Monday, October 31, 2016

Ten utterly brilliant novels that have one fatal flaw

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky. She’s the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series, and she was a founding editor of io9, a website about science fiction, science and futurism. In 2015 she consulted some book boffins for a list of top novels that are marred by a fatal flaw. Aidan Moher's suggestion:
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit is my favorite novel. It wrenched from science fiction’s arms as a child and set me on a path through the many wondrous worlds that secondary world fantasy offers. It shaped me as a reader and a writer, but, dammit if Tolkien didn’t leave a big female-shaped hole in that novel. It feels like there’s a cast of thousands (thirteen dwarfs, one hobbit, and a wizard, actually), but Tolkien’s story about a merry band of dwarfs adventuring to slay a dragon and save their home was a sausugefest through and through. You can discount it as a product of its time, but, as we all know, women have always fought. You can be sure that when I’m reading The Hobbit to my daughter in a few years, eight or nine of those dwarfs are going to switch gender—and I’ll have a lot of fun explaining to her that dwarf women have beards, too!

(This is actually one of the few instance where I applaud Peter Jackson’s ham-fisted adaptation of the novel. He may have stomped on the spirit of the book, but introducing several female characters was an important evolution for a 21st century narrative.)
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Hobbit appears on Julie Kagawa's top ten list of dragons in fiction, Rebecca Jane Stokes's list of seven favorite fictional shopaholics, Derek Landy's top ten list of villains in children's books, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best beards in literature and ten of the best riddles in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The 25 best cats in sci-fi & fantasy

Jeff Somers is the author of the Avery Cates series, The Ustari Cycle, Lifers, and Chum (among many other books) and numerous short stories.

At the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog he tagged twenty-five of the best cats in sci-fi & fantasy, including:
Behemoth in The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Aggressive, hilarious, and profane, Behemoth—as his name might suggest—is less a cat than a demon, one of Woland’s entourage in the classic novel. Able to take the form of a man at times, Behemoth is largely a jester in Woland’s court, and over the course of the novel isn’t given much respect, even by the humans. Smart and even somewhat sophisticated, being a fan of chess and endless, rapid-fire jokes, Behemoth is serving Satan to pay off his debts, which makes sense; for many people the idea of living your days as an enormous cat would, in fact, be hell.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Master and Margarita is among Gabriel Weston's five best books by doctors, Joel Cunningham's nine favorite talking animals in fiction, Josh Ritter's six favorite books that invoke the supernatural, Cornelius Medvei's's top ten talking animals in literature, Joseph Fiennes' six best books, and Daniel Johnson's five best books about Cold War culture. It's also a book that English actor and writer Stephen Fry tries to read as often as he can.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books with unusual demons and devils

Sarah Porter is the author of several books for young adults, including Vassa in the Night. One of her five "favorite books featuring out-of-the-ordinary denizens of Hell," as shared at
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

Mantel, best known for her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, is also one of the greatest chroniclers of the demonic going. Her earlier, devastating novel of a horribly traumatized, but quite authentic, psychic creates jet-black humor out of unspeakable horror. Mantel’s Alison Hart is plagued by the ghosts of her abusers, a chipper flock of grotesque spirits who discuss child-rape and sandwiches with precisely the same vapid bonhomie. The suggestion that Morris and his friends have, ah, graduated from being mere ghosts into something more hellish comes from the way that they answer to “old Nick.” “Nick he is a fambly man,” the ghouls explain, and Satan himself might cut very close to home.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Seven of the best haunted houses in literature

At the B&N Reads blog Dell Villa tagged seven of the best haunted houses in literature, including:
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Even after nearly 60 years, Hill House is unparalleled—it’s one of the most terrifying mansions in literature. When an unlikely foursome visits the rundown house on an ominous night, it quickly becomes clear that, with each turn of the page, the house is becoming more powerful, and one of the intruders is not going to make it out alive.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see Christopher Golden's top five haunted house novels you may not have read, Claire Barker's top ten haunted houses in fiction, and Ashley Brooke Roberts's seven best haunted house books.

The Haunting of Hill House also appears on Kat Rosenfield's list of seven scary October reads, Michael Marshall Smith's top ten list of horror books, Carlos Ruiz Zafón's top ten list of 20th-century gothic novels,  and Brad Leithauser's five best list of ghost tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 28, 2016

Five novels with vampires who definitely don’t sparkle

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's new novel is Certain Dark Things. One of her five favorite lesser known stories featuring a vampire who doesn't sparkle, as shared at
Fledgling — Octavia Butler

Science fiction vampires are not as common as fantasy ones and Octavia Butler provides us with one of the more interesting examples available. Shori looks like a 10 year-old black child but is far older, the member of an alien species which lives by establishing symbiotic relationships with humans. Butler explores notions of agency, as Shori’s bite makes humans dependant on her venom. Race is also tackled: Shori’s skin color is markedly different from her fellow pale vampires, melanin proving a useful adaptation for an organism that can’t stand sunlight, but it is also a trait that marks her as different.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Fledgling is among Nisi Shawl's five stories about loving everybody.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven top life-scarring scary books

Sarah Skilton is the author of Bruised, a martial arts drama for young adults; and High and Dry, a hardboiled teen mystery. At B&N Reads she tagged seven life-scarring scary books, including:
The Ruins, by Scott Smith

Four fresh-faced, semi-Ugly Americans and one German are vacationing in Mexico when they decide to ditch the beach and check out an off-map archaeological site. Once there, they are surrounded and trapped by frantic locals who draw weapons as soon as one of them fatefully steps into the vines at the edge of the ancient ruins. Unable to leave the site, and at the mercy of sinister forces, our heroes turn into a bickering, hysteria-fueled mess. Written with a sense of terrifyingly plausible, slow-motion, “this can’t be happening” dread that paralyzes the reader, the horror stems from what the main characters do to each other to stay alive amid a psychologically torturous situation.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Top ten books of radical history

Sheila Rowbotham’s latest book is Rebel Crossings: New Women, Free Lovers and Radicals in Britain and the United States. One of her ten favorite books of radical history, as shared at the Guardian:
Primitive Rebels by Eric Hobsbawm (1959)

Packed with bandits, mobs, anarchic millenarians and wandering journeymen, this delighted me as a student. Hobsbawm, being a sage member of the Communist Party, warned against their utopianism, but I took to them like a fish to water.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Five top novels written as genre parodies that stand on their own

At the B&N Reads blog Nicole Hill tagged five novels written as genre parodies that stand on their own, including:
Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

Austen isn’t necessarily the first name that comes to mind when you think “satire,” especially if you’re Mark Twain. Northanger Abbey, however, is lauded both as Austen’s Gothic parody and as one of her most lighthearted and accessible reads. Austen fans will find all the grand balls and dancing and conflicted love stories they could want, and fans of a good, spooky Gothic novel will find all the necessary ingredients, but with an added self-awareness that makes all the proceedings deliciously amusing. Naive young Catherine thinks life is like her beloved Gothic thrillers, so when she finds herself in a musty, shadowy mansion, she sees intrigue, suspense, and malfeasance at every turn.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Northanger Abbey is among Helen Maslin's ten most evocative fictional castles and manors and Johanna Lane's five best imaginary castles in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ten top books on architecture

Barbara Miller Lane is Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and Research Professor in Growth and Structure of Cities at Bryn Mawr College.

Her books include Architecture and Politics in Germany, 1918–1945, National Romanticism and Modern Architecture, Housing and Dwelling, and Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs, 1945–1965.

One of Lane's top ten books on architecture, as shared at the Princeton University Press blog:
The Food Axis: Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses
Elizabeth C. Cromley

Cromley is a major writer about the typologies of American residential design—about the history of bedrooms, for example, and the history of apartment dwellings. In The Food Axis, she turns to cooking and eating, central functions of everyday life. But she finds that cooking and eating also depend, in their location and the designs that serve them, on the provision and storage of foodstuffs. Cromley deals with the whole of American history, an ambitious focus. The book is full of wonderful insights about the history of dining rooms, kitchens, and food storage areas. A must for those interested in the everyday functions of buildings.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six magically weird YA fantasy books

One title on Melissa Albert's list of six magically weird YA fantasy novels, as shared at the BN Teen blog:
Vassa in the Night, by Sarah Porter

This wonderfully weird YA is a dark tangle of urban angst, Russian folklore, and Porter’s own rich invention. Vassa lives in an eerie Brooklyn plagued by lengthening nights, in which endless hours seem to pass between dusk and dawn. At the center of this mystery is BY’s, a deadly chain of all-night convenience stores where shoplifters pay the ultimate price—beware the heads on spikes that surround each store, which dance atop chicken legs till sung down to earth by a prospective shopper. When Vassa is framed for shoplifting and marked for death by Babs, the nefarious owner of her local BY’s, she’s locked into a pact: survive three nights as a BY’s cashier, and she might walk away with her life. What follows is a three-day fugue in which Vassa explores the shadowy secrets of her past, meets strange characters including a severed hand with a conscience and a pair of uncanny lawyers, and uncovers the secret behind the unending nights.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 24, 2016

Top ten books set in Bangkok

At Deep Travel and Lifestyle, Will Bowie tagged ten top books set in Bangkok, including:
The Queen of Patpong: A Poke Rafferty Thriller by Timothy Hallinan

Another classic read explaining the intricacies of the flesh trade, scorned and murderous past customers & the extreme differences of country life compared to big, bad Bangkok.

The paradoxical title hints at the contradictions lurking within the pages of Timothy Hallinan’s latest literary thriller, The Queen of Patpong. Rose Rafferty, prostitute turned employment counselor, is a fitting queen for the seedy area of Bangkok around Patpong Road. She’s married to writer / investigator Poke Rafferty who gallantly helps bar girls turn their lives around between cases. Poke isn’t your average brawny hero. He stumbles into danger and is saved more often by his intellect and local knowledge than weapons or martial skills. The portrayal is so genuine, the reader can imagine Hallinan in Poke’s place.

Hallinan’s prose is so lyrical and his focus on character so sharp that you will forget this is a thriller even as you careen through Rose’s past life from village farm girl to bar girl. Like many literary thrillers, the plot is fairly linear, yet layer upon layer of character depth and a few well-timed twists keep the story fresh. Hallinan shares an intimate view of the lurid world of Bangkok bar girls that is chaotic, intriguing, and often disconcerting. The Queen of Patpong is captivating even as it delivers a message of Hallinan’s deep caring for these girls or maybe because his caring feels so authentic. Highly recommended.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: A Nail Through the Heart.

The Page 69 Test: The Fourth Watcher.

My Book, The Movie: The Fourth Watcher.

The Page 69 Test: Breathing Water.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six fictional women who broke the glass ceiling

At the B&N Reads blog Nicole Hill tagged six fictional femmes who fatally smashed the glass ceiling, including:
Daenerys Targaryen (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin)

Remember when people (ahem, Jorah) thought Daenerys would be through after her warlord husband’s demise? And remember when, instead of curling up into the fetal position and accepting her diminished position, she lit a fire, hatched some dragons, and emerged as the khaleesi of awe and wonder? Yeah, me too. Man, the dragon egg on everyone else’s faces was worth it. Since then, she’s done nothing but gather more forces, gain more strength, and amass more followers. She’s also proven to be one of the most level-headed potential rulers in (or around) Westeros. Granted, that’s a low bar, but it’s still worthy of note.
Read about the other entries on the list.

A Game of Thrones is among Jeff Somers's top five dad moments in science fiction & fantasy history, Julie Kagawa's top ten dragons in fiction, Ryan Britt's six best Scout Finches from sci-fi & fantasy, Charlotte Seager's top five spoiled suppers in literature, Melissa Grey's five top female characters of under-appreciated strength, Non Pratt's top ten toxic friendships in literature, Becky Ferreira's eight best siblings in literature, and Nicole Hill's top six books on gluttony. A Song of Ice and Fire is among Ferreira's six favorite redheads in literature and six best books with dragons, Joel Cunningham's seven top books featuring long winters. The Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords is one of Ferreira's top six most momentous weddings in fiction. The Lannister family from A Game of Thrones is one of Jami Attenberg's top ten dysfunctional families in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Five top YA books inspired by not-so-fictional murderers

At the BN Teen blog Sarah Hannah Gómez tagged five top YA books inspired by real-life murderers, including:
Erzebet Bathory in The Blood Confession, by Alisa M. Libby

In the late 16th century, a vain countess began to fear that one day her looks would fade. She noticed a lot of her maids were gorgeous, and got the idea that maybe their blood would keep her looking forever young. As with any slippery slope, it started with simple bloodletting akin to “medical practices” of yore (albeit with cosmetic intentions, not health ones), and then oops! It became serial murders. This is a chilling fictionalized account that will make you think the Evil Queen from Snow White was really not that bad.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

The ten best bachelors

At the Guardian Michael Hogan came up with a list of the ten best bachelors. Most of the entries are actual men; among the fictional characters to make the list:
Sherlock Holmes

It’s a running joke in the current BBC reboot starring Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones that everyone assumes the Baker Street detective is gay. The only female to take Holmes’s interest was Irene Adler, his adversary in A Scandal in Bohemia and referred to as “the woman”. The opposite sex remain a mystery to Holmes, who says: “Their motives are so inscrutable. How can you build on such quicksand? Their most trivial actions may mean volumes, their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin.” His creator, Conan Doyle, added: “Holmes is as inhuman as Babbage’s calculating machine and just as likely to fall in love.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Seven of the best weird westerns

Sam Reader is a writer and conventions editor for The Geek Initiative. He also writes literary criticism and reviews at One of seven weird westerns he tagged at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog:
Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear

Bear’s steampunk adventure is set in the city of Seattle at a time when the streets were still being raised up and travelers found themselves passing through on their way to the gold territories of Alaska. The main character, Karen Memery, works as a “seamstress” in the house of Madame Damnable, until the night a strange man with a mind control device and a wounded young woman find their way into the parlor. The plot is plenty weird, with Karen tangling with enough mad science, serial killers, and outsize threats to give even Jonah Hex a headache. Through it all, the novel’s defining feature is Karen herself, a resourceful heroine with an unforgettable voice.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 21, 2016

Six YA novels featuring teens with strange abilities

Parker Peevyhouse is the author of the acclaimed debut novel Where Futures End. One of her six favorite YAs centering on teens with unusual abilities, as shared at the BN Teen blog:
The Ghosts of Heaven, by Marcus Sedgwick

The young prehistoric girl at the center of the first story in this four-part book discovers a powerful ability previously unknown in her time: she writes. Undertaking this skill leads to an encounter with a mysterious spiral that links the girl to gifted individuals from other time periods: a persecuted young witch, a madman with terrifying visions, and an astronaut lost in time. But are these characters truly gifted, or is the world we live in simply stranger than we know?
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: The Ghosts of Heaven.

--Marshal Zeringue

Eleven science fiction books regularly taught in college classes

At io9 Abhimanyu Das and Gordon Jackson tagged eleven science fiction books that are often taught in college, including:
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick’s post-apocalyptic novel explores the essence of humanity, and is taught in courses on biotechnology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and even ecology at the University of Wisconsin. Famously adapted into the Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner, the novel by Philip K. Dick is far stranger than its counterpart.

Bounty hunter Rick Deckard chases escaped androids in a quest to purchase the ultimate status symbol—namely, a giraffe. The novel explores the arbitrary values we assign natural and synthetic lives, be they androids, human beings, or Deckard’s electric sheep of the title (the original died of tetanus) and is ripe for analysis—and thus many a freshman 10-page paper.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? also appears on Robert Kroese's list of five science fiction novels about sheep, Ceridwen Christensen's list of eleven stories of love and robots, Ryan Britt's list of six of the best detectives from science fiction literature, Weston Williams's list of fifteen classic science fiction books, Allegra Frazier's list of four great dystopian novels that made it to the big screen, Ryan Menezes's list of five movies that improved the book, Amanda Yesilbas and Charlie Jane Anders's list of the twelve most unfaithful movie versions of science fiction and fantasy books, Katharine Trendacosta and Charlie Jane Anders's list of the ten greatest personality tests in sci-fi & fantasy, John Mullan's list of ten of the best titles in the form of questions, Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs's list of ten classic sci-fi books that were originally considered failures and Robert Collins's top ten list of dystopian novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Six of the scariest ghosts in middle grade lit

At the BN Kids blog Melissa Sarno tagged six of the scariest ghosts in middle grade literature, including:
Shadowed Summer, by Saundra Mitchell

When summer vacation begins, Iris expects the usual boring few months, hanging out at the grocery store with her best friend and telling ghost stories at the old cemetery. But, this summer, a real ghost begins to haunt her, the legendary Elijah Landry, whose mysterious death still plagues her small town. Iris must learn what really happened to him and why he chose her to haunt.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten books about borders

Marcus Sedgwick's books have won and been shortlisted for many awards; most notably, he has been shortlisted for Britain’s Carnegie Medal six times, has received two Printz Honors, for Revolver and Ghosts of Heaven, and in 2013 won the Printz Award for Midwinterblood.

His new YA novel is Saint Death.

One of Sedgwick's ten top books about borders, as shared at the Guardian:
Stamboul Train by Graham Greene

Greene’s self-confessed attempt to “write a book to please” uses the old writers’ trick of the world in microcosm as he outlines the fates of a group of passengers aboard the Orient Express. Borders aplenty are swiftly crossed, but this is an uneasy journey, full of tension and suspicion, and antisemitism is never far away. It’s here, too, that we see someone actually question the notion of borders, as Dr Czinner, teacher and revolutionary, cries out: “How old fashioned you are with your frontiers and your patriotism!” But this is Europe in the mid-1930s, and the world was about to see the ultimate dark face of such concepts.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ten of the best noir novels

Ken Bruen is one of the most prominent Irish crime writers of the last two decades. One of his ten favorite noir novels, as shared at Publishers Weekly:
Dark Passage by David Goodis

Of special interest is how Goodis in 1946 sold the rights of this classic to Hollywood before it was even published. The movie tends to deflect from the remaining power of the novel, which is as fresh and dark today as then. Dark Passage has the same essential noir nucleus that would underwrite the noir template, a man unjustly imprisoned for the murder of his wife. If noir can be encapsulated within the narrow definition of bad things happening to a man and continuing to spiral down, then protagonist Vincent Parry is the very personification of this.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six notable memoirs by defectors from closed societies

At the B&N Reads blog Kat Rosenfield tagged six incredible memoirs by defectors from closed societies, including:
Troublemaker, by Leah Remini

After being indoctrinated as a child into the church of Scientology, Remini made a highly public split with the organization after being declared a “Suppressive Person”—the Scientologist’s version of persona non grata, disavowed and disconnected from the church and everyone in it, including her own family. Remini’s memoir of her path to intellectual freedom contains plenty of juicy gossip about Scientology’s famous adherents (she was a guest at Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes in 2006), but it’s her funny, poignant journey from indoctrination to independence that makes this a truly gripping read.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ten of the best fantasy novels

P.C. Cast’s newest epic fantasy novel is Moon Chosen. One of her ten all-time favorite reads for fantasy fans, as shared at the BN Teen blog:
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

The fantastic fantasy filled my third-grade year with adventure and discovery. I’ll never forget how mesmerized I was as my teacher began reading this book to us during story time. I understood and identified with Meg Murry, and adored her little brother, Charles Wallace. As a girl who has always been very close to her father (and believed him superhuman—a lot like Meg does her father), I instantly fell for this book. It’s particularly outstanding because L’Engle masterfully moves the children through dangerous and difficult situations by allowing them to discover their own bravery and intelligence, and use their own strengths to come together against evil. This classic opens a universe of wonder to people of all ages. Yes, it can certainly be read as an allegory, but it’s also just a damn good story.
Read about the other entries on the list.

A Wrinkle in Time is among Melissa Albert's top ten grade-school classics you’ll never be too old to reread, Cressida Cowell's list of ten top mythical creatures, and Steve Cole's top ten space books for kids of all ages.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 17, 2016

Five good liars in literature

Nicholas Searle grew up in the southwest of England and studied languages at the University of Bath. He spent more years than he cares to remember in public service before deciding in 2011 to leave and begin writing fiction. He lives in the north of England.

Searle's debut novel is The Good Liar.

One of his five favorite deceivers in fiction, as shared at the Waterstone's blog:
Thomas Ripley (the five Ripley novels by Patricia Highsmith)
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Talented Mr Ripley is on Chris Ewan's list of the ten top chases in literature, Meave Gallagher's top twenty list of gripping page-turners every twentysomething woman should read, Sophia Bennett's top ten list of books set in the Mediterranean, Emma Straub's top ten list of holidays in fiction, E. Lockhart's list of favorite suspense novels, Sally O'Reilly's top ten list of novels inspired by Shakespeare, Walter Kirn's top six list of books on deception, Stephen May's top ten list of impostors in fiction, Simon Mason's top ten list of chilling fictional crimes, Melissa Albert's list of eight books to change a villain, Koren Zailckas's list of eleven of literature's more evil characters, Alex Berenson's five best list of books about Americans abroad John Mullan's list of ten of the best examples of rowing in literature, Tana French's top ten maverick mysteries list, the Guardian's list of the 50 best summer reads ever, the Telegraph's ultimate reading list, and Francesca Simon's top ten list of antiheroes.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Liar.

My Book, The Movie: The Good Liar.

Writers Read: Nicholas Searle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six top YA books for fans of John Hughes's movies

At the BN Teen blog Sona Charaipotra tagged six YA novels for fans of John Hughes's old school teen classic movies like Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club, including:
Paper Towns, by John Green

I know, I know! Too obvious. But you can’t deny that this “last few days of high school” romp, complete with Midwestern setting, everyguy protagonist, manic pixie dream girl love interest, heart-of-gold popular beauty hooking up with geektastic sidekick, and a road trip, doesn’t hit the John Hughes sweet spot. Bonus? It’s already a movie, too, so you can read then watch!
Read about the other entries on the list.

Paper Towns is among Eric Smith's five top YA reads in which poetry is part of the plot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jamie Lee Curtis's 6 favorite books

Jamie Lee Curtis is an actor and author. Her latest children's book is This Is Me. One of her six favorite books, as shared at The Week magazine:
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

I once attended a lecture series called "How the West Was Written" that included discussion of works by Willa Cather, Raymond Chandler, John Fante, and Stegner. Stegner's Pulitzer-winning 1971 novel is presented as the attempt of a wheelchair-bound historian to capture the lives of his settler grandparents. It's all here: the bravery and adventure of those who explored the West; the sacrifice and the love. Amazing!
Read about the other entries on the list.

Angle of Repose is among Monique Alice's seven top works of Western fiction, Paula Fredriksen's five best books on sin, and Andrea Wulf's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

China Miéville's 6 favorite books

China Miéville is the award-winning author of The City & the City, Perdido Street Station, and other books. One of his six favorite books, as shared at The Week magazine:
I Am Lazarus by Anna Kavan

Best known for her justly celebrated novel Ice, Kavan possessed an intense, hallucinatory voice and agonized regard that are even more powerful in these wartime short stories. To look at the world after reading I Am Lazarus is to look at it in a stranger, truer way.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Five YA books about artistic ambition

At the BN Teen Blog Dahlia Adler tagged five YA novels about artistic ambition, including:
Still Life With Tornado, by A.S. King

Being an artist has always been Sarah’s identity, so what does it mean when suddenly she can’t even draw the simplest still-life? Without her number one occupation, Sarah’s even more attuned to her surroundings, including her parents’ disastrous marriage, her former friends, and the gnawing absence left by her brother, who left home (and, effectively, their family) six years earlier. But there are new meanings to be found in life, she’s sure, and certainly ways to be more original, if only she can come up with them. If only she can find the right people. Following a homeless street artist seems to be a good start, but it’s the more unexpected people she meets—her past and future selves—that truly shed light on what she needs to face in order to move forward and get her mojo back.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 14, 2016

Five books with heroines who shoot first and ask questions later

Amy S. Foster is a celebrated songwriter, best known as Michael Bublé’s writing partner, and has collaborated with Beyoncé, Diana Krall, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, and a host of other artists. Her novels include When Autumn Leaves and the newly released The Rift Uprising.

One of her five favorite books with female protagonists who shoot first and ask questions later, as shared at
June Iparis (The Legend Series by Marie Lu)

Not only is June a genius—she scored the highest marks on her Trial, a test that designates where in society you end up. After her only brother and caretaker is murdered, June vows vengeance, desperate to track down the person responsible. She is cunning and logical, and ruthless in her pursuit of the person who took her brother from her. Just look at June’s mindset: “I will hunt you down. I will scour the streets of Los Angeles for you. Search every street in the Republic if I have to. I will trick you and deceive you, lie, cheat and steal to find you, tempt you out of your hiding place, and chase you until you have nowhere else to run. I make you this promise: your life is mine.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Five top extreme survival stories

Claire Fuller is a novelist and short fiction writer. For her first degree she studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specializing in wood and stone carving. She began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency. Fuller has a masters in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of Winchester.

Fuller's first novel is Our Endless Numbered Days.

One of the author's top five extreme survival stories, as shared at the WHSmith blog:
Alive, the story of the Andes survivors by Piers Paul Read. And, again it’s a true story from 1972, I remember it from when I was five. And a Uruguayan rugby team crash in the Andes on a flight and there were 45 people on the plane and I think about 16 survive. They have to go through awful things to survive and you just put yourself in that situation and it’s horrendous and you wonder whether you would actually be able to do it yourself.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Alive is among Ed Douglas's ten most courageous tales of survival.

The Page 69 Test: Our Endless Numbered Days.

Writers Read: Claire Fuller (March 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue

Five books about awesome women in space

Sam Maggs is the author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy and Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. One of her five favorite books about kick-ass women in space, as shared at
Lightless by C.A. Higgins

If you like your space fiction with some serious authenticity, look no further than Lightless, written by a woman with an IRL physics degree. Althea is the resident engineer and computer scientist on-board the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft on a secret mission. When the Ananke finds itself boarded by thieves, it is up to Althea to save her precious vessel. The book is written from a series of shifting perspectives, and has one of the most compelling female antagonists I’ve ever read. The sequel, Supernova, will leave you messed up in the best way.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Lightless.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Top ten books about intelligent animals

Biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal's latest book is Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?. One of his ten top books about intelligent animals, as shared at the Guardian:
Passions Within Reason by Robert Frank (1988)

Frank is an economist inspired by evolutionary theory. But instead of using that theory to make the case for unfettered competition, he has always emphasised the social side of our species; our commitments, our concern for fairness, our genuinely charitable impulses. He was writing about these issues long before the modern wave of behavioural economics and our current understanding that the default mode of human interaction is actually cooperative rather than competitive.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Learn about Frans de Waal's six favorite books.

Also see: Karen Joy Fowler's top ten books about intelligent animals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Seven awesome diverse YA thrillers

At the BN Teen Blog Dahlia Adler tagged seven top YA "thrillers that also happen to feature main characters who are disabled or of marginalized race and/or sexual orientation," including:
Fake ID, by Lamar Giles

Yes, at times the B&N Teen Blog may read a bit like a Lamar Giles fan site, but that’s only because we’re really big fans of Lamar Giles. In our defense, both of his thrillers (this one and Endangered) have been nominated for Edgar Awards (and he’s got another, Overturned, coming up; fingers crossed for a three-peat!), so it’s not like we’re alone. It all started here, with Nick Pearson (whose name isn’t really Nick Pearson), the unsolved murder of his friend Eli, and the conspiracy Eli was working to bring down. Fast-paced, twisty, and full of surprises, it’s the perfect place to jump aboard the Giles train.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Fake ID is among Sarah Skilton's top eight YA books with villainous parents.

My Book, The Movie: Fake ID by Lamar Giles.

The Page 69 Test: Fake ID.

--Marshal Zeringue

Bruce DeSilva's six favorite books about sports

Bruce DeSilva is the Edgar Award-winning author of five Liam Mulligan crime novels including The Dread Line, in which the New England Patriots, still reeling over murder charges against one of their players, hire Mulligan to investigate the background of a college star they are considering drafting.

Here is a list of DeSilva's six favorite books about sports:
Waiting for Teddy Williams by Howard Frank Mosher

Ethan Allen hails from mythical Kingdom Come, Vt., where the town common is a baseball diamond and those who don't play show up to watch. Here, every boy dreams of growing up to play for the Boston Red Sox, but most end up working lathes at the Green Mountain Rebel baseball bat factory, where the scores from Boston are faithfully posted on a wall that resembles Fenway Park's Green Monster.

Ethan, a lonely, fatherless child, has two dreams. One, of course, is to play for the Sox someday, and the other is to discover who his father is. He shares his dreams with a statue of his ancestor, Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen, and does not find it remarkable that the statue talks back.

Ethan looks forward to every spring, when a drifter with the legendary name Teddy Williams mysteriously appears out of the mist to teach him the finer points of the baseball.

In the boy’s 17th year, the creep who owns the Boston Red Sox sells off all the team's stars and plans to move the franchise to Hollywood after the end of a dreadful season. But the team's manager, The Legendary Spence, somehow has his collection of journeymen on the brink of winning the pennant.

All he needs to pull off a miracle is one more pitcher, for which the creep has approved the ridiculously small salary of $30,000. Enter Ethan, an unknown teenager with a fair fastball and a knee-buckling change-up.

The result is a funny, wise, lyrical novel about baseball, coming of age and dreaming out loud.

Mosher has often been compared to Mark Twain, but his humor is gentler, his vision of America sweeter. Waiting for Teddy Williams is a modern classic that should be read and reread for generations.

Levels of the Game by John McPhee

In 1968, the year that Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, college students raged against the war in Vietnam, and race riots set American cities ablaze, two great young tennis players, one black and one white, faced each other across the net at Forest Hills, NY.

Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner were friends—or at least friendly—but they had little in common, either as athletes or as men.

Ashe was lithe, his game based on speed and deception. Graebner was built like a wrestler, his game based on power. Ashe was black, a Virginia native descended from a slave who arrived on our shores in chains in 1735. Graebner was of German descent, a son of white privilege from Ohio. Ashe was liberal, Graebner conservative.

This little book, the yellowed Bantam paperback edition I bought in 1969 just 119 pages long, opens with Ash tossing a tennis ball into the air and smashing his serve over the net. The description of the tense match between he and Graebner is rendered in vivid detail—some of the finest sports writing you will find anywhere.

But as the match progresses, McPhee intersperses the action with insightful portraits of these two very different Americans engaged in a civilized form of combat in a culturally, politically, and racially divided America.

The book is a stunning achievement by one of the most accomplished non-fiction writers of the 20th century. McPhee’s meticulous reporting and brilliant prose could draw a reader into any subject. He proved it by writing an amazing book about—get this—oranges, and by making this baseball and football fanatic love a story about tennis.

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley

This book, characterized by its publisher as “a fictional memoir,” is a disturbing read for a rabid sports fan like me—a dark warning about the dead end of hero worship in a culture that values hyper-masculinity.

Exley describes growing up in Watertown, NY, the son of a sports-crazy father. Later, he enrolls at the University of Southern California, and it is there that he encounters Frank Gifford, the handsome, personable big man on campus who later becomes a star halfback for the New York Giants.

After college, as Exley sinks into swamp of unfulfilling jobs, a failed marriage, alcoholism, depression, and psychiatric treatment, he obsessively measures his failings against Gifford’s seeming perfection as an athlete, a husband, and a beloved national celebrity.

Astute reviewers have called Exley’s achievement as towering as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This is a sorrowful, deeply troubling book written in a brilliant idiosyncratic style. It should not be read without the solace of a bottle of whiskey close at hand.

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

“At a point in life when one is through with boyhood, but has not yet discovered how to be a man, it was my fortune to travel with the most marvelously appealing of teams. During the early 1950s, the Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers were outspoken, opinionated, bigoted, tolerant, black, white, open, passionate: in short, a fascinating mix of vigorous men. They were not, however, the most successful team in baseball.”

So begins what just may be the finest non-fiction book written about baseball, but it is much more than that. It is about boyhood dreams realized, about race in America, and about what life is like for great athletes as they age.

Kahn tells the story of the Dodgers’ struggles on and off the field, culminating in their unlikely 1955 World Series win over the powerful New York Yankees. And then he tracks the post-game lives of a dozen players – stars like Robinson and Duke Snider but also bit players like Andy Pafko and George Shuba, as they adjust, most of them successfully, to life after the cheering stops.

For those who love the summer game, it’s a must read.

The Natural, a novel by Bernard Malamud

Everyone has seen the movie starring Robert Redford. Few have read the book.

This is the story of Roy Hobbs, a 19-year-old pitching phenom whose dreams are shattered when a woman he falls in love with shoots him as he is on the way to join the Chicago Cubs.

Years later, he resurfaces as an aging rookie slugger with the cellar-dwelling New York Knights. But Hobbs’ prowess at the plate leads them to the World Series.

Everyone remembers how the movie ends: Hobbs stands at the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and one last chance to win the game. His childhood sweetheart and the child he never knew he had watch from the stands. Hobbs swings. The ball sails over the fence and crashes into the lights. Broken glass rains on the field, the music almost operatic, as the hero strides around the bases.

But guess what. In the novel, Hobbs strikes out.

This beautifully-written novel is an astute examination of the mind of an athlete, the place of baseball in our national consciousness, and a much sadder and darker tale than the movie would lead you to believe.

The Fight by Norman Mailer

This is the story of “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the titanic struggle between an aging Muhammad Ali and the seemingly indestructible champion of the world, George Foreman.

Mailer takes us to Ali’s training camp in rural Pennsylvania, introduces us to his hangers-on, transports us to the exotic African site of the bout, shows Foreman wowing sportswriters as he pounds the heavy bag, describes Don King and the financial side of the event, touches on the politics of Zaire President Mobuto’s dictatorship, and lingers on the hero worship of an oppressed people who see Ali as a savior.

But the finest part of the book is the description of the fight itself as Foreman’s ferocity and power gradually succumb to Ali’s view of boxing as not just a physical contest but a chess match. Mailer brings both his powers as a writer and his personal experience in the ring to his vivid, meticulous, round-by-round portrait.

When Ali knocked out an exhausted Foreman in the 8th round, a few disbelieving sports writers howled that the fix was in.

A few years before Mailer’s death, I sat with him over drinks at a Boston writers’ conference.

“Do you remember what you wrote about the claim that the fight was fixed?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Do you?’

“I do,” I said. “You wrote, ‘Sure, and so was Night Watch and The Portrait the Artist As A Young Man.’”
Visit Bruce DeSilva's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Bruce DeSilva & Brady and Rondo.

My Book, The Movie: The Dread Line.

The Page 69 Test: The Dread Line.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 10, 2016

Juan Gabriel Vásquez's 6 favorite books

Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez is the author of The Informers, The Sound of Things Falling, and the newly released new novel, Reputations. One of his six favorite books, as shared at The Week magazine:
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Woolf gives us a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society Londoner, as she prepares to host a party and looks back on choices she made many years earlier. Mrs. Dalloway is among the great novels whose subject is the past, or that interpretation of the past that we call memory, and it stood by me while I was writing Reputations and describing characters trying desperately to remember important things.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Mrs. Dalloway also appears on Becky Ferreira's list of seven of the best fictional depictions of female friendship, Rebecca Jane Stokes's list of seven favorite fictional shopaholics, Suzette Field's top 10 list of literary party hosts, Jennie Rooney's top ten list of women travelers in fiction, John Mullan's list of ten of the best prime ministers in fiction, and among Michael Cunningham's 5 most important books, Dani Shapiro's 10 favorite books, and Kate Walbert's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Top ten books on illness

Gavin Francis is a physician and a writer. His books include Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum.

One of Francis's top ten books on sickness, as shared at the Guardian:
Eula Biss On Immunity: An Inoculation (2014)

As a study of vaccination, interleaving personal memoir with literature, mythology, folklore and hard science, On Immunity belongs on the shelf alongside Siddhartha Mukherjee’s treatment of cancer in The Emperor of All Maladies. As a new mother, Biss felt suffocated by anxieties over whether to vaccinate her son, and, instead of giving in to them, embarked on a poetic exploration of inoculation. Reviewing it in these pages, I called it “lyrical and impassioned, lucid and enlightening”; Biss has a tremendous feel for the subtleties of language: “I hung up the phone and fell asleep with my face on a pile of articles about herd immunity. I woke to find that a fragment of print had been transferred to my cheek. It spelled ‘munity’, from the Latin munis for service or duty. ‘Munity is what you are really writing about’, a colleague would say to me months later.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The ten best P.I. novel series of all time

Alex Segura is the author of the Miami crime novels featuring Pete Fernandez,. One entry on his list of the top ten P.I. novel series of all time, as shared at The Strand Magazine:
Moe Prager by Reed Farrel Coleman

Poetic, brutal, and hard-boiled with a heart, the Moe Prager series is a master’s class in P.I. fiction, with a unique and memorable star in Moe, the ex-cop-turned-private eye. Unlike many of his P.I. ancestors, Moe isn’t a loner, alcoholic former homicide detective. He’s a family man with a thriving business who happens to have a knack for solving crimes. But Moe also harbors a dark secret, and that informs every installment of this stellar series. Far from static, the series evolves and changes with its hero, which keeps readers on their toes from start to finish.

Must-read: The James Deans and Soul Patch
Read about the other entries on the list.

My Book, the Movie: The Moe Prager Mystery Series.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

The Page 69 Test: Hurt Machine.

The Page 69 Test: Onion Street.

The Page 69 Test: The Hollow Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 7, 2016

Ten gothic gems of historical fiction

Adrian Van Young's first book of fiction, The Man Who Noticed Everything, won Black Lawrence Press' 2011 St. Lawrence Book Award. His gothic historical novel Shadows in Summerland was published earlier this year. One title on the author's top ten list of gothic gems of historical fiction, as shared at Electric Literature:
Jack Maggs by Peter Carey (1997)

Australian novelist Peter Carey’s shadowy appropriation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is equal parts meta-fictional puzzle box, sinister murder mystery, and a gaslight panorama of Victorian London. The central character, Jack Maggs, is a literary double for Dicken’s Magwitch. The monstrously self-absorbed, second-rate writer he befriends in the course of the novel, Tobias Oates, is a lackluster double for Dickens himself. Jack Maggs, a fugitive of New South Wales missing two fingers from his left hand, sets things in motion when he comes to London to see to the fortunes of his erstwhile charge, Henry Phipps (see: Pip) whom he raised from a boy. Oates, a lay metaphysician, imprisons Maggs inside a mesmeric rapport in exchange for good info to help him find Phipps, seeking to decipher in the process the “[cartography]” of the “Criminal Mind.” If this sounds cheeky, never fear. Carey subverts the posturing of Victorian melodrama and channels it steeply toward moody despair. Caryn James, writing for the New York Times, wrote: “In Jack Maggs, the bright 19th-century surface masks a world-weary 20th-century heart.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue