Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Six books that draw inspiration from folk tales

Amanda Jayatissa is the author of My Sweet Girl, which won the International Thriller Writer’s Award for Best First Novel, and You're Invited.

She grew up in Sri Lanka and has lived in the California bay area and British countryside, before relocating back to her sunny island, where she lives with her husband and two Tasmanian-devil-reincarnate huskies.

Jayatissa's new novel is Island Witch.

At CrimeReads she tagged six books that span "across many genres and hail from different corners of the world, but they all draw inspiration from popular myths, lore, and folk tales." One title on the list:
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

A classic in it’s own right, American Gods is a fantastic interpretation of what gods spanning various myths and lore would look like in modern society. The story starts with the main character, Shadow’s, wife dying in a mysterious car crash days before his release from prison. On his way back home, he meets Mr Wednesday, who introduces him to a world quite unlike he has ever seen, while they embark on a journey through the heart of America.
Read about another entry in the list.

American Gods is among R.W.W. Greene's five top SFF books about road trips, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough's top ten books about the Vikings, Jeff Somers's ten sci-fi & fantasy books that take on norse mythology and ten top SFF stories lousy with giant spiders, Josh Ritter's six favorite books that invoke the supernatural, and John T. Ottinger's top 12 science fiction and fantasy novels and stories that are uniquely American.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Ellen O'Clover reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Ellen O'Clover, author of The Someday Daughter.

Her entry begins:
The last book I read and can’t stop thinking about is Samantha Markum’s Love, Off the Record. I love Markum’s voice: her YA romances are swoony and sincere, with complex characters who feel big, love hard, and navigate coming of age with all the messiness of the genuine human experience. Love, Off the Record follows college freshman newspaper staffers Wyn and Three as they compete for a coveted reporter spot. It’s everything I love in a rivals-to-lovers romance, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I also just finished...[read on]
About The Someday Daughter, from the publisher:
Audrey St. Vrain has grown up in the shadow of someone who doesn’t actually exist. Before she was born, her mother, Camilla St. Vrain, wrote the bestselling book Letters to My Someday Daughter, a guide to self-love that advises treating yourself like you would your own hypothetical future daughter. The book made Audrey’s mother a household name, and she built an empire around it.

While the world considers Audrey lucky to have Camilla for a mother, the truth is that Audrey knows a different side of being the someday daughter. Shipped off to boarding school when she was eleven, she feels more like a promotional tool than a member of Camilla’s family. Audrey is determined to create her own identity aside from being Camilla’s daughter, and she’s looking forward to a prestigious summer premed program with her boyfriend before heading to college and finally breaking free from her mother’s world.

But when Camilla asks Audrey to go on tour with her to promote the book’s anniversary, Audrey can’t help but think that this is the last, best chance to figure out how they fit into each other’s lives—not as the someday daughter and someday mother but as themselves, just as they are. What Audrey doesn’t know is that spending the summer with Camilla and her tour staff—including the disarmingly honest, distressingly cute video intern, Silas—will upset everything she’s so carefully planned for her life.
Visit Ellen O'Clover's website.

Q&A with Ellen O'Clover.

Writers Read: Ellen O'Clover.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Marc-William Palen's "Pax Economica"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Pax Economica: Left-Wing Visions of a Free Trade World by Marc-William Palen.

About the book, from the publisher:
The forgotten history of the liberal radicals, socialist internationalists, feminists, and Christians who envisioned free trade as the necessary prerequisite for anti-imperialism and peace

Today, free trade is often associated with right-wing free marketeers. In Pax Economica, historian Marc-William Palen shows that free trade and globalisation in fact have roots in nineteenth-century left-wing politics. In this counterhistory of an idea, Palen explores how, beginning in the 1840s, left-wing globalists became the leaders of the peace and anti-imperialist movements of their age. By the early twentieth century, an unlikely alliance of liberal radicals, socialist internationalists, feminists, and Christians envisioned free trade as essential for a prosperous and peaceful world order. Of course, this vision was at odds with the era’s strong predilections for nationalism, protectionism, geopolitical conflict, and colonial expansion. Palen reveals how, for some of its most radical left-wing adherents, free trade represented a hard-nosed critique of imperialism, militarism, and war.

Palen shows that the anti-imperial component of free trade was a phenomenon that came to encompass the political left wing within the British, American, Spanish, German, Dutch, Belgian, Italian, Russian, French, and Japanese empires. The left-wing vision of a “pax economica” evolved to include supranational regulation to maintain a peaceful free-trading system―which paved the way for a more liberal economic order after World War II and such institutions as the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Trade Organization. Palen’s findings upend how we think about globalisation, free trade, anti-imperialism, and peace. Rediscovering the left-wing history of globalism offers timely lessons for our own era of economic nationalism and geopolitical conflict.
Learn more about Pax Economica at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Pax Economica.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 26, 2024

Pg. 69: Jeffrey L. Richards's "We Are Only Ghosts"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: We Are Only Ghosts by Jeffrey L. Richards.

