Thursday, July 18, 2024

Q&A with Minsoo Kang

From my Q&A with Minsoo Kang, author of The Melancholy of Untold History: A Novel:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Whenever I set out to write a novel, I usually have a definite idea for the title, one that is designed to be both evocative and informative of the kind of story it is going to tell. I have a special love for long and complicated titles, like Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being, Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. But this novel was unusual in that the original title I had, Return to Four Verdant Mothers, was not one that I was particularly in love with. It was an apt one in the sense that the fictional mountain known as Four Verdant Mothers plays a central role in the narrative, symbolizing home, peace, and innocence as well as escape, to which the myriad characters of the novel are trying to get back to. But my agent thought it might be too mysterious for prospective readers, so he suggested The Melancholy of Untold History, a phrase that my historian character utters, which I loved. It points to the millennia-long span of the novel as well as its concern with telling stories of people who have been left out of mainstream historical narratives. And all my characters, living in vastly different points in time, are dealing with the melancholy of being lost in one way or another. So I...[read on]
Follow Minsoo Kang on Facebook and Instagram.

The Page 99 Test: Sublime Dreams of Living Machines.

Q&A with Minsoo Kang.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Five of the best books with kickass women characters

James L’Etoile is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system, and he uses his twenty-nine years “behind bars” as an influence in his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. His novels include Dead Drop, Black Label, At What Cost, Bury the Past, and Little River.

Face of Greed is his latest novel and the first book in the Detective Emily Hunter Mystery Series.

At Shepherd L’Etoile five favorite books with kickass women characters, including:
The Paris Widow by Kimberly Belle

Domestic suspense is having a moment. These aren’t your “damsel in distress” stories where a woman waits for someone to save her. I like women who bounce back hard after a setback, and this book is exactly that.

Without spoilers, when Stella’s husband goes missing after a bombing, she can’t accept the fact she has to start over. I love the fact she wants answers, and when she doesn't get them, she strikes out on her own.

Kimberly Belle creates strong female lead characters in her books, and if you’re like me, they keep you turning the pages. Kimberly is always one of my must-buy authors—The Paris Widow is no exception.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Page 69 Test: The Paris Widow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Michael Lobel's "Van Gogh and the End of Nature"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Van Gogh and the End of Nature by Michael Lobel.

About the book, from the publisher:
A groundbreaking reassessment that foregrounds Van Gogh’s profound engagement with the industrial age while making his work newly relevant for our world today

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) is most often portrayed as the consummate painter of nature whose work gained its strength from his direct encounters with the unspoiled landscape. Michael Lobel upends this commonplace view by showing how Van Gogh’s pictures are inseparable from the modern industrial era in which the artist lived—from its factories and polluted skies to its coal mines and gasworks—and how his art drew upon waste and pollution for its subjects and even for the very materials out of which it was made. Lobel underscores how Van Gogh’s engagement with the environmental realities of his time provides repeated forewarnings of the threats of climate change and ecological destruction we face today.

Van Gogh and the End of Nature offers a radical revisioning of nearly the full span of the artist’s career, considering Van Gogh’s artistic process, his choice of materials, and some of his most beloved and iconic pictures. Merging a timely sense of environmental urgency with bold new readings of the work of one of the world’s most acclaimed artists, this book weaves together detailed historical research and perceptive analysis into an illuminating portrait of an artist and his changing world.
Learn more about Van Gogh and the End of Nature at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Van Gogh and the End of Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Molly MacRae's "Come Shell or High Water," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: Come Shell or High Water by Molly MacRae.

The entry begins:
Professional storyteller and mollusk biologist Maureen Nash sees narrative cues woven through her life. Like the series of letters addressed to her late husband from a stranger—the owner of The Moon Shell, a shop on Ocracoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. The store is famous among shell collectors, but it’s the cryptic letters from shop owner Allen Withrow that convince Maureen to travel to the small island at the tail end of a hurricane.

In Maureen’s first hours on Ocracoke, she averts several life-threatening accidents, stumbles over a body, and meets the ghost of an eighteenth-century Welsh pirate, Emrys Lloyd. To the untrained eye, these unusual occurrences would seem to be random misfortunes, but Maureen senses there may be something connecting these stories. With Emrys’s supernatural assistance, and the support of a few new friends, Maureen sets out to unravel the truth, find a killer, and hopefully give the tale a satisfying ending . . . while also rewriting her own.

Winona Ryder will make a fine Maureen Nash. Maureen, in her early fifties, has an adventurous streak, a love for jokes and puns, and a healthy fear of unhealthy situations like being in a sinking boat surrounded by sharks. While practical, she’s also prone to flights of fancy. Ryder has a wide range of talents and proved...[read on]
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Scones and Scoundrels.

My Book, The Movie: Scones and Scoundrels.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

The Page 69 Test: Heather and Homicide.

Q&A with Molly MacRae.

Writers Read: Molly MacRae.

The Page 69 Test: Come Shell or High Water.

