Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is the bestselling author of multiple science-fiction and fantasy novels, including Beggars in Spain, Probability Space, and Steal Across the Sky. Her SF has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Award.

Her most recent book is Tomorrow's Kin, an expansion of the Nebula-winning novella “Yesterday’s Kin,” which takes the story forward several generations. Her fiction has been translated into multiple languages, including Klingon.

Recently I asked Kress about what she was reading. Her reply:
The last three books I’ve read have differed wildly from each other. A few weeks ago I finished Charlie Jane Anders’s Nebula-winning novel, All The Birds In The Sky. Although I’m not usually a fan of science-and-magic-alltogether-O, this book worked for three reasons: First, it is a romp, with the science not meant to be taken seriously. Second, the writing is so good. Anders has a genuine gift for metaphor. Third, the characters are affecting; I was rooting for them to win out, which they do.

Next, I read Philippa Gregory’s historical novel, The Boleyn Inheritance. Gregory is at odds with nearly every other historian in her interpretation of the events of Tudor England. Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, can barely resist sneering when she discusses Gregory in recorded interviews. But I find Gregory’s books entertaining and inventive, and Tudor England has always interested me. I enjoyed the book, even if I didn’t believe it.

Now I am reading The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest For What Makes Us Human, by V.S. Ramachandran. I have only just started it, but so far am fascinated. He discusses why phantom limbs ache, what mirror therapy is doing to alleviate phantom pain, and what that tells us about how the brain can be rewired. This is the sort of book that often yields story ideas for me. Even if it doesn’t, I’m intrigued to learn what I can about the organ that is, even now, directing my fingers to type these words.
Follow Nancy Kress on Twitter and Facebook.

The Page 69 Test: Dogs.

The Page 69 Test: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall.

The Page 69 Test: Tomorrow's Kin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Kathleen Anne Kenney

Kathleen Anne Kenney is an author, freelance writer, and playwright. Her writing has appeared in Big River, Coulee Region Women, and Ireland of the Welcomes, as well as other publications. She has had numerous short plays presented in Minnesota theaters and has published the play The Ghost of an Idea, a one-actor piece about Charles Dickens. Her play New Menu was a winner in the 2012 Rochester Repertory Theatre’s national short-play competition. She is currently at work on a novel based on her 2014 stage play, The Bootleg Blues.

Kenney's new novel is Girl on the Leeside.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just read The Help – finally. I’ve seen the film twice and was ashamed I hadn’t read the novel, which I had bought years ago. It is truly an almost perfect novel. The character development, setting descriptions, situations, and depictions of personal stakes are drawn beautifully. For me as a reader, novels set in tumultuous historic periods are very compelling, if done well. Character development and an memorable setting are what I look for in a story. This novel had no stereotypes, no false steps, no contrivances. And Kathryn Stockett is a terrific writer. I know I will read it again, and hope her 1920’s novel will soon be released!

I’m currently reading The French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe. I’m only about 50 pages in but I love the writing – very evocative, beautifully crafted. I’m a reader (and writer) who enjoys prologues and loved the one for this book. Can’t wait to finish it!

Other books "on deck" – Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (recommended by our daughter) and Nutshell by Ian McEwan (because it’s based on the Hamlet plot and I love Shakespeare!)
Visit Kathleen Anne Kenney's website.

My Book, The Movie: Girl on the Leeside.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Kendra Elliot

Kendra Elliot is the award-winning author of numerous books, including the Bone Secrets and Callahan & McLane series. Elliot won the 2015 and 2014 Daphne du Maurier awards for Best Romantic Suspense, and she was an International Thriller Writers finalist for Best Paperback Original and a Romantic Times finalist for Best Romantic Suspense.

Elliot's new novel is A Merciful Truth.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Over the last few weeks I read five fantasy books. I was finishing up my own book and needed something soothing for my brain. Since I write twisty suspense plots with murder, death, and violence, I often turn to historical romance to rest my neurons, but this time I got hooked on the Kingfountain series by Jeff Wheeler. I plowed through the first four and mentioned on Twitter that I was loving the series, and then the author pointed out that the fifth (unpublished) was available for review purposes. I took him up on that offer and devoured that one too. It’s a great series. Full of world building and heroes and magic.

Now that I’m getting ready to start my next suspense novel, I reach for authors in my own genre. I’m nearly finished with Rachel Caine’s Stillhouse Lake. I’ve never read her before and it won’t be my last. This book makes me wish I’d written it. I can’t wait for the second in the series to release in December.
Visit Kendra Elliot's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Merciful Truth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bianca Marais

Bianca Marais holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto’s SCS, and her work has been published in World Enough and Crime. Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans. Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband.

