Wednesday, December 31, 2008

January Magazine: best crime fiction, 2008, part II

One title from January Magazine's list of the best crime fiction of 2008, part II:
Trigger City by Sean Chercover (Morrow) 304 pages

“Facts are not truth. Listen carefully. This is important.” These are the first words to come from private eye Ray Dudgeon since he finished his first adventure, in Sean Chercover’s debut novel, Big City, Bad Blood (2007). In Trigger City, Ray’s still smarting as a result of his clash with The Outfit, losing his girlfriend and being tortured. Business isn’t going well, either. So when the late Joan Richmond’s father offers all the money Ray needs for exclusive use of his services, Ray can’t say no. There’s no question about who killed Joan Richmond; a former coworker rang her doorbell, shot her in the face, then went home and committed suicide to The Best of Abba. But things get hairy when Ray’s usual allies, Chicago police Lieutenant Mike Angelo and reporter Terry Green, are scared away from this case. Things become even more bizarre when Ray finds himself caught between two government organizations straight out of a Duane Swierczynski novel. Chercover achieved amazing results with a stock premise in Big City. He does even better with Trigger City, writing more tightly and never letting up on the pace. A pale copy of his first novel would have been an achievement in and of itself. Chercover goes far beyond that with his sophomore work, telling a good story better than most writes could do. -- Jim Winter
Read about every title to make the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

January Magazine: best crime fiction, 2008, part I

One title from January Magazine's list of the best crime fiction of 2008, part I:
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by John McFetridge (Harcourt) 304 pages

Set in Toronto, John McFetridge’s sophomore offering (after Dirty Sweet) features an ensemble cast from both sides of the law, most of them spokes radiating out from Sharon, a single mother operating a low-level dope-growing operation. Gangs of Italians, South Asians and Angels, all grafting for a heavier slice of Toronto’s new prosperity; a Native American cop and his recently widowed partner investigating an apparent suicide while sitting on the powder keg of an internal affairs probe about to blow the Toronto force apart; Ray, a new face on the scene with an offer Sharon can’t refuse; Richard, the old flame now a power broker in the world of Canadian crime. A multi-character narrative, this story unfolds with a brevity, fluidity and power that is reminiscent of Elmore Leonard’s writing, in that it’s almost an abbreviation of style. One of its chief delights, however, is that McFetridge appears to be working on a more epic scale -- Toronto is here a microcosm of the contemporary world, where criminality is leading the charge towards globalization and leaving the local law-enforcement officers dazed with the speed and force of the onslaught. It’s also a tremendously fun read, the whole imbued with a deadpan wit, particularly in the sections where the supposedly dumb-ass criminals use the jargon of business executives to discuss their trade. Swaggeringly self-assured, it reads like the work of a master in mid-career; that it’s only McFetridge’s second novel only adds to the satisfaction. -- Declan Burke
Read about the other titles on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 29, 2008

Critic's Chart: books on six American dramatists

Dominic Maxwell, stage editor and chief comedy critic for the Times (London), named a critic's chart on American dramatists.

One title on the list:
Getting to Know Him Hugh Fordin

The definitive biography of Oscar Hammerstein, the lyricist and playwright who, with Richard Rodgers, transformed musicals.
Read about all six books on Maxwell's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Best nonfiction, 2008: January Magazine

From January Magazine's compilation of the best nonfiction of 2008:
True Crime: An American Anthology edited by Harold Schechter (Library of America) 788 pages