My Book, The Movie: Come Shell or High Water.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Ten novels about breakups, heartbreak, and moving on

Liz Riggs is a writer based in Nashville. She holds an MFA in Fiction from NYU and her work has been published in The Atlantic, Bon Appétit, American Songwriter, MTV and others.

Her debut novel is Lo Fi.

At Electric Lit Riggs tagged ten books that "explore the grief of loss, the things we’ll do (often stupidly) for love, and the ways we try to move on and fail. The people or exes that we keep coming back to." One title on the list:
Search History by Amy Taylor

This was one of my favorite releases of last year, by the Australian writer Amy Taylor. A breakup tale for the digital age, the narrator, Ana, begins dating a new guy she meets online after a breakup, and she quickly becomes obsessed with his ex, whom she finds out has died the year prior. It is terrifying and compelling to go down the digital rabbit hole with Ana (we’ve all done it, right? Stalking a new lover’s old flame?) but Taylor renders it all with such an undercurrent of unease as we wonder when the narrator’s obsession will come to light, what consequences it will have. It reminded me of the delicate tension of a Ripley novel, the way Ana stalks in plain sight as we hold our breaths, wondering what she will find. I like that this book turns a breakup narrative on its head: Ana doesn’t stalk her ex—in fact, he’s never even named—instead she’s haunted by another woman, one who isn’t even alive. But the frantic obsession still occupies her every thought, making it nearly impossible to actually enjoy her new relationship. In the end, which obsession is worse?
Read about another novel on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Andrew Denning's "Automotive Empire"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Automotive Empire: How Cars and Roads Fueled European Colonialism in Africa by Andrew Denning.

About the book, from the publisher:
In Automotive Empire, Andrew Denning uncovers how roads and vehicles began to transform colonial societies across Africa but rarely in the manner Europeans expected. Like seafaring ships and railroads, automobiles and roads were more than a mode of transport―they organized colonial spaces and structured the political, economic, and social relations of empire, both within African colonies and between colonies and the European metropole.

European officials in French, Italian, British, German, Belgian, and Portuguese territories in Africa shared a common challenge―the transport problem. While they imagined that roads would radiate commerce and political hegemony by collapsing space, the pressures of constructing and maintaining roads rendered colonial administration thin, ineffective, and capricious. Automotive empire emerged as the European solution to the transport problem, but revealed weakness as much as it extended power.

As Automotive Empire reveals, motor vehicles and roads seemed the ideal solution to the colonial transport problem. They were cheaper and quicker to construct than railroads, overcame the environmental limitations of rivers, and did not depend on the recruitment and supervision of African porters. At this pivotal moment of African colonialism, when European powers transitioned from claiming territories to administering and exploiting them, automotive empire defined colonial states and societies, along with the brutal and capricious nature of European colonialism itself.
Learn more about Automotive Empire at the Cornell University Press website.

Writers Read: Andrew Denning (December 2014).

The Page 99 Test: Skiing into Modernity

The Page 99 Test: Automotive Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Christina McDonald reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Christina McDonald, author of What Lies in Darkness.

Her entry begins:
I read almost exclusively fiction, and tend to stick within the thriller genre, which is also what I write. As an author, I’m lucky to be given early reader copies of upcoming books in order to blurb if I enjoy them. One I’ve read lately that really stands out for me is Catch You Later by Jessica Strawser.

Catch You Later is about two best friends, Mikki and Lark, who have nothing but each other. Working night shift together at a highway travel stop, Mikki and Lark are going nowhere fast. Until a stranger stops by the travel stop and Mikki impulsively leaves with him, never to be seen again.

Hypnotic, elegant and beguiling, Catch You Later is a beautifully written story about...[read on]
About What Lies in Darkness, from the publisher:
A missing family. A traumatized detective. The past and present collide in a riveting novel of suspense by the USA Today bestselling author of These Still Black Waters, Do No Harm, Behind Every Lie, and The Night Olivia Fell.

Late Christmas Eve, the Harper family’s car crashed on a desolate stretch outside Black Lake. Sixteen-year-old Alice was found injured by the side of the road―alone. It was as if her parents and younger sister, Ella, had simply disappeared.

One year later, Alice is still dealing with nightmares and unanswered questions when she and her friends find Ella’s bloodstained backpack in the basement of an abandoned home. As Detective Jess Lambert investigates, she uncovers dark secrets that put her on a collision course with her past. Jess’s only witness is haunted by her own ghosts―ghosts that might ultimately be connected to Jess.

Jess will do anything to find out what happened to the Harpers―no matter how deep she has to dig. Because neither the living nor the dead are giving up their secrets easily.
Visit Christina McDonald's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Night Olivia Fell.

Writers Read: Christina McDonald (February 2019).

The Page 69 Test: These Still Black Waters.

Q&A with Christina McDonald.

Writers Read: Christina McDonald.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 15, 2024

Six top thrillers with a side of romance

Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles are currently translated in twenty-six languages and have appeared on bestseller lists in the US, Germany, Brazil, Bulgaria, Israel, and Hungary. Three of her short stories have been turned into films by Passionflix, and two of her books are currently optioned for movies. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.

Keeland's debut thriller is The Unraveling.

At CrimeReads she tagged six favorite thrillers with a side of romance, including:
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Stop reading now if you’ve not read this one, because it’s impossible to tell you what I loved without spoiling the story. Vanessa is a woman scorned. Her husband Richard has moved on, replaced her with a younger, newer model. She’s jealous and obsessed with Nellie, the woman who took her place. Seems simple, right? Husband, wife, mistress. Nothing new here. Or so it seems… Until we find out that Vanessa and Nellie are the same person, and Richard isn’t quite the charming husband he appears to be.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Wife Between Us is among Lizzy Barber's seven novels about wealthy people behaving badly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Matthew K. Shannon's "Mission Manifest"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Mission Manifest: American Evangelicals and Iran in the Twentieth Century by Matthew K. Shannon.

About the book, from the publisher:
In Mission Manifest, Matthew Shannon argues that American evangelicals were central to American-Iranian relations during the decades leading up to the 1979 revolution. These Presbyterian missionaries and other Americans with ideals worked with US government officials, nongovernmental organizations, and their Iranian counterparts as cultural and political brokers―the living sinews of a binational relationship during the Second World War and early Cold War.

As US global hegemony peaked between the 1940s and the 1960s, the religious authority of the Presbyterian Mission merged with the material power of the American state to infuse US foreign relations with the messianic ideals of Christian evangelicalism. In Tehran, the missions of American evangelicals became manifest in the realms of religion, development programs, international education, and cultural associations. Americans who lived in Iran also returned to the United States to inform the growth of the national security state, higher education, and evangelical culture. The literal and figurative missions of American evangelicals in late Pahlavi Iran had consequences for the binational relationship, the global evangelical movement, and individual Americans and Iranians.

Mission Manifest offers a history of living, breathing people who shared personal, professional, and political aims in Iran at the height of American global power.
Learn more about Mission Manifest at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Mission Manifest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Molly MacRae's "Come Shell or High Water"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: Come Shell or High Water by Molly MacRae.

About the book, from the publisher:
From Molly MacRae, acclaimed author of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries, the first in a charming new series set on a beautiful barrier island off the coast of North Carolina and featuring a widowed folklorist, a seashell shop, and the ghost of an 18th century pirate…

As a professional storyteller, Maureen Nash can’t help but see the narrative cues woven through her life. Like the series of letters addressed to her late husband from a stranger—the proprietor of The Moon Shell, a shop on Ocracoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. The store is famous with shell collectors, but it’s the cryptic letters from Allen Withrow, the shop’s owner, that convince Maureen to travel to the small coastal town in the middle of hurricane season. At the very least, she expects she’ll get a good story out of the experience, never anticipating it could end up a murder mystery . . .

In Maureen’s first hours on the storm-lashed island, she averts several life-threatening accidents, stumbles over the body of a controversial Ocracoke local, and meets the ghost of an eighteenth-century Welsh pirate, Emrys Lloyd. To the untrained eye, all these unusual occurrences would seem to be random misfortunes, but Maureen senses there may be something connecting these stories. With Emrys’s supernatural assistance, and the support of a few new friends, Maureen sets out unravel the truth, find a killer, and hopefully give this tale a satisfying ending . . . while also rewriting her own.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Scones and Scoundrels.

My Book, The Movie: Scones and Scoundrels.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

The Page 69 Test: Heather and Homicide.

Q&A with Molly MacRae.

Writers Read: Molly MacRae.

The Page 69 Test: Come Shell or High Water.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Five of the best historians of war

Max Hastings is an author, journalist and broadcaster whose work has appeared in every British national newspaper.

His newest book is Operation Biting: The 1942 Parachute Assault to Capture Hitler's Radar.

At the Waterstones blog he tagged five of his favorite historians of war, including:
John Keegan

It is scary how quickly even many outstanding writers get forgotten, once they are no longer with us. My old friend John Keegan died in 2012. Too few modern readers visit even his finest work The Face of Battle, first published in 1976. This was a study of three great death-grapples: Agincourt in 1415; Waterloo in 1815; the Somme in 1916. It is hard to overstate the influence of the book on all those of us historians of conflict who have followed. Once upon a time, military history was about which division went this way or that on the battlefield; the thoughts and deeds of generals. John instead explored combat as human experience – its sights, smells and sounds. At Waterloo he noted the noise made by bullets rattling on bayonets and swords, the deafness that afflicted many men for days after the struggle ended. He understood, as some people do not, that it is absurd to imagine that wars in ancient times – wounds inflicted by spears, swords and arrows – were somehow less awful than those created by modern bombs, guns and missiles. John was a romantic about warriors as I am not, partly because he himself was crippled by childhood polio. He was thus unable to live among soldiers at war, though for many years he taught at Sandhurst. Some of his later books are frankly disappointing, because his physical circumstances worsened and he lived with constant pain. But nobody interested in conflict should miss The Face of Battle, and also his 1982 Six Armies in Normandy.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Chloe Ahmann's "Futures after Progress"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Futures after Progress: Hope and Doubt in Late Industrial Baltimore by Chloe Ahmann.

About the book, from the publisher:
A powerful ethnographic study of South Baltimore, a place haunted by toxic pasts in its pursuit of better futures.

Factory fires, chemical explosions, and aerial pollutants have inexorably shaped South Baltimore into one of the most polluted places in the country. In Futures after Progress, anthropologist Chloe Ahmann explores the rise and fall of industrial lifeways on this edge of the city and the uncertainties that linger in their wake. Writing from the community of Curtis Bay, where two hundred years of technocratic hubris have carried lethal costs, Ahmann also follows local efforts to realize a good future after industry and the rifts competing visions opened between neighbors.

Examining tensions between White and Black residents, environmental activists and industrial enthusiasts, local elders and younger generations, Ahmann shows how this community has become a battleground for competing political futures whose stakes reverberate beyond its six square miles in a present after progress has lost steam. And yet—as one young resident explains—"that's not how the story ends." Rigorous and moving, Futures after Progress probes the deep roots of our ecological predicament, offering insight into what lies ahead for a country beset by dreams deferred and a planet on the precipice of change.
Visit Chloe Ahmann's website.

The Page 99 Test: Futures after Progress.

--Marshal Zeringue

Eight top novels about toxic relationships

Lauren Kuhl is a writer and novelist based in New York.

Her debut novel is The Art of Pretend.

At Electric Lit Kuhl tagged eight of her "favorite novels that brilliantly memorialize the most toxic relationships we have with others, and occasionally, ourselves." One title on the list:
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

A page-turner that is both a thriller and darkly funny commentary on the publishing industry, Yellowface explores the dynamics of a contentious friendship whose obsession extends beyond the grave. This was my favorite read of 2023, and I know I’m not alone. I simply couldn’t put it down.
Read about another book on the list.

Yellowface is among Elly Griffiths's top ten books about books, Toby Lloyd's seven books that show storytelling has consequences, Sophie Wan's seven top titles with women behaving badly, Leah Konen's six top friends-to-frenemies thrillers, and Garnett Cohen's seven novels about characters driven by their cravings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 13, 2024

What is Molly MacRae reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Molly MacRae, author of Come Shell or High Water.

Her entry begins:
Mortal Radiance, the second book in Kathryn Lasky’s Georgia O’Keeffe mystery series just came out. But I didn’t know about this historical mystery series, until I heard about Mortal Radiance, so I rushed right out to get book one, Light on Bone. It’s wonderful. Set in 1933 New Mexico, it’s told from O’Keeffe’s point of view. She’s living alone in a casita at Ghost Ranch and protective of her painting time and solitude. That solitude is first shattered when she comes across a murdered Franciscan friar, and then by an accumulation of other events, including the arrival of Charles Lindbergh and his wife at the ranch. As O’Keeffe collects facts and suppositions about the murder and other events, she begins to think about them the way she thinks about art—about seeing the unseen and about making visible the invisible. Lasky’s vivid writing make me feel as though I’m...[read on]
About Come Shell or High Water, from the publisher:
From Molly MacRae, acclaimed author of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries, the first in a charming new series set on a beautiful barrier island off the coast of North Carolina and featuring a widowed folklorist, a seashell shop, and the ghost of an 18th century pirate…

As a professional storyteller, Maureen Nash can’t help but see the narrative cues woven through her life. Like the series of letters addressed to her late husband from a stranger—the proprietor of The Moon Shell, a shop on Ocracoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. The store is famous with shell collectors, but it’s the cryptic letters from Allen Withrow, the shop’s owner, that convince Maureen to travel to the small coastal town in the middle of hurricane season. At the very least, she expects she’ll get a good story out of the experience, never anticipating it could end up a murder mystery . . .

In Maureen’s first hours on the storm-lashed island, she averts several life-threatening accidents, stumbles over the body of a controversial Ocracoke local, and meets the ghost of an eighteenth-century Welsh pirate, Emrys Lloyd. To the untrained eye, all these unusual occurrences would seem to be random misfortunes, but Maureen senses there may be something connecting these stories. With Emrys’s supernatural assistance, and the support of a few new friends, Maureen sets out unravel the truth, find a killer, and hopefully give this tale a satisfying ending . . . while also rewriting her own.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Scones and Scoundrels.

My Book, The Movie: Scones and Scoundrels.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

The Page 69 Test: Heather and Homicide.

Q&A with Molly MacRae.

Writers Read: Molly MacRae.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten books exploring secret ecosystems & shadow economies

Elizabeth Heider lived in Italy for several years, working as a research analyst for the U.S. Navy. She’s currently a scientist at the European Space Agency, and her short fiction has earned recognition from the Santa Fe Writer Awards and the New Century Writer Awards.

Heider's new novel is May the Wolf Die.

At CrimeReads she tagged ten books if "you’re compelled to peel away the secrecy, to unlock clandestine systems and see what makes them tick." One title on the list:
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of Virginia Hall, WWII’s Most Dangerous Spy by Sonia Purnell

This is the extraordinary true story of Virginia Hall, an American spy who operated behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The story utterly riveted me—because the research and writing were excellent and (most especially) because Virginia Hall is a truly remarkable and heroic woman. On her own initiative, and through the sheer force of her personality, Hall built a remarkably effective covert intelligence operation in Nazi-occupied Lyon, France. Her network included nuns and prostitutes, doctors and housewives—each of them loyal to Hall. They organized acts of sabotage against German forces, and facilitated the escape of downed Allied airmen and other refugees. Her work was so effective that the Gestapo considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. When her network was betrayed by a venal priest, Hall was forced to flee on foot over the Pyrenees Mountains into neutral Spain, a journey of over 50 miles through treacherous terrain. Oh, and did I mention? She did all this with one leg. That’s right. Virginia Hall lost her lower leg in a hunting accident prior to the war, and used a prosthetic limb she affectionately named “Cuthbert.” Despite her disability, and the fact that her cover was most definitely blown, Hall wanted back in. She hustled and trained, and altered her appearance—including filing down her teeth so that she could re-enter France and, posing as an old peasant woman in the French countryside, continue her espionage work against the Nazis, providing information that became critical for the Allies to take Paris.
Read about another book on the list.

A Woman of No Importance is among the Amazon Book Review's ten books about extraordinary “ordinary” women, Ava Glass's six top non-fiction books about real spies, and Ross Johnson's twelve essential history books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Neil Verma's "Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession by Neil Verma.

About the book, from the publisher:
It has been a decade since Serial brought the narrative podcast to the center of popular culture. In that time, there has been an enormous boom in the production of podcasts that tell stories, particularly in the fields of true crime, storytelling, history, and narrative fiction. Now that the initial glow around the medium has begun to fade, it is time to reevaluate the medium’s technological, political, economic, and cultural rise, in particular what types of storytelling accompanied that rise.

Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession is the first book to look back on this prodigious body of material and attempt to make sense of it from a structural, historical, and analytic point of view. Focusing on more than 350 podcasts and other audio works released between Serial and the COVID pandemic, the book explores why so many of these podcasts seem “obsessed with obsession,” why they focus not only on informing listeners but also dramatizing the labor that goes into it, and why fiction podcasts work so hard to prove they are a brand new form, even as they revive features of radio from decades gone by. This work also examines the industry's reckoning with its own implication in systemic racism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination. Employing innovative new critical techniques for close listening—including pitch tracking software and spectrograms—Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession makes a major contribution to podcast studies and media studies more broadly.
Learn more about Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession at the University of Michigan Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 12, 2024

Five top novels that examine celebrity culture

Olivia Petter is an award-winning journalist, author, and broadcaster based in London.

Petter's first book, Millennial Love, was published in July 2021. Described as “honest and funny” by Pandora Sykes, the book is based on Petter's podcast of the same name and blends social commentary with memoir and interviews.

Her debut novel, Gold Rush, will be published in July 2024.

At the Guardian Petter tagged "five novels that examine celebrity culture." One title on the list:
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Celebrity culture is a recurrent theme in Reid’s novels. All offer nuanced depictions of fame, but Malibu Rising stands out. Set in Malibu in 1983, the novel focuses on the famous Riva family, comprised of four very different siblings and their absent father, legendary musician Mick Riva. Their mother, June, raises their children alone and it’s her story – specifically the way she’s forced to put up with her husband’s starry-eyed nothingness – that gives this book its emotional heft.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Malibu Rising is among Shilpi Somaya Gowda's ten novels with rotating perspectives, Laura Griffin's seven suspense titles in which paradise is not what it seems, and María Amparo Escandón's eight top books about living in Los Angeles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Q&A with Janie Kim

From my Q&A with Janie Kim, author of We Carry the Sea in Our Hands: A Novel:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The sea—how it both gives and takes life—is a recurring image throughout the story. In a literal sense, my novel ends with the main character at a beach with seawater cupped in her hands, and the last sentence is "Briefly, I carry the sea in my hands." In a less literal sense, much of the story is about the multitudes of one person's identity, how these are often amorphous, and how other people in Abby's life in both the present and the past are a part of her own sense of self. So it felt right to keep the last sentence of the story except changed to plural first person.

The title was the last part of the book I came up with. I was trying to come up with something that gave a sense of things being nested or layered or within other things, and of these being weights (whether good or bad or neither) that we bear as we move through the world, plus a subtle homage to the hypotheses that life arose from...[read on]
Visit Janie Kim's website.

Q&A with Janie Kim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Peng Shepherd's "All This and More"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: All This and More: A Novel by Peng Shepherd.

About the book, from the publisher:
From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of The Cartographers and The Book of M comes an inventive new novel about a woman who wins the chance to rewrite every mistake she’s ever made… and how far she’ll go to find her elusive “happily ever after.” But there’s a twist: the reader gets to decide what she does next to change her fate.

One woman. Endless options. Every choice has consequences.

Meek, play-it-safe Marsh has just turned forty-five, and her life is in shambles. Her career is stagnant, her marriage has imploded, and her teenage daughter grows more distant by the day. Marsh is convinced she’s missed her chance at everything—romance, professional fulfillment, and adventure—and is desperate for a do-over.

She can’t believe her luck when she’s selected to be the star of the global sensation All This and More, a show that uses quantum technology to allow contestants the chance to revise their pasts and change their present lives. It’s Marsh’s only shot to seize her dreams, and she’s determined to get it right this time.

But even as she rises to become a famous lawyer, gets back together with her high school sweetheart, and travels the world, she begins to worry that All This and More’s promises might be too good to be true. Because while the technology is amazing, something seems a bit off.…

Can Marsh really make her life everything she wants it to be? And is it worth it?

Perfect for fans of Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, bestselling author Peng Shepherd’s All This and More is an utterly original, startlingly poignant novel that puts the reader in the driver’s seat.
Visit Peng Shepherd's website.

Writers Read: Peng Shepherd (June 2018).

Q&A with Peng Shepherd.

Writers Read: Peng Shepherd (July 2024).

The Page 69 Test: All This and More.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Seven titles about families surviving political unrest

Asha Thanki is an essayist and fiction writer. her work has appeared in The Southern Review, The Common, Catapult, Hyphen, and more. She is a Kundiman fellow and has received support through scholarships and grants from Sewanee Writers Conference, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Speculative Literature Foundation. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota.

A Thousand Times Before is Thanki's debut novel.

At Electric Lit she tagged seven books that demonstrate
the consequences of the world we live in, the ways that our political histories are inseparable from how we walk through the world. That the political and the personal are always, always, intertwined.
One title on the list:
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Few intergenerational novels do it like Pachinko. Immediately, the reader is invested in Sunja’s life: from the circumstances of her parents’ marriage, her adolescence and later exploitation by the wealthy Hansu, and the marriage to minister Isak which whisks her away to Osaka. Lee lingers in early descriptions of Sunja’s fishing village, and these early moments throw her experiences during the Japanese occupation of Korea into stark contrast.

Pachinko is in many ways about the power and consequences of a secret, the way it can trickle through children and children’s children, and, all the while, the ways in which a woman might protect herself and her family.
Read about another novel on the list.

Pachinko is among the Amazon Book Review editors' twelve favorite long books, 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

Pg. 99: Robert G. Parkinson's "Heart of American Darkness"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Heart of American Darkness: Bewilderment and Horror on the Early Frontier by Robert G. Parkinson.

About the book, from the publisher:
An acclaimed historian captures the true nature of imperialism in early America, demonstrating how the frontier shaped the nation.

We are divided over the history of the United States, and one of the central dividing lines is the frontier. Was it a site of heroism? Or was it where the full force of an all-powerful empire was brought to bear on Native peoples? In this startingly original work, historian Robert Parkinson presents a new account of ever-shifting encounters between white colonists and Native Americans. Drawing skillfully on Joseph Conrad’s famous novella, Heart of Darkness, he demonstrates that imperialism in North America was neither heroic nor a perfectly planned conquest. It was, rather, as bewildering, violent, and haphazard as the European colonization of Africa, which Conrad knew firsthand and fictionalized in his masterwork.

At the center of Parkinson’s story are two families whose entwined histories ended in tragedy. The family of Shickellamy, one of the most renowned Indigenous leaders of the eighteenth century, were Iroquois diplomats laboring to create a world where settlers and Native people could coexist. The Cresaps were frontiersmen who became famous throughout the colonies for their bravado, scheming, and land greed. Together, the families helped determine the fate of the British and French empires, which were battling for control of the Ohio River Valley. From the Seven Years’ War to the protests over the Stamp Act to the start of the Revolutionary War, Parkinson recounts the major turning points of the era from a vantage that allows us to see them anew, and to perceive how bewildering they were to people at the time.

For the Shickellamy family, it all came to an end on April 30, 1774, when most of the clan were brutally murdered by white settlers associated with the Cresaps at a place called Yellow Creek. That horrific event became news all over the continent, and it led to war in the interior, at the very moment the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Michael Cresap, at first blamed for the massacre at Yellow Creek, would be transformed by the Revolution into a hero alongside George Washington. In death, he helped cement the pioneer myth at the heart of the new republic.

Parkinson argues that American history is, in fact, tied to the frontier, just not in the ways we are often told. Altering our understanding of the past, he also shows what this new understanding should mean for us today.
Learn more about Heart of American Darkness at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Thirteen Clocks.

The Page 99 Test: Heart of American Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Derek Milman's "A Darker Mischief," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: A Darker Mischief by Derek Milman.

The entry begins:
Well, A Darker Mischief is YA, and it features teenagers, and while sometimes I do occasionally think of actors, I haven't much in this case, as I'm not familiar with too many teenage actors, and the ones I've seen I can't quite see in this world.

In terms of directors, I think that's the easier route for me. I can see Italian film director Luca Guadagnino returning to his queer roots and taking a shot at this, if he can nail the atmosphere and not chop up the narrative. Within that same theme, I feel similarly to Gus Van Sant, going back to his Private Idaho days. Sofia Coppola would dream up a gloriously stylized world, which an adaptation would need, but I haven't seen her take on queer characters. What might be interesting is to blow up the staid world of the boarding school a little bit and bring in...[read on]
Visit Derek Milman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Scream All Night.

Writers Read: Derek Milman (September 2019).

The Page 69 Test: Swipe Right for Murder.

My Book, The Movie: Swipe Right for Murder.

Q&A with Derek Milman.

The Page 69 Test: A Darker Mischief.

My Book, The Movie: A Darker Mischief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Eight top sketchy-spouse domestic thrillers

Andrew DeYoung is the author of The Temps, a speculative novel about the end of the world.

He works as an editor at a childrens book publishing company, and he lives with his wife and two children in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota.

The Day He Never Came Home is his first domestic thriller.

At CrimeReads DeYoung tagged eight
fantastic “Who the F did I marry?” books for you to enjoy, if you, like me, can’t look away from the slow-moving trainwreck of someone finding out the complicated, occasionally ugly truth about the person they married.
One novel on the list:
The Changeling, by Victor LaValle

More horror than thriller (but plenty of mystery either way), The Changeling mixes supernatural elements into the marriage story of Apollo and Emma. Here it’s the wife who undergoes a seeming change in personality, as Emma acts begins acting strangely following the birth of their son. At first she seems to be plagued by postpartum depression and the stress of early parenthood—but eventually Apollo realizes that his wife’s problems are much deeper. Following a shocking act, Emma disappears, and Apollo must embark upon a strange quest understand the wife he never truly knew. Recently adapted into a haunting television series starring Lakeith Stanfeild, this is a book best picked up knowing as little as possible.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Changeling is among Lucy Foley's six stunning tales of folk horror, Brittany Bunzey's twenty-five "must-read, truly bone-chilling" horror books, Nat Cassidy's eight top unconventional coming-of-age horror novels, Benjamin Percy's top five novels about dangerous plants, James Han Mattson's five top dark and disturbing reads, A.K. Larkwood's five tense books that blend sci-fi and horror, Leah Schnelbach's ten sci-fi and fantasy must-reads from the 2010s, T. Marie Vandelly's top ten suspenseful horror novels featuring domestic terrors and C.J. Tudor's six thrillers featuring missing, mistaken, or "changed" children.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi's "Ethics for Rational Animals"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Ethics for Rational Animals: The Moral Psychology at the Basis of Aristotle's Ethics by Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi.

About the book, from the publisher:
Ethics for Rational Animals brings to light a novel account of akrasia, practical wisdom, and character virtue through an original and comprehensive study of the moral psychology at the basis of Aristotle's ethics. It argues that practical wisdom is a persuasive rational excellence, that virtue is a listening excellence, and that the ignorance involved in akrasia is in fact a failure of persuasion. Aristotle's moral psychology emerges from this reconstruction as a qualified intellectualism. The view is intellectualistic because it describes practical wisdom as the sort of knowledge that can govern desire and action and akrasia as involving a form of ignorance. However, Aristotle's intellectualism is qualified because practical wisdom goes beyond grasping the truth about the human good, for it must also be able to convey the truth persuasively to non-rational cognition and desires.

Through a study of Aristotle's works on ethics, psychology, and biology, Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi shows that there are unexplored ways in which rational and non-rational cognition and desire cooperate and influence one another. These include attention, the capacity of the rational part of the soul to manipulate the non-rational part of the soul, and the capacity to exercise phantasia for speculation, creativity, and research. She argues that, despite being integrated with non-rational cognition and desire, rational cognition of value struggles to control human behaviour and motivation. More specifically, she defends the key thesis that grasping the truth about the human good is not sufficient for humans to regulate action and desire. Therefore, practical wisdom does not merely grasp the truth about the human good, but it controls action and desire because it conveys the truth effectively to the non-rational part of the soul. Conversely, akrasia does not merely involve a lack of epistemic access to the truth about the human good, but a failure to persuade the non-rational part of the soul about it. This study of practical wisdom and akrasia also sheds light on character virtue, which emerges as a practical excellence whose task is to listen to reason.
Learn more about Ethics for Rational Animals at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Ethics for Rational Animals.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Peng Shepherd reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Peng Shepherd, author of All This and More: A Novel.

Her entry begins:
With novels, I’m always either early for or late to the party—half of my TBR pile is advanced copies of upcoming books that editors have sent me and the other half is treasures I’ve found while wandering bookstores or been recommended by friends over the years.

Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić (1988)

This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. I love stories with unusual structures, and narratives that come together fragment by fragment like puzzles. Dictionary of the Khazars is an imaginary history of the Khazars, a semi-nomadic people from the seventh and ninth centuries, written in the form of three mini-encyclopedias which cross-reference and sometimes contradict each other. The effect is mysterious, fascinating, and...[read on]
About All This and More, from the publisher:
From the critically acclaimed, bestselling author of The Cartographers and The Book of M comes an inventive new novel about a woman who wins the chance to rewrite every mistake she’s ever made… and how far she’ll go to find her elusive “happily ever after.” But there’s a twist: the reader gets to decide what she does next to change her fate.

One woman. Endless options. Every choice has consequences.

Meek, play-it-safe Marsh has just turned forty-five, and her life is in shambles. Her career is stagnant, her marriage has imploded, and her teenage daughter grows more distant by the day. Marsh is convinced she’s missed her chance at everything—romance, professional fulfillment, and adventure—and is desperate for a do-over.

She can’t believe her luck when she’s selected to be the star of the global sensation All This and More, a show that uses quantum technology to allow contestants the chance to revise their pasts and change their present lives. It’s Marsh’s only shot to seize her dreams, and she’s determined to get it right this time.

But even as she rises to become a famous lawyer, gets back together with her high school sweetheart, and travels the world, she begins to worry that All This and More’s promises might be too good to be true. Because while the technology is amazing, something seems a bit off.…

Can Marsh really make her life everything she wants it to be? And is it worth it?

Perfect for fans of Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, bestselling author Peng Shepherd’s All This and More is an utterly original, startlingly poignant novel that puts the reader in the driver’s seat.
Visit Peng Shepherd's website.

Writers Read: Peng Shepherd (June 2018).

Q&A with Peng Shepherd.

Writers Read: Peng Shepherd.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Pg. 69: Derek Milman's "A Darker Mischief"

Featured at the Page 69 Test: A Darker Mischief by Derek Milman.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Honeys meets The Secret History in a work of dark academia like no other -- a boarding school thriller about a queer teen from Mississippi who finds himself swept into a world of old money, privilege, and the secret society at the heart of it all.

When Cal Ware wins a scholarship to an elite New England boarding school, he's thrilled to leave his past behind. Back home in Mississippi, he was the poor, queer kid who never fit in. But at Essex Academy, he'll be able to reinvent himself. Or so he hopes...

But at Essex, Cal's classmates only see his cheap clothes and old iPhone. They mock his accent, and can't believe he's never left the country, or heard of The Hamptons. Cal, at his breaking point, is about to give up and return to Mississippi when he learns about a secret society on campus -- the key to becoming Essex royalty.

Cal knows he's not exactly secret society material, but to his surprise, he finds an unlikely champion in the handsome, charismatic, and slightly dangerous Luke Kim. As they get swept up in the mystery and glamour of the Rush process, Cal finds himself falling in love for the first time.

But as the initiation rituals grow riskier -- and increasingly nefarious -- Cal must decide how far he's willing to go, and how much of himself he's willing to sacrifice, to save everything and everyone he cherishes most. Because nothing at Essex -- not even Cal's first love -- is quite what it seems.
Visit Derek Milman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Scream All Night.

Writers Read: Derek Milman (September 2019).

The Page 69 Test: Swipe Right for Murder.

My Book, The Movie: Swipe Right for Murder.

Q&A with Derek Milman.

The Page 69 Test: A Darker Mischief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Chris Armstrong's "Global Justice and the Biodiversity Crisis"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Global Justice and the Biodiversity Crisis: Conservation in a World of Inequality by Chris Armstrong.

About the book, from the publisher:
The world is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, which existing conservation policies have failed to arrest. Policymakers, academics, and the general public are coming to recognise that much more ambitious conservation policies are in order. But biodiversity conservation raises major issues of global justice - even if the connection between conservation and global justice is too seldom made.

The lion's share of conservation funding is spent in the global North, despite the fact that most biodiversity exists in the global South, and local people can often scarcely afford to make sacrifices in the interests of biodiversity conservation. Many responses to the biodiversity crisis threaten to exacerbate existing global injustices, to lock people into poverty, and to exploit the world's poor. At the extreme, policies aimed at protecting biodiversity have also been associated with exclusion, dispossession, and violence. The challenge this book grapples with is how biodiversity might be conserved without producing global injustice. It distinguishes policies which are likely to exacerbate global injustice, and policies which promise to reduce them. The struggle to formulate and implement just conservation policies is vital to our planet's future.
Visit Chris Armstrong's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Blue New Deal.

The Page 99 Test: Global Justice and the Biodiversity Crisis.

--Marshal Zeringue