Monday, December 4, 2023

Five top holiday crime novels

Born and raised in West Lothian, Catriona McPherson left Edinburgh University with a PhD in Linguistics and worked in academia, as well as banking and public libraries, before taking up full-time writing in 2001. For the last ten years she has lived in Northern California with frequent visits home. Among numerous prizes, she has won two of Left Coast Crime’s coveted Humorous Lefty Awards, as well as the inaugural Anthony Award for Best Humorous Novel, for the Last Ditch comedies. Her latest novel is Hop Scot.

[The Page 69 Test: Go to My GraveWriters Read: Catriona McPherson (November 2018)My Book, The Movie: The Turning TideThe Page 69 Test: The Turning Tide; My Book, The Movie: A Gingerbread House]

At CrimeReads she tagged five favorite holiday crime novels, including:
Tied Up in Tinsel, by Ngaio Marsh

The action takes place in a country house, right enough. And there’s a gathering of old frenemies too. But, as is often the case with Marsh, nothing’s quite as cozy as it seems. The staff of the stately pile are all convicted murderers, out on parole; thus has the lord of the manor solved the servant problem. So when the corpse hits the parquet, as corpses must in this genre, there’s no shortage of suspects. By 1972, when this book was published, Marsh was unapologetically playing with the Golden-Age tropes and never better than here, her twenty-seventh entry in the series, with nothing to prove and fun to be had.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Seven mystery novels with the best twists

Emily Bain Murphy was born in Indiana and raised in Hong Kong and Japan. She graduated from Tufts University and has also called Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California home.

Enchanted Hill, Murphy’s debut adult novel, is a historical mystery set in 1930 over a glittering week of parties at a mansion on the California coast.

At Writer's Digest she tagged seven mystery novels with "engaging characters, an atmospheric setting, a mystery that keeps me turning pages, and at least one twist I didn’t see coming." One title on the list:
The Likeness, Tana French

Tana French is the queen of literary procedurals. Her first six novels shuffle recurring characters in the Dublin Murder Squad series so that they each take turns getting prime placement. The Likeness follows Detective Cassie Maddox as she goes undercover—after discovering a dead woman who could be her double, and infiltrating the victim’s life to see if she can draw out the killer. If you’re willing to go along with the premise, you’ll fall deep for this one.

French could teach a masterclass in dialogue and this novel is a slow-burn, chilling kind of creepy with gorgeous writing. It shimmers with lines like, “This girl: she bent reality around her like a lens bending light, she pleated it into so many flickering layers that you could never tell which one you were looking at, the longer you stared the dizzier you got.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Likeness is among Emily Beyda's seven top doubles in the twisted world of mystery fiction, Sophie Stein's eight books about small-town woman detectives, Alison Wisdom's sven great thrillers featuring communal living, Christopher Louis Romaguera's nine books about mistaken identity, and Simon Lelic's top ten false identities in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Seven books about authorship hoaxes

Ayden LeRoux is a queer writer and critic from New England. Once upon a time she attended culinary school, worked as a cheesemaker on a goat farm, and studied to become a sommelier. Now she writes fiction and nonfiction exploring embodiment, eroticism, and illness, in order to complicate narratives about caretaking, gender, sexuality, and family structures. She writes art and literary criticism regularly, often covering work that pertains to sexuality, disability, and the culinary world.

LeRoux's work can be found in BOMB, Bookforum, Catapult, Electric Lit, Entropy, Guernica, Lit Hub, Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Rumpus, and was honored as Notable in Best American Essays 2021. She is the co-author of Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (2016).

At Electric Lit LeRoux tagged seven notable books about authorship hoaxes, including:
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

At any given reading, it seems the most common question is “Where did you get the idea for this?” John Boyne’s main character Maurice Swift is obsessed with this too, because, simply put: he is a good writer with no good ideas. After a chance encounter with famed author and Holocaust survivor Erich Ackermann, he panders to the older gay man and preys upon his loneliness, becoming an assistant of sorts, traveling with him on book tour. Over the course of the tour, he teases out a story that Erich has never shared about his time during World War II, which Maurice uses to write his first novel. As the rest of this elegantly plotted novel unfolds, we watch as Maurice continues to find new and atrocious ways to grift stories for his novels.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 1, 2023

Ten scary novels to read while being nice to your family

Erika Johansen grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing. She lives in England.

Her new novel is The Kingdom of Sweets: A Novel of the Nutcracker.

At Lit Hub Johansen tagged "ten books [that] never fail to remind me that the world could use a little more love and kindness right now." One title on the list:
Within These Walls, by Ania Ahlborn

At the outset, this looks like a standard (if well-written) haunted house novel, but what has occurred in this particular house gradually becomes almost unbearable. Ahlborn is routinely fearless about venturing into forbidden territory in her work, and while that fearlessness can create a disturbing experience for the reader, she also knows how to wield her understanding of the taboo to write good and effective horror stories, like this.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Five books in which rich people (think they can) get away with murder

Charlotte Vassell studied History at the University of Liverpool and completed a Master’s in Art History at SOAS before training as an actor at Drama Studio London. Other than treading the boards she has also worked in advertising, in executive search and as a purveyor of silk top hats.

Vassell's new novel is The Other Half.

At CrimeReads she tagged five favorite books featuring "wealthy miscreants who think they can but don’t always get away with murder, although sometimes they do." One title on the list:
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Beloved by teenagers going through something—I speak from experience—Oscar Wilde’s only novel is a meditation on the evils of a life devoted to the selfish pursuit of beauty and earthly sensations. Dorian Gray is a libertine who despite his ways has not aged a day, but his portrait hidden in the attic has, and is unidentifiable to even the artist. Dorian has a growing body count: Sybil Vane, an actress he loved and then abandoned, her vengeful brother James, the painter Basil who begs Dorian to repent before he murders him after blaming him for his fate, and Alan Campbell a scientist who Dorian enlists to dispose of Basil’s body who later commits suicide. I like the idea that the rich can only really be held accountable by the creepy art they buy.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Picture of Dorian Gray also appears on Myla Goldberg's list of five books to help you think like a visual artist, Emily Lloyd-Jones's list of five favorite books featuring deals you probably don’t want to make, Eric Berkowitz's list of five top books on sex and society, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best locked rooms in literature, ten of the best mirrors in literature, ten of the best disastrous performances in fiction, and ten of the best examples of ekphrasis in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Eight books about the shifting allegiances & power dynamics of a threesome

Sarah Blakley-Cartwright is the author of Red Riding Hood, a #1 New York Times bestseller published worldwide in thirty-eight editions and fifteen languages.

She is the editor of Hauser & Wirth’s The Artist's Library for Ursula magazine. She is publishing director of the Chicago Review of Books, and associate editor of A Public Space.

Blakley-Cartwright's debut adult novel is Alice Sadie Celine.

At Electric Lit the author tagged "eight of the most inventive literary explorations of the love triangle." One title on the list:
Also a Poet by Ada Calhoun

A memoir of a young heroine attempting the impossible task of competing for her father’s affections against a legend of exquisite literary renown. Ada Calhoun’s father, the great Peter Schjeldahl, attempted to write a novel of his hero, Frank O’Hara, and Calhoun picks up the mantle, attempting to complete it. In one sense, the Calhoun’s memoir reads like a question to be solved, as Calhoun inadvertently unravels a sense of her father, a parent who sought emotional distance in order to safeguard his creative efforts, as she reconstructs the life of the great poet. In another, a story of knotted affections between three creators. Whichever way you frame it, this memoir illuminates three artists’ pledges and obligations to work, artistry, and family; and complicates the ways in which we venerate our heroes.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Five stories about embracing found family

At SFF maven Cole Rush tagged "five stories [that] celebrate found families and the wonderful, unconventional love they share," including:
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson has a knack for writing characters who feel very real and relatable. Their struggles, though coated in a layer of fantasy frosting, feel true to our world. Mistborn is a prime example.