The serial-killer porn and Mafiosi tell-alls that swamp today’s non-fiction crime shelves rarely light my fire, but I’m a sucker for more ambitious fare such as True Crime, edited by Harold Schechter. And for once the generic title is appropriate. The tell, though, is in the subtitle. Because in this ambitious collection, Schechter presents a very convincing argument that crime is about as American as apple pie, with a boffo selection of red, white and blue mayhem from a star-studded list of contributors, both contemporary and historical -- everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin to Dominick Dunne and Ann Rule. The book also contains narratives of murder and violence that stretch from homicidal pilgrims at Plymouth to the Menendez brothers of Southern California. There’s an excerpt from Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, Mark Twain takes a few swipes at the myths of the “Wild West” and James Ellroy, in his unsettling “My Mother’s Killer,” lets slip his well-worn Mad Dog of Crime persona just enough to reveal a surprising glimpse of Sick Puppy. Cotton Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Damon Runyon, Jim Thompson and Ambrose Bierce also chip in, and the newspaper and magazine articles, journal excerpts and public documents they and others are responsible for make this almost 800-page tome an unforgettable reading experience. It’s one hell of a reference source and a bruising and bloody social history of the United States. Hell, there’s even a collection of lyrics here from several murder ballads, so you can hum along. Nervously, perhaps, while you wonder if you remembered to lock the side door. -- Kevin Burton Smith
Read about all of the titles in the feature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Five Best: Secret agents featured in series

Jeffrey T. Richelson, author of A Century of Spies and Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America's Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad, named a five best list of books for the Wall Street Journal. His subject: secret agents featured in series.

Number One on the list:
Murderers' Row
by Donald Hamilton
Fawcett, 1962

In the 27 paperbacks by Donald Hamilton featuring Matt Helm -- published between 1960 and 1993 -- there is an echo of Raymond Chandler, as when Helm says a character has "the smooth rich tan you get by working at that and not much else." But Helm is not paid to solve murders; he is paid to commit them -- as a professional assassin for a classified U.S. government agency. That puts Helm's work firmly in the realm of the fanciful, but other elements are rooted in the real world of Cold War intelligence activities. In "Murderers' Row" a key element is detecting enemy submarines. Helm's chief orders him to find a missing scientist who designed an aerial submarine-tracking system and either bring him back, secrets intact, or kill him. In a refreshing alternative to TV and movie heroes who worry more about "fair play" than completing their missions, Helm takes the no-nonsense approach: When he subdues a villain, there is no tying him up and hoping for the best; Helm dispatches the poor fellow with a single bullet.
Read about all five titles on Richelson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 26, 2008

David Peace's Literary Top 10

David Peace is the author of GB84 and the Red Riding Quartet, which features the years Nineteen Seventy Four, Nineteen Seventy Seven, Nineteen Eighty, and Nineteen Eighty Three. His most recent books are The Damned Utd and Tokyo Year Zero, the first of a trilogy set in Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II.

From his Literary Top 10 at Pulp.Net:
My favourite novel that no one else seems to have heard of:

Dogura Magura (1935) by Yumeno Kyusaku
Read more of David Peace's Literary Top 10.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top 10 books of 2008: Time Out Chicago

One of the titles that appeared on Time Out Chicago's top ten books of 2008 list:
Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain, by Kirsten Menger-Anderson. Algonquin, $22.95.

The scope of Menger-Anderson’s debut story collection, combined with her intellectual curiosity when it comes to archaic medical procedures, is dizzying. Yet her prose is equally rich, which still has us baffled as to how she pulled it all off.
Read an excerpt from Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain, and learn more about the author and her work at Kirsten Menger-Anderson's website and the "Regarding Dr. Olaf" blog.

The Page 69 Test: Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain.

Read about the other nine titles on Time Out Chicago's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books of the year: fiction

The Week tabulated the "best book" end-of-year choices of critics for The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, New York, The New York Times, the Denver Rocky Mountain News,, Time, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post.

Number One on the list:
by Roberto Bolaño
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30)

“Reviewing Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is like reviewing the ocean,” said Adam Mansbach in The Boston Globe. Split into five loosely connected parts that range in tone from “romantic farce” to the literary equivalent of a black hole, this is a novel of “devastating power” written by an artist as cannily indirect as “the great post-bop jazz drummers.” Bolaño, who died at age 50 in 2003, set most of the action in a Mexican border town. But it’s not until a chilling catalogue of unsolved rape and crime unfolds in the long fourth section that readers can see that he’s been circling an evil so grand in scale that it seems to challenge any belief in life’s meaning. The lingering question this new masterpiece raises, said the editors of, is whether humanity’s worst acts are “redeemed or ameliorated to the slightest degree by our most sublime achievements.”
A caveat: People shouldn’t use the term “masterpiece,” said The New Yorker, for a novel that doesn’t cohere.

Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 22, 2008

Critic's Chart: top Christmas reading

Margaret Reynolds, a broadcaster and academic who reviews classics for the (London) Times, named her top Christmas reading for the paper.

Number One on the chart:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane “cleans down” the house and makes mince pies, though St John disapproves of “household joys”.
Read about all six titles on Reynolds' list.

The Page 99 Test: Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre also made the Guardian's top 10 list of "outsider books," a top ten list of romantic fiction, and a top 25 list of boarding school books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Amazon's top ten of 2008: mystery & thrillers

One title to make the Amazon top ten mystery & thrillers of 2008 list:
Meg Gardiner's The Dirty Secrets Club
Read about all ten titles to make the Amazon editors' list.

Read an excerpt from The Dirty Secrets Club, and learn more about the author and her work at Meg Gardiner's website and blog.

Meg Gardiner has practiced law and taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Originally from Southern California, she now lives with her family in London.

The Page 69 Test: The Dirty Secrets Club.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Five best books on Christmas traditions

The Boston Sunday Globe called Penne L. Restad's Christmas in America: A History "a fine book of far greater than merely seasonal interest."

At the Wall Street Journal Restad named five books that "display a gift for exploring Christmas traditions."

One title on her list:
The Battle for Christmas
by Stephen Nissenbaum
Knopf, 1996

"The Battle for Christmas" explains how a rowdy public holiday -- one with lots of drinking, eating, mocking, begging and loud merry-making -- was tamed into a quiet family affair in the 19th century. Unsettled by the urban concentration of the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution, upper-class folks encouraged the celebration of a civilizing version of the holiday. Traditional year-end roistering gave way to rituals of gifts and good cheer. The promoters of the new Christmas offered a cleaned-up version of St. Nicholas (his religious cloak removed and censorious coal taken away), placed a candy-trimmed evergreen in the parlor and gathered the children 'round. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history, "The Battle for Christmas" isn't about traditions; it's about the social tensions that newfound traditions helped resolve, if only for a few days each year.
Read about all five titles on Restad's five best list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 19, 2008

Top 10 Texas books of 2008

Glenn Dromgoole of the Abilene Reporter-News named his top ten Texas books of 2008.

One title to make the list:
Texas Wildlife Portraits by Greg Lasley

A retired Austin police officer and consummate wildlife photographer, Greg Lasley has produced a stunning coffee table book, featuring close-up portraits of snakes, owls, cardinals, bats, spiders, hummingbirds, beetles, caracas, turkeys, alligators, ducks, prairie chickens, armadillos, coyotes and jackrabbits, to mention just a few.
Read about the other nine titles on Dromgoole's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Salon's top 10 books of 2008

One book from Salon's top 10 of 2008 list:
The Likeness by Tana French

Ostensibly a detective novel, French's follow-up to her 2007 novel, "In the Woods," is, like that earlier book, willfully disobedient to the dictates of genre; French refuses to offer complete resolutions or strictly realistic scenarios. Cassie Maddox, the partner of the self-destructing detective who narrated "In the Woods," is drawn into a ménage à cinq of college students living a seeming charmed existence in an Irish country house. One of the five, a girl who is Cassie's doppelgänger and has been living under an alias Cassie once used as an undercover narcotics agent, turns up murdered in a ruined cottage. Cassie is given the unlikely task of pretending to be a woman who was pretending to be a woman whom Cassie once pretended to be. As you might expect, "The Likeness" wrestles with matters of identity and intimacy as its heroine comes to prefer this triply false life to her real one. The hypnotic prose and eerie atmosphere conspire to make this ostensible mystery novel much, much more than it appears to be.
Read about all ten titles on Salon's list.

Learn more about The Likeness.

The Page 69 Test: Tana French's In the Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Best nonfiction of 2008: Christian Science Monitor

From the Christian Science Monitor's list of the best nonfiction of 2008:
The Forger’s Spell
By Edward Dolnick

Edward Dolnick tells the riveting story of a second-rate painter who fooled some very powerful Nazis with his Vermeer forgeries.
Read about all titles to make the Monitor's list.

Read an excerpt from The Forger's Spell, and learn more about the author and his work at Edward Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Forger's Spell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Economist: best books of 2008

From The Economist's best books of 2008 list:
Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population.
By Matthew Connelly.

A vivid account of how the road to controlling population growth in the 20th century was paved with good intentions and unpleasant policies that did not work.
Read about all the books to make The Economist's list.

Read an excerpt from Fatal Misconception and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit Matthew Connelly's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fatal Misconception.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Top 20 movers-and-shakers in science fiction

Charlie Jane Anders, news editor for io9, compiled a list of the 20 biggest science fiction movers-and-shakers of 2008.

Most of the individuals who made the list don't write books but Number 14 on the list does:
Michael Chabon, author of The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Not only did his literary work of alternate history win Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay has championed the literary worth of science fiction with his book Maps And Legends and his two anthologies of science fiction by literary authors.
Up next: Supposedly the Coen Brothers are filming Yiddish.
Read about all 20 movers-and-shakers to make io9's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top five crime & mystery novels of 2008: NPR

For National Public Radio, Maureen Corrigan named a list of the "Top Five Crime And Mystery Novels Of 2008."

One title on the list:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland

For the past decade or so, Sweden has been a popular pick for crime capital of the literary world, thanks to Henning Mankell and his fellow practitioners of noir on ice. The newest name in mystery to emerge out of the frozen north is that of the late journalist-turned-novelist Stieg Larsson. His debut novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was a blockbuster when it was debuted in Europe; this past fall, an English-language version was published in the United States. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a super-smart amalgam of the corporate corruption tale, the legal thriller, the Agatha Christie-type "locked room" puzzle, and the dysfunctional family suspense story. Reporter Mikael Blomkvist is hired by an elderly mogul to solve the "cold case" disappearance of his niece, 40 years ago, from the family compound.

Blomkvist is aided in his investigation by a 24-year-old computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. Salander is a pierced and tattooed Goth with major attitude problems. She's also one of the most invigorating women to come along in detective fiction since Miss Marple.
Read about all five titles on Corrigan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Top ten angel books

Karl O. Knausgaard, author of A Time for Everything, named "his 10 favourite depictions of these not always divine creatures" for the Guardian.

His argument for the list and the top title:
Never having been interested in angels or religion, I suddenly stumbled across one in my writing. Mostly out of boredom with myself, really, and with the terrible, never-ending novel I was working on then, I thought I maybe should look into the subject. For the next year I was obsessed with angels, read everything I could find about them, and then I wrote a new novel.

Angels are connected with the divine, but also with men. Through this deeply archaic image, it's possible to see how the relations between those two have constantly changed, in a polarity that has kept producing meaning, and still does. I hope my selections give some sense of this rich and strange tradition.

The Satanic Verses
by Salman Rushdie

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Salman Rushdie was the best novelist in the world. In 1988, to be exact, when this novel was published. Every sentence is full of life, and the life described is everchanging, unstoppable, in constant metamorphosis and flux, in opposition to the religious longing for one god, one people, purity and control. The angel in this neo-baroque world, Gibreel, is an Indian film star. I can´t think of any novel that treats the problems of our time better and more accurately than this one.
Read about all ten titles on Knausgaard's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best novels of 2008: Christian Science Monitor

From the Christian Science Monitor's list of the best novels of 2008:
When Will There Be Good News?
By Kate Atkinson

Scottish author Kate Atkinson earns kudos with this third and final installment of her mystery series focused on detective Jackson Brodie. Here, Brodie investigates the mysterious disappearance of an Edinburgh doctor and her baby.
Read about all of the books to make the Monitor's fiction list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Washington Post: 10 best books of 2008

The editors and reviewers at the Washington Post named their ten best list of books for 2008.

One title on the list:
The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars by Andrew X. Pham

Chronicles the undoing of a vast and elaborate dynasty, the cataclysmic disintegration of a country, and the dramatic misfortunes that befell the descendant of a Vietnamese war hero.--Martha Sherill
Read about all ten titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Five best: books that debunk pseudohistory

Damian Thompson, author of the recently released Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History, named a five best list of books for the Wall Street Journal. His subject: books that "emphatically debunk pseudohistory and spurious 'knowledge.'"

One title from the list:
Speak of the Devil
by J.S. La Fontaine
Cambridge University, 1998

The subtitle of this book is "Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England," which gives the impression that the author, a leading anthropologist, is merely examining the phenomenon of the scare stories about satanism that swept Britain in the late 1980s, having migrated from America. In fact, Jean La Fontaine performed a vital role -- at some cost to herself -- in bringing this dreadful episode to an end. "Speak of the Devil" draws on her report, sponsored by the British government, into the allegations of unspeakable acts of degradation performed on small children by covens of devil worshipers. She found not only that there was no evidence that these covens existed but also that the accusations had been extracted from children by social workers and other "experts" who were determined to prove that the organized satanic abuse happened. The manipulation of children described by La Fontaine is shocking -- and deeply sad, because this modern witch hunt destroyed families, reputations and lives.
Read about all five titles on Thompson's list.

Damian Thompson is the editor in chief of The Catholic Herald. He also writes for The Daily Telegraph.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 5, 2008

David Wroblewski's 5 most important books

David Wroblewski is the author the acclaimed debut novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

He named his five most important books for Newsweek.

One title on the list:
"Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville.

I love it because it is too long, and it goes on and on about whales.
Read about all five books on Wroblewski's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Five best books on presidential rhetoric

Elvin T. Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

He named a five best list of books on presidential rhetoric for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman
by Robert Kraig
Texas A&M, 2004

Historians have argued that Woodrow Wilson's decision in 1913 to deliver the State of the Union address in person rather than as a written statement to Congress signaled the beginning of the end of oratory. As the century progressed, and especially after the arrival of television, what had once been a carefully considered annual presentation of legislative proposals gradually turned into a laundry list of programmatic promises and vacuous applause lines. Robert Kraig argues that President Wilson was in fact the last of a dying breed of orator-statesmen who took words seriously enough to value them for their pedagogic as well as theatrical qualities. Kraig casts new light on that famous failure of rhetorical persuasion, Wilson's western tour of the nation in 1919, in which he tried unsuccessfully to win popular backing for the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. It is a tragic story, in Kraig's telling, of an orator who would suffer a breakdown -- and, a week later, a permanently incapacitating stroke -- as a result of the strenuous 26-day speaking campaign. Wilson believed, perhaps to a fault, Kraig says, in his ability to mobilize and educate public opinion according to the "verdict of his conscience."
Read about all five titles on Lim's list.

The Page 99 Test: Elvin T. Lim's The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 1, 2008

Five best: books about doctors and patients

In 2006 Jerome Groopman named a five best list of books about doctors and patients for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886).

With fine brush strokes, Tolstoy paints the portrait of an ambitious and upwardly mobile magistrate, Ivan Ilyich, who suddenly comes down with a mysterious malady. The restrained prose works to amplify a chilling message: Severe illness strips away life's façade and forces us to examine our inner core. Ilyich, at the cusp of death, realizes that he has squandered his life by pursuing what is insubstantial. But Tolstoy affirms that while there may no longer be hope for the body, there is, until the last breath, hope for the soul. It is a lesson best learned while still healthy.
Read about all five titles on Groopman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue