Thursday, March 31, 2022

Pg. 69: Diana Abu-Jaber's "Fencing with the King"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Fencing with the King: A Novel by Diana Abu-Jaber.

About the book, from the publisher:
A mesmerizing breakthrough novel of family myths and inheritances by the award-winning author of Crescent.

The King of Jordan is turning 60! How better to celebrate the occasion than with his favorite pastime—fencing—and with his favorite sparring partner, Gabriel Hamdan, who must be enticed back from America, where he lives with his wife and his daughter, Amani.

Amani, a divorced poet, jumps at the chance to accompany her father to his homeland for the King’s birthday. Her father’s past is a mystery to her—even more so since she found a poem on blue airmail paper slipped into one of his old Arabic books, written by his mother, a Palestinian refugee who arrived in Jordan during World War I. Her words hint at a long-kept family secret, carefully guarded by Uncle Hafez, an advisor to the King, who has quite personal reasons for inviting his brother to the birthday party. In a sibling rivalry that carries ancient echoes, the Hamdan brothers must face a reckoning, with themselves and with each other—one that almost costs Amani her life.

With sharp insight into modern politics and family dynamics, taboos around mental illness, and our inescapable relationship to the past, Fencing with the King asks how we contend with inheritance: familial and cultural, hidden and openly contested. Shot through with warmth and vitality, intelligence and spirit, it is absorbing and satisfying on every level, a wise and rare literary treat.
Learn more about the writer and her work at Diana Abu-Jaber's website.

The Page 99 Test: Origin.

The Page 69 Test: Fencing with the King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Richard Hingley's "Conquering the Ocean"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain by Richard Hingley.

About the book, from the publisher:
An authoritative new history of the Roman conquest of Britain

Why did Julius Caesar come to Britain? His own account suggests that he invaded to quell a resistance of Gallic sympathizers in the region of modern-day Kent -- but there must have been personal and divine aspirations behind the expeditions in 55 and 54 BCE. To the ancients, the Ocean was a body of water that circumscribed the known world, separating places like Britain from terra cognita, and no one, not even Alexander the Great, had crossed it. While Caesar came and saw, he did not conquer. In the words of the historian Tacitus, "he revealed, rather than bequeathed, Britain to Rome." For the next five hundred years, Caesar's revelation was Rome's remotest imperial bequest.

Conquering the Ocean provides a new narrative of the Roman conquest of Britain, from the two campaigns of Caesar up until the construction of Hadrian's Wall across the Tyne-Solway isthmus during the 120s CE. Much of the ancient literary record portrays this period as a long march of Roman progress but recent archaeological discoveries reveal that there existed a strong resistance in Britain, Boudica's short lived revolt being the most celebrated of them, and that Roman success was by no means inevitable. Richard Hingley here draws upon an impressive array of new information from archaeological research and recent scholarship on the classical sources to provide a balanced picture of the military activities and strategies that led to the conquest and subjugation of Britain. Conquering the Ocean is the fullest picture to date of a chapter in Roman military history that continues to captivate the public.
Learn more about Conquering the Ocean at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Conquering the Ocean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five of the best books about Russia and Ukraine

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. Born in London in 1959, he graduated with a double-starred
First from Cambridge University, where he was a Lecturer in History and Fellow of Trinity College from 1984 to 1999.

Figes is an award-winning author of ten books on Russian and European history, including The Story of Russia.

At the Guardian he tagged "five books have done as much as any to shape my understanding of the complex region," including:
Mikhail Bulgakov: The White Guard

Bulgakov was another Russian writer from Ukraine. He was born in Kyiv, where this novel is set in 1918, during the first year of the Russian civil war. The Bolsheviks have taken power in Russia; the White Guards,
their enemies, have fled to Ukraine, where they hope to rally the Cossacks. And although Ukraine has declared its independence, it remains at the mercy of the German occupying troops, while Symon Petliura’s Ukrainian nationalists are camped outside the capital.

The story centres on the Turbin family, remnants of the monarchist intelligentsia, whose world collapses in the chaos and confusion of the fighting around Kyiv, ending with the Soviet invasion of Ukraine. Published in 1925, the novel was dramatised as The Days of the Turbins. Stalin loved the play and saw it many times. He viewed it as a parable about a class and way of life destined for destruction by Russian might.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Pg. 99: Andrea C. Mosterman's "Spaces of Enslavement"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Spaces of Enslavement: A History of Slavery and Resistance in Dutch New York by Andrea C. Mosterman.

About the book, from the publisher:
In Spaces of Enslavement, Andrea C. Mosterman addresses the persistent myth that the colonial Dutch system of slavery was more humane. Investigating practices of enslavement in New Netherland and then in New York, Mosterman shows that these ways of racialized spatial control held much in common with the southern plantation societies.

In the 1620s, Dutch colonial settlers brought slavery to the banks of the Hudson River and founded communities from New Amsterdam in the south to Beverwijck near the terminus of the navigable river. When Dutch power in North America collapsed and the colony came under English control in 1664, Dutch descendants continued to rely on enslaved labor. Until 1827, when slavery was abolished in New York State, slavery expanded in the region, with all free New Yorkers benefitting from that servitude.

Mosterman describes how the movements of enslaved persons were controlled in homes and in public spaces such as workshops, courts, and churches. She addresses how enslaved people responded to regimes of control by escaping from or modifying these spaces so as to expand their activities within them. Through a close analysis of homes, churches, and public spaces, Mosterman shows that, over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the region's Dutch communities were engaged in a daily struggle with Black New Yorkers who found ways to claim freedom and resist oppression.

Spaces of Enslavement writes a critical and overdue chapter on the place of slavery and resistance in the colony and young state of New York.
Visit Andrea C. Mosterman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Spaces of Enslavement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top novels set in abandoned places

John Searles is the best-selling author of the novels Help for the Haunted, Strange but True, and Boy Still Missing.

His new novel is Her Last Affair.

Searles has a master's degree in creative writing from New York University and lives in New York.

At Lit Hib he tagged five "books—all of them incredible—that use abandoned places as settings," including:
Jo Watson Hackl, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe

Taking a left turn from the dark horror of Stephen King and Peter Straub, Watson Hackl’s Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe shows the mystery and possibility of a ghost town through the eager eyes of a child. In this heartwarming children’s book, the landscape of the abandoned town provides heroine Cricket with a treasure trove of clues from the past, left behind to guide her to the family she’s been yearning for.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Q&A with Sara A. Mueller

From my Q&A with Sara A. Mueller, author of The Bone Orchard:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

For The Bone Orchard, the title does a lot of heavy lifting. The story is about how the past tends to grow into new problems, about how memories don't simply vanish even when we wish they would. The things that Boren thought they'd buried are regrowing from the roots, so to speak. The majority of the book is spent in Orchard House, named for its literal bone orchard.

What's in a name?

Everything, in this case! Charm and all the boneghosts are named for what they represent and what they are. Charm is... charming. Pain takes on...[read on]
Visit Sara A. Mueller's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bone Orchard.

Q&A with Sara A. Mueller.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five novels with criminal acts at their heart

Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. She is the author of two #1 New York Times bestselling novels, Into The Water and The Girl on The Train. An international #1 bestseller, The Girl on the Train has sold 23 million copies worldwide and has been adapted into a major motion picture. Into the Water was also a Sunday Times and New York Times #1 bestseller, selling 4 million copies worldwide. Her newest thriller is A Slow Fire Burning. Hawkins was born in Zimbabwe and now splits her time between London and Edinburgh.

At CrimeReads she tagged five novels with criminal acts at their core, including:
In the Woods by Tana French (2007)

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read In the Woods—and you really ought to—don’t read this section.

In Tana French’s debut, two detectives, both troubled by historical trauma, are faced with two parallel cases, one in the present and one in the past. So far, so conventional. Oh, but In the Woods is so very far from conventional.

Between detectives Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan, French creates a relationship which lifts the heart, a partnership we are almost immediately invested in, one that we can see enduring for years and cases and novels to come. But life’s not like that, and so French breaks their hearts and ours, savagely and with calculated cruelty, and she’s not done yet. Not even close.

The principal mystery, centered on the murder of a teenage girl, unspools cleverly and carefully; the identity of the killer, when it is revealed, comes as a shock, and yet—as is the case in all the best crime novels—it is possible to figure it out if you are paying close attention.

But it is in French’s treatment of the second mystery, involving the disappearance of two of Rob’s childhood friends two decades before the contemporary storyline begins, that the novel is elevated, because French does not solve it. She refuses to give us an answer, because Rob—who was there when whatever happened to his friends happened – cannot remember. And will never remember. For reasons that we can only guess at, his memory of what happened is gone – or perhaps it never formed, or perhaps it was buried too deep, or perhaps he will not allow it to resurface...

I am aware that this is a matter of personal taste. Irene, who confesses later in the book that she enjoys a ‘traditional crime novel, with good prevailing, evil vanquished’, might, like a friend of mine, have thrown the book across the room when she realized what French had done. But I found the unresolvedness of In the Woods thrilling, I was in awe of its boldness and its realism. Because not everyone finds redemption, not everyone gets a happy ending. Some things are unknowable, some answers are never going to be found. And sometimes the bad guy gets away with it.
Read about another entry on the list.

In the Woods is among Alafair Burke's top ten books about amnesia, Caz Frear's five top open-ended novels, Gabriel Bergmoser's top ten horror novels, Kate White's favorite thrillers with a main character who can’t remember what matters most, Kathleen Donohoe's ten top titles about missing persons, Jessica Knoll's ten top thrillers, Tara Sonin's twenty-five unhappy books for Valentine’s Day, Krysten Ritter's six favorite mysteries, Megan Reynolds's top ten books you must read if you loved Gone Girl, Emma Straub's ten top books that mimic the feeling of a summer vacation, the Barnes & Noble Review's five top books from Ireland's newer voices, and Judy Berman's ten fantastic novels with disappointing endings.

The Page 69 Test: In the Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Danielle S. Rudes's "Surviving Solitary"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Surviving Solitary: Living and Working in Restricted Housing Units by Danielle S. Rudes with Shannon Magnuson and Angela Hattery.

About the book, from the publisher:
Twenty to forty percent of the US prison population will spend time in restricted housing units—or solitary confinement. These separate units within prisons have enhanced security measures, and thousands of staff control and monitor the residents. Though commonly assumed to be punishment for only the most dangerous behaviors, in reality, these units may also be used in response to minor infractions. In Surviving Solitary, Danielle S. Rudes offers an unprecedented look inside RHUs—and a resounding call to more vigorously confront the intentions and realities of these structures. As the narratives unfold we witness the slow and systematic damage the RHUs inflict upon those living and working inside, through increased risk, arbitrary rules, and strained or absent social interactions. Rudes makes the case that we must prioritize improvement over harm. Residents uniformly call for more humane and dignified treatment. Staff yearn for more expansive control. But, as Rudes shows, there also remains fierce resilience among residents and staff and across the communities they forge—and a perpetual hope that they may have a different future.
Follow Danielle S. Rudes on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Surviving Solitary.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Jess Montgomery's "The Echoes"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Echoes: A Novel by Jess Montgomery.

About the book, from the publisher:
The fourth in Jess Montgomery's evocative Kinship series, The Echoes combines exquisite storytelling with extraordinary crime plotting.

As July 4, 1928 approaches, Sheriff Lily Ross and her family look forward to the opening of an amusement park in a nearby town, created by Chalmer Fitzpatrick—a veteran and lumber mill owner. When Lily is alerted to the possible drowning of a girl, she goes to investigate, and discovers schisms going back several generations, in an ongoing dispute over the land on which Fitzpatrick has built the park.

Lily's family life is soon rattled, too, with the revelation that before he died, her brother had a daughter, Esme, with a woman in France, and arrangements have been made for Esme to immigrate to the U.S. to live with them. But Esme never makes it to Kinship, and soon Lily discovers that she has been kidnapped. Not only that, but a young woman is indeed found murdered in the fishing pond on Fitzpatrick's property, at the same time that a baby is left on his doorstep.

As the two crimes interweave, Lily must confront the question of what makes family: can we trust those we love? And what do we share, and what do we keep secret?
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

The Page 69 Test: The Hollows.

The Page 69 Test: The Stills.

Q&A with Jess Montgomery.

The Page 69 Test: The Echoes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 28, 2022

Samantha Greene Woodruff's "The Lobotomist's Wife," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: The Lobotomist's Wife: A Novel by Samantha Greene Woodruff.

The entry begins:
My protagonist, Ruth Emeraldine, is a woman before her time – a strong, independent female who happens to be beautiful but, for whom, looks are irrelevant. Ruth runs a mental hospital in the 1930s and has devoted her life to her patients. As I wrote her character, my inspiration was Katharine Hepburn. Like Ruth, Hepburn had a powerful presence that wasn’t overshadowed by her pin-up girl looks. She was the kind of woman who would be the first to wear pants when others were still in dresses, because they were simply more practical. I think the closest actress we have to Hepburn today is Cate Blanchett. Blanchett has a natural gravitas that balances with her beauty, elegance and intellect. I am not alone in seeing the parallel, Blanchett played Hepburn in the 2004 movie The Aviator, and I think she would be a perfect Ruth.

For Robert Apter, the lobotomist and Ruth’s husband, I would cast...[read on]
Visit Samantha Greene Woodruff's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Lobotomist's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Lynda Mugglestone's "Writing a War of Words"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Writing a War of Words: Andrew Clark and the Search for Meaning in World War One by Lynda Mugglestone.

About the book, from the publisher:
Writing a War of Words is the first exploration of the war-time quest by Andrew Clark - a writer, historian, and volunteer on the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary - to document changes in the English language from the start of the First World War up to 1919. Clark's unique series of lexical scrapbooks, replete with clippings, annotations, and real-time definitions, reveals a desire to put living language history to the fore, and to create a record of often fleeting popular use. The rise of trench warfare, the Zeppelinophobia of total war, and descriptions of shellshock (and raid shock on the Home Front) all drew his attentive gaze. The archive includes examples from a range of sources, such as advertising, newspapers, and letters from the Front, as well as documenting social issues such as the shifting forms of representation as women 'did their bit' on the Home Front. Lynda's Mugglestone's fascinating investigation of this valuable archive reassesses the conventional accounts of language history during this period, recuperates Clark himself as another 'forgotten lexicographer', challenges the received wisdom on the inexpressibilities of war, and examines the role of language as an interdisciplinary lens on history.
Learn more about the English Words in War-Time Project.

The Page 99 Test: Samuel Johnson and the Journey into Words.

The Page 99 Test: Writing a War of Words.

--Marshal Zeringue

Eight books set in Antarctica about identity & transformation

Ally Wilkes grew up in a succession of isolated—possibly haunted—country houses and boarding schools.

After studying law at Oxford, she went on to spend eleven years as a criminal barrister, learning how extreme situations bring out the best (or worst) in human nature.

Wilkes now lives in Greenwich, London, with an anatomical human skeleton and far too many books about Polar exploration. When she isn't writing or reading horror, she's usually to be found hanging upside-down (like a bat) from her aerial silks.

Her debut novel is All The White Spaces.

At Electric Lit Wilkes tagged eight "books which offered fresh perspectives on what it feels like to be human in an inhuman place," including:
Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor

Lean Fall Stand opens with a detailed, stark description of three men—Luke, Doc, and Thomas—caught in a sudden, overwhelming, and very scary storm which cuts them off from their remote observation station on Antarctica’s windy and exposed peninsula. Exploring the fine line between heroism and hubris, the rest of the novel unpicks the implications of a single event spun out into tragedy, seen through Doc’s post-stroke rehabilitation. McGregor’s novel is a deeply intimate portrayal of courage and endurance, the loss of senses and the self.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Pg. 69: Andrea Yaryura Clark's "On a Night of a Thousand Stars"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this moving, emotional narrative of love and resilience, a young couple confronts the start of Argentina's Dirty War in the 1970s, and a daughter searches for truth twenty years later.

New York, 1998. Santiago Larrea, a wealthy Argentine diplomat, is holding court alongside his wife, Lila, and their daughter, Paloma, a college student and budding jewelry designer, at their annual summer polo match and soiree. All seems perfect in the Larreas’ world—until an unexpected party guest from Santiago's university days shakes his usually unflappable demeanor. The woman's cryptic comments spark Paloma’s curiosity about her father’s past, of which she knows little.

When the family travels to Buenos Aires for Santiago's UN ambassadorial appointment, Paloma is determined to learn more about his life in the years leading up to the military dictatorship of 1976. With the help of a local university student, Franco Bonetti, an activist member of H.I.J.O.S—a group whose members are the children of the Desaparecidos, or the “Disappeared,” men and women who were forcibly disappeared by the state during Argentina’s “Dirty War”—Paloma unleashes a chain of events that not only leads her to question her family and her identity, but also puts her life in danger.

In compelling fashion, On a Night of a Thousand Stars speaks to relationships, morality, and identity during a brutal period in Argentinian history, and the understanding—and redemption—people crave in the face of tragedy.
Visit Andrea Yaryura Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: On a Night of a Thousand Stars.

The Page 69 Test: On a Night of a Thousand Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Steven Cassedy's "What Do We Mean When We Talk about Meaning?"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: What Do We Mean When We Talk about Meaning? by Steven Cassedy.

About the book, from the publisher:
A comprehensive journey through the history of "meaning," from antiquity to modern day.

The word meaning appears often in our daily lives: religious leaders holding out the promise of meaning for their followers, self-help manuals seeking to demonstrate the power of meaning to enrich our lives, and most frequently people questioning the meaning of life. The word carries a multitude of connotations, from "purpose" to "value" and "essence" to "mysterious truth", but this diversity of understanding is rarely explored.

In What Do We Mean When We Talk About Meaning?, Steven Cassedy tells the story of how a word that began by denoting "signifying" and "intending" came to acquire such a broad array of sub-definitions. The book begins with the early Christian thinkers who believed meaning could be "read" from the world as if it were holy scripture, then moves into the philosophers who adapted this notion and eventually the Romantic-era Germans that coined "the meaning of life," a phrase that later traveled to Great Britain, the United States, and Russia. The book also extends into the twentieth century, when "meaning" acquired its greatest power in the realms of religion, psychotherapy, and self-help, all of which helped it to accumulate the fluidity and ambiguity it still displays today.
Visit Steven Cassedy's website.

The Page 99 Test: Connected.

My Book, The Movie: Connected.

The Page 99 Test: What Do We Mean When We Talk about Meaning?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Eleven of the best books about prison

Daniel Genis was born in New York City and graduated from NYU with degrees in history and French. He has worked as a translator and has written for Newsweek, The Daily Beast, The Paris Review, The Washington Post, Vice, Deadspin, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Guardian, and the New York Daily News.

His new memoir is Sentence: Ten Years and a Thousand Books in Prison.

At Publishers Weekly Genis shared a list of eleven "standout books about prison—which could easily have been twice as long—and you will have a good idea of the nature of incarceration." One title on the list:
A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

This 1998 novel only has about 120 pages set inside prison, but boy are they on point! I would have loved to have asked Tom Wolfe how he knew? How did he get the sights and sounds so right, and most of all the fear? Prison wears away at your soul and takes years off your life by keeping you in an unnatural state, afraid from the moment you get up until the cell door closes, and even then the fear follows you into your nightmares. In this novel, the hero is terrified of being raped and just when it looks like there can be no reprieve, Tom Wolfe allows such a deus ex machina that its very placement is tongue in cheek. An earthquake brings down the prison walls and allows our protagonist to escape his fate in all senses. Never have the walls of Jericho fallen with such good timing.

This is a very good novel to read about prison because it also deals heavily with Epictetus and the Stoic philosophy. This is what allows a man to suffer, especially when things are not going to get better, maybe not for a while, maybe never. I knew that situation well, and somehow, despite being a literary celebrity, so did Tom Wolfe!
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Q&A with Peng Shepherd

From my Q&A with Peng Shepherd, author of The Cartographers: A Novel:
photo credit: Rachel Crittenden
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are so important to me. As a reader, I’ve bought books based off of just the title. It’s your first glimpse into the story, sometimes even before the book cover, and it sets the tone for everything. Even with a title as simple as The Cartographers, it already tells you that this book 1) is about maps or mapmaking, 2) probably has dark academia vibes, and 3) it’s also the name of a group of seven friends within the novel, so once you reach them in the story, you know that they’ll be a very important part of the plot.

Sometimes I come up with a title for my work in progress right away, and sometimes it comes later, but I will spend the entire drafting and revision process nitpicking my tentative choice and coming up with...[read on]
Visit Peng Shepherd's website.

Writers Read: Peng Shepherd (June 2018).

Q&A with Peng Shepherd.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten must-read alternate history thrillers

Josh Weiss is an author from South Jersey. Raised in a proud Jewish home, he was instilled with an appreciation for his cultural heritage from a very young age. Today, Weiss is utterly fascinated with the convergence of Judaism and popular culture in film, television, comics, literature, and other media. After college, he became a freelance entertainment journalist, writing stories for SYFY WIRE, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, and Marvel Entertainment. He currently resides in Philadelphia with his fiancée, as well as an extensive collection of graphic T-shirts, movie posters, vinyl records, and a few books, of course.

Weiss's new novel is Beat the Devils.

[Writers Read: Josh Weiss; My Book, The Movie: Beat the Devils; The Page 69 Test: Beat the Devils]

At CrimeReads he tagged his ten "all-time must-read alternate history thrillers set against the backdrop of authoritarian and/or dystopian worlds that might have been." One title on the list:
Amerikan Eagle, Brendan DuBois (written as Alan Glenn) (2015)

There just aren’t enough alternate history novels featuring Huey Long, aka “the Kingfish,” as president. Amerikan Eagle helps to fill that void.

Elected on a platform of economic revitalization and isolationism, Long presides over the administration that would have belonged to FDR, had the man not been killed by Giuseppe Zangara back in 1933 (back in our reality, the Kingfish was shot and killed in 1935).

The former governor of Louisiana keeps the United States out of the foreign conflict and starts getting all buddy-buddy with the Third Reich, which just needs to crush the Soviets before it can declare victory over Europe. When a dead body mysteriously turns up in the coastal town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, police officer Sam Miller finds himself swept up in a web of murder, lies, and explosive secrets. You know, of the atomic kind.

DuBois is a master storyteller who drills down to the heart of what it means to keep your head down in a time when raising your voice is needed more than ever. They’ll come for someone else today, but tomorrow…it could be you.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 25, 2022

Pg. 69: Sara A. Mueller's "The Bone Orchard"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller.

About the book, from the publisher:
Sara A. Mueller's The Bone Orchard is a fascinating whodunit set in a lush, gothic world of secrets and magic—where a dying emperor charges his favorite concubine with solving his own murder, and preventing the culprit, which undoubtedly is one of his three terrible sons, from taking control of an empire.

Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow.

Charm is a prisoner, and a survivor. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Charm is a whore, and a madam. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren't real.

Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself.

But now—Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.

If she does this last thing, she will finally have what has been denied her since the fall of Inshil—her freedom. But she will also be betraying the ghosts past and present that live on within her heart.

Charm must choose. Her dead Emperor’s will or the whispers of her own ghosts. Justice for the empire or her own revenge.
Visit Sara A. Mueller's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bone Orchard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark's "All Options on the Table"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: All Options on the Table: Leaders, Preventive War, and Nuclear Proliferation by Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark.

About the book, from the publisher:
When is preventive war chosen to counter nuclear proliferation? In All Options on the Table, Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark looks beyond systemic and slow-moving factors such as the distribution of power. Instead, she highlights individual leaders' beliefs to explain when preventive military force is the preferred strategy. Executive perspective—not institutional structure—is paramount.

Whitlark makes her argument through archivally based comparative case studies. She focuses on executive decision making regarding nuclear programs in China, North Korea, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria. This book considers the actions of US presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as Israeli prime ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ehud Olmert. All Options on the Table demonstrates that leaders have different beliefs about the consequences of nuclear proliferation in the international system and their state's ability to deter other states' nuclear activity. These divergent beliefs lead to variation in leaders' preferences regarding the use of preventive military force as a counter-proliferation strategy.

The historical evidence amassed in All Options on the Table bears on strategic assessments of aspiring nuclear powers such as Iran and North Korea. Whitlark argues that only those leaders who believe that nuclear proliferation is destabilizing for the international system will consider preventive force to counter such challenges. In a complex nuclear world, this insight helps explain why the use of force as a counter-proliferation strategy has been an extremely rare historical event.
Visit Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark's website.

The Page 99 Test: All Options on the Table.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven novels about multiple timelines & blurred realities

Erin Kate Ryan is the author of Quantum Girl Theory.

Leaning against her basement wall are degrees from Boston University School of Law and the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Her fiction has been published in VQR, Glimmer Train, The Normal School, and elsewhere. She is a James Jones First Novel Fellow and a McKnight Artist Fellow. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars, where she was an Alumni Fellow. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her partner and found family.

At Electric Lit Ryan tagged seven novels that "explore [the] idea of multi-layered reality, of the expanded moment, in radically different ways." One title on the list:
Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe

The multivalent storylines in Delayed Rays unfurl from an Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of Marlene Dietrich, Leni Riefenstahl, and Anna May Wong taken at a party in 1928 Berlin. Each woman’s path spirals outward and returns back to the making of the photograph, retrofitting the moment of the camera’s flash with 40, 60, 75 years of future events, desires, and loss.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Andrea Yaryura Clark's "On a Night of a Thousand Stars," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark.

The entry begins:
On a Night of a Thousand Stars has two narratives. One takes place in Argentina during the 1970s and the other one unfolds in 1998, starting in New York but quickly moving to Argentina. A few characters appear in both stories. Ideally, I would want the same actor/actress to portray him/herself as a young twentysomething and later as a fortysomething. When thinking about whom to cast, I took the liberty of imagining a time machine that would make each person the appropriate age for the character.

Paloma Larrea, the main character in the 1998 story could be played by Paula Christensen, who read the audio version of the book (!), Anya Taylor-Joy or Nathalie Kelley.

Valentina Quintero, the main female protagonist of the 1970s narrative, could be played by Anya Taylor Joy, Cecilia Roth, Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek...[read on]
Visit Andrea Yaryura Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: On a Night of a Thousand Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: David Sehat's "This Earthly Frame"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: This Earthly Frame: The Making of American Secularism by David Sehat.

About the book, from the publisher:
An award-winning scholar’s sweeping history of American secularism, from Jefferson to Trump

In This Earthly Frame, David Sehat narrates the making of American secularism through its most prominent proponents and most significant detractors. He shows how its foundations were laid in the U.S. Constitution and how it fully emerged only in the twentieth century. Religious and nonreligious Jews, liberal Protestants, apocalyptic sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and antireligious activists all used the courts and the constitutional language of the First Amendment to create the secular order. Then, over the past fifty years, many religious conservatives turned against that order, emphasizing their religious freedom.

Avoiding both polemic and lament, Sehat offers a powerful reinterpretation of American secularism and a clear framework for understanding the religiously infused conflict of the present.
Visit David Sehat's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Myth of American Religious Freedom.

The Page 99 Test: This Earthly Frame.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten mirrored lives in fiction

Alex Hyde is a lecturer at University College London. Violets, her first novel, is a fictional reimagining of her father’s story, drawing on family mythology and his personal archives. She lives with her family in South London.

At the Guardian Hyde tagged ten top fictional mirrored lives, including:
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet follows two childhood friends as their lives take different paths, weaving in and out of one another’s influence and affections. The first book explores their relationship growing up in postwar Naples, a place of casual violence, sexual threat and a grinding lack of opportunities for escape. Elena and Lila make different choices, framed by the constraints of their circumstances but also by their different capabilities and fears. Their friendship has the sense of a quiet, calculated game, with one always a step ahead of the other.
Read about another entry on the list.

My Brilliant Friend is among William Finnegan's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Pg. 69: Josh Weiss's "Beat the Devils"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Beat the Devils by Josh Weiss.

About the book, from the publisher:
An inventive, page-turning crime thriller set in an alternate United States during the height of the Red Scare—with shocking parallels to America in the 2020s.

USA, 1958. President Joseph McCarthy sits in the White House, elected on a wave of populist xenophobia and barely‑concealed anti‑Semitism. The country is in the firm grip of McCarthy's Hueys, a secret police force evolved from the House Un-American Activities Committee. Hollywood's sparkling vision of the American dream has been suppressed; its remaining talents forced to turn out endless anti‑communist propaganda.

LAPD detective Morris Baker—a Holocaust survivor who drowns his fractured memories of the unspeakable in schnapps and work—is called to the scene of a horrific double‑homicide. The victims are John Huston, a once‑promising but now forgotten film director, and an up‑and‑coming young journalist named Walter Cronkite. Clutched in the hand of one of the dead men is a cryptic note containing the phrase “beat the devils” followed by a single name: Baker. Did the two men die in an attack fueled by better-dead-than-red sentiment, as the Hueys are quick to conclude, or were they murdered in a cover-up designed to protect—or even set in motion—a secret plot connected to Baker's past?

In a country where terror grows stronger by the day, and paranoia rises unchecked, Baker is determined to find justice for two men who raised their voices in a time when free speech comes at the ultimate cost. In the course of his investigation, Baker stumbles into a conspiracy that reaches deep into the halls of power and uncovers a secret that could destroy the City of Angels—and the American ideal itself.
Follow Josh Weiss on Twitter.

Writers Read: Josh Weiss.

My Book, The Movie: Beat the Devils.

The Page 69 Test: Beat the Devils.

--Marshal Zeringue

Eight crime novels that smash the patriarchy

As an avid reader and life-long writer, Jayne Cowie also enjoys digging in her garden and makes an excellent devil’s food cake. She lives near London with her family.

Her new novel is Curfew.

At CrimeReads Cowie tagged eight thrillers that center women's experiences, including:
The In Death Series by JD Robb

This series has everything, and I mean everything. Eve Dallas is a cop in a near future New York, a place where cars fly and droids are a part of daily life. But more than that, Robb has created a future which recognizes the truth of the lives that women lead, and how they want to lead them. Eve’s desire to work in a difficult, dangerous, once male dominated profession sits comfortably alongside professional motherhood, where women can choose to stay at home with their children and be paid for their efforts. It’s because of this that I couldn’t pick one book from the series. It had to be all of them (and there are plenty!).
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Andrew Fiala's "Tyranny from Plato to Trump"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Tyranny from Plato to Trump: Fools, Sycophants, and Citizens by Andrew Fiala.

About the book, from the publisher:
Power grabs, partisan stand-offs, propaganda, and riots make for tantalizing fiction, but what do we do when that drama becomes a reality all around us? For a country founded as an escape from British tyranny, the United States seems to have devolved into a land where tyrants rise to power, sycophants blindly follow, and the entire nation suffers.

As ancient Greek philosophers warned us, chaotic tragedy unfolds in the absence of reason, and the only cure is a return to wisdom and virtue. America’s founding fathers knew this lesson all too well and dreamed of an enlightened citizenry guided by better-than-ideological dictators.

Using contemporary events to illuminate universal human weaknesses, Andrew Fiala charts the perennial history of tyrannical takeovers and the masses who support them and ultimately suffer under their rule. Ultimately, Fiala also points to a solution. Knowing the cyclical nature of tyranny, we can build safeguards against our worst inclinations and keep alive the freedoms our founding fathers envisioned for this nation.
Visit Andrew Fiala's website.

The Page 99 Test: Tyranny from Plato to Trump.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Edward Ashton

From my Q&A with Edward Ashton, author of Mickey7:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Ninety percent of the time, titles are the worst part of the entire process of crafting a story for me. As a result, I generally don't want to put the effort in until I'm sure a project is going to make it across the finish line. During the drafting process I'll use a working title, which is usually just the first name of the protagonist. That's exactly what I did for Mickey7, obviously---but then when I got to the end, I realized that in this case the working title was perfect. The name "Mickey" tells the reader right up front that this book isn't taking itself too seriously, and what's with the 7? Gotta figure that out, right? It's a simple title, but it pulls you right into the story.

What's in a name?

My character names are...[read on]
Visit Edward Ashton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mickey7.

Q&A with Edward Ashton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Josh Weiss's "Beat the Devils," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: Beat the Devils by Josh Weiss.

The entry begins:
What author hasn’t thought about their book becoming a film or television series? If a writer tells you it hasn’t once crossed their mind at least once, then they’re probably lying.

I love, love, love (did I mention love?) movies. While writing Beat the Devils, I tried to be as cinematic as possible, which included peppering a number of doo-wop needle drops throughout the narrative, Martin Scorsese style!

As for who would actually direct the adaptation, I think the Coen brothers’ talent for juggling Jewish concepts with human drama and acerbic irony would be a more-than-perfect fit. A number of years back, the filmmaking duo was attached to helm a film version of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which was a major source of inspiration for my novel.

Joel, Ethan…if you’re on the lookout for something similar…let’s talk!

I could go down a rabbit hole of who I’d cast for each character, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to four of my personal favorites…


I’ve got three top choices for our cynical and peach-schnapps loving homicide detective. First up is Matthew Rhys of The Americans fame. But it’s not his performance on the FX series that sold me.

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 — when I worried myself sick over whether Beat the Devils would ever be released to the public — HBO began ramping up publicity for its reimagined Perry Mason featuring Rhys in the title role. The Morris Baker who’d been living rent free in my head since 2015 suddenly appeared in the show’s teaser trailer, complete with fedora and a haunted expression.

Now, I very much doubt Mr. Rhys is interested in playing a similar character to Mr. Mason when he’s already got a sweet neo-noir gig, but hey, you never know.

If he decides to pass, however, I’d like to nominate...[read on]
Follow Josh Weiss on Twitter.

Writers Read: Josh Weiss.

My Book, The Movie: Beat the Devils.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Lillian Faderman's "Woman: The American History of an Idea"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Woman: The American History of an Idea by Lillian Faderman.

About the book, from the publisher:
A comprehensive history of the struggle to define womanhood in America, from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century

What does it mean to be a “woman” in America? Award-winning gender and sexuality scholar Lillian Faderman traces the evolution of the meaning from Puritan ideas of God’s plan for women to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and its reversals to the impact of such recent events as #metoo, the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the election of Kamala Harris as vice president, and the transgender movement.

This wide-ranging 400-year history chronicles conflicts, retreats, defeats, and hard-won victories in both the private and the public sectors and shines a light on the often-overlooked battles of enslaved women and women leaders in tribal nations. Noting that every attempt to cement a particular definition of “woman” has been met with resistance, Faderman also shows that successful challenges to the status quo are often short-lived. As she underlines, the idea of womanhood in America continues to be contested.
Visit Lillian Faderman's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Gay Revolution.

The Page 99 Test: Woman: The American History of an Idea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten books about chance encounters with strangers

At Electric Lit contributers to Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, edited by Colleen Kinder, tagged ten "books featuring strangers who throw everything into a tizzy, who act as surrogates, who unearth beauty, who enable epic journeys, and more." Keija Parssinen's pick:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid is a magician: his books slim, structurally daring feats of literary devilry. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, his second novel, is my favorite for its audacity and its power. The book details an encounter between a Pakistani man named Changez and a burly American, who looks like he “bench presses regularly and maxes out well above 225,” unfolding as a conversation in a Lahore tea shop. Though monologue may be a more accurate descriptor, since we only ever hear Changez’s voice, the American’s presence is acknowledged cleverly through described reactions, or questions repeated back to the inquirer.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this self-conscious framework might ring false, too stagey for fiction. Yet Hamid manages to make the staginess natural to a story that is not really about two men meeting by chance in a tea house, but rather two countries—supposed allies—regarding each other with suspicion across a cultural chasm. Changez is a mesmerizing narrator who unfurls the story of his American miseducation with the flair of a court poet, by turns funny, coarse, infuriating and touching. The brilliant ending challenges our assumptions and biases as we are left to parse whether we have just witnessed a casual exchange between strangers or a set-up.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is among Maris Kreizman's nineteen top short books and stories, Ian MacKenzie's ten top books about Americans abroad, Emily Temple's ten top contemporary novels by and about Muslims, Laila Lalami's eight top books about Muslim life for a nation that knows little about Islam, Porochista Khakpour's top ten novels about 9/11, Jimmy So's five best 9/11 novels, and Ahmede Hussain's five top books in recent South Asian literature.

The Page 69 Test: The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 21, 2022

Q&A with Carolyne Topdjian

From my Q&A with Carolyne Topdjian, author of The Hitman's Daughter:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Great question! I think my title The Hitman’s Daughter definitely sets the stage for some cross-genre action; it promises edge-of-your-seat thrills. But more importantly, I think it suggests how my protagonist’s identity is overshadowed by the sins of her father. The world pre-judges Mave Michael Francis because she’s the daughter of an incarcerated hitman. This bias is the core of Mave’s internal and external struggle throughout the story. Over the course of the novel, she must learn to cope with and stop running from her unwanted past. With everyone trapped inside a rundown grand hotel during a blizzard on New Year’s Eve, there’s a killer on the loose, trying to pin murder on Mave; so only by accepting...[read on]
Visit Carolyne Topdjian's website.

Q&A with Carolyne Topdjian.

--Marshal Zeringue

Nine books to help us understand the invasion of Ukraine

Oliver Bullough is the author of the financial expose Moneyland, a Sunday Times bestseller, and two celebrated books about the former Soviet Union: The Last Man in Russia and Let Our Fame Be Great. His journalism appears regularly in the Guardian, The New York Times, and GQ.

Bullough's new book is Butler to the World: How Britain Helps the World's Worst People Launder Money, Commit Crimes, and Get Away with Anything.

At the Guardian he tagged nine books to help understand the invasion of Ukraine, including:
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy is a great place to start reading up on the background to the crisis. It tells the story of this large but less well-known country without the Moscow-centric bias that many of us Russian speakers have long struggled to free ourselves of. It is learned and considered, but lightly written and leavened by anecdotes.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Gates of Europe is among Kalani Pickhart's eight books to better understand Ukraine.

The Page 99 Test: The Gates of Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Adrian Shirk's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Searching for an American Utopia by Adrian Shirk.

About the book, from the publisher:
An exploration of American ideas of utopia through the lens of one millennial’s quest to live a more communal life under late-stage capitalism.

Told in a series of essays that balance memoir with fieldwork, Heaven Is a Place on Earth is an idiosyncratic study of American utopian experiments—from the Shakers to the radical faerie communes of Short Mountain to the Bronx rebuilding movement—through the lens of one woman’s quest to create a more communal life in a time of unending economic and social precarity.

When Adrian Shirk’s father-in-law has a stroke and loses his ability to speak and walk, she and her husband—both adjuncts in their midtwenties—become his primary caretakers. The stress of these new responsibilities, coupled with navigating America’s broken health-care system and ordinary twenty-first-century financial insecurity, propels Shirk into an odyssey through the history and present of American utopian experiments in the hope that they might offer a way forward.

Along the way, Shirk seeks solace in her own community of friends, artists, and theologians. They try to imagine a different kind of life, examining what might be replicable within the histories of utopia-making, and what might be doomed. Rather than “no place,” Shirk reframes utopia as something that, according to the laws of capital and conquest, shouldn’t be able to exist—but does anyway, if only for a moment.
Visit Adrian Shirk's website.

The Page 99 Test: Heaven Is a Place on Earth.

--Marshal Zeringue