Forgotten by the world and abandoned by her brother, Vin gets by on scraps and good luck (which may be more magical in nature than she believes). When she encounters the fearless Kelsier, he ropes her into a scheme that could topple the ruling empire that’s lasted for 1,000 years. The fantasy heist is all fine and dandy, but Vin first has to get on board with both the plan and the people executing it.

Her journey is marvelous. Kelsier’s ragtag crew doesn’t put on a show for Vin. They are firmly themselves, playfully prodding her with jibes or quick comments. Practically overnight, Vin must learn to trust those around her as they learn to do the same.

I think there’s a bit of Vin’s found family arc in all of us. As we learn who we are, we’re also forced to negotiate the mystery of others, sussing out who we can trust and who will love us for who we are. Personal growth can come from within, but it’s also catalyzed by the people surrounding us. Vin’s experiences with Kelsier, Ham, Breeze, Spook, Sazed, and the crew show us how a found family can contribute to our discovery and acceptance of self.

And if you enjoy Vin’s found family in Mistborn, you’re in luck! The remainder of the trilogy expands on her tale and carries the found family theme forward.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Mistborn is among Meghan Ball's twelve great fantasy heist stories.

My Book, The Movie: the Mistborn trilogy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 27, 2023

Five books with righteous female rage

Katherine A. Olson has lived all over the place, honing her chameleon skills along the way. She now calls South Korea home with her husband, daughter, shelter dog and cats.

Olson loves matcha lattes, irreverent humor, lacing up her hiking boots, and getting lost in good stories.

Her new novel is Close Enough to Hurt.

At CrimeReads Olson tagged five "books that helped me find the courage to write a book about a woman who’s not afraid to burn it all down." One title on the list:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

“Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”

Amy Dunne has reached her breaking point, and the midpoint twist in this novel is delicious and quite possibly one of the finest in the thriller genre. I gobbled up her “postmortem” manifesto like it was sweet manna from heaven and reveled in reading a female character so unapologetically pissed off. Gone Girl is a delightfully twisted entry to the Good for Her pantheon.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Gone Girl made Azma Dar's list of five dark novels that explore the sinister side of marriage, Jonas Jonasson's top ten list of books about revenge, Suzanne Redfearn's list of six novels about women trying to outrun their past, Max Manning's top ten list of psychopathic crime & thriller characters, Steven L. Kent and Nicholas Kaufmann's list of six favorite literary human monsters, Elizabeth Macneal's list of five sympathetic fictional psychopaths, Jo Jakeman's top ten list of revenge novels, Amanda Craig's list of favorite books about modern married life, Sarah Pinborough's top ten list of unreliable narrators, C.A. Higgins's top five list of books with plot twists that flip your perception, Ruth Ware's top ten list of psychological thrillers, Jane Alexander's top ten list of treasure hunts in fiction, Fanny Blake's list of five top books about revenge, Monique Alice's list of six great fictional evil geniuses, Jeff Somers's lists of the top five best worst couples in literature, six books that’ll make you glad you’re single and five books with an outstanding standalone scene that can be read on its own, Lucie Whitehouse's ten top list of psychological suspense novels with marriages at their heart and Kathryn Williams's list of eight of fiction’s craziest unreliable narrators.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Ten of the best dystopian novels ever written

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of Writer's Digest and the author of 40 Plot Twist Prompts for Writers: Writing Ideas for Bending Stories in New Directions, The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms: 100+ Poetic Form Definitions and Examples for Poets, Poem-a-Day: 365 Poetry Writing Prompts for a Year of Poeming, and more.

At Writer's Digest he tagged "what I consider the 10 best dystopian novels ever written," including:
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The seventh book on this list is actually the first book of a trilogy by the same name. The Hunger Games was published in 2008 followed closely by the publication of Catching Fire in 2009 and Mockingjay in 2010.

The main premise for The Hunger Games is that it's a dystopian story set in Panem, a North American country that consists of a prosperous Capitol and 12 impoverished districts. At one point there was a 13th district, which was destroyed for attempting a failed rebellion. As punishment for the remaining districts, they have to conduct a lottery each year to provide a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district to participate in a televised battle to the death.

The novel is narrated by Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old who volunteers to take the place of her 12-year-old sister in the competition. As with any reality television show, alliances are formed and broken with the extra weight of this being a "life and death" competition.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Hunger Games also appears on Patti Callahan's list of five SFF books featuring protective siblings, Off the Shelf's list of ten incredible literary parties, Chevy Stevens's list of the best survivalist thrillers, Amanda Craig's top ten list of the best-dressed characters in fiction, Sarah Driver's list of her five favorite fictional siblings, Meghan Ball's list of eight books or series for Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, Jeff Somers's lists of "five pairs of books that have nothing to do with each other—and yet have everything to do with each other," top five list of dystopian societies that might actually function, and top eight list of revolutionary SF/F novels, P.C. Cast’s top ten list of all-time favorite reads for fantasy fans, Keith Yatsuhashi's list of five gateway books that opened the door for him to specific genres, Catherine Doyle's top ten list of doomed romances in YA fiction, Ryan Britt's list of six of the best Scout Finches -- "headstrong, stalwart, and true" young characters -- from science fiction and fantasy, Natasha Carthew's top ten list of revenge reads, Anna Bradley ten best list of literary quotes in a crisis, Laura Jarratt's top ten list of YA thrillers with sisters, Tina Connolly's top five list of books where the girl saves the boy, Sarah Alderson's top ten list of feminist icons in children's and teen books, Jonathan Meres's top ten list of books that are so unfair, SF Said's top ten list of unlikely heroes, Rebecca Jane Stokes's top ten list of fictional families you could probably abide during holiday season and top eight list of books perfect for reality TV fiends, Chrissie Gruebel's list of favorite fictional fashion icons, Lucy Christopher's top ten list of literary woods, Robert McCrum's list of the ten best books with teenage narrators, Sophie McKenzie's top ten list of teen thrillers, Gregg Olsen's top ten list of deadly YA books, Annalee Newitz's list of ten great American dystopias, Philip Webb's top ten list of pulse-racing adventure books, Charlie Higson's top ten list of fantasy books for children, and Megan Wasson's list of five fantasy series geared towards teens that adults will love too.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Seven stellar heist tales

Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author and screenwriter of over one dozen novels including The Ancestor, Slow Down, The Mentor, Stalker Stalked, Orange City, the five-book Desire Card series, and the young adult trilogy Runaway Train, Grenade Bouquets, and Vanish Me, currently with actress Raegan Revord from TV's Young Sheldon attached to develop.

His new novel is The Great Gimmelmans.

At Electric Lit Goldberg tagged seven favorite heist tales, including:
Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby

Blacktop Wasteland sets up the career criminal who attempts one last job to position himself for financial freedom. Beauregard or “Bug,” a Black man in the rural south isn’t looking for a big score, but to pay for his child’s braces, keep his mother in a nursing home, and keep his auto shop alive. When he joins as a wheelman in a diamond heist, what follows is a breakneck, adrenaline ride, but also a searing rebuke of racism in the south and the opportunities Bug wants for his children that he was never able to have. Lyrical and heart-stopping, this book is a must for heist fans and fans of literature in general.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Blacktop Wasteland is among Lisa Unger's five novels revolving around dysfunctional families, Nick Kolakowski’s five best getaway drivers in contemporary crime fiction, and Kia Abdullah's eight novels featuring co-conspirators.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 24, 2023

Five top novels featuring brave women in mysterious circumstances

Christina Henry is the author of The Mermaid, Lost Boy, Alice, Red Queen, and the national bestselling Black Wings series featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle, Beezle.

Her new novel is Good Girls Don't Die.