About the book, from the publisher:
An exhilarating, brutally candid saga about sexuality and war, tenderness and trauma, young desire and fierce hate, as a teenage boy’s unexpected, complicated relationship with a Nazi officer in a WWII death camp is resurrected in 1960s New York City.

We Are Only Ghosts depicts queer love against the horrors of death camps and the psychosis of those who got out alive—haunted forever by those who did not—balancing the violence and hatred of war and its aftermath with many poignant moments of tenderness and joy. For readers of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne, and Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart.

New York City, 1968: The customers at Café Marie don’t come just for the excellent coffee and pastries. They come for the sophisticated ambiance, and the illusion of being somewhere other than a bustling, exhausting city. Headwaiter Charles Ward helps create that illusion through impeccable service—unobtrusive, nearly invisible, yet always watchful.

It’s a skill Charles honed as a young Jewish boy in war-torn Europe, when avoiding attention might mean the difference between life and death. But even then, one man saw him all too clearly—a Nazi officer who was both his savior and tormentor.

At seventeen, Charles was deported to Auschwitz with his family. There he was singled out by Obersturmführer Berthold Werden, who hid him in his home. Their entanglement produced a tortured affection mixed with hatred that flares to life again, decades later, when Berthold walks into Café Marie.

Drawn back into Berthold’s orbit, Charles is forced to revisit the pain and the brief, undeniable pleasures of the life he once knew. And if he acts on his growing hunger for revenge, will he lose his only tether to the past—the only other witness to who he was and everything he endured—or find peace at last?
Visit Jeffrey L. Richards's website.

The Page 69 Test: We Are Only Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven horror novels where the setting is a monster

Chase Dearinger is an Oklahoma native who now lives in Kansas with his wife and two daughters. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in magazines around the country, including Bayou, The Southampton Review, Short Story America, and Heavy Feather Review. He currently serves as the Chief Editor of Emerald City, a quarterly online fiction magazine, and directs the Cow Creek Chapbook Prize, an annual poetry chapbook contest. He is a professor of creative writing and literature at Pittsburg State University. This New Dark is his first novel.

At Electric Lit Dearinger tagged seven horror novels "in which the setting lurks in the shadows just as much as the monster," including:
The Hollow Kind by Andy Davidson

Old-growth forest in Georgia: Nellie Gardner and her eleven-year-old son, Max, leave everything behind when she learns that her estranged grandfather has left her his estate—the Redfern farmhouse, a mill, a thousand acres of forest. A sinister presence in the house and forest forces Nellie to unravel the Redfern’s violent legacy, and she finds she must do everything in her power to protect her son. The blood-soaked and eerie forest is home to much more than the family legacy, though—something ancient and waiting.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Valerie Martin's "Mrs. Gulliver," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: Mrs. Gulliver: A Novel by Valerie Martin.

The entry begins:
My novel, Mrs. Gulliver takes place largely in a brothel on a tropical island. The characters are lively, and the plot is a bit wacky. It’s a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, with Juliet as a beautiful, blind prostitute. Unlike the original, it has a happy ending.

For the director of the major motion picture, I’d want someone who would be a bit playful with my novel. I’ve long been a fan of Todd Haynes (I’m gratified that everyone is crazy about him this year). My novel takes place in the 50’s, and I know he has a strong sense of this period. He would explore the irony of my heroine’s plight and pay attention to the dark undertones of the tropical island’s un-paradisical political arrangements, such as the thriving drug trade, murders, and routine exploitation of women. The world of his film would be morally complex and a little sad.

But when I imagine a film that has the goofy wit and fast paced, occasionally nonsensical plot of my novel, it’s...[read on]
Visit Valerie Martin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mrs. Gulliver.

My Book, The Movie: Mrs. Gulliver.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Robin Oliveira

From my Q&A with Robin Oliveira, author of A Wild and Heavenly Place:

About the book, from the publisher:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My agent thought of the title, as she does most of my novels. A Wild and Heavenly Place represents the book well because it hearkens to the deepest desires of Samuel Fiddes, one of the protagonists. Orphaned and caring for his younger sister in the tenements of 19th century Glasgow. Samuel and Alison have already suffered a great deal, and they possess no agency to better their lives. Alone and in need, Samuel falls in love with Hailey MacIntyre, a wealthy young woman of privilege who nonetheless shares a similar desire for a life different from the one she is leading. When tragedy befalls Hailey's’ father...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Robin Oliveira's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Name Is Mary Sutter.

The Page 69 Test: Winter Sisters.

Q&A with Robin Oliveira.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Five of the best books about grief

Sophie Ratcliffe is professor of literature and creative criticism at the University of Oxford and a fellow and tutor at Lady Margaret Hall. In addition to her scholarly books, including On Sympathy, she has published commentary pieces and book reviews for the Guardian, the New Statesman, and the Times Literary Supplement, among other outlets, and has served a judge for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction and the Wellcome Book Prize.

Ratcliffe's forthcoming book is Loss, A Love Story: Imagined Histories and Brief Encounters.

At the Guardian she tagged five books about grief that can help provide comfort and perspective, including:
Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

The premise of this poetic novella – giant crow moves in with bereaved family after mother dies – sounds unlikely. But through this brilliant semi-allegory, Porter captures how loss can upend a family, seemingly stretching space and logic in surreal ways. Told through voices of two boys, their father, and a shapeshifting crow, this is a funny, frightening and loving experiment in magical thinking. As an adult who was bereaved as a child, I approached this tale with some trepidation – fearing it might cut too close. In fact, it provided a kind of fierce comfort – holding pain up to the light, and aslant.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Wendy Church's "Murder Beyond the Pale"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Murder Beyond the Pale (Jesse O'Hara, 2) by Wendy Church.

About the book, from the publisher:
The new Jesse O'Hara mystery, from the author of the acclaimed debut MURDER ON THE SPANISH SEAS, perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Janet Evanovich!

Jesse O’Hara is unemployed. “A million dollar brain and a ten-cent personality,” her last employer said. With nothing better to do, Jesse accepts a request to go to Ireland to help a relative find his missing daughter. She expects to find the young woman quickly, and is looking forward to spending her trip touring and drinking, not necessarily in that order.

Once in Ireland, it’s clear to Jesse that the missing woman has met with foul play. In the course of her investigation she goes to greater and greater lengths to get to the truth, causing her to antagonize Ireland’s most dangerous drug kingpin, not to mention the IRA and the local gardai.

Aided by her near-photographic memory and dogged perseverance, Jesse is close to uncovering the truth, even as other people start to turn up dead. But she’s warned away from the investigation, and when she doesn’t back off, she’s threatened, attacked, and kidnapped. And when she is accused of murder, Jesse must use every ounce of wit and brainpower she has (left) to find a killer and not end up six feet under.
Visit Wendy Church's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

Q&A with Wendy Church.

My Book, The Movie: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Beyond the Pale.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Nathan Perl-Rosenthal's "The Age of Revolutions"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: The Age of Revolutions And the Generations Who Made It by Nathan Perl-Rosenthal.

About the book, from the publisher:
A panoramic new history of the revolutionary decades between 1760 and 1825, from North America and Europe to Haiti and Spanish America, showing how progress and reaction went hand in hand

The revolutions that raged across Europe and the Americas over seven decades, from 1760 to 1825, created the modern world. Revolutionaries shattered empires, toppled social hierarchies, and birthed a world of republics. But old injustices lingered on and the powerful engines of revolutionary change created new and insidious forms of inequality.

In The Age of Revolutions, historian Nathan Perl-Rosenthal offers the first narrative history of this entire era. Through a kaleidoscope of lives both familiar and unknown—from John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Napoleon to an ambitious French naturalist and a seditious Peruvian nun—he retells the revolutionary epic as a generational story. The first revolutionary generation, fired by radical ideas, struggled to slip the hierarchical bonds of the old order. Their failures molded a second generation, more adept at mass organizing but with an illiberal tint. The sweeping political transformations they accomplished after 1800 etched social and racial inequalities into the foundations of modern democracy.

A breathtaking history spanning three continents, The Age of Revolutions uncovers how the period’s grand political transformations emerged across oceans and, slowly and unevenly, over generations.
Learn more about The Age of Revolutions at the Basic Books website.

The Page 99 Test: The Age of Revolutions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 24, 2024

What is Suzanne Redfearn reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Suzanne Redfearn, author of Where Butterflies Wander: A Novel.

Her entry begins:
This prompt caught me at a moment when I have four books going at once, which is not entirely unusual.

On Audible, I am listening to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This book has been huge for a while, but I mistakenly believed it wasn’t my cup of tea. Based on the cover and title, I thought it was going to be all fluff and romance. One of my book clubs chose it, which is the reason I picked it up, and I’m very glad I did. It has surprising depth and underlying meaning. Reid is an outstanding storyteller, and I am completely caught up in the tale.

On my Kindle, I am reading...[read on]
About Where Butterflies Wander, from the publisher:
From the bestselling author of In an Instant comes the moving story of a family grappling with grief and a woman with the power to help them through it―or stand in their way.

After a tragic accident claims the life of one of her children, Marie Egide is desperate to carve out a fresh start for her family. With her husband and their three surviving children, Marie travels to New Hampshire, where she plans to sell a family estate and then, just maybe, they’ll be able to heal from their grief.

Marie’s plans are thwarted when she realizes a war veteran known by locals as “the river witch” is living in a cabin on the property, which she claims was a gift from Marie’s grandfather. If Davina refuses to move on, Marie won’t be able to either.

The two women clash, and battle lines are drawn within Marie’s family and the town as each side fights for what they believe is right, the tension rising until it reaches its breaking point. And the choice is no longer theirs when a force bigger than them all―fate―takes control.
Visit Suzanne Redfearn's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Suzanne Redfearn and Cooper.

My Book, The Movie: Hush Little Baby.

The Page 69 Test: Hush Little Baby.

The Page 69 Test: No Ordinary Life.

Writers Read: Suzanne Redfearn (February 2016).

My Book, The Movie: No Ordinary Life.

My Book, The Movie: In an Instant.

The Page 69 Test: In an Instant.

Q&A with Suzanne Redfearn.

My Book, The Movie: Hadley and Grace.

The Page 69 Test: Hadley & Grace.

Writers Read: Suzanne Redfearn (March 2022).

The Page 69 Test: Moment in Time.

My Book, The Movie: Moment in Time.

Writers Read: Suzanne Redfearn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Four books that juxtapose the beauty and ugliness of ballet

Tammy Greenwood is the acclaimed author of fifteen novels and a four-time winner of the San Diego Book Award. Six of her novels have been Indie Next Picks, including her most recent, The Still Point, an “intimate journey into the exclusive world of ballet” (Mary Kubica) inspired by her own experiences as the mother of a professional dancer. Revolving around the cutthroat hothouse of a California dance school, it is both a love letter to the world of ballet and a challenge to its toxic hierarchies, intense competition, and dark drive towards perfection that pushes girls – and their families – to their physical and emotional extremes. Greenwood and her family split their time between Vermont and San Diego, where she teaches creative writing for The Writer's Center and San Diego Writers, Ink.

[My Book, The Movie: Rust and StardustThe Page 69 Test: Rust and StardustWriters Read: T. Greenwood (August 2019)The Page 69 Test: Keeping LucyMy Book, The Movie: Keeping LucyQ&A with T. GreenwoodThe Page 69 Test: Such a Pretty Girl]

At CrimeReads Greenwood tagged four ballet "books—two novels and two non-fiction—which seek to peel back the satin and reveal the tender pain beneath." One title on the list:
They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey

Like [Sari Wilson's] Girl Through Glass, Meg Howrey’s novel, They’re Going to Love You is about a former SAB student, though this novel is a dual timeline novel set in the present and in the 1980s. Howrey, a former professional ballerina herself, is at the top of her game in this novel about the futility of ambition in a world which rejects anyone who does not fit ballet’s physical ideal. I have read this book twice—and the second time I took note of the sadness underlying the story. Carlisle’s love of dance, in the end, is no match for the narrow definitions of what make a “ballet body.” The novel is about much more than this, of course; it is not only about art and ambition but also about family secrets and legacy. But Howrey truly captures the exclusiveness of the ballet world, and the pain of one dancer’s exclusion.
Read about another entry on the list.

They’re Going to Love You is among Lindsay Lynch's eight books that deliver behind-the-scenes drama.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Steve Weddle

From my Q&A with Steve Weddle, author of The County Line:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The original title for the book was Cottonmouth Tomlin and the Last Outlaw Camp. I felt that captured the fun of the book, giving it a certain pulpy feel while telling you who and what the book was about. David Downing, a fantastic editor who worked on the book, pointed out to me that it wasn’t, in fact, the last outlaw camp, as there were others mentioned as competition in the book. Also, there was also a feeling among those reading and working on the book that my original title provided an Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy vibe that doesn’t really fit.

The Lake Union folks came up with The County Line, which turns out to be the perfect fit. In the book, the powers that be are fine with crimes being committed, as long as they are committed on the other side of the county line and the money spent in the county. And that’s a rule, or a line, that you don’t break. Until you do, which is when...[read on]
Follow Steve Weddle on Instagram and visit his website.

Q&A with Steve Weddle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Suzanne Berne's "The Blue Window," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: The Blue Window by Suzanne Berne.

The entry begins:
What’s most cinematic in The Blue Window is the physical setting: the contrast between a small shadowy cabin, inhabited by a reclusive, emotionally inaccessible old woman, and the wide open, shining expanse of Lake Champlain right outside her windows. So much darkness inside, all that marvelous possibility outside. How to get from one to the other? In many ways, that view tells the whole story.

Judi Dench would be my choice to play Marika, the elderly woman. She’s an actress who knows how to give an impassive stare (Queen Victoria!), and at the same time communicate turbulence behind that stare. Very closed people can seem intimidating, and Dench is wonderful at portraying “toughness,” while hinting at great loneliness.

I’d love to see Laura Linney play Marika’s daughter, Lorna, the therapist who...[read on]
Visit Suzanne Berne's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Blue Window.

Q&A with Suzanne Berne.

My Book, The Movie: The Blue Window.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 23, 2024

Seven books celebrating the healing magic of birds

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman is a writer and former reporter at HuffPost, where she covered the climate crisis and other social justice issues. Born and raised in New York City, she currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Her debut novel is A Fire So Wild.

At Electric Lit Ruiz-Grossman tagged "seven incredible books [in which] the authors find similar refuge in the company of birds, be they clever crows who visit them daily to play, or kingfishers with regal blue crowns to whom their human observers mean nothing at all." One title on the list:
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

In this moving nature memoir, Macdonald recounts the trials of training a wild goshawk to hunt in the wake of her father’s death. As we accompany the author through her grief, we see her find her own wings as the seemingly untameable bird learns from her, and teaches her in turn.
Read about another entry on the list.

H Is for Hawk is among Kristina Busch's seven books about daughters grieving their fathers, Raynor Winn's nine top nature memoirs, Lit Hub's ten best memoirs of the decade, Sigrid Nunez's six favorite books that feature animals, Sam Miller's top ten books about fathers, Barack Obama's summer 2016 reading list, Jeffrey Lent's top ten books about justice and redemption, and Alex Hourston’s ten top unlikely friendships in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Valerie Martin's "Mrs. Gulliver"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Mrs. Gulliver: A Novel by Valerie Martin.

About the book, from the publisher:
From the prize-winning and beloved author Valerie Martin (Mary Reilly, Property, Italian Fever) comes a surprisingly inventive tale of female subversion and agency in a patriarchal world, with two brilliantly crafted protagonists to root for.

It’s 1954 on far-flung Verona Island, a tropical paradise with a fragile economy and a rising crime rate. Prostitution is legal and Lila Gulliver is proud of her business, a high-end brothel where her clients are guaranteed privacy and discretion. When Carità Bercy, a young, destitute, and beautiful blind woman arrives at her door seeking employment, Lila decides to give her a chance.

Carità proves a valuable asset to the house, as well as a psychological puzzle to her employer. One hot night, Ian Drohan, a handsome youth and the scion of the wealthiest family on the island, visits Lila’s house and falls madly in love with Carità. Lila doubts his sincerity and fears for Carità ‘s future.

Carità has no such fears. In fact, Carità is a reckless force of nature, determined to succeed in ways Lila hasn’t even contemplated.

Spirits of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, as well as the devilish denizens of the magical island in The Tempest, haunt this steamy tale of passionate love, found and lost, and found again.
Visit Valerie Martin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mrs. Gulliver.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Merry Morash's "In a Box"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: In a Box: Gender-Responsive Reform, Mass Community Supervision, and Neoliberal Policies by Merry Morash.

About the book, from the publisher:
In a Box draws on the experiences of more than one hundred Michigan women on probation or parole to analyze how court, state, and federal policies hamper the state’s efforts at gender-responsive reforms in community supervision. Closely narrating the stories of six of these women, Merry Morash shows how countervailing influences keep reform-oriented probation and parole agents and the women they supervise “in a box.” Supervisory approaches that attempt to move away from punitive frameworks are limited or blocked by neoliberal social policies. Inspired by the interviewees’ reflections on their own experiences, the book offers recommendations for truly effective reforms within and outside the justice system.
Learn more about In a Box at the University of California Press website.

The Page 99 Test: In a Box.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 22, 2024

What is David Menconi reading?

Featured at Writers Read: David Menconi, author of Oh, Didn't They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music.

The entry begins:
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

In many ways, Yellowface is a crime novel – and the crime in question is perfect, at least at first. But this story of stolen literary glory eventually mutates into a fascinatingly twisted portrait of a mind unraveling. It stars a first-person anti-hero whose justifications, rationalizations and outright fabrications bring on madness even as she tops the best-seller lists. After she is inevitably found out, she spirals further downward, her grasp of reality broken. But by the end, she’s still plotting one last comeback. Throw in some darkly funny dish about the publishing industry’s uneasy relationship with racism, and...[read on]
About Oh, Didn't They Ramble, from the publisher:
What is American roots music? Any definition must account for a kaleidoscope of genres from bluegrass to blues, western swing to jazz, soul and gospel to rock and reggae, Cajun to Celtic. It must encompass the work of artists as diverse as Alice Gerard and Alison Kraus, George Thorogood and Sun Ra, Bela Fleck and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the Blake Babies and Billy Strings. What do all these artists and music styles have in common? The answer is a record label born in the wake of the American folk revival and 1960s movement politics, formed around the eclectic tastes and audacious ideals of three recent college grads who lived, listened, and worked together. The answer is Rounder Records.

For more than fifty years, Rounder has been the world's leading label for folk music of all kinds. David Menconi's book is the label's definitive history, drawing on previously untapped archives and extensive interviews with artists, Rounder staff, and founders Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy, and Bill Nowlin. Rounder's founders blended ingenuity and independence with serendipity and an unfailing belief in the small-d democratic power of music to connect and inspire people, forging creative partnerships that resulted in one of the most eclectic and creative catalogs in the history of recorded music. Placing Rounder in the company of similarly influential labels like Stax, Motown, and Blue Note, this story is destined to delight anyone who cares about the place of music in American culture.
Visit David Menconi’s blog.

The Page 99 Test: Ryan Adams: Losering.

My Book, The Movie: Ryan Adams: Losering.

The Page 99 Test: Step It Up and Go.

The Page 99 Test: Oh, Didn't They Ramble.

My Book, The Movie: Oh, Didn't They Ramble.

Writers Read: David Menconi.

--Marshal Zeringue

Twelve of the best long books

The Amazon Book Review editors tagged twelve of their favorite long books, including:
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

When, oh when, will Min Jin Lee have a new novel? Pachinko is one of my all-time favorite books—it’s a sprawling and epic novel that follows a Korean family in Japan during the 20th century as they struggle, prosper, and reckon with what it means to belong. The opening line—“History has failed us, but no matter”—expresses the endurance, fortitude, and adversity that await the characters in this best-selling novel. It’s a long one and I promise, it’s one you won’t want to end. And if you’re like me, you’ll be waiting with baited breath for Lee’s next novel.
Al Woodworth, Amazon Editor
Read about another entry on the list.

Pachinko is among Gina Chen's twelve books for fans of HBO’s Succession, Cindy Fazzi's eight books about the impact of Japanese imperialism during WWII, Eman Quotah's eight books about mothers separated from their daughters, Karolina Waclawiak's six favorite books on loss and longing, Allison Patkai's top six books with strong female voices, Tara Sonin's twenty-one books for fans of HBO’s Succession, and six books Jia Tolentino recommends.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Suzanne Berne

From my Q&A with Suzanne Berne, author of The Blue Window: A Novel:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

There isn’t much explicit information in the title The Blue Window, but I think it offers a sense of mystery. A window looks out at something and also allows you to look within. So, what is being looked at, and who’s doing the looking? Are we inside or outside?

The title comes from a Matisse painting I’ve always loved. In the painting there are objects on a table by a window; outside the window is a luminous blue evening. But the window itself hardly exists.

Usually all the “stuff” of your inner life divides you from the outer world, but every so often that separation fades, and you have the feeling of joining the rest of the universe. Matisse’s painting captures that rare experience. At the end of my novel, one of my characters...[read on]
Visit Suzanne Berne's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Blue Window.

Q&A with Suzanne Berne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Cover story: "The Best Effect"

Ryan Darr is a postdoctoral research associate in religion, ecology, and expressive culture at the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music and a lecturer in the Yale Divinity School.

His new book is The Best Effect: Theology and the Origins of Consequentialism.

Here Darr explains the connection of the book's cover to the pages within:
No concept is more important to Christian ethics than love. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” In the Gospel of Luke, an expert in the law presses Jesus on the second command, asking, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responds with one of the most famous parables in scripture, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-29, NRSV).

The Good Samaritan, who helps a man beaten and dying on the side of the road, is a paradigm of Christian love. The teaching ends with Jesus saying, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Powerful as it is, however, the story does not answer all of our questions, and theologians have been eager to fill in the gaps ever since.

My book traces changing ways of conceiving of Christian love in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The image on its cover, Jordaens Podhorce's The Good Samaritan (1616), was painted at the start of this period, signifying the ongoing significance of the Good Samaritan's generous aid as a model of Christian love.

The book tells the story of the rise of consequentialism, an approach to ethics centered on the production of good outcomes, usually maximally good outcomes. Christian love, as the story of the Good Samaritan illustrates, does have something to do with good outcomes. The Samaritan's love ensures that a man who would have died survives. And maximization? It's not hard to see why a love focused on good outcomes would want as much goodness as possible.

Consequentialism, then, might be said to follow naturally from Christian teachings about love. But this cannot be right. Consequentialism does not arise until the seventeenth century. Why, then, does it emerge in the seventeenth century? The book highlights several important factors. Among the factors that make consequentialism into a plausible and even compelling interpretation of Christian love for seventeenth-century moralists are a new conception of the good focused on outcomes, a new conception of agency centered on causation, and an assimilation of human and divine morality. Thinking in the wake of these shifts several centuries later, John Stuart Mill could write with confidence that Jesus’ teaching about neighbor love embodies “the complete spirit of the ethics of utility.”
Learn more about The Best Effect at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Best Effect.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Six scintillating friends-to-frenemies thrillers

Leah Konen is the author of Keep Your Friends Close, You Should Have Told Me, The Perfect Escape, All the Broken People, and several young adult novels, including Love and Other Train Wrecks and The Romantics.

Her books have been featured in Vogue, Rolling Stone, Marie Claire, Reader’s Digest and The NY Post, among others.

Konen lives in Brooklyn and Saugerties, New York, with her husband; their daughters, Eleanor and Mary Joyce; and their dog, Farley.

At CrimeReads she tagged "six slick thrillers that also portray the friends-to-frenemies relationship," including:
Friends Like These by Kimberly McCreight

Six college friends. One reunion weekend at a house in the Catskills. What could go wrong? When one friend goes missing and another turns up dead, the ties that bind these friends together are truly tested. Is it possible that one of them is responsible, or is someone outside of their group out to get them? McCreight’s twisty tome is an exploration of lifelong friendship and the love, history—and secrets—that holds a tight-knit group together.
Read about another entry on the list.

Friends Like These is among Megan Collins's seven thrillers in which friendships are threatened.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Iris Yamashita's "Village in the Dark"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Village in the Dark by Iris Yamashita.

About the book, from the publisher:
Detective Cara Kennedy thought she’d lost her husband and son in an accident, but harrowing evidence has emerged that points to murder—and she will stop at nothing to find the truth in this riveting mystery from the author of City Under One Roof.

On a frigid February day, Anchorage Detective Cara Kennedy stands by the graves of her husband and son, watching as their caskets are raised from the earth. It feels sacrilegious, but she has no choice. Aaron and Dylan disappeared on a hike a year ago, their bones eventually found and buried. But shocking clues have emerged that foul play was involved, potentially connecting them to a string of other deaths and disappearances.

Somehow tied to the mystery is Mia Upash, who grew up in an isolated village called Unity, a community of women and children in hiding from abusive men. Mia never imagined the trouble she would find herself in when she left home to live in Man’s World. Although she remains haunted by the tragedy of what happened to the man and the boy in the woods, she has her own reasons for keeping quiet.

Aided by police officer Joe Barkowski and other residents of Point Mettier, Cara’s investigation will lead them on a dangerous path that puts their lives and the lives of everyone around them in mortal jeopardy.
Visit Iris Yamashita's website.

Q&A with Iris Yamashita.

The Page 69 Test: City Under One Roof.

The Page 69 Test: Village in the Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Michael Sierra-Arévalo's "The Danger Imperative"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: The Danger Imperative: Violence, Death, and the Soul of Policing by Michael Sierra-Arévalo.

About the book, from the publisher:
Policing is violent. And its violence is not distributed equally: stark racial disparities persist despite decades of efforts to address them. Amid public outcry and an ongoing crisis of police legitimacy, there is pressing need to understand not only how police perceive and use violence but also why.

With unprecedented access to three police departments and drawing on more than 100 interviews and 1,000 hours on patrol, The Danger Imperative provides vital insight into how police culture shapes officers’ perception and practice of violence. From the front seat of a patrol car, it shows how the institution of policing reinforces a cultural preoccupation with violence through academy training, departmental routines, powerful symbols, and officers’ street-level behavior.

This violence-centric culture makes no explicit mention of race, relying on the colorblind language of “threat” and “officer safety.” Nonetheless, existing patterns of systemic disadvantage funnel police hyperfocused on survival into poor minority neighborhoods. Without requiring individual bigotry, this combination of social structure, culture, and behavior perpetuates enduring inequalities in police violence.

A trailblazing, on-the-ground account of modern policing, this book shows that violence is the logical consequence of an institutional culture that privileges officer survival over public safety.
Visit Michael Sierra-Arévalo's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Danger Imperative.

--Marshal Zeringue

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on The World of Theodore H. White, Pt. 1

D.W. Buffa's latest novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series begins:
Graduating summa cum laude from Harvard in 1938, Theodore H. White received a fellowship which allowed him to travel to China, where he became correspondent for Time Magazine and then, a few years later, chief of Time’s China bureau. Toward the end of the war, he attended a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party where, in an “unheated, draft-leaking, mud-chinked assembly hall,” he met Mao Tse-tung and knew immediately “who was master, always had been master, always would be master.” Mao had not been elected by the Communist Party; he had chosen himself, but there “was no doubt in l944…that authority was his alone” and “that succession of leadership would pass at his will to whomever he chose.”

Years later, in The Making of the President 1960, White showed how different things were here. Power was not held by one man or one party; power was transferred by frequent and regular elections, and “no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans.” John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by a mere 112,000 votes out of nearly 69 million votes cast, but even before the vote had been counted, White knew with complete certainty that, “Good or bad, whatever the decision, America will accept the decision - and cut down any man who goes against it, even though for millions the decision runs contrary to their own votes. The general vote is an expression of national will, the only substitute for violence and blood. Its verdict is to be defended as one defends civilization itself.”

Beginning with the election of 1960, in which he reports how John F. Kennedy was elected, to...[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Eight top dystopian novels that explore hope in the climate crisis

Scott Guild received his MFA from the New Writers Project at the University of Texas at Austin, and his PhD in English from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He served for years as assistant director of Pen City Writers, a prison writing initiative for incarcerated students. He is currently an assistant professor at Marian University in Indianapolis, where he teaches literature and creative writing. Before his degrees, Scott was the songwriter and lead guitarist for the new wave band New Collisions, which toured with the B-52s and opened for Blondie.

Guild's new novel is Plastic.

At Electric Lit he tagged eight novels with a theme of hope, a "core value that their characters need in order to endure and fight the climate crisis, but difficult to maintain in the face of so many challenges." One title on the list:
Vigil Harbor by Julia Glass

The latest from National Book Award-winner Julia Glass, this sprawling novel is set in a small town on the coast of Massachusetts (the titular Vigil Harbor), an upper-class refuge from the turbulent America of the 2030s. Though the sea levels are rising, Vigil Harbor is built on a high headland that will let it survive centuries longer than many coastal communities. But there is trouble in this paradise, and the privileged residents will not be able to keep the outside world from intruding, whether through eco-terrorism, the arrival of mysterious strangers, or the piercing anxieties of their historical moment. With nine narrators and an intricate plot that includes dissolving marriages, long-hidden secrets, and a tsunami that threatens the Northeast, this ambitious novel takes a deeply human approach to the climate crisis, showing the hope, regret, and uncertainty of people living through unprecedented times.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Vigil Harbor.

Q&A with Julia Glass.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: David L. Weimer & Aidan R. Vining's "Dog Economics"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Dog Economics: Perspectives on Our Canine Relationships by David L. Weimer and Aidan R. Vining.

About the book, from the publisher:
Archaeologists, anthropologists, and evolutionary biologists study the origins of our relationship with dogs and how it has evolved over time. Sociologists and legal scholars study the roles of dogs in the modern family. Veterinarian researchers address the relationship in the context of professional practice, yet economists have produced scant scholarship on the relationship between humans and dogs. Dog Economics applies economic concepts to relationships between people and dogs to inform our understanding of their domestication. It interprets their contemporary role as both property and family members and explores factors that affect the demand for dogs as well as market failures of the American puppy market. Offering economic perspectives on our varied relationships with dogs, this book assesses mortality risks and addresses end-of-life issues that commonly arise. It develops a framework for classifying canine occupations, considers the impact of pet insurance on euthanasia, and assesses the social value of guide dogs.
Learn more about Dog Economics at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Dog Economics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Katherine Harbour

From my Q&A with Katherine Harbour, author of The Dark Fable:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think the title immediately takes readers into the story with the words ‘dark’ and ‘fable.’ The Dark Fable is the name of a secret society of thieves with supernatural abilities that originated in Medieval France. They usually work in darkness. A fable is a story. And stories are an important theme in this book. The Dark Fable, La Fable Sombre, has a creed: “We are the ink spilled over the stories of tyrants,” and the members of this crew of thieves find a way to trust one another, by telling the newest recruits their histories, their stories.

What’s in a name?

I wanted the names for my thieves to evoke...[read on]
Visit Katherine Harbour's website.

Writers Read: Katherine Harbour (June 2014).

The Page 69 Test: Thorn Jack.

Q&A with Katherine Harbour.

--Marshal Zeringue