Marais's new novel is Hum If You Don’t Know the Words.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished reading What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, a short story collection by Lesley Nneka Arimah. I don’t usually read short stories, mainly because I find that just as I become invested in the characters, the story’s over, but since I grew up in South Africa, I really love African stories and the author writes a lot about Nigeria where she spent some time in her youth. Also, besides being on many ‘most anticipated books of 2017’ lists, this collection made the Indies Next list for April. When booksellers recommend a book, I listen! It was an amazing read with something for every reader: magical realism, dysfunctional relationships, dystopian futures, vivid and engaging characters, as well as brilliant dialogue. It covers the full spectrum of the human experience and I absolutely loved it!

I’m currently reading Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips which I also picked up because it was recommended by a bookseller. I’m only halfway through it, but It’s a gripping, nail-biting, page-turning read that also has a lot more depth than what I was expecting from a thriller. I’m pretty sure I’ll finish this in a day or two.
Visit Bianca Marais's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hum If You Don’t Know the Words.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jean E. Pendziwol

Jean E. Pendziwol is an award winning Canadian author. Born and raised in northwestern Ontario, she draws on the culture, history and geography of the region for inspiration for her stories.

The Lightkeeper's Daughters, her debut adult novel, is an affecting story of family, identity, and art that involves a decades-old mystery. Vividly drawn, Lake Superior is almost a character in itself, changeable yet constant, its shores providing both safety and isolation.

Recently I asked Pendziwol about what she was reading. Her reply:
Like many other writers, I get very picky about what I read when I’m writing and avoid novels in my own genre when I’m actively drafting. Right now, I’m in the research stage of my next project, which means I’ve been able to expand my reading and get “caught up” on my to-be-read list.

As a Canadian, I have read several of Margaret Atwood’s books over the years, but somehow her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale slipped through the cracks. Because the story has recently been adapted for TV and broadcast on Hulu, and the themes echo the current political dynamic in the United States, it has experienced a renewed popularity and I felt it was time to dig up a copy. I’m glad I did. Set in a near-future New England when the United States government has been overthrown by a totalitarian Christian theocracy, it explores themes of women living as non-citizens in a patriarchal society and the means by which they survive and strive for individualism and independence. Beautifully rendered, in true Atwood style, it is also a stark reminder of how reality can mimic fiction.

With a focus on reading regional writers and regional content, I have made a point of seeking out Indigenous authors and their work. Shelia Watt-Cloutier’s book The Right To Be Cold was selected as one of the CBC Canada Reads books for 2017. I had the great opportunity to meet Watt-Cloutier when she visited my hometown and listen to her speak about her experiences as an advocate for the Inuit in the face of the devastating and compounded affects of climate change on their culture and environment. While climate change is having an impact in all parts of the globe, the far north is particularly vulnerable, and as such, so are the people who live there. Watt-Cloutier not only brings the perspective of an Inuk woman who hunted with her brothers by dog sled and ate whale and seal as regular components of her “country” diet, she also took an active role advocating globally for environmental awareness and protection and was co-nominated with Al Gore for the Nobel Prize in 2007. (Al Gore was the sole recipient.) I was particularly struck by the fact that Inuit women need to consider whether or not they can breastfeed their children because their milk has often been contaminated by pollutants generated far, far from their community and food sources. The issue becomes one of human rights as much as global responsibility.

Part of my heritage as a Canadian is Finnish, and I’ve been exploring the history of the North American Finnish experience. While I’ve read bits and pieces before, I recently picked up a translation of the Kalevala – Finland’s epic folk tale. The Kalevala apparently served as inspiration for Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth. It’s an interesting collection of stories comparable to the Iliad, but with references to birch trees and cuckoo birds that feel a little closer to home for me. I love the language – the rhythm of the poetry, the many references to nature.

And the last book I have on the go is a copy of James Herriot’s All Things Bright and Beautiful. Because sometimes I just need to read about the adventures of a country vet, the birth of lambs, and the simplicity of farm life.

In my TBR pile? The Witches of New York by Ami McKay, The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill and I’ve just started Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves.
Visit Jean E. Pendziwol's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lightkeeper's Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including the Nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins, and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novels are The Edge of Worlds (2016) and the newly released The Harbors of the Sun, the last book in The Books of the Raksura series.

