Thursday, December 31, 2020

Ten of the most dislikable characters in fiction

Louise Candlish was born in Hexham, Northumberland, and grew up in the Midlands town of Northampton. She studied English at University College London and worked as an illustrated books editor and copywriter before writing fiction. Her novels include the thriller Our House, winner of the British Book Awards 2019 Crime & Thriller Book of the Year, and a new book, The Other Passenger.

At the Guardian she tagged ten of the hardest characters in literature to love, including:
Sherman McCoy in The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

I’m veering into love-to-hate territory here on account of remembering the 80s firsthand, but I’m confident younger readers will loathe Sherman McCoy unreservedly. He’s a bond trader who lives on Park Avenue, a self-styled Master of the Universe who is “proud of his chin” and has, by his own admission, “no conscience”. Following an unfortunate automobile incident in the Bronx involving his mistress Maria, Sherman finds himself on the highway to Comeuppance – and no one describes that particular journey quite so rhapsodically as Wolfe.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Bonfire of the Vanities is among Joris Luyendijk's top ten books about bankers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Five books to challenge your thinking on work, food, beauty & sex

Reni Eddo-Lodge is the London based, award winning author of the Jhalak Prize winning, bestselling Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

At the Guardian, she tagged five "books to challenge your thinking on work, food, beauty and sex," including:
In the media bunfight about the legitimacy of trans people’s lives, Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness is a must read. It drags the conversation out of the gutter, instilling empathy but also forcing those of us who support trans rights to reconsider exactly how we are doing so.

For a long time, my support stopped at “trans women are women”. It seemed that anything was better than the vitriol heaped on them by the press. But reading Mock’s first memoir helped me understand that I was practising a kind of gender colour-blindness. I’ve never had to fight for my gender to be recognised, neither have I faced harassment for trying to do so. And while both cis and trans women are subject to vicious sexual violence because of our gender, I realised that there is a luxuriating ease in which I can opt in or out of the world’s more obvious gender markers (make-up, heels) without my gender being wholly doubted – or my participation being taken as confirmation that I am an upholder of the patriarchy because I like lipstick.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Six titles featuring memorable family gatherings

At Lit Hub Walker Caplan, a performer, writer, and comedian from Seattle, tagged six "books featuring memorable family gatherings both good and bad." including:
Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth (Vintage)

Family life and the tangle of love and obligation are at the center of this short story collection which Kirkus called “some of [Lahiri’s] most compelling fiction.” In the title story, a father visits his daughter’s new home in Seattle; in “Hell-Heaven,” a graduate student attends a Thanksgiving party of the family who first welcomed him to the United States; “Only Goodness” follows a shifting sibling relationship. As Simon Han has pointed out, in the three final linked stories where two childhood acquaintances write to each other over a period of years, the passing Christmases orient them in space and time and force them to take stock of the changes in their lives. When better than the holidays to think about what you have and what you’ve lost?
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2020

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Nine great books with lonely protagonists

At Hillary Kelly tagged nine of the best books with lonely protagonists, including:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Not many novels can claim that large swaths of their plots take place in a well, except Murakami, who sends his protagonists tunneling under the earth at the slightest sign of reflection. In this massive, seminal work — too lengthy and tentacled to explain in all its heavily plotted glory — Toru Okada goes searching for his cat and his wife, both missing, and finds himself encountering mysterious strangers, almost all of whom besiege him as he struggles to move on without knowing where his spouse may be. But the most moving bits are his time alone, gazing in the mirror at a strange blue mark that has bloomed on his cheek, wondering which parts of his lonely existence are dream, and which are real.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is among Amy Bonnaffons's eight novels of unlikely love, KT Tunstall's six best books, Matthew Carl Strecher's ten best Haruki Murakami books and Colette McIntyre's eight books every college-bound student should read.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Five books that uncovered our secret history

David Olusoga is a British historian, writer, broadcaster, presenter and film-maker. He is Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester.

At the Guardian, Olusoga tagged five books that uncovered our hidden history, including:
Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost shows how the world came to know about the private African colony that Leopold II of Belgium turned into a genocidal slave state in the last years of the 19th century. Hochschild, one of the finest writers of history, tells his story through intertwining biographies. While never shying away from the horrors taking place in Congo, he lays out the detective work of how the truth was pieced together and exposed.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 25, 2020

Twelve top Christmas YA books

At Book Riot Katisha Smith tagged 12 Christmas YA books that give Hallmark movie vibes, including:

A Christmas cruise with her two cousins is not Holly’s idea of a good time. The trip doesn’t get better when she gets seasick and then pepper-sprayed by a cute guy named Nick who is actually Dominic Wyatt, a drummer from one of the hottest boy bands. Soon, Holly’s face is plastered all over the internet, and rumors are flying. The band can’t risk destroying their family-friendly image, so Dominic convinces Holly to be his fake girlfriend for the next two weeks.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

The 35 best Christmas books

At O Magazine DeAnna Janes tagged the 35 best Christmas books to snuggle up with, including:
Christmas in London

Calling all Great British Baking fans, Anita Hughes has a wintry holiday story that combines all your favorite things: London, cinnamon rolls, and reality TV. When Manhattan baker Louisa learns her gooey treats are a hit with a local production company, she’s recruited to join the team for their annual Christmas Eve dinner special filmed across the pond at the posh Claridge’s hotel. What could be more hallmark than that?
Read about the other entries on the list.

Christmas in London is among Rachel Paxton's six favorite holiday romances.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Ten top Christmas crime stories

Peter Swanson's novels include The Kind Worth Killing, winner of the New England Society Book Award, and finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger; Her Every Fear, an NPR book of the year; Before She Knew Him, and Eight Perfect Murders. His books have been translated into over 30 languages, and his stories, poetry, and features have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, The Guardian, The Strand Magazine, and Yankee Magazine.

A graduate of Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College, he lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife and cat.

At the Guardian, Swanson tagged ten of his favorite Christmas crime stories. One title on the list:
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by PD James (2016)

James was often commissioned to write short stories for Christmastime. This slender collection contains four of them, including the title story – not only the best Christmas crime short story I’ve read, but one of my favourite short crime stories ever. An ageing crime writer looks back on the one time she was involved in an actual murder – a wartime holiday visit to her estranged grandmother. The story is both lovely and macabre, like the season it inhabits.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Books to make you an optimist

Steven Pinker is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time and The Atlantic, and is the author of ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Sense of Style, and most recently, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

At the Guardian, Pinker tagged a number of books to make you an optimist, including:
The ... remarkable decline of armed conflict is recounted in Joshua Goldstein’s Winning the War on War and several irreverent books by John Mueller, including The Remnants of War and the sarcastically titled collection A Dangerous World? The most surprising may be The Internationalists, in which Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro argue that the oft-ridiculed 1928 pact outlawing war deserves much of the credit.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Eight top novels about female superheroes

Sam Maggs is a bestselling author of books, comics, and video games. She’s been a senior games writer, including work on Marvel’s Spider-Man; the author of many YA and middle-grade books like The Unstoppable Wasp, Con Quest!, Tell No Tales, and The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy; and a comics writer for beloved titles like Marvel Action: Captain Marvel, My Little Pony, and Transformers. She is also an on-air host for networks like Nerdist. A Canadian in Los Angeles, she misses Coffee Crisp and bagged milk.

At, Maggs tagged eight favorite novels about female superheroes, including:
Dreadnought by April Daniels

I absolutely could not put this book down once I’d started reading it; Dreadnought is just that fast-paced and fun. It follows Danny, a trans girl who’s just accidentally inherited the powers of the superhero Dreadnought (he died in front of her; it was a whole thing.) Though Danny loves her new powers, she’s faced with all kinds of challenges: less-than-supportive parents; a best friend who suddenly wants to make out with her; other superheroes who can’t decide where and if she belongs or not. And that’s all topped by the fact that Dreadnought’s murderer, a super-evil cyborg called Utopia, is still out there. And, this time, Utopia wants to end more than just Dreadnought. (Hint: this time, it’s the whole world.)
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 21, 2020

Five novels that make effective use of place and locale

Russ Thomas's debut novel is Firewatching. He grew up in the 80s reading anything he could get his hands on, writing stories, watching television, and playing videogames: in short, anything that avoided the Great Outdoors. After a few ‘proper’ jobs, he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Now a full-time writer, he also teaches creative writing classes and mentors new authors.

At the Waterstones blog, Thomas tagged "five great novels that make brilliantly effective use of place and locale," including:
[T]he setting for Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a quiet rural town in Mississippi but is no less unsettling. Silas Jones is the town’s lone law enforcement officer whose boyhood best friend, Larry Ott, was once accused of murder. Though no one could prove Larry was guilty, he has been ostracised by the town ever since. Now Larry has been attacked and another girl is missing. As Silas investigates, he’s forced to confront the unspoken secret hanging over the two men – one black, one white – whose lives have been deeply scarred by the menacing Southern landscape they inhabit.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Five space-based murder mysteries

At James Davis Nicoll tagged five favorite space-based murder mysteries, including:
“The Barbie Murders” by John Varley (1978)

From one point of view, the Moon is a wonderland, with a thriving civilization commanding impressively advanced technology. From another point of view, it’s a hellscape populated by stressed-out people coping with future shock in a number of maladaptive ways. Thus, Moon cop Anna-Louise Bach is assured full employment dealing with tomorrow’s crimes.

Bach has had to deal with nuclear terrorism in the past. Compared to that, simple homicide is a welcome relief. Or it would be, if the victim and killer did not come from an insular cult whose members are identical. As bodies accumulate, Bach struggles to distinguish between murdered and murderer in a community to whom the concept of individual identity is anathema.

[Note for younger readers: no, we didn’t have DNA-testing back in the 1970s when this was written, and apparently neither did Bach’s future.]
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 19, 2020

J. Kingston Pierce's favorite crime fiction of 2020

J. Kingston Pierce is the editor of both The Rap Sheet and Killer Covers, the senior editor of January Magazine, a contributing editor of CrimeReads, and a columnist with Down & Out: The Magazine. At The Rap Sheet he tagged his favorite crime fiction of 2020. One title on the list:
Moonflower Murders, by Anthony Horowitz (Harper):

If you thought Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (2017) was circuitously plotted, wait till you see the puzzles presented in this closely connected sequel. We return here to the company of Susan Ryeland, the London book editor who solved the murder of one of her authors, Alan Conway, in the previous mystery. Now living in Crete, where she runs an ill-starred inn with her boyfriend, Ryeland is hungry for a change. So when the elderly owners of Branlow Hall, an upscale hotel in Suffolk, ask her to return to England and—for £10,000—help find their missing daughter, Cecily, she can hardly pack fast enough. Cecily vanished shortly after telling her parents that one of Conway’s whodunits, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, contains a clue proving the innocence of the Romanian maintenance man convicted of bludgeoning a Branlow guest, Frank Parris, eight years earlier, on the day of Cecily’s wedding. Conway had, in fact, visited Branlow after Parris’ murder, and found there the inspiration for Atticus Pünd Takes the Case. Although Ryeland’s on-site probing leads nowhere, her familiarity with Conway’s fondness for anagrams and for hiding revealing messages in his text will prove crucial as she compares Conway’s fiction with the circumstances surrounding Parris’ demise, struggling to discover the evidence only Cecily saw. Horowitz’s flawed but congenial protagonist, his use of the story-within-a-story trope, and his fair-play blend of red herrings and tip-offs rank this story among Horowitz’s most winning works.
Read about the other entries on the list at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2020

Fifteen top zombie books

Kara Brand is a recent graduate of Lafayette College, where she studied Government and Law and worked for her college’s Writing Program and its Office of Sustainability. At The Lineup she tagged fifteen zombie books to satisfy your hunger for horror, including:
Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory, the award-winning author of Pandemonium and The Devil’s Alphabet, delivers a zombie novel that is both sincere and frightening.

In 1968, in the wake of a zombie outbreak and in the midst of an Iowa snowstorm, Wanda Mayhall finds a baby bundled in a dead mother’s arms. Though the baby doesn’t breathe or have a pulse, he looks up toward Wanda. With the help of her three daughters, Wanda hides the little monster from the authorities. Named Stony, the creature lives a solitary, sheltered existence. Then one horrible night, he's forced into the outside world, and discovers that he's not alone.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ten top house parties in fiction

David Leavitt's fiction has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Prize, the National Book Critics' Circle Award and the LA Times Fiction Prize, and shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's and Vogue, among other publications. He lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he is Professor of English at the University of Florida and edits the literary magazine Subtropics.

Leavitt's latest novel is Shelter in Place.

At the Guardian he tagged ten great house parties in fiction, including:
Her First American by Lore Segal (1985)

In this, my favourite novel by one of the US’s most enduring and underappreciated writers (still publishing at the age of 92!), Ilka Weissnix – a young Jewish refugee recently arrived in New York from Vienna – stumbles into a love affair with Carter Bayoux, a sixtysomething black intellectual, and, through him, is introduced into a world utterly unlike anything she has known before. Set mostly in New York, Her First American includes a long middle section in which the members of Carter’s circle gather at a summer house in Connecticut – a transatlantic equivalent of the British house party.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Stephen Miller's favorite crime fiction of 2020

Stephen Miller was a regular contributor to Mystery News, writing the “In the Beginning” column about new crime-fiction writers for several years. At The Rap Sheet he tagged his favorite crime fiction of 2020. One title on the list:
Winter Counts, by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco):

Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He’s the court of final appeal, the reservation distributor of retribution in a world of selectively enforced laws. When crimes against Native Americans are too small to interest the feds, and home-cooked justice turns a blind eye, Virgil is the one people call, to track down the bad guys and deliver some personalized punishment. Such is the premise of Winter Counts, the propulsive debut crime novel by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. When a tribal official approaches Virgil to investigate and rid the rez of a growing heroin problem, the appeal lies primarily in settling a long-overdue score with one of Virgil’s childhood antagonists, a courier within a mini-cartel out of Denver. But then, Virgil’s 14-year-old nephew, Nathan, accidentally overdoses on his first sample of smack and is arrested after too many opioids are found in his school locker. That’s all it takes for this mission to become far more personal. Virgil juggles his responsibilities to his community, his nephew, and his own sense of justice while navigating criminal lawyers, the tribal elders, and the feds who are incapable of executing on the sting that they have only haphazardly planned.

The hook of this novel is that it takes place largely on tribal land with an almost exclusive Native American cast of characters. That’s a good start, but what keeps the pages turning is the slow crescendo of action, with Virgil trying not to become overwhelmed in hopelessness as matters seem beyond anyone’s control. Despite his profession as hired muscle, Virgil is emblematic of his people and their desire to be allowed to peacefully go about their lives. It’s a conflict that makes for a gripping read.
Read about the other entries on the list at The Rap Sheet.

Winter Counts is among Molly Odintz's six favorite titles from the "new wave of thrillers where the oppressed get some well-earned revenge" and Jennifer Baker's top twelve mystery novels featuring BIPOC protagonists.

The Page 69 Test: Winter Counts.

My Book, The Movie: Winter Counts.

Q&A with David Heska Wanbli Weiden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Seven titles that prove you’re not the only weirdo

Kelly Conaboy is a writer living in Brooklyn. She was most recently a writer-at-large at New York Magazine’s The Cut. Before that she was a writer at the Hairpin, and before that Gawker, and before that Videogum. (None of those websites still exist.)

Conaboy also has a dog named Peter. They’ve written a book together. It’s called The Particulars of Peter: Dance Lessons, DNA Tests, and Other Excuses to Hang Out with My Perfect Dog.

At Electric Lit Conaboy tagged seven books that made her feel she was "not alone in an odd or seemingly “dumb” question, or a peculiar way of thinking." One title on the list:
Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not by Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert

This book did nothing less than change my entire life. Reading it felt like someone was seeing into my mind and assuring me that the exact things that I felt were funny, the exact way of phrasing, the exact level of silliness, could exist in reality as a work of fiction to be enjoyed by all of the like-minded, of which presumably there were some. Every sentence of this book is hilarious, in a genuine, laugh-out-loud, read-it-aloud-to-whomever-is-near-you, sort of way. No space is wasted. It is a miracle, particularly for those of us who think so.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2020

Twelve dark & extraordinary pandemic books

Michael J. Seidlinger is a Filipino American author of My Pet Serial Killer, Dreams of Being, The Fun We’ve Had, and nine other books.

At The Lineup he tagged twelve underrated dark and extraordinary pandemic books, including:
Killing Williamsburg by Bradley Spinelli

Spinelli’s debut novel sends us back to 1999 for one of the scariest possible pandemics of all: a mysterious disease that causes the infected to commit suicide. Simultaneously acting as a masterful piece of Brooklyn history, the novel depicts the frenetic nature of hysteria in the extremely close quarters of a city like New York. Benson, our protagonist, witnesses each and every friend and acquaintance from his active nightlife catch the “Bug,” and decides to form a sort of DIY crew to take matters of containment and cleanup into his own hands.

Killing Williamsburg manages to take the apocalyptic and the party narrative and blend them into one with truly alarming results. The fact that a good chunk of New York City’s population was frequenting bars and restaurants up until the final hours before the citywide “shelter in place” only makes this novel more relatable.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Six dark stories with hopeful endings

Les Edgerton is the author of more than twenty books including the newly released Hard Times, as well as numerous short stories and screenplays.

At CrimeReads he tagged six favorite dark stories with hopeful endings, including:
Joe Lansdale’s brilliant novel, Paradise Sky, is, in my opinion, the best of all his novels and that’s saying something. It fits the bill for my list here for a more traditional reason than some of the others. It’s a dark, dark novel in terms of what happens to the protagonist, Nat Love, a Black man who’s plagued like a modern-day Job with one downfall after another being sent his way by an uncaring or maybe just an indifferent God. Just >about every trial he suffers being directly or indirectly at the hand of his childhood nemesis, Mr. Ruggert, who sets out to kill him after murdering Nat’s father.

After first running from Ruggert as a boy, Nat keeps growing and develops fighting skills and eventually he becomes the pursuer. Actually, each man pursues the other across the vast West, each fueled with a white-hot hatred for the other. Just before their final showdown, the father of the girl he’s fallen in love with, finally gets through to Nat, convincing him that the vengeance he’s being fueled by will be the thing that destroys him, even if he were to kill the other man. In the end, he finds his enemy and has the opportunity to kill him (win), but he passes it up and takes him back to town to face the hangman and justice (loss). It’s dark until the very end and no reader would have blamed him for killing the evil Ruggert, but hope for him as a man illuminates his final choice when he chooses justice over revenge.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Five tense books that blend sci-fi and horror

A.K. Larkwood studied English at St John’s College, Cambridge, and now lives in Oxford with her wife and a cat. The Unspoken Name is her debut novel.

At, Larkwood tagged five "books are all scary in their own way, but what they also have in common is absolutely blistering pacing, combined with a creeping tension that cranks higher and higher as you turn the pages." One title on the list:
The Changeling by Victor LaValle

I actually don’t want to tell you too much about this one. It’s better to go in with no idea of what’s going to happen, because the way the mystery unfolds—constantly opening up a grander and more terrifying world—is just a delight. But to give you an idea: it’s about a book dealer and a librarian who have a baby son. She commits an incomprehensible crime and disappears. He goes looking for her and finds that the shape of his world is far larger and stranger than he thought. The horror here is multilayered, running the whole range from intimate and psychological to outright, phantasmagorically monstrous.

Bonus points: it’s also very funny.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Changeling is among Leah Schnelbach's ten sci-fi and fantasy must-reads from the 2010s, T. Marie Vandelly's top ten suspenseful horror novels featuring domestic terrors and C.J. Tudor's six thrillers featuring missing, mistaken, or "changed" children.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 11, 2020

Six of the best vigilante thrillers

Molly Odintz is the Senior Editor for CrimeReads. She grew up in Austin and worked as a bookseller at BookPeople for years before her recent move up to New York City for a life in crime. She likes cats, crime novels, and coffee.

At CrimeReads, Odintz tagged six favorite titles from the "new wave of thrillers where the oppressed get some well-earned revenge." One title on the list:
Layne Fargo, They Never Learn

The author thinks this one is more of a serial killer novel than a vigilante thriller, but luckily, as readers, we can place any interpretation on a text we want (hence the enduring popularity of Freudian literary criticism). I was actually inspired to write this post because of Fargo’s novel, which I adored to the max. In Layne Fargo’s sophomore crime thriller, a professor at a university eliminates one male predator from the campus per year. She’s careful to frame each act as a suicide or accident, but eventually, the number of popular male students killing themselves begins to alarm the administration, and the professor must think quickly—and dispatch of some urgent matters—before anyone can cotton on.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Ten top books about mermaids

Monique Roffey is a London-based novelist who teaches creative writing in the UK, Trinidad, Cuba and Greece. Her novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster UK) was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2010.

Roffey's latest novel, The Mermaid of Black Conch, is nominated for the Costa novel of the year award.

At the Guardian she tagged ten mermaid books she's admired and been inspired by, including:
The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N McIntyre

In 1997 this sci-fi novel beat A Game of Thrones to a Nebula award. It has since been made into a film (as The King’s Daughter). Set in 17th-century France, in the court of the Sun King, a “sea monster” is caught who turns out to be a woman, and is also an intelligent and sentient being. Yet again, we see the feminism in the mermaid story, as men gang up to keep her, or eat her, and women try to free her. Eventually, she is freed and shows her human friends where a vast hoard of sunken treasure is hidden. Think mermaid story mates with Ursula K Le Guin. Kind of brilliant.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Eight novels featuring co-conspirators

Kia Abdullah is an author from London. Her novel Take It Back was named one of the best thrillers of the year by The Guardian and The Telegraph.

At CrimeReads she tagged eight novels featuring group misdeeds, including:
Doors Open, Ian Rankin

What does an internet millionaire do with too much time on his hands? In Doors Open, retired software mogul Mike McKenzie decides to “liberate”’ some of the art held in storage by the National Gallery in Scotland. Mike and his co-conspirators, a banker and an art professor, believe that art should be on show and not stored away in a hidden crypt to gather dust and value. They plan to use “Doors Open”—a scheme which offers public access to Scotland’s built heritage for one day a year—to pull off the heist. They enlist the help of a local crime boss and the slick theft soon gives rise to ego, greed and violence. Doors Open is lighter than Rankin’s other fare but is never less than thrilling.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Doors Open is among Carol Orange's seven great art heist novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Eight titles where things don't go that well

Simon Han was born in Tianjin, China, and raised in various cities in Texas. His stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The Texas Observer, Guernica, The Iowa Review, Electric Literature, and LitHub. The recipient of several fiction awards and arts fellowships, he lives in Carrollton, Texas.

Han's new novel is Nights When Nothing Happened.

At Lit Hub he tagged eight books where things don't go that well, that "give space for more fraught experiences of the season." One title on the list:
Ling Ma, Severance

A millennial novel, a New York City novel, an immigrant novel, a zombie novel, a pandemic novel… and a holiday novel? I would make the case that this is another hat that Severance gets to wear, even if the characters rarely mention the season. When a band of “Shen Fever” survivors, led by a murderous I.T. guy named Bob, hole up over the holidays in the suburban shopping mall of his childhood, they gather around pancakes, fried Spam, and Anthropologie place mats, pray to some version of a god, and celebrate the one-month anniversary of their self-imposed lockdown instead. Candace Chen, the novel’s protagonist and a perpetual wanderer, may be especially immune to the nostalgia that appears to trigger the virus, because unlike the other zombies, she doesn’t carry around Saturday-Evening-Post-esque memories of holiday homecomings and family gatherings—her lack the key to her survival.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 7, 2020

Nine great books set in very cold places

At Book Riot Laura Sackton tagged nine of her favorite wintery reads, including:

There are plenty of cold places on earth, but there’s also a whole universe out there, and sci-fi and fantasy writers have been imagining frigid planets for years. This unique sci-fi story is set on a tide-locked planet; one side is blazing hot, the other a dark and frozen wilderness. The story follows Sophie, a young woman exiled into the darkness after a failed attempt at revolution, and Mouth, the only survivor of a group of mysteries nomads. Their paths intersect as they both navigate the challenges of life on a strange, and often brutal, planet.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Six mysteries that prove you can’t go home again

Tessa Wegert is the author of Death in the Family and The Dead Season, part of the Shana Merchant series of mysteries.

At CrimeReads, Wegert tagged six "crime fiction novels that rely on home as a major theme," including:
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

The 10th book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series of mysteries finds Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and villagers Clara Morrow and Myrna travelling away from their home in an effort to recover Clara’s “sin-sick” artist husband and return him safely to Three Pines. Eclipsed by his wife’s fame, which has driven a wedge between the couple, Peter Morrow flees to the wilds of Northern Quebec, but both Gamache and Clara fear his efforts to self-exile may have deadly results.

This is a book that dissects the notion of what “home” means to different people. For Peter Morrow, home isn’t just Three Pines. Rather, it’s his wife, whom he wishes to return to, and who wants nothing more than to right their life together.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Eight fictional housewives who have snapped (in a fun way)

Katie Yee is a Brooklyn-based writer and the Book Marks associate editor at Lit Hub. If you follow @bookmarksreads on Instagram, you'll see lots of photos of her rescue dog, Oliver.

At Lit Hub she tagged eight novels featuring women who have had enough. One title on the list:
The Ohio housewife of Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport

Ducks, Newburyport—the dark horse shortlisted for last year’s Booker Prize—is almost one thousand (1,000!) pages full of one woman’s stream of consciousness. I mean, it’s every fleeting thought that crosses her mind in an unstoppable torrent that’s basically one long, winding sentence. We see her concerns about the state of the country, her ongoing pangs of grief about her parents, her love for her husband, her to-do list for preparing dinner, her fears regarding her children. It’s a small joy to swing from thought to thought with her, to try to understand the leaps she makes. What’s more alarming: watching her police her own thoughts. It’s a fascinating social critique, the way she skitters away from certain subjects, even in her own mind. Does this sound confusing? Rest assured: Lucy Ellmann has a steady hand, masterfully guiding you through the rabbit hole without you even noticing. The genius here is in her ability to make us recall something from pages and pages ago; her phrasing is so precise that when she briefly references something, the reader knows immediately what she’s talking about. It makes you feel like you really are swimming in her subconscious, and really, what’s more maddening than being surrounded by someone’s inner-most thoughts that way?
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 4, 2020

Five titles about the horror of winter

Evie Green is a pseudonym for a British author who has written professionally for her entire adult life. She lives by the sea in England with her husband, children, and guinea pigs, and loves writing in the very early morning, fueled by coffee.

Her new novel is We Hear Voices.

At, Green tagged five favorite horror books set in snow, including:
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

I don’t think snowy horror gets better than Michelle Paver’s masterful fictional account of a 1937 winter in Svalbard, deep in the Arctic. This book is written in the form of diary entries from Jack, who is at a low point in London when he is invited to join an expedition to Svalbard as radio operator. He joins in spite of his misgivings, and they set off north, eventually ignoring local advice and setting up camp at remote Gruhuken on the island of Spitsbergen. As the polar winter descends and four months of absolute darkness set in, various events compel Jack’s companions to abandon the mission, leaving him entirely alone . . . or is he? The real terror of being alone in the dark, cut off by snow and ice, and with a hostile presence lurking, left me breathless. This book is terrifying. I went to Svalbard on my honeymoon last year partly because of it.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five of the best open-ended novels

Caz Frear grew up in Coventry, England, and spent her teenage years dreaming of moving to London and writing a novel. After fulfilling her first dream, it wasn’t until she moved back to Coventry thirteen years later that the second finally came true. She has a degree in History & Politics, and when she’s not agonizing over snappy dialogue or incisive prose, she can be found shouting at Arsenal football matches or holding court in the pub on topics she knows nothing about. She is the author of three Cat Kinsella novels: Sweet Little Lies, Stone Cold Heart, and Shed No Tears.

[The Page 69 Test: Sweet Little Lies; The Page 69 Test: Stone Cold Heart.]

At CrimeReads, Frear tagged five of her favorite novels with ambiguous endings, including:
Black and Blue, Ian Rankin

Black and Blue, the eighth in Rankin’s Rebus series, is often considered his breakout novel. It is arguably his most ambitious too. This is a long and brilliantly complex read, with four separate plots spanning the length and breadth of Scotland—the main focus being the investigation into a copycat killer, Johnny Bible, which puts Rebus on the tail of the original Bible John (a real serial killer who terrorized Glasgow in the 1960s).

As Black and Blue forms part of a series, the open ending is probably a little less controversial. After all, police procedural fans expect—and love—to follow long-running threads and character arcs. However, the ending here isn’t just a cliff-hanger, designed to bring readers back for the next installment. It feels more meaningful than this. It’s a reminder that life isn’t always fair. Justice isn’t always served. And that stories don’t always need to be tied up with a nice neat bow.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Black and Blue is among Joseph Knox's four top novels for crime lovers. Euan Ferguson called it Rankin's finest book and put John Rebus on his list of the ten best fictional sleuths; it is one of the ten most popular Scottish novels of the last 50 years.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Ten top Shakespearean books

Robert McCrum was born and educated in Cambridge. For nearly 20 years he was editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber, and then literary editor of the Observer from 1996 to 2008. He is now an associate editor of the Observer. He is the author of Every Third Thought, My Year Off, Wodehouse: A Life (2004), six novels, and the co-author of the international bestseller, The Story of English (1986). His new book is Shakespearean: On Life & Language in Times of Disruption.

At the Guardian, McCrum tagged his top ten Shakespearean books, including:
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Many US novelists have been bitten by the Shakespeare bug: Toni Morrison (Desdemona), John Updike (Gertrude and Claudius) and Arthur Phillips (The Tragedy of Arthur) from contemporary fiction. More popular, perhaps, is Smiley’s modernisation of King Lear, in which Shakespeare’s plot and characters are relocated to the midwest. Smiley says that her novel grew out of her response to “the ways in which I found the conventional reading of Lear frustrating and wrong”. Part of Shakespeare’s eternal youth is that he always invites us to find new responses to his work.
Read about the other entries on the list.

A Thousand Acres is among Rachel Mans McKenny's eleven books about midwesterners who aren’t trying to be nice, Hannah Beckerman's top ten toxic families in fiction, Brian Boone's five books that offer a brand new take on pre-existing works, Edward Docx's top ten Shakespearean stories in modern fiction, Emma Donoghue's six best books, Anne Tyler's six favorite books, Sally O'Reilly ten top novels inspired by Shakespeare, Alexia Nader's nine favorite books about unhappy families, and John Mullan's top ten twice-told tales.

--Marshal Zeringue