Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Ten of the best music biographies

Fiona Sturges is an arts writer specializing in books, music, podcasting and TV.

At the Guardian she tagged ten candid memoirs and biographies that reveal the inner lives of musicians, including:
Just Kids by Patti Smith

A tender, evocative chronicle of the poet and singer Patti Smith’s relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, as the pair roamed 70s New York and dedicated themselves to their art. Celebrity wasn’t the goal, but when they pass a shop playing Smith’s hit, Because the Night, Mapplethorpe exclaims: “Patti, you got famous before me!”
Read about the other entries on the list at the Guardian.

Just Kids is among Christopher Bonanos's six best New York City biographies, Barbara Bourland's ten essential books about contemporary artists, Dana Czapnik's favorite novels featuring kids or young adults coming of age in cities, and Dan Holmes's twenty best memoirs written by musicians.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 30, 2021

Ten of the best psychological thrillers

S.F. Kosa is a clinical psychologist with a fascination for the seedy underbelly of the human psyche. Though The Quiet Girl is her debut psychological suspense novel, writing as Sarah Fine, she is the author of over two dozen fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, and romance novels, several of which have been translated into multiple languages. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and their (blended) brood of five young humans.

Kosa's latest novel is The Night We Burned.

At CrimeReads she tagged ten of her favorite psychological thrillers, including:
Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon

On its surface, this is a slick and beautifully paced novel featuring a man desperate to protect the life he’s built by covering up an almost-deadly episode of infidelity with a thick layer of lies. But this thriller also offers a rich and unvarnished depiction of a culture and characters not often given starring roles in this genre and too often fetishized in others: gay men. Oliver, the protagonist, is in recovery from an opioid addiction, and his struggles with temptation are viscerally relatable, as is the relationship dynamic that has resulted with his partner, Nathan, whose tendency to infantilize Oliver contribute heavily to Oliver’s urge to have a moment of unobserved indulgence and freedom.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Seven thrillers about the dark side of academia

Ceillie Clark-Keane is a writer and editor based in Boston. Her work has been published by Electric Literature, Bustle, the Ploughshares blog, and other outlets. She is a nonfiction reader for Salamander and Pangyrus.

At Electric Lit Clark-Keane tagged seven "excellent thrillers that use the college campus as a setting to explore the darker side of academia, leverage the competitive atmosphere, and present a compactly contained mystery that keeps you reading." One title on the list:
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

The narrator of this novel lives a solitary, regimented life in New York City, though he spends most of his time indoors and, over the course of the novel, documenting the story of his time at Oxford. In the fall term of their first year, the narrator and five other students started a game. The rules started out simple: Complete a dare at each level or face a consequence. But as the game evolves and complicates, the dare and consequences become increasingly taxing on the group—until eventually the results become tragic.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Seven top books about islands

Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a British author, poet, and playwright.

Her debut book, The Girl of Ink & Stars, won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and British Children's Book of the Year.

Her second book, The Island at the End of Everything, received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and VOYA. She holds degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and lives by the river in Oxford.

The Mercies is her debut novel for adults.

At the Guardian Hargrave tagged seven favorite books about islands, including:
In Michael Crummey’s Galore, we meet the 19th-century inhabitants of a remote, small coastal town on Newfoundland, wrestling with all the best ingredients for a superstition-led saga spanning two centuries: a beached whale, a man birthed from its belly, and a wise woman determined to protect him.
Learn about the other entries on the list.

Also see: ive top mystery novels set on islands; five top books about fantastical islands; top ten islands in children's fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 27, 2021

Five notable dangers-of-dating thrillers

Catherine Ryan Howard has been a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel, the CWA’s Ian Fleming Steel and John Creasey (New Blood) Daggers, and Irish Crime Novel of the Year multiple times. The Nothing Man, her mix of true crime and crime fiction, was a no. 1 bestseller in her native Ireland. She is currently based in Dublin, where she divides her time between the desk and the couch.

Howard's new novel, 56 Days, is a thriller about a couple locked down together in Dublin that the author wrote while she was locked down in Dublin.

At CrimeReads she tagged five favorite the-dangers-of-dating thrillers, including:
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Ayoola summons me with these words—I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear these words again.” Thus begins this wickedly entertaining, “morbidly funny slash-fest” (The Guardian). Korede’s bombshell of a sister has celebrated her one-month anniversary with boyfriend Femi by stabbing him to death, and now she needs help with the cleanup. Ayoola claims it was self-defense, but her subsequent behavior sows the seeds of suspicion in both her sibling-turned-accomplice and the reader, especially when Ayoola’s chief concern seems to be how long she has to pretend to be sad on social media. And doesn’t three times officially make you a serial killer? Korede is happy to keep her sister’s secrets, whispering them only to a coma patient at the hospital where she works as a nurse—until Ayoola sets her sights on Tade, the object of Korede’s intense and secret affection…
Read about the other entries on the list.

My Sister the Serial Killer is among Sally Hepworth's top five novels about twisted sisters, Megan Nolan's six books on unrequited love and unmet obsession, Sarah Pinborough's top ten titles where the setting is a character, Tiffany Tsao's top five novels about murder all in the family, Victoria Helen Stone's eight top crime books of deep, dark family lore, and Kristen Roupenian's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Top 10 gripes in literature

Lucy Ellmann has published seven novels: Sweet Desserts (winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize), Varying Degrees of Hopelessness, Man or Mango? A Lament, Dot in the Universe, Doctors & Nurses, Mim, and, in 2019, Ducks, Newburyport (shortlisted for the Booker and winner of the Goldsmiths Prize).

Ellmann's first essay collection is Things Are Against Us.

At the Guardian she tagged ten "admirable examples of the fine tradition of being an awkward customer." One entry on the list:
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I embarked on hardcore kvetching at the age of 13 when my family moved from Connecticut to Oxford, a city devoted to the status quo. Oxford was so flat, so sexless, so grim, and its inhabitants, I felt, were cold towards me. My self-esteem took a plunge from which it’s never recovered. Even our dog was despised. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut about my negative attitude to the place. But Oxford would not have welcomed me, a dopey girl with an American drawl, whatever I did. It’s a snide, pitiless town that generates its own miasma of male exclusivity. Hardy nailed it here, detailing the prudishness, philistinism, snobbery and sexual inequality of Oxford – all the stuff that drives misfits to drink a lot of dry vermouth within days of arrival. As Sue says to Jude, “Christminster cares nothing for you, poor dear!”
Read about the other entries on the list.

Jude the Obscure is among four books that changed Elizabeth J. Church.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Five notable gripping mysteries set in small towns

A former magazine editor and award-winning journalist, Janice Hallett has written speeches and articles for, among others, the UK's Cabinet Office, Home Office and Department for International Development. In screenwriting, Hallett's first feature film Retreat was released by Sony Pictures (co-written and directed by Carl Tibbetts) which starred Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell.

Her debut novel is The Appeal.

At the Waterstones blog Hallett tagged five favorite gripping mysteries set in small towns, including:
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Whether or not you’ve seen the TV series, it’s well worth checking out the original novel. Set not in California, but in a small beach community north of Sydney, Australia, the story follows three mothers – Jane, Madeline and Celeste – in the months before a murder. Just how are these three women and their families involved in what happens that fateful night at the school quiz? There’s a cheerful façade over terrible reality in this world of thinly veiled competitiveness and tense oneupmanship. Domestic violence, abuse, rape, bullying and step-family angst bubble ominously behind perfect smiles and declarations of happiness. What I love about this book is that you laugh as loudly as you gasp, and although it’s a cliché to say it, you are hooked right to the very last line.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Big Little Lies is among Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman's six riveting titles of ultra-competitive parents, Pamela Crane's five novels featuring parenting gone wild, Michelle Frances's eight top workplace thrillers, and Jeff Somers's teen novels that teach you something about marriage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Four of the best new hard-hitting crime novels

Saloni Gajjar is a staff writer at The A.V. Club. She tagged four new hard-hitting crime novels to get you through the end of summer, including:
The Family Plot (August 17, Atria) from Megan Collins delves even deeper into intergenerational trauma. Collins has an affinity for writing volatile family drama into her crime thrillers. Her first two books, Behind The Red Door and The Winter Sister, are emotionally turbulent and focus heavily on character development as opposed to the mystery itself, which helps in making her narrators compelling. The Family Plot doesn’t have the same poignancy as her previous books, but the novel works because of its unique setting and action. It takes place on a secluded island (think of last year’s The Guest List by Lucy Foley) where siblings Charlie, Tate, Andy, and Dahlia Lighthouse grew up with emotionally abusive parents devoted to teaching them about true crime from a young age. Their homeschooling involved learning about serial killer victims—each sibling is named after one—and performing “honorings” for them, their early lives further marred by the island’s own serial killer.

The story centers on 26-year-old Dahlia’s return to the family mansion after her father has died. She hopes her twin brother, Andy, who ran away at 16 and hasn’t been heard from since, might return, too. Instead, the family finds his body buried in their dad’s plot. Like the female protagonists of Behind The Red Door and The Winter Sister, Dahlia unravels one secret after another, slowly learning of her brother’s actions before his death. Unfortunately, the gritty, mysterious story is bogged down by Collins’ surprising repetitiveness. She spins her wheels in recounting Dahlia’s tight-knit bond with her brother, sticking her with a one-note personality that’s arrested in a time when her beloved twin was still alive. While Collins’ character-driven writing isn’t as gut-punching this time around, her exploration of the larger themes of toxic relationships, and why people stay in them, is enticing.
Read about the other entries on the list at The A.V. Club.

The Page 69 Test: The Family Plot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 23, 2021

Six crime novels about settling old scores

Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. She completed an English degree and PGCE at Greenwich University in London, and has worked as a lecturer and manager in further education. She has now relocated to the small town of Frinton-on-Sea on the North Essex coast.

The Rumor is her first novel. Her new novel is The Dare.

[Q&A with Lesley Kara]

Kara writes:
In The Rumor, loosely inspired by the real-life case of Mary Bell who killed two little boys when she was ten, I wanted to explore how the families of victims often feel that justice has not been done, particularly in cases where the child perpetrator is rehabilitated and enabled to start afresh under a new identity. The novel addresses the ongoing grief and anguish of the victim’s family and how such unresolved feelings can sometimes spill over into righteous anger and vigilantism.
At CrimeReads Kara tagged six crime novels about settling old scores, including:
Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby is a unique and moving take on the revenge narrative, written in fast-paced, muscular prose. Two fathers, one black, one white, join forces to avenge the murders of their gay sons, whose marriage they never accepted. Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee have little in common except their criminal pasts, their prejudices about each other and about their sons’ sexuality, and a desire to do better for them in death than they did in life. This novel doesn’t pull any punches. It is gritty and violent, but also profound and redemptive in tone.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Five top time-bending titles

Catriona Silvey was born in Glasgow and grew up in Scotland and England. After collecting an unreasonable number of degrees from the universities of Cambridge, Chicago, and Edinburgh, she moved back to Cambridge where she lives with her husband and son. Her short stories have been performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.

Silvey's new novel is Meet Me in Another Life.

At the Waterstones blog she tagged five favorite books in the "rich tradition of tales that make the most of a time-bending conceit," including:
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

In a laboratory in Cumbria in 1967, four scientists invent time travel. Forty years later, the consequences play out in a locked room where an elderly woman is found murdered. Like This Is How You Lose the Time War, The Psychology of Time Travel features a time-travelling romance whose outcome is predetermined, but here, that inevitability is not a source of unequivocal joy. Grace, the time traveller in the relationship, is almost panicked to realise she has finally met her destined lover: “Ruby was it. After her, there was no one else.” Mascarenhas’s novel takes seriously the potential cognitive and emotional effects of time travel, but the singular in the title is deliberately misleading: just as there is no one psychology, people’s responses to the existence of time travel turn out to be as diverse and multifaceted as people themselves.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Top 10 books about family life

Stephen Walsh is an Irish writer.

In his debut story collection Shine/Variance, "there’s a father smiling his way through a crisis while Christmas tree shopping with his son, a daughter pretending there’s nothing wrong with her mother, brothers and sisters realising who their parents really are."

At the Guardian, Walsh tagged ten "books about families [he's] been thrilled to read about (but pretty glad not to be part of)," including:
Amongst Women by John McGahern

The finest Irish family novel. A once ranking officer in the war of independence, Michael Moran is now a wounded beast, his grip over his wife Rose and his children failing. In Amongst Women, it feels we’re watching a form of Irish family – closed, silent, patriarchal – slip away with Moran. It is the women in this family, caring for Moran in his decline, who are in control. From the opening line – “As he weakened, Moran became afraid of his daughters” – to the final image of his sons laughing as they walk back from his funeral as if they were “coming from a dance”, we’re held in the grip of this family, and the spare prose of McGahern.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 20, 2021

Six books about reincarnation

Verlin Darrow is currently a psychotherapist who lives with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near the Monterey Bay in northern California. They diagnose each other as necessary. Darrow is a former professional volleyball player (in Italy), unsuccessful country-western singer/songwriter, import store owner, and assistant guru in a small, benign spiritual organization. Before bowing to the need for higher education, a much younger Darrow ran a punch press in a sheetmetal factory, drove a taxi, worked as a night janitor, shoveled asphalt on a road crew, and installed wood flooring. He missed being blown up by Mt. St. Helens by ten minutes, survived the 1985 Mexico City earthquake (8 on the Richter scale), and (so far) has successfully weathered his own internal disasters.

His latest book, Prodigy Quest, is a YA speculative novel.

At Tor.com he tagged six notable books that "focus on transformation, although they utilize the vehicle of reincarnation in different ways: time travel, galactic conflict, Arthurian legend, a secret society, finishing the reincarnation cycle, demonology, and a love story." One title on the list:
The Actual Star by Monica Byrne

Monica Byrne’s The Actual Star is full of ideas about human nature and transformation on a grand scale—all of humanity and where it’s heading. Byrne has done her homework, recreating an authentic-feeling Mayan culture, and then fast-forwarding the journey of three linked souls as they reincarnate into a fraught future of horrific climate change. The characters range from dangerously charismatic leaders to committed lovers striving to save the world. Reminiscent of Octavia E. Butler, Byrne creates cultures and characters that embody depth, sensitivity, and a riveting story line.

Few authors tackle themes of tradition vs change, the nature of human connection, and the very meaning of being alive in such an ambitious manner, let alone make it work as an entertaining read the way Byrne does. Her craft impresses without being in the foreground in any distracting way. Readers will be immersed in a rich, detailed experience that may well make them more empathic, culturally sensitive, and wise. Set to be published this fall, you’ll have to wait until September to dive into Byrne’s rich world.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Eight thrillers featuring dysfunctional families

Megan Collins is the author of The Family Plot, The Winter Sister, and Behind the Red Door.

She received her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and she holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University, where she was a teaching fellow.

Collins has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is Managing Editor of 3Elements Review.

At CrimeReads she tagged either of her "favorite thrillers featuring especially twisted families," including:
He Started It, by Samantha Downing

A road trip is the perfect chance for a family to bond together and grow even closer. Unless, that is, you’re the Morgans, the family at the center of Samantha Downing’s sophomore novel, He Started It. According to their grandfather’s will, Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan must recreate a road trip they took as kids in order to receive their inheritance. But each of these siblings has an agenda of their own, and it isn’t long before it seems that not everyone will survive. Deliciously fast-paced, this book features all the friction and bitterness you’d expect from a dysfunctional family, but with a final showdown between the siblings that’s almost dizzying in its knockout surprises. This unputdownable thriller is sure to make your own family, no matter how messed up they are, seem like the Brady Bunch.
Read about the other entries on the list.

He Started It is among Hannah Mary McKinnon's ten top psychological thrillers featuring sibling rivalry.

The Page 69 Test: He Started It.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Eight books that expose the hidden histories of Hollywood

Matthew Specktor’s books include the novels That Summertime Sound and American Dream Machine, which was long-listed for the Folio Prize; the memoir-in-criticism Always Crashing in The Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California, and The Golden Hour, forthcoming from Ecco Press.

[The Page 69 Test: American Dream Machine]

Born in Los Angeles, Specktor received his BA from Hampshire College in 1988, and his MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College in 2009. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, The Paris Review, Tin House, Black Clock, and numerous other periodicals and anthologies. He is a founding editor of the Los Angles Review of Books.

At Electric Lit Specktor tagged eight top stories of Los Angeles and the movie-making industry, including:
Set the Night On Fire by Jon Weiner & Mike Davis

This magisterial history of Los Angeles in the ’60s—a corny-as-hell adjective, I realize, but absolutely apt in this case—barely touches upon the movies at all. Instead, it focuses on the city’s rich history of activism: the Watts Rebellion, Chicano Blowouts, gay liberation and radical feminist movements, alongside the myriad other currents that reshaped LA during that ferocious decade.

It’s essential (and, it must be said, absolutely riveting) reading, one that lays out as well the city’s long history of racism and redlining, the longstanding corruption and white supremacist brutality of its police department, etc. That the movies don’t really appear in these pages tells you all you need to know about them. Or at least tells you something it’s important never to forget.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Six books with unsavory narrators

Samantha Downing is the author of the bestselling My Lovely Wife, nominated for Edgar, ITW, Macavity, and CWA awards. Amazon Studios and Nicole Kidman's Blossom Films have partnered to produce a feature film based on the novel.

Her second book, He Started It, was released in 2020 and became an instant international bestseller.

Downing's new novel is For Your Own Good. It has been optioned by Robert Downey Jr. and Greg Berlanti for HBO Max.

[The Page 69 Test: My Lovely WifeThe Page 69 Test: He Started ItThe Page 69 Test: For Your Own Good]

At The Week magazine Downing tagged six of her favorite books with unsavory narrators, including:
Perfect Days by Raphael Montes (2016).

Teo is convinced that he and Clarice belong together. She just needs a little persuading to see things his way, and there's nothing he won't do to achieve this. Yet he's so engaging, so pure in his belief, that you can't help but follow along on this harrowing journey.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Learn about Downing's ten top morally bankrupt narrators in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 16, 2021

Seven titles that explore collective guilt & individual complicity

Ashley Winstead is the author of In My Dreams I Hold a Knife. A resident of Houston, she earned a Ph.D. in contemporary American literature from Southern Methodist University and a B.A. in English and Art History from Vanderbilt University.

At CrimeReads she tagged seven recent crime novels that explore collective guilt and individual complicity. One title on the list:
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

With its George Schuyler-esque twist, this novel has one of the most nuanced explorations of complicity I’ve read. Harris’s main character is Nella, a Black editorial assistant at a predominantly white publishing house, who’s thrilled when Hazel, another Black woman, is hired in her department—until Nella is terrorized by an anonymous note-leaver, and suspects Hazel wants to climb over her to the top. Even as Nella works out how to respond to racism from her colleagues, she begins to question the ways she herself has benefitted from economic privilege and taken for granted certain classist ways of thinking endemic to the publishing industry. Harris gives literal shape to white supremacy by figuring it as a shadowy, amorphous web of antagonists, far scarier than the individuals who compose it, and complicity is also made literal (though again, no spoilers). Harris’s web of antagonists, like the racism they embody, is so insidious, so omnipresent, that no one, no matter how hard they try, can escape.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Seven notable books about marital affairs

Katherine Ashenburg is the prize-winning author of two novels, four non-fiction books and hundreds of articles on subjects that range from travel to mourning customs to architecture. She describes herself as a lapsed Dickensian and as someone who has had a different career every decade. Her work life began with a Ph.D. dissertation about Dickens and Christmas, but she quickly left the academic world for successive careers at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a radio producer; at the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail as the arts and books editor; and most recently as a full-time writer.

Ashenburg's new novel is Her Turn. In it, Liz, a divorced newspaper editor, finds her tidy life overturned when the woman now married to Liz’s ex-husband submits a personal essay to the column Liz edits. Wife #2 has no idea that she is sending her essay to Wife #1, and Liz decides to keep that a secret, with surprising results. Elizabeth Renzetti writes of it, “It is infused with the joyful spirit of Nora Ephron and lit with a charm all its own.”

At Lit Hub Ashenburg tagged seven favorite thought-provoking infidelity narratives, including:
Margaret Drabble, The Waterfall

You have to give Drabble full marks for originality. Not too many passionate love affairs start in the bed where the woman has given birth just days before. And not too many affairs continue in the almost constant company of a newborn and her three-year-old brother. Jane Grey’s husband has left shortly before her home birth in 1960s London, so her cousin and best friend Lucy and her husband James take turns staying with Jane in the first days and nights after the birth. Things in her hot bedroom are intensely fleshly, with blood on the sheets, leaking breasts, and a hungry infant in a cot at the side of the bed. Still, it’s a surprise when, without any preamble, the taciturn but fetching James announces that he must be in that bed with Jane.

So it begins, the sexual awakening of Jane and her betrayal of Lucy. Although massively introspective, Jane does not disturb her erotic haze by discussing Lucy with James. On an outing with him and, as usual, the children, she thinks, “This is the peace of treachery: this calm, the lovely calm of infidelity.” Warning: the lovely calm is temporary.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Six top magical schools you wish you could attend

Sasha Peyton Smith grew up in the mountains of Utah surrounded by siblings, books, and one very old cat. She attended the University of Utah and the George Washington University where she studied biology and public health. She is not a witch, though she does own a lot of crystals and always knows what phase the moon is in. She currently lives in Washington DC.

Her debut novel is The Witch Haven.

At Tor.com Smith tagged six favorite "books that take place at magical schools, some more wish-fulfilling than others." One title on the list:
Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy — The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians is an adult fantasy series opener that turns the magic school genre on its head. Presenting magical education as equal parts fantastical and deeply tedious and frustrating, it’s difficult to read Grossman’s work without vividly picturing yourself sitting in a Brakebills classroom learning about the metaphysics of magic. Featuring high fantasy elements reminiscent of Narnia and one of my all-time favorite Sad Boys of literature Quentin Coldwater, The Magicians drops you in a magical world running adjacent to the real one. A deeply creepy villain and magic college parties only make things more fun. There’s a reason this is a perennial favorite.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Magicians is among Alexis Nedd's five of best squads in sci-fi & fantasy, Nicole Hill's twenty top fantasies to introduce beginners to the genre, Soman Chainani's five top SFF novels with perfect opening lines, Christian McKay Heidicker's six top read-aloud books for grown-ups, Diana Biller's five creepiest rabbits in fiction, Jenny Kawecki's seven fictional schools that couldn't pass a safety inspection, Entertainment Weekly's top ten wickedly great books about witches, Jason Diamond's top fifty books that define the past five years in literature, and Joel Cunningham's eight great books for fans of Donna Tartt's The Secret History.

The Page 69 Test: The Magicians.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 13, 2021

Six great Gothic castles from literature

Veronica Bond is the pseudonym of a beloved author who has taught high school English for twenty-nine years.

[Writers Read: Veronica Bond]

Her new novel, Death in Castle Dark, introduces a series which Bond describes as Cozy-Gothic. Death in Castle Dark focuses on a young actress who joins a murder mystery troupe in an eerie isolated castle.

At CrimeReads Bond tagged six favorite Gothic castles from literature, including:
Rebecca (1938) Daphne du Maurier

Du Maurier’s setting, Manderley, is a giant family estate off the Cornwall coast; it is not officially a castle, yet the setting meets many Gothic criteria, including isolation, a hint of the supernatural, a heroine thrown into an alien environment and utterly without aid, and of course the requisite creepiness of the giant dwelling, Manderley, which the reader first sees in a horrific image via the narrator’s dream:

“A cloud, hitherto unseen, came upon the moon, and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it, and the lights in the windows were extinguished. I looked upon a desolate shell, soulless at last, unhaunted, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls. The house was a sepulcher, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

Rebecca appears on L.C. Shaw's list of nine of the most memorable antagonists in fiction, Eliane Glaser's list of six of the best books on leadership, Penelope Lively’s list of five of her favorite gardens in literature, Xan Brooks's top ten list of terrible houses in fiction, Tom Easton's top ten list of fictional "houses which themselves seem to have a personality which affects the story," Martine Bailey's list of six of the best marriage plots in novels, Stella Gonet's six best books list, John Mullan's list of ten of the best conflagrations in literature, Tess Gerritsen's list of five favorite thrillers, Mary Horlock's list of the five best psychos in literature, and Derwent May's critic's chart of top country house books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Top 10 bookworms in fiction

Cathy Rentzenbrink is an acclaimed memoirist whose books include The Last Act of Love and Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books. Her new book -- her first novel -- is Everyone is Still Alive, which is about the deeper realities of marriage and parenting. She has a book about how to write a memoir coming in January 2022 called Write It All Down.

Rentzenbrink regularly chairs literary events, interviews authors, reviews books, runs creative writing courses and speaks and writes on life, death, love, and literature. Despite being shortlisted for various prizes, the only thing she has ever won is the Snaith and District Ladies’ Darts Championship when she was 17. She is now sadly out of practice.

At the Guardian Rentzenbrink tagged ten cherished books featuring some of literature’s finest bibliophiles. One entry on the list:
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

In a villa north of Florence in 1945, Hana chooses books from the huge library to read to her badly burned patient, who was rescued by the Bedouin when his plane crashed in the desert. He is damaged beyond recognition and has no memory. The only possession that survived the fire is his copy of The Histories by Herodotus, into which he has glued pages from other books and written observations in his small, gnarled handwriting. They live quietly and slowly, and then everything changes with the arrival of a friend of Hana’s father who has a theory about the identity of her patient.
Read about the other entries on the list at the Guardian.

The English Patient also made Eli Goldstone's ten top list of secrets in fiction, Sarah Moss's top ten list of hospital novels, Robert Allison's top ten list of novels of desert war, Joel Cunningham's list of sixteen book-to-movie adaptations that won Academy Awards, Pico Iyer's top five list of books on crossing cultures, John Mullan's list of ten of the best deserts in literature and Jane Ciabattari's list of five masterpiece stories that worked as films.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Seven medical memoirs every aspiring doctor should read

Robert Meyer, MD has been an emergency room doctor for over twenty-five years, spending most of his career at the Bronx’s Montefiore Medical Center, whose emergency rooms are New York City’s most visited, and among the nation’s five busiest. He is as well an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Dan Koeppel is a former executive editor at The New York Times’s Wirecutter. He has written for national publications including Wired, Outside, National Geographic, and The Atlantic and has won a James Beard Award for his food writing. Koeppel is also a recipient of a National Geographic Expeditions Grant. His screenwriting credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, and he is the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.

Meyer and Koeppel are the co-authors of Every Minute Is a Day: A Doctor, an Emergency Room, and a City Under Siege.

At Lit Hub they tagged seven books every aspiring doctor should read, including:
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

When Paul Kalanithi was a young man, he contemplated a literary life, before turning toward neurosurgery, where, he believed, he could do something even deeper: understand the nature of thought. Kalanithi’s skill with words is put to tragic but moving use in this book, as he chronicles his battle with metastatic lung cancer, a battle he will not survive. As sad as this book is, what comes through in the end is that Kalanithi’s life was filled with exploration, hope, and love. This is one, possibly the most heartbreaking book you will ever read, that we talked about constantly as we worked on our own book.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Six top mysteries set on moving vehicles

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 CrimeReads she tagged six top mysteries set on trains, boats and transport, including:
Falling by TJ Newman

Described as ‘Jaws at 23,000 feet’, this debut thriller places a member of the crew of a packed commercial flight in an impossible dilemma: they can save either the planeful of passengers in their charge or their loved ones on the ground – but not both. As a former stewardess, Newman is perfectly positioned to recreate every authentic detail of the flight from hell. It’s the perfect holiday page turner, though nervous flyers like me might prefer to save it till after we’ve safely touched down…
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 9, 2021

Five titles featuring fantastic cities

Nafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. She has hurricanes in her blood and dreams of a time she can exist solely on mangoes and pineapple.

Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in British Columbia, Canada where she reads too many books, watches too many K-dramas, and writes stories about girls taking over the world.

Azad's debut YA fantasy was the Morris Award–nominated The Candle and the Flame. The Wild Ones is her second novel.

At Tor.com she tagged five books featuring fantastic cities. including:
Atlanta, Georgia, 2040 — Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

The City of Atlanta in the urban fantasy series by Ilona Andrews is very unlike the contemporary city by the same name. The series is set in the near future, a time when the world has been drastically altered by magic. Magic in this world is not constant, however, but comes in unpredictable shifts. Magic will be up for hours at a time and then fall away. Technology is not compatible with magic so the people who populate this world and the city specifically have to be prepared for all situations. Cars are present but so are horses and mules. Andrews builds a city that is teeming with different kinds of supernatural creatures involved in the very prosaic business of surviving. The vampires run a casino and were-creatures have their own stronghold with a Beast Lord in place. There’s a fairy warren in a park and a no-man’s land in another district that defies all laws and logic of nature and magic. The on and off pulsing of the magic forces the characters of the novel to be aware of and interact with the setting in specific ways even as they go about fighting for both their lives and good. Andrews pays particular attention to detail as there are discussions about the rapid deterioration and breakdown of materials used in construction in this new environment and how this forces innovations in new buildings. The city is a delicious mixture of natural and supernatural, vividly alive and present in all the ten books in the series.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Seven books about women in purgatory

Ashley Nelson Levy received her MFA from Columbia University, where she was awarded the Clein-Lemann Esperanza Fellowship. Her work has been a notable mention in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and she’s the recipient of the Bambi Holmes Award for Emerging Writers. In 2015, she cofounded Transit Books, an independent publishing house with a focus on international literature.

Immediate Family is her first novel.

At Electric Lit she tagged seven books that "represent many kinds of middle states: characters may be trapped in grief, political exile, new motherhood, or the neighborhood of their youth." One title on the list:
Temporary by Hilary Leichter

If we are talking about women operating in transient spaces, I don’t think a more perfect example exists than Leichter’s novel. In search of steadiness and a place to call her own, a young woman moves from temp job to temp job, filling in for a chairman of the board, for a mannequin, for a barnacle, for a mother, for a ghost. As the novel spins into the surreal, a very real question remains around how our work defines us.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 7, 2021

A few top survivalist thrillers

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and she still lives on the island with her husband and daughter. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. While holding an open house one afternoon, she had a terrifying idea that became the inspiration for Still Missing. Stevens eventually sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book. Still Missing went on to become a New York Times bestseller and winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel.

Her books, including Those Girls, which Stephen King called “incredibly scary,” have been published in more than thirty countries and optioned for film.
[My Book, The Movie: Still MissingThe Page 69 Test: That NightMy Book, The Movie: That NightThe Page 69 Test: Never Let You GoMy Book, The Movie: Never Let You Go]
Stevens's new novel is Dark Roads.

At CrimeReads the author tagged a few titles in which the characters must channel their fear into a life-or-death battle against nature. One entry on the list:
Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which has been in print since the eighties, still appeals to young readers, thanks to its gripping story of a teenage boy who finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness, and forced to survive with nothing but his hatchet after his plane crash lands.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 6, 2021

Five SFF titles about love across boundaries

Brenda Peynado's stories have won an O. Henry Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Literary Award, selection for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy and The Best Small Fictions, a Dana Award, a Fulbright grant to the Dominican Republic, and other awards.

Her work appears in Tor.com, The Georgia Review, The Sun (London), The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, and more than forty other journals.

Peynado received her MFA at Florida State University and her PhD at the University of Cincinnati. She currently teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Florida.

The Rock Eaters is her first story collection.

At Tor.com Peynado tagged "five science fiction and fantasy novels I turn to for inspiration that are about love tearing down walls, love building new bridges, love desperate to overcome culture, love breaking the worlds that have failed it, love demanding we envision the new worlds (werewolves, alien portals, telekinetic powers!) that would allow it to thrive." One title on the list:
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

While the first book in this series, A Memory Called Empire, was primarily about colonialism and the culture differences between people of an empire versus people from an independent outpost station trying to preserve its autonomy, in this sequel the love story gets more of a starring role. Here, the ambassador from the outpost station and her counterpart from the empire struggle with the many ways that loving across cultures can lead to misunderstanding and exotification, wondering if they can surmount all that stands between them.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Top 10 millennial heroines in fiction

Emily Austin is the author of Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead.
When researching the traits that represent millennials, it was difficult to find results that did not present them in the context of work, [Austin writes in the Guardian]. Our characteristics seem to be defined by how we are as employees, which speaks volumes. Like many millennial heroines, Gilda [in Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead] struggles to work. This is not because she is lazy or entitled, but because it is difficult to wake up in the morning and go to a job when you are mentally ill, acutely aware of things like climate change, and concerned that somehow everyone around you is simultaneously both insignificant and incredibly important. Despite being deeply anxious and depressed, Gilda is hopeful.
Austin tagged ten millennial heroines in fiction, all of whom Gilda would care about deeply. One entry on the list:
Marianne from Normal People by Sally Rooney

A list of millennial heroines would be incomplete without mention of at least one of Rooney’s. This is a story about Marianne and Connell, who are navigating their relationship within changing social hierarchies. They hide their relationship in school when Marianne is considered unattractive and shy, but later wins greater status and poularity. Connell starts out in high regard but later struggles to fit in. This is a smart story about human connection and class, and Marianne is a millennial heroine perfect for anyone who wonders why they can’t be a normal person.
Read about the other millennial heroines on the list at the Guardian.

--Marshal Zeringue