Recently I asked Wells about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch - This is a novella in the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. It's a fantasy series set in modern day London, about a young police constable who works for the division of the police that takes care of magic-related crime. I love British TV mysteries and fantasy and this series combines the best of both worlds, and the tone is so engaging and funny.

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee - This is an SF novel, the sequel to last year's Ninefox Gambit. It's military SF, which I don't read that often, but the lush worldbuilding, relatable characters, and the complexity of the story about technology and belief has really grabbed me. It's also an exciting, fast-paced plot, and I don't have any idea what's going to happen next.

Bright Thrones by Kate Elliott - This is another novella set in an ongoing series, which started with the novel Court of Fives. This is a secondary world fantasy series, a gripping, tense story about a young woman trying to keep herself and her mother and sisters alive under an oppressive colonial government undergoing a violent political upheaval. The story is absolutely edge-of-your-seat engrossing and I can't wait for the third book in the trilogy, which is due out soon.
Visit Martha Wells's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Harbors of the Sun.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Robin Wagner-Pacifici

Robin Wagner-Pacifici is the University in Exile Professor of Sociology at the New School for Social Research. She is the author of a number of books, most recently What is an Event? (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and The Art of Surrender: Decomposing Sovereignty at Conflict’s End.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading? Wagner-Pacifici's reply:
I'm currently reading three books that, quite by coincidence, all seem to touch on how humans experience time:

Fran├žois Hartog, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2016)

Hartog is an historian and this book's focus (and target) is our current time-regime, what he calls "presentism" or "short-termism" a way of living in time in which only the present seems to exist. Through a series of explorations of different experiences of time, "regimes of historicity", in different ages and cultures (including those of Homer, of Augustine, of the 19th century Maori dealing with the imperial British, and of the French writer Chateaubriand), Hartog reveals how we can live history so differently, sometimes putting all our emphasis on the present, sometimes living the present as an extension or recurrence of the past, sometimes living the present only for its journey toward the future. It's a deep book, and a beautiful one, filled with moments that illuminate the lives of others. Sometimes this is sobering as when Hartog writes that the chronically unemployed are forced to live a relentless presentism of one day at a time.

Benjamin H. Snyder, The Disrupted Workplace: time and the moral order of flexible capitalism (2016)

Snyder is a sociologist who has studied the experiences of work-time in the early 21st century, for financial service professionals, for truck drivers, and for unemployed white-collar workers. His multi-faceted ethnography is keyed into the intensities and rhythms of work, work that is no longer clearly guided by clock-time or predictable career paths but rather pushed and pulled by "flexible" global capitalism run rampant. Snyder's deeper questions are about what kind of moral order emerges from disruption - can our disrupted work times and lives provide us with an armature for living moral lives?

Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent (2016)

This is a novel set in London and Essex in 1893 and features a wonderful, if flawed, main character Cora Seaborne. Cora is a widow (actually somewhat merry) who throws off gendered constraints to roam the coastal byways of Essex collecting fossils and other objects of interest to her as a burgeoning naturalist. Perry also provides a "super" natural mystery in the form of a possibly returning mythical 'Essex Serpent'. In her quest to discover the truth about this creature, Cora is provided with several counterparts, comrades, collaborators and suitors. These are characters as diverse as a socialist activist, a cutting-edge London surgeon, a local Essex vicar and his ethereal wife, and a cast of wealthy and working-class men and women in London and Essex. All the them are sympathetically drawn - even, improbably, a vengeful attacker. Time flows almost melodically in this novel, with keen observations about the light and shadows of days, the mists of evenings, and the darkness of nights by the sea. The seasons come and go, history marches forward with medical advances, urban housing reforms, women actively shaping their own lives, even as the mythical time of monstrous creatures also continues to shape the characters' experience of time.
Learn more about What Is an Event? at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Art of Surrender.

The Page 99 Test: What Is an Event?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Susie Steiner

Susie Steiner grew up in north London, studied English at university and trained as a journalist. She worked in newspapers for 20 years, 11 of them on staff at The Guardian. Her first novel, Homecoming, was published to critical acclaim in 2013. Her second, Missing, Presumed was a Sunday Times bestseller which introduced detective Manon Bradshaw. It was a Richard & Judy book club pick and has sold 200,000 copies to date in the UK. Missing, Presumed was selected as one of the Guardian’s, Wall Street Journal’s and NPR's standout books of 2016. It was longlisted for the Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year. Persons Unknown, the sequel to Missing, Presumed, is her third novel.

Recently I asked Steiner about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Dry, by Jane Harper

I loved this whodunnit which is so accomplished, I couldn't believe it was a debut. The setting is outback Australia, a small town under massive pressure from drought which is killing livestock. The murder of the Hadler family is at the centre of this novel and everyone is under suspicion. The pace is whiplike and the writing is heaven.

The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

This non-fiction work blends true crime with memoir in a way I've never seen before. This book is an uncomfortable read, casting its unflinching gaze and guilt and forgiveness. It is the most compelling book I've read in a long time - if you liked the Serial podcast or Making of a Murderer, it's similarly addictive. However, it's also intellectually exacting and rigorous, rather than salacious. A very fine balance.
The Page 69 Test: Missing, Presumed.

My Book, The Movie: Missing, Presumed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ashley Shelby

Ashley Shelby is prize-winning writer whose fiction and essays have appeared in Slate, The Seattle Review, The Portland Review, Los Angeles Review, J Journal: New Writings on Social Justice, The Drouth (U.K.), Sonora Review, Post Road, Southeast Review, Third Coast, and other literary outlets. She's received the Red Hen Press Short Fiction Award, the Enizagam Short Story Award, the Third Coast Fiction Prize, and was recently named a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her newly released debut novel, South Pole Station, has received praise from Publishers Weekly, NPR, USA Today, Time, Library Journal, LitHub, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Bookpage. It has also been named an Indie Next Pick for July.

Recently I asked Shelby about what she was reading. Her reply:
Like so many others, I’ve been grappling (unsuccessfully, in my case) with the outcome of the 2016 election and the cascading events that have followed. I began to feel like I no longer understood my own country. Then last week I decided to reread Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Zinn’s history is, of course, a devastating critique not only of the United States itself, but also of its historians. Read the current sociopolitical context, however, Zinn’s masterpiece has, in a strange way, provided me with both reassurance and hope. That’s because his history of the shadow side of our country’s story reminds me that what is happening at this moment in time is not without precedent. Colonial government screwed over tenant-farmers—calling them “the dregs of the People—and crushed them underfoot when they rioted. Andrew Jackson flouted federal law in order to support states that wanted to take Indian land. Northern states eagerly aided the post-Civil War states in disenfranchising newly freed slaves. The list goes on almost without end.

And yet through it all, there was resistance. From Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Rebels to Nat Turner’s rebellion, the people fought back against oppressive leaders, against corrupt Congresses, against overreaching executives, against the “dark money” that has pervaded our system of government almost from the start. I see hope in this story of America, and I see in the protestors who march on Washington now, who hold their legislators to account, and who fight for all Americans the descendants of the men and women who safeguarded the foundations of our democracy fifty, one hundred, two hundred years ago. We’ve been here, Zinn reminds us. This isn’t new.

As Zinn quotes Frederick Douglass, speaking in 1857, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Visit Ashley Shelby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Keely Hutton

Keely Hutton is a novelist, educational journalist, and former teacher. She is the recipient of the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop scholarship at Chautauqua. She has worked closely with Ricky Richard Anywar, the founder of the international charity Friends of Orphans who was a child soldier in Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, to tell his story in her first novel, Soldier Boy.

Last month I asked Hutton about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have been reading two books that reveal courageous people and harrowing events of the past while shining a light on issues, such as refugees, leaks, and whistleblowers, at the forefront of news reports and political debates today.

I recently finished the eye-opening debut book How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana. The book recounts Sandra’s childhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the attack that took place on the refugee camp where her tribe and family were forced to live. Surviving the massacre, Sandra’s family journeys to the United States, where Sandra struggles to find a sense of identity and eventually becomes a strong advocate for her tribe and refugees around the world. I had the opportunity to hear Sandra speak at the Rochester Teen Book Festival in May and was moved by her story and inspired by her strength and determination. She is truly as remarkable woman with a remarkable story to share.

I am now reading Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin. My editor gave me a copy of the novel when I visited the FSG offices in November. This is a narrative non-fiction novel does not read like the non-fiction books teachers gave me when I was a teen. The story is fast-paced and exciting. It reveals how government analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, found himself at the center of a government scandal involving the Vietnam War and a cover-up that went all the way to the White House. It is well-researched, suspenseful, and eerily similar to news reports airing today.
Visit Keely Hutton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Soldier Boy.

My Book, The Movie: Soldier Boy.

--Marshal Zeringue