At CrimeReads Henry tagged five favorite novels featuring brave women in mysterious circumstances. One title on the list:
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847)

The grandmother of the girl-in-peril-at-a-mysterious-estate tale, the template from which so many others followed. Jane herself is distinguished by her bravery, by her strength of character, by her dogged determination to discover the truth about the strange goings-on at Thornfield Hall and its master, Mr. Rochester. Every year, in October, I re-read this book along with my other Gothic favorites. You can’t beat the atmosphere, especially in the Thornfield section of the book. 176-year-old spoiler: It also introduced the notion of the “attic wife”, a devastating moment in the story that has become a modern internet meme.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Jane Eyre also made Hannah Sloane's list of seven titles about men breaking hearts & acting despicably, Aidan Cottrell-Boyce's top ten list of novels and stories about prophets, Jane Shemilt's list of five books that trace the portrayal of mental disorders in literature, Lucy Ellmann's top ten list of gripes in literature, Elizabeth Brooks’s list of ten of the creepiest gothic novels, Kate Kellaway's list of the best romantic novels that aren’t riddled with cliches, Julia Spiro's list of seven titles told from the perspective of domestic workers, Jane Healey's list of five favorite gothic romances, Annaleese Jochems's list of the great third wheels of literature, Sara Collins's list of six of fiction's best bad women, Sophie Hannah's list of fifteen top books with a twist, E. Lockhart's list of five favorite stories about women labeled “difficult,” Sophie Hannah's top ten list of twists in fiction, Gail Honeyman's list of five of her favorite idiosyncratic characters, Kate Hamer's top ten list of books about adopted children, a list of four books that changed Vivian Gornick, Meredith Borders's list of ten of the scariest gothic romances, Esther Inglis-Arkell's top ten list of the most horribly mistreated first wives in Gothic fiction, Martine Bailey’s top six list of the best marriage plots in novels, Radhika Sanghani's top ten list of books to make sure you've read before graduating college, Lauren Passell's top five list of Gothic novels, Molly Schoemann-McCann's lists of ten fictional men who have ruined real live romance and five of the best--and more familiar--tropes in fiction, Becky Ferreira's lists of seven of the best fictional depictions of female friendship and the top six most momentous weddings in fiction, Julia Sawalha's six best books list, Honeysuckle Weeks's six best books list, Kathryn Harrison's list of six favorite books with parentless protagonists, Megan Abbott's top ten list of novels of teenage friendship, a list of Bettany Hughes's six best books, the Guardian's top 10 lists of "outsider books" and "romantic fiction;" it appears on Lorraine Kelly's six best books list, Esther Freud's top ten list of love stories, and Jessica Duchen's top ten list of literary Gypsies, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best governesses in literature, ten of the best men dressed as women, ten of the best weddings in literature, ten of the best locked rooms in literature, ten of the best pianos in literature, ten of the best breakfasts in literature, ten of the best smokes in fiction, and ten of the best cases of blindness in literature. It is one of Kate Kellaway's ten best love stories in fiction.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Eyre.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thirteen top fantasies inspired by mythology from the British Isles

One title from's list of thirteen fantasies inspired by mythology from the British Isles:
The Last Light of the Sun—Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Last Light of the Sun meshes elements of Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, and Viking cultures to create a thrilling historical fantasy with the Anglcyn (Anglo-Saxon), Cyngael (Welsh), and Erling (Viking) civilizations locked in conflict.

Erling marauders regularly raid Anglcyn and Cyngael villages, and bloodshed and slavery are just part of life. Bern Thorkellson, an Erling, was enslaved after his father murdered another man, but now he’s escaped to seek vengeance against the man who stole his father’s prize horse. His father, meanwhile, is haunted by the past and seeks redemption for his murder. At the other end of the social spectrum, Aeldred, legendary king of the Anglcyn, struggles to enlighten his countrymen, while the Cyngael prince Alun tries to save his soul from Darkness. The lives of these four men will all entwine as they fight for their lands and their destiny.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue