The Page 69 Test: Frontier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Samantha Barbas's "The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade by Samantha Barbas.

About the book, from the publisher:
A long-overdue biography of the legendary civil liberties lawyer—a vital and contrary figure who both defended Ulysses and fawned over J. Edgar Hoover.

In the 1930s and ’40s, Morris Ernst was one of America’s best-known liberal lawyers. The ACLU’s general counsel for decades, Ernst was renowned for his audacious fights against artistic censorship. He successfully defended Ulysses against obscenity charges, litigated groundbreaking reproductive rights cases, and supported the widespread expansion of protections for sexual expression, union organizing, and public speech. Yet Ernst was also a man of stark contradictions, waging a personal battle against Communism, defending an autocrat, and aligning himself with J. Edgar Hoover’s inflammatory crusades.

Arriving at a moment when issues of privacy, artistic freedom, and personal expression are freshly relevant, The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade brings this singularly complex figure into a timely new light. As Samantha Barbas’s eloquent and compelling biography makes ironically clear, Ernst both transformed free speech in America and inflicted damage to the cause of civil liberties. Drawing on Ernst’s voluminous cache of publications and papers, Barbas follows the life of this singular idealist from his pugnacious early career to his legal triumphs of the 1930s and ’40s and his later idiosyncratic zealotry. As she shows, today’s challenges to free speech and the exercise of political power make Morris Ernst’s battles as pertinent as ever.
Visit Samantha Barbas's website.

The Page 99 Test: Laws of Image.

The Page 99 Test: Newsworthy.

The Page 99 Test: The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five great horror novels that explore the darkest corners of our minds

Lisa Unger is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author. With books published in twenty-nine languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is widely regarded as a master of suspense.

Her latest release is Confessions on the 7:45.

At CrimeReads Unger tagged five great horror novels that terrified her. One title on the list:
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

The loose inspiration for my recent four-part serial collection of short stories House of Crows, Shirley Jackson’s iconic novel has been scaring readers silly since 1959 and has inspired countless adaptations, most recently the stellar Netflix series. In the novel, four people gather at Hill House to explore rumors of its haunting. Dr Montague, an explorer of the occult, his assistant Theodora, Eleanor, a young woman running from her dark experiences, and Luke, the heir. It begins with one of the best openings ever: No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within. But for all of Hill House’s machinations it only seems to have as much power as you give it. And poor broken Eleanor is incapable of holding anything back. This is quiet, intelligent, twisting horror, more dream than novel, where nothing is ever clear, and its layers reveal only more questions about Eleanor, about Hill House, and about the true nature of being haunted.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Haunting of Hill House also appears on Dell Villa's list of seven of the best haunted houses in literature, Kat Rosenfield's list of seven scary October reads, Michael Marshall Smith's top ten list of horror books, Carlos Ruiz Zafón's top ten list of 20th-century gothic novels,  and Brad Leithauser's five best list of ghost tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

What is Debra Bokur reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Debra Bokur, author of The Bone Field.

One title she tagged:
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

My husband gave me a copy of this book as a gift years ago, following a long discussion about how the perception of time can be highly subjective: Not to discount the veracity of clocks, of course, but how an actual segment of time—like a minute or an hour—can seem to pass at a different speed for different people. This can be heightened by the season, with winter seeming to last forever for everyone except me; or how summer may appear to be fleeting. The speed of time might even depend upon what you’re doing. For me, no matter how long I try to linger over a slice of apple cake, it seems like time flies by and the cake is gone before I know it. Lightman, who is both an author and a physicist, takes this thought and presents it in a series of chapter-stories; each of which presents the passage of time in a different way using Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity as context. This theory suggests that the passage of time, or the discernment of it, is relative to the lens through which it is perceived. Context becomes everything, and in this small book, Lightman treats the topic with brilliance and imagination. The writing is consistently lyrical and mesmerizing, and I...[read on]
About The Bone Field, from the publisher:
Celebrated travel writer Debra Bokur reveals the dark side of paradise while exploring the nuanced culture and captivating beauty of Hawaii in The Bone Field, the second installment in her acclaimed series featuring Maui detective and Hawaiian cultural expert Kali Māhoe.

A series of strange cold-case ritual murders leads Maui detective Kali Māhoe on a trail of legendary vengeful spirits and more human monsters in paradise.

Kali Māhoe, Hawaiian cultural expert and detective with the Maui Police Department, has been called to a bizarre crime scene. In the recesses of a deep trench on Lanai Island, a derelict refrigerator has been unearthed. Entombed inside are the skeletal remains of someone buried decades ago. Identification is a challenge. The body is headless, the skull replaced with a chilling adornment: a large, ornately carved wooden pineapple.

The old field soon yields more long-buried secrets, and Kali is led along an increasingly winding path that brings to light an unlikely suspect, an illegal cock-fighting organization, and a strange symbol connected to a long-disbanded religious cult. Her task is to dispel the dark shadows lingering over the Palawai Basin plains, and to solve a puzzle that no one wants exposed by the bright, hot tropical light.

To discover the answer, Kali will be drawn deeper in the mysteries of the island's ancient legends—stories that tell of an enraged rooster god and man-eating monsters. For Kali, a detective of sound logic and reason, it's not easy to consider the unknown for explanations for what appears to be a series of illogical links in a twisting chain of deadly events. Or safe. Because the dormant pineapple fields of Lanai have yet to give up their darkest and most terrifying secrets.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

Q&A with Debra Bokur.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire Thief.

My Book, The Movie: The Fire Thief.

Writers Read: Debra Bokur.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven top books about faith and feminism

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Monica West received her BA from Duke University, her MA from New York University, and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she was a Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow. She was a Southern Methodist University Kimbilio Fellow in 2014, and she will be a Hedgebrook Writer in Residence in 2021.

Revival Season is West's first novel.

At Electric Lit she tagged seven books about women who grapple with—or reject and replace—patriarchal religion, including:
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Deesha Philyaw’s incredible stories feature women whose lives and identities are inextricable from the church. These daughters, lovers, and mothers navigate how to be who they truly are in light of the church’s patriarchal teachings and double standards about what women should do. Readers watch multiple generations of women who want to be holy but don’t quite know what that means, especially because the definition is based on their subjugation. Philyaw shows these women making their own rules of holiness that allow them to stay true to some parts of the conservative Christian tradition they’ve been raised in while also allowing it to serve their needs. Some women are successful with these attempts while others are frustrated by its futility. Ultimately, the stories allow women to grapple with what it means to be a fully realized Black woman and a Christian.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Ann McCutchan's "The Life She Wished to Live"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling by Ann McCutchan.

About the book, from the publisher:
A comprehensive and engaging biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the beloved classic The Yearling.

Washington, DC, born and Wisconsin educated, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was an unlikely author of a coming-of-age novel about a poor central Florida child and his pet fawn—much less one that has become synonymous with Florida literature writ large.

Rawlings was a tough, ambitious, and independent woman who refused the conventions of her early-twentieth-century upbringing. Determined to forge a literary career beyond those limitations, she found her voice in the remote, hardscrabble life of Cross Creek, Florida. There, Rawlings purchased a commercial orange grove and discovered a fascinating world out of which to write—and a dialect of the poor, swampland community that the literary world had yet to hear. She employed her sensitive eye, sharp ear for dialogue, and philosophical spirit to bring to life this unknown corner of America in vivid, tender detail, a feat that earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. Her accomplishments came at a price: a failed first marriage, financial instability, a contentious libel suit, alcoholism, and physical and emotional upheaval.

With intimate access to Rawlings’s correspondence and revealing early writings, Ann McCutchan uncovers a larger-than-life woman who writes passionately and with verve, whose emotions change on a dime, and who drinks to excess, smokes, swears, and even occasionally joins in on an alligator hunt. The Life She Wished to Live paints a lively portrait of Rawlings, her contemporaries—including her legendary editor, Maxwell Perkins, and friends Zora Neale Hurston, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and the Florida landscape and people that inspired her.
Visit Ann McCutchan's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Life She Wished to Live.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Caroline Lea's "The Metal Heart"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Metal Heart: A Novel of Love and Valor in World War II by Caroline Lea.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the dark days of World War II, an unlikely romance blossoms between a Scottish woman and an Italian prisoner of war in this haunting novel with the emotional complexity of The Boat Runner and All the Light We Cannot See—a powerful and atmospheric story of love, jealousy, and conscience that illuminates the beauty of the human spirit from the author of The Glass Woman.

In the wake of the Allies’ victory in North Africa, 500 Italian soldiers have been sent to a remote island off the Scottish coast to wait out the war. Their arrival has divided the island’s community. Nerves frayed from three years of war and the constant threat of invasion, many locals fear the enemy prisoners and do not want them there.

Where their neighbors see bloodthirsty enemies, however, orphaned sisters Dorothy and Constance see sick and wounded men unused to the freezing cold of an Orkney winter, and volunteer to nurse them. While doing so Dorothy finds herself immediately drawn to Cesare, a young man broken by the horrors of battle.

But as the war drags on, tensions between the islanders and the outsiders deepen, and Dorothy’s connection to Cesare threatens the bond she shares with Constance. Since the loss of their parents, the sisters have relied on each other. Now, their loyalty will be tested, each forced to weigh duty against desire ... until, one fateful evening, a choice must be made, one that that will have devastating consequences.
Follow Caroline Lea on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Metal Heart.

Q&A with Caroline Lea.

The Page 69 Test: The Metal Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 07, 2021

Connie Berry's "The Art of Betrayal," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: The Art of Betrayal by Connie Berry.

The entry begins:
Doesn’t every author dream of seeing her story and her characters, on the big screen? I do.

My writing process might be called cinematic. I visualize the scenes in my head as I write, noticing the background and light source, the physical movements of the characters, and their changing expressions as they interact. I hope my readers can picture the scenes, too.

The Art of Betrayal is a traditional mystery set in Suffolk, England. The main character is Kate Hamilton, an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. She’s helped in her investigations by Detective Inspector Tom Mallory of the Suffolk Constabulary. The book opens with Kate, tending her friend Ivor Tweedy’s antiquities shop while he recovers from hip surgery. She’s thrilled when a reclusive widow consigns an ancient Chinese jar—until the jar is stolen and a body turns up in the middle of the May Fair pageant. With no insurance covering the loss, Tweedy may be ruined. As DI Tom Mallory searches for the victim’s missing daughter, Kate notices puzzling connections with a well-known local legend. This is Kate’s most puzzling case yet, pitting her against spring floods, a creepy mansion in the Suffolk countryside, the misty depths of Anglo-Saxon history, and a clever killer with an old secret.

So which director and which actors would bring my book to life?

My fantasy director is...[read on]
Visit Connie Berry's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Betrayal.

My Book, The Movie: The Art of Betrayal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six great literary thrillers about espionage, spies, & double agents

Rebecca Starford is the author of Bad Behaviour, a memoir about boarding school and bullying. The book has been optioned for television by Matchbox Pictures.

Starford’s first novel, The Imitator, is out now in Australia, and in the United States, Canada, the UK and South Africa under the title An Unlikely Spy.

She is also the co-founder and publishing director of Kill Your Darlings, and has previously worked for Text Publishing and Affirm Press. She is a freelance editor and creative writing teacher.

Originally from Melbourne, Starford currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her partner, son and many pets.

At CrimeReads she tagged six great literary thrillers about espionage, spies, and double agents, including:
Kate Atkinson’s Transcription

Having read several of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie crime novels, I was looking forward to getting stuck into Transcription, the third in her trio of novels set in World War Two London which includes Life After Life and A God in Ruins. Transcription goes deeper into the role of MI5 during the war to explore the personal cost of subterfuge and espionage during the period. The novel demonstrates Atkinson’s masterful storytelling—this is an exquisitely crafted literary thriller partly inspired by the story of Eric Roberts, an MI5 officer who spent the war masquerading as a member of the Gestapo to trick British fascists into revealing their treachery. Atkinson has always used her fiction to canvas bigger ideas; Transcription is a deeply thoughtful, wry and always intelligent novel, with a fascinating backdrop, rich with historical detail, real-life figures and events woven through the story.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Molly Rosner's "Playing With History"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Playing with History: American Identities and Children’s Consumer Culture by Molly Rosner.

About the book, from the publisher:
Since the advent of the American toy industry, children’s cultural products have attempted to teach and sell ideas of American identity. By examining cultural products geared towards teaching children American history, Playing With History highlights the changes and constancies in depictions of the American story and ideals of citizenship over the last one hundred years. This book examines political and ideological messages sold to children throughout the twentieth century, tracing the messages conveyed by racist toy banks, early governmental interventions meant to protect the toy industry, influences and pressures surrounding Cold War stories of the western frontier, the fractures visible in the American story at a mid-century history themed amusement park. The study culminates in a look at the successes and limitations of the American Girl Company empire.
Visit Molly Rosner's website.

The Page 99 Test: Playing with History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Caroline Lea

From my Q&A with Caroline Lea, author of The Metal Heart: A Novel of Love and Valor in World War II:
Photo by Hannah Stevens
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Initially, I struggled to find a title which would encapsulate a wartime love story and also draw in the beautiful work of art that the Italian prisoners of war create. My draft title was simply Italian Chapel but that felt a little dry and cold. As soon as I decided to use the actual metal heart that still sits in the real-life Italian chapel today, left by one of the prisoners of war who fell in love with an Orcadian woman, it was clear that The Metal Heart was the perfect title. I like the fact that metal implies the harsh brutality of war, while the heart suggests something warmer and more hopeful.

What's in a name?

My twin protagonists, Dorothy and Constance, are outsiders within their community but are very close to each other and united, so...[read on]
Follow Caroline Lea on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Metal Heart.

Q&A with Caroline Lea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Six SFF titles about gods and pantheons

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia, and currently lives in England.

She is a Crawford, British Fantasy and Hugo Award winner, and was a 2013 finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

Cho is the author of the Sorcerer to the Crown novels, historical fantasies with a postcolonial sensibility about magicians in 1800s London. She's also published a short story collection, Spirits Abroad, and a novella about nuns and bandits in a wuxia take on Emergency Malaya, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water. Her newest novel is a contemporary fantasy called Black Water Sister.

At Cho tagged six SFF books about gods and pantheons, including:
Circe by Madeline Miller

In a similar vein to [Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's] The Palace of Illusions, Circe is hardly obscure, but a highly enjoyable take on a lesser female member of the Greek pantheon. Daughter of the god of the sun, Circe starts off a vulnerable, bullied girl in a court of divine dickheads, but when she encounters the mortal world, she comes into her powers as a witch. It’s always challenging to ground stories of supernatural beings unless you give them sufficient limitations; Miller brings to Circe a vivid interiority that roots this narrative of gods and heroes in one woman’s experience.
Read about another entry on the list.

Circe is among Jennifer Saint's ten top books inspired by Greek myth, Adrienne Westenfeld's fifteen feminist books that will inspire, enrage, & educate you, Ali Benjamin's top ten classic stories retold, 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: Michael Blanding's "North by Shakespeare"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar's Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard's Work by Michael Blanding.

About the book, from the publisher:
The true story of a self-taught Shakespeare sleuth’s quest to prove his eye-opening theory about the source of the world’s most famous plays, taking readers inside the vibrant era of Elizabethan England as well as the contemporary scene of Shakespeare scholars and obsessives.

Acclaimed author of The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents the twinning narratives of renegade scholar Dennis McCarthy, called “the Steve Jobs of the Shakespeare community,” and Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier whom McCarthy believes to be the undiscovered source for Shakespeare’s plays. For the last fifteen years, McCarthy has obsessively pursued the true origins of Shakespeare’s works. Using plagiarism software, he has found direct links between Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and other plays and North’s published and unpublished writings—as well as Shakespearean plotlines seemingly lifted straight from North’s colorful life.

Unlike those who believe someone else secretly wrote Shakespeare, McCarthy’s wholly original conclusion is this: Shakespeare wrote the plays, but he adapted them from source plays written by North decades before. Many of them, he believes, were penned on behalf of North’s patron Robert Dudley, in his efforts to woo Queen Elizabeth. That bold theory addresses many lingering mysteries about the Bard with compelling new evidence, including a newly discovered journal of North’s travels through France and Italy, filled with locations and details appearing in Shakespeare’s plays.

North by Shakespeare alternates between the enigmatic life of Thomas North, the intrigues of the Tudor court, the rivalries of English Renaissance theater, and academic outsider Dennis McCarthy’s attempts to air his provocative ideas in the clubby world of Shakespearean scholarship. Through it all, Blanding employs his keen journalistic eye to craft a captivating drama, upending our understanding of the beloved playwright and his “singular genius.”
Visit Michael Blanding's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Map Thief.

The Page 99 Test: North by Shakespeare.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Stacey Swann's "Olympus, Texas"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Olympus, Texas: A Novel by Stacey Swann.

About the book, from the publisher:
A bighearted debut with technicolor characters, plenty of Texas swagger, and a powder keg of a plot in which marriages struggle, rivalries flare, and secrets explode, all with a clever wink toward classical mythology.

The Briscoe family is once again the talk of their small town when March returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother’s wife. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband’s own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? Within days of March’s arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down.

An expansive tour de force, Olympus, Texas cleverly weaves elements of classical mythology into a thoroughly modern family saga, rich in drama and psychological complexity. After all, at some point, don’t we all wonder: What good is this destructive force we call love?
Visit Stacey Swann's website.

Q&A with Stacey Swann.

The Page 69 Test: Olympus, Texas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Pg. 99: James Simeone's "The Saints and the State"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: The Saints and the State: The Mormon Troubles in Illinois by James Simeone.

About the book, from the publisher:
A compelling history of the 1846 Mormon expulsion from Illinois that exemplifies the limits of American democracy and religious tolerance.

When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known as Mormons) settled in Illinois in 1839, they had been persecuted for their beliefs from Ohio to Missouri. Illinoisans viewed themselves as religiously tolerant egalitarians and initially welcomed the Mormons to their state. However, non-Mormon locals who valued competitive individualism perceived the saints‘ western Illinois settlement, Nauvoo, as a theocracy with too much political power. Amid escalating tensions in 1844, anti-Mormon vigilantes assassinated church founder Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Two years later, the state expelled the saints. Illinois rejected the Mormons not for their religion, but rather for their effort to create a self-governing state in Nauvoo.

Mormons put the essential aspirations of American liberal democracy to the test in Illinois. The saints’ inward group focus and their decision to live together in Nauvoo highlight the challenges strong group consciousness and attachment pose to democratic governance. The Saints and the State narrates this tragic story as an epic failure of governance and shows how the conflicting demands of fairness to the Mormons and accountability to Illinois’s majority became incompatible.
Learn more about The Saints and the State at the Ohio University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Saints and the State.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven books about the lies that bind siblings together

Andy Abramowitz is the author of A Beginner’s Guide to Free Fall and Thank You, Goodnight. A native of Baltimore, Andy lives with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Rufus, in Philadelphia, where he enjoys classic rock, pitchers’ duels, birthday cake, the sound of a Fender Rhodes piano, and the month of October. He is also a lawyer.

Abramowitz's new novel is Darling at the Campsite.

At Electric Lit he tagged seven titles about the lies that bind siblings together, including:
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

In Eggers’ debut memoir, 21-year-old Dave finds himself forced into the role of parent to his seven-year-old brother Toph when their mother and father both die of cancer a month apart. While Dave has to be guardian and protector to his much younger sibling, one gets the sense that Dave—barely north of childhood himself—understands that he serves Toph best when simply acting as his big brother.
Read about another entry on the list.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is among the Daily Telegraph's one hundred books that defined the noughties.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Soraya M. Lane

From my Q&A with Soraya M. Lane, author of The Secrets We Left Behind:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think it does a lot! The story is all about being left behind - in this case during the evacuation of Dunkirk during WWII. and what these women face during that time… trust me, there are some terrifying secrets they left behind!!

Originally when I pitched the book I just called it The Girls of Dunkirk, but my editor told me she felt that title was too light for the content of the book. It became a very emotional, big story, and we went back and forth with ideas until I sent her this one - and she immediately said: “Yes, this is the one!”

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think my teenage self would...[read on]
Visit Soraya Lane's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Spitfire Girls.

The Page 69 Test: The Spitfire Girls.

Writers Read: Soraya M. Lane (March 2019).

The Page 69 Test: The Secrets We Left Behind.

Q&A with Soraya M. Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 04, 2021

Seven great books about grifters & swindlers

Rahul Raina is the author of the new novel, How to Kidnap the Rich.

At CrimeReads he tagged seven "favourite books about hucksters, hustlers, con men big and small, desperate for their own piece of the action." One title on the list:
The Big Con, by David Maurer

The original con man book, vastly influential across literature and film. The DNA of post-war American entertainment looks vastly different without professor of linguistics Maurer’s dive into the criminal demi-monde of the 1930s. Con men and novelists are of course the same creature, creating false realities out of thin air that their audience can end up pledging their lives on. Every Gryffindor tattoo is testament to that. Maurer’s background leads him to write down the patter, the lies, the dialogue verbatim, and is an utterly invaluable historical document. Much of the modern mythomania around finance, art, cryptocurrency, AI, sounds like it came straight from the book.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Big Con is among Chuck Klosterman's ten top books to make you unconventionally smarter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Colin G. Calloway's "The Chiefs Now in This City"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: "The Chiefs Now in This City": Indians and the Urban Frontier in Early America by Colin Calloway.

About the book, from the publisher:
During the years of the Early Republic, prominent Native leaders regularly traveled to American cities--Albany, Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia, Montreal, Quebec, New York, and New Orleans--primarily on diplomatic or trade business, but also from curiosity and adventurousness. They were frequently referred to as "the Chiefs now in this city" during their visits, which were sometimes for extended periods of time. Indian people spent a lot of time in town. Colin Calloway, National Book Award finalist and one of the foremost chroniclers of Native American history, has gathered together the accounts of these visits and from them created a new narrative of the country's formative years, redefining what has been understood as the "frontier."

Calloway's book captures what Native peoples observed as they walked the streets, sat in pews, attended plays, drank in taverns, and slept in hotels and lodging houses. In the Eastern cities they experienced an urban frontier, one in which the Indigenous world met the Atlantic world. Calloway's book reveals not just what Indians saw but how they were seen. Crowds gathered to see them, sometimes to gawk; people attended the theatre to watch “the Chiefs now in this city” watch a play.

Their experience enriches and redefines standard narratives of contact between the First Americans and inhabitants of the American Republic, reminding us that Indian people dealt with non-Indians in multiple ways and in multiple places. The story of the country's beginnings was not only one of violent confrontation and betrayal, but one in which the nation's identity was being forged by interaction between and among cultures and traditions.
Learn more about "The Chiefs Now in This City" at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Pen and Ink Witchcraft.

The Page 99 Test: The Victory with No Name.

The Page 99 Test: "The Chiefs Now in This City".

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Mary Bly's "Lizzie & Dante"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Lizzie & Dante: A Novel by Mary Bly.

About the book, from the publisher:
What if falling in love means breaking someone’s heart?

On the heels of a difficult break-up and a devastating diagnosis, Shakespeare scholar Lizzie Delford decides to take one last lavish vacation on Elba, the sun-kissed island off the Italian coast, with her best friend and his movie-star boyfriend. Once settled into a luxurious seaside resort, Lizzie has to make big decisions about her future, and she needs the one thing she may be running out of: time.

She leaves the yacht owners and celebrities behind and sneaks off to the public beach, where she meets a sardonic chef named Dante, his battered dog, Lily, and his wry daughter, Etta, a twelve-year-old desperate for a mother. While Dante shows Lizzie the island’s secrets, and Etta dazzles with her irreverent humor, Lizzie is confronted with a dilemma. Is it right to fall in love if time is short? Is it better to find a mother briefly, or to have no mother at all? And most pressingly, are the delicacies of life worth tasting, even if you will get to savor them only for a short while?

A luscious story of love, courage, and Italian wine, Lizzie & Dante demands to know how far we should travel to find a future worth fighting for.
Visit Mary Bly/Eloisa James's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lizzie & Dante.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Caroline Lea's "The Metal Heart," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: The Metal Heart: A Novel of Love and Valor in World War II by Caroline Lea.

The entry begins:
I love the idea of writers imagining movie versions of their books and the gorgeous real-life inspiration and beautiful landscape behind The Metal Heart mean that it translates really easily into something richly cinematic. Set on the remote Scottish Orkney Islands during World War Two, the novel is inspired by the true story of Italian prisoners of war who were imprisoned on the islands and built the most stunning chapel out of scrap and war debris. A love story, the novel’s central female characters are twins who are outcasts from Orcadian society and find themselves entranced by the beauty and romance of the chapel that the prisoners create. I’d love the team behind The Crown to direct an adaptation – they’re so brilliant at capturing sweeping landscapes and framing beautiful shots, which would give viewers a wonderful insight into the breathtaking Orcadian landscape.

While Dorothy and Constance are physically identical, their characters are very different. I would love to see Eleanor Tomlinson bringing out Con’s impetuousness and vulnerability, while showing the compelling romance between Dot and the Italian prisoner, Cesare. Eleanor is incredibly beautiful and I loved the complexity and vulnerability she brought to the character of Demelza in Poldark.

Although he is a soldier, Cesare is also an artist caught up in the machinery of war and I think...[read on]
Follow Caroline Lea on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Metal Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Stacey Swann

From my Q&A with Stacey Swann, author of Olympus, Texas: A Novel:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Before I even had any specific characters or plot, I had the idea to write a novel that somehow merged classic mythology with modern Texas and all of its state mythology. The title Olympus, Texas allowed me to evoke both at the same time. I’m also a writer that is drawn to setting, so I wind up with a lot of place names as titles. I hope that readers can connect with the landscape of this part of Texas as clearly as they do the characters in the book.

What's in a name?

Coming up with the names of my characters was so much fun for me. I wanted names that riffed off the gods they were based on but still felt at home in modern rural Texas. Like most Americans...[read on]
Visit Stacey Swann's website.

Q&A with Stacey Swann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Jason Bruner's "Imagining Persecution"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Imagining Persecution: Why American Christians Believe There Is a Global War against Their Faith by Jason Bruner.

About the book, from the publisher:
Many American Christians have come to understand their relationship to other Christian denominations and traditions through the lens of religious persecution. This book provides a historical account of these developments, showing the global, theological, and political changes that made it possible for contemporary Christians to claim that there is a global war on Christians. Bruner does not advocate on behalf of particular repressed Christian communities, nor does it argue for the genuineness of certain Christians’ claims of persecution. Instead, this book is the first to examine the idea that there is a “global war on Christians” and its analytical implications. It does so by giving a concise history of categories such as "martyr" and theologies that have come together to produce a global Christian imagination premised upon the notion of shared suffering for one’s faith. This history does not deny certain instances of suffering or death; rather, it sets out to reflect upon and make meaning of the consequences for thinking about religious violence and Christianity worldwide using terms such as a “global war on Christians.”
Learn more about Imagining Persecution at the Rutgers University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Imagining Persecution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten books for a greener economy

Ann Pettifor is director of Prime: Policy Research in Macroeconomics and a fellow of the New Economics Foundation.

She is the author of The Case for the Green New Deal. “What still distinguishes Pettifor’s thinking about the Green New Deal," according to Sierra Magazine, "is the way that it tackles not only the climate crisis but also the financial system that helped create it.”

At the Guardian Pettifor tagged ten of the best books that "think through some of the ways we can adopt a more sustainable way of life," including:
Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption by Simon Pirani (2018)

Pirani considers the fact that, of all the fossil fuel that we have consumed, more than half has been burned in the past 50 years. When it comes to explaining how this has happened, he dismisses the arguments resting on population growth or consumerism. Instead, he says that it was driven by social and economic systems. An essential tool for understanding fossil fuel consumption in terms of the vested interests who have benefited from it.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue