Thursday, March 31, 2022

Five of the best books about Russia & Ukraine

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. Born in London in 1959, he graduated with a double-starred First from Cambridge University, where he was a Lecturer in History and Fellow of Trinity College from 1984 to 1999.

Figes is an award-winning author of ten books on Russian and European history, including The Story of Russia.

At the Guardian he tagged "five books [that] have done as much as any to shape my understanding of the complex region," including:
Anne Applebaum: Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

The Ukrainians call it the Holodomor – the extermination (mor) by starvation (holod) of more than four million of their countrymen in 1932-3. Nowhere else in the USSR was the famine of those years so terrible. Four-fifths of its victims were Ukrainians – peasants stripped of all their property when Stalin’s regime forced them into the collective farms and then requisitioned their last stocks of seed and food, until they starved.

Drawing on the work of Ukrainian scholars, Applebaum has given us the best account in English of Stalin’s war against Ukraine. She is sympathetic to the Ukrainian view of the famine as an act of genocide, not in the sense that Stalin sought to kill all Ukrainians, as Hitler aimed to kill the Jews, but in the sense that he intended to “physically eliminate the most active and engaged Ukrainians” in order to prevent the re-emergence of a nationalist movement led by the Ukrainian elites.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Red Famine is among Nina Krushcheva's six favorite books to help you understand the world.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Five novels set in abandoned places

John Searles is the best-selling author of the novels Help for the Haunted, Strange but True, and Boy Still Missing.

His new novel is Her Last Affair.

At Lit Hib he tagged five "books—all of them incredible—that use abandoned places as settings," including:
Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

Set in an alternate reality, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer stars a team of four women who must venture into the unknown, deserted Area X, on a mission. Professionally, the mission is to scientifically observe the abandoned area, but, personally, the biologist is on a mission to search for her husband—who went missing on the last expedition into Area X. With their base camp set up in an abandoned tower, aided by notes left behind by previous explorers, the women race against the clock to understand the source of all the strange occurrences—before it’s too late.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Annihilation is among Rin Chupeco's five top stories where nature does its best to kill you and Nicholas Royle's ten top lighthouses in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Five novels with criminal acts at their core

Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. She is the author of two #1 New York Times bestselling novels, Into The Water and The Girl on The Train. An international #1 bestseller, The Girl on the Train has sold 23 million copies worldwide and has been adapted into a major motion picture. Into the Water was also a Sunday Times and New York Times #1 bestseller, selling 4 million copies worldwide. Her newest thriller is A Slow Fire Burning. Hawkins was born in Zimbabwe and now splits her time between London and Edinburgh.

At CrimeReads she tagged five novels with criminal acts at their heart, including:
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005)

Is the brutality and ugliness described in Cormac McCarthy’s work all the more horrifying because of the beauty of his sentences – elegant and intricate but nevertheless pared to the bone? McCarthy leaves no place for ambiguity or ambivalence, no reason for doubt and nowhere to hide. Are his villains more terrifying for the same reason? I can think of no more frightening antagonist in modern fiction than Anton Chigurh, that ‘true and living prophet of destruction’, a relentless and pitiless assassin, subject to his own unquestionable code.

Would Irene really enjoy this western, with all its drugs and guns and blood-soaked horror? I’m fairly certain she would. Even leaving to one side McCarthy’s peerless sentences, there is much about the book I feel she would take to heart. The novel’s title is taken from Yeats’ ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, a poem which includes the line ‘An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick’, a sentiment Irene might well recognize, as she would the feelings of nostalgia and bewilderment felt by the novel’s protagonist, the stoic, stalwart Sheriff Bell. I think that in Sheriff Bell, the good man who loves his wife so dearly, she might also catch a glimpse of her William.
Read about the other entries on the list.

No Country For Old Men is among Lou Berney's top ten fugitive stories that master survival and suspense, Chris Ewan's top ten chases in literature, Mark Watson's ten top hotel novels, Matt Kraus's top six famous books with extremely faithful film adaptations, Allegra Frazier's five favorite fictional gold diggers, Kimberly Turner's ten most disturbing sociopaths in literature, and Elmore Leonard's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 28, 2022

Eight titles set in Antarctica about identity & transformation

Ally Wilkes grew up in a succession of isolated—possibly haunted—country houses and boarding schools.

After studying law at Oxford, she went on to spend eleven years as a criminal barrister, learning how extreme situations bring out the best (or worst) in human nature.

Wilkes now lives in Greenwich, London, with an anatomical human skeleton and far too many books about Polar exploration. When she isn't writing or reading horror, she's usually to be found hanging upside-down (like a bat) from her aerial silks.

Her debut novel is All The White Spaces.

At Electric Lit Wilkes tagged eight "books which offered fresh perspectives on what it feels like to be human in an inhuman place," including:
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Knowing what’s real and what’s an illusion—or even self-deception—is taken to another level in this stunning YA novel about a deaf teenager who’s taken to the South Pole by her troubled and domineering “uncle” who’s an obsessive believer in theories of a Hollow Earth. Sym is accompanied by an invisible companion: Captain Titus Oates, famed for his heroic “I may be some time” self-sacrifice in a bid to save the lives of his companions on Scott’s doomed 1912 expedition to the Pole. He’s unflappable, endearing and obtuse by turns, and this imaginary figure allows Sym to interrogate the boundaries of her own reality and free herself from the influences of fantasy and fantasists. A brilliant, inspiring read.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Eleven top books about prison

Daniel Genis was born in New York City and graduated from NYU with degrees in history and French. He has worked as a translator and has written for Newsweek, The Daily Beast, The Paris Review, The Washington Post, Vice, Deadspin, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Guardian, and the New York Daily News.

His new memoir is Sentence: Ten Years and a Thousand Books in Prison.

At Publishers Weekly Genis shared a list of eleven "standout books about prison—which could easily have been twice as long—and you will have a good idea of the nature of incarceration." One title on the list:
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

A wonderfully interesting tale of crime and punishment in India. Prison in the subcontinent is rough; you’ll have little to complain about once you read about the general acceptance of transparent worms in all available water. The drug abuse that led the author to his fate is a good meditation on the dangers of that path, if all the other “usual suspects” aren’t enough.

Shantaram is 1,000 pages of “Locked up Abroad”; it will terrify you and then mortify you, finally leaving you very grateful for your comfortable cot in a First World facility. Men in N.Y. state prison wouldn’t eat bread that had fallen on the floor; in poorer nations you cannot even count on food without payment. This novel is colorful and exciting and autobiographical without being too much so.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Ten top alternate history thrillers

Josh Weiss is an author from South Jersey. Raised in a proud Jewish home, he was instilled with an appreciation for his cultural heritage from a very young age. Today, Weiss is utterly fascinated with the convergence of Judaism and popular culture in film, television, comics, literature, and other media. After college, he became a freelance entertainment journalist, writing stories for SYFY WIRE, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, and Marvel Entertainment. He currently resides in Philadelphia with his fiancée, as well as an extensive collection of graphic T-shirts, movie posters, vinyl records, and a few books, of course.

Weiss's new novel is Beat the Devils.

[Writers Read: Josh Weiss; My Book, The Movie: Beat the Devils; The Page 69 Test: Beat the Devils]

At CrimeReads he tagged his ten "all-time must-read alternate history thrillers set against the backdrop of authoritarian and/or dystopian worlds that might have been." One title on the list:
Fatherland, Robert Harris (1992)

Fatherland may just be my favorite entry on this list. It certainly was the biggest source of inspiration for Beat the Devils. Harris’s vision of a fully-realized Germania is a masterclass in alternate history storytelling and a profound exploration of the phrase “history is written by the victors.”

If so-called “Master Race” had won the Second World War, to what extent would they whitewash their industrialized extermination program of Europe’s Jewish population? It’s a chilling question to which Fatherland (a Twilight Zone reflection of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series) provides an equally chilling answer.

When the corpse of one Josef Bühler washes up on the shores of the Havel, homicide detective and disillusioned Aryan, Xavier March, starts to unravel an immense conspiracy that’s got nothing to do with police corruption or shady land deals. In other words, all the expected beats of a noir mystery don’t apply here. This dangerous cover-up aims much higher: someone wants to put a tight lid on the Holocaust. If the attendees of the infamous Wannsee Conference (the 1942 meeting that set the Final Solution in motion) aren’t safe, then no one is.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Fatherland is among Jay Rayner's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 25, 2022

Seven books about multiple timelines & blurred realities

Erin Kate Ryan is the author of Quantum Girl Theory.

Leaning against her basement wall are degrees from Boston University School of Law and the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Her fiction has been published in VQR, Glimmer Train, The Normal School, and elsewhere. She is a James Jones First Novel Fellow and a McKnight Artist Fellow. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars, where she was an Alumni Fellow. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her partner and found family.

At Electric Lit Ryan tagged seven novels that "explore [the] idea of multi-layered reality, of the expanded moment, in radically different ways." One title on the list:
Long Division by Kiese Laymon

In everything Kiese Laymon writes, I think, he’s doing careful work with time and language. He makes repetition into a tool for language and idea formation; he forges revision into a mechanism for liberation. In this novel, characters are doubled, troubles and traumas are doubled, and the ability to visit (and change) the past makes every prior event present and future, as well. In Long Division, no moment has ever passed—it is always ripe for revisiting, revising, expanding, rewriting into a fuller, freer existence.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Top 10 mirrored lives in fiction

Alex Hyde is a lecturer at University College London.

Violets, her first novel, is a fictional reimagining of her father’s story, drawing on family mythology and his personal archives. She lives with her family in South London.

At the Guardian Hyde tagged ten top fictional mirrored lives, including:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Twins are an irresistible vehicle for mirrored lives, embodying sameness and difference at once. Rahel and Estha, the “two-egg twins” at the centre of Roy’s family drama, are separated by the cruelties of social systems. Flipping back and forth between the tragic events that shape the twins’ childhoods and their reunion as adults, their bond becomes the culmination of all the bonds broken before.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The God of Small Things is among Saumya Roy's seven unlikely love stories in literature and Miranda Doyle's top ten books about lies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Eight thrillers that smash the patriarchy

As an avid reader and life-long writer, Jayne Cowie also enjoys digging in her garden and makes an excellent devil’s food cake.

She lives near London with her family.

Her new novel is Curfew. It opens with the discovery of a female body in a park.

At CrimeReads Cowie tagged eight thrillers, by female writers, that center women's experiences. One classic title on the list:
A Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

With the creation of Jane Marple, Christie took a figure often derided—the spinster—and showed us the power of being a woman who is invisible. Miss Marple is neither young nor pretty, nor does she have to justify her existence by being sexually attractive to the male characters. She simply gets to be smarter than them. I like this one in particular because it has so many different female characters and throws Hollywood glamour at a small English village, with predictably entertaining results.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Ten titles about chance encounters with strangers

At Electric Lit contributers to Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, edited by Colleen Kinder, tagged ten "books featuring strangers who throw everything into a tizzy, who act as surrogates, who unearth beauty, who enable epic journeys, and more." Alexander Lumans's pick:
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

H.P. Lovecraft isn’t exactly a name you want to invoke as an influence—Lovecraft was a deeply racist, xenophobic Providence man. And acclaimed author Victor LaValle has flipped the script on Lovecraft’s most notoriously racist story, “The Horror at Red Hook.” In 2016, LaValle published The Ballad of Black Tom, a novella that directly confronts Lovecraft’s brutal racism via its early-century Harlem setting and its Black protagonist named Tommy Tester—a street musician, hustler, and aspirant.

One day on the street, Tommy meets a stranger: the reclusive millionaire, Robert Suydam. Suydam convinces Tommy to come play at an exclusive party he’s hosting. Unbeknownst to Tommy, Suydam is trying to make Tommy a key participant in dark spells. With the Supreme Alphabet, Suydam wants to open a portal and summon The Sleeping King and The Great Old Ones (creations from the Lovecraft Mythos).

At the party, Suydam tells Tommy, “Some people know things about the universe that nobody ought to know, and can do things that nobody ought to be able to do.” It sounds like a horror-tinted warning about the dangers of curiosity, but more importantly it carries the deeper fire of an oppressor speaking to his oppressed: “We, the tyrants, know things you shouldn’t ever know. So don’t even go trying to learn them.” Suydam quickly becomes enslaver and Tommy becomes the trapped man trying to escape Suydam’s cosmic enslavement. Later on, because of his connections to Suydam’s portal attempts, Tommy is killed in a hail of 57 rounds, all shot by police officers.

As many know, it’s through fantastical stories that we better perceive our own realities. In The Ballad of Black Tom, LaValle widens that fantastic aperture to the point that early Harlem could be contemporary Minneapolis, MN, Louisville, KY, or Aurora, CO. And Tommy himself, swindled into believing a manipulative system that promises deliverance, isn’t simple allegory or reductive metaphor. LaValle treats his flawed protagonist with insightful compassion. At the same time, he attacks with bile and bite the systemic racism Tommy faces on the regular in Red Hook. Lovecraft would never approve of LaValle’s version of the story, and that’s exactly the point.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 21, 2022

Nine books to help understand the invasion of Ukraine

Oliver Bullough is the author of the financial expose Moneyland, a Sunday Times bestseller, and two celebrated books about the former Soviet Union: The Last Man in Russia and Let Our Fame Be Great. His journalism appears regularly in the Guardian, The New York Times, and GQ.

Bullough's new book is Butler to the World: How Britain Helps the World's Worst People Launder Money, Commit Crimes, and Get Away with Anything.

At the Guardian he tagged nine books to help us understand the invasion of Ukraine, including:
The history of Russia is better known than that of Ukraine in the west, but what about that of Vladimir Putin, who has hidden many of the details of his own career? The essential book to understand the Russian president is Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West by Catherine Belton, which begins with his time in the St Petersburg administration before telling the inside tale of how he built a nuclear-armed mafia state, cowing his allies and rivals alike.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Eight memorable literary “It” Girls

Véronique Hyland is ELLE’s fashion features director. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, W, New York magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Condé Nast Traveler.

Hyland's new book is Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink.

At Lit Hub the author tagged eight favorite literary "It" Girls: they don't all have "the tragic cast of their real-life counterparts, but they all share one crucial trait: fabulous outfits, breathlessly described." One entry on the list:
Countess Ellen Olenska from The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“What can you expect of a girl who was allowed to wear black satin at her coming-out ball?” one character says of Ellen Olenska, the countess who consumes Newland Archer’s affections. That sartorial description tees the reader up to know exactly who Ellen is: someone who foils the stuffiness of 19th-century high society at every turn with her unconventional behavior, not to mention her fantastic, if far from cruelty-free, accessories—like an eagle-feather fan and assorted fur muffs.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Age of Innocence also appears on Therese Anne Fowler's six favorite books list, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on Gilded Age New York, Frances Kiernan's five best list of books that helped her understand the ways of New York society and David Kamp's list of six books that are notable for their food prose, and is among Elaine Sciolino's six favorite books, Mika Brzezinski's 6 best books and Honor Blackman's 6 best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Nine books about apocalypses

Sasha Fletcher is the author of the novel Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World, a book of poems, several chapbooks of poetry, and a novella.

At Electric Lit he tagged nine books to read at the end of the world, including:
One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin

One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin contains one hundred apocalypses and 3 stories that are, in their own way, about very personal apocalypses. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s breathtaking, it’s only scary if you think you might survive the end of the world, I for one do not plan to, and anyway: one apocalypse involves zombies, one is a list of reviews for a movie called BABY ALIVE, one involves a truly beautiful dinner where everyone eats an angel food cake, one is in smaller font, one involves circuit city, one involves the library, one involves ghosts, every single one is about what we do when the world ends, and when you get through them all, your life will be different.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 18, 2022

Seven mysteries with a high death count

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 latest novel is Nine Lives.

[My Book, The Movie: The Kind Worth KillingThe Page 69 Test: The Kind Worth KillingWriters Read: Peter Swanson (February 2015)]

At CrimeReads Swanson tagged seven "mystery novels where the bodies really pile up," including:
The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (1930)

This novel, written by a married couple, has an almost identical plot to And Then There Were None, but predates it by nine years. Eight people are invited to an apartment for a party. Then they are locked in and read a telegram that states that they will all die that night. What follows isn’t quite as clever, or logical, as the Christie book, but it’s a fun oddity and there are, not surprisingly, a large number of deaths.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Top 10 novels about toxic friendships

Charlotte Northedge is Joint Head of Books for the Guardian. She has previously written for a range of newspapers and magazines, including the Guardian, Psychologies, and Cosmopolitan.

She has an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature from Birkbeck and is an alumna of the Curtis Brown Creative writing course.

The House Guest is her first novel.

At the Guardian Northedge tagged ten "novels of toxic friendship [that] explore much more than just cruelty or manipulation – their characters are caught up in a tangle of co-dependency and intimacy, affection and deception." One title on the list:
Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller

On the face of it, Sheba’s friendship with fellow teacher and confidante Barbara is her salvation. When Sheba begins an affair with a 15-year-old pupil, the much older and solitary Barbara offers more than just a shoulder to cry on – she eventually moves in with Sheba, shielding her from the world. But what are Barbara’s motives in helping her disgraced friend – and who, ultimately, is in control of the story? A modern classic of toxic friendship and betrayal.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Seven novels about maps with hidden secrets

Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, and has lived in Beijing, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. The Book of M is her first novel.

[Writers Read: Peng Shepherd (June 2018)]

Shepherd's new novel is The Cartographers.

At Electric Lit she tagged seven favorite books about mysterious maps, including:
Kraken by China Miéville

Kraken is a delightfully strange, brilliant mash up of genres, myths, and stories, but in Miéville’s expert hand, it works. It all starts when Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist, discovers that his museum’s Giant Squid—a creature roughly the size of a city bus—has somehow, impossibly, vanished from its tank without a trace overnight. He soon discovers that this isn’t merely a baffling theft, but actually the opening moves to an ancient war over the end of the world that has been brewing for centuries. Several dangerous, powerful, and mystical organizations are locked in an apocalyptic battle, and the giant squid turns out not to be a scientific specimen, but possibly a god in a religion that has existed since the dawn of time. This long-dead sea monster, or more precisely, its ink, could be the key to victory or destruction.

When these forces all realize that Billy might know the location of the squid, he goes on the run, desperate to reach the squid, and maybe save the world, before his enemies can catch up. One of the most delightful scenes in the book is when several characters discover the trap streets of the popular “London A-Z” travel guide book. In the cartography industry, trap streets are roads secretly drawn into maps that don’t actually exist, to mark a work as unique to its maker. But in Kraken, they’re so much more—they’re real, and serve as hideouts where the various magical groups at war are able to escape and regroup safe from notice by the regular population of the city—but you can only reach them if you’ve got a map that shows the way.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Seven top mysteries about teens

Lisa Schroeder is the author of numerous books for kids and teens.

Her first novel, I Heart You, You Haunt Me, was an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

Schroeder lives with her family in Oregon.

Her new novel is A Night to Die For.

At CrimeReads Schroeder tagged seven favorite YA murder mysteries, including:
Sadie by Courtney Summers

Courtney and I started our YA careers around the same time, so it was fun to see this book be such a smashing success for Courtney. If you have an interest in true crime, this book is for you! It’s one of those books I don’t want to say much about – best to go in with as little information as possible and just try to enjoy the ride!
Read about the other entries on the list.

Sadie is among Kate McLaughlin's seven top fictional characters who are bent but not broken and Kate Kessler's six top revenge thrillers featuring female protagonists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 14, 2022

Top ten strange sci-fi dystopias

Lincoln Michel is the author of the story collection Upright Beasts, which was named a best book of the year by Buzzfeed and reviewed in the New York Times; Vanity Fair; O, The Oprah Magazine; and elsewhere. His fiction and poetry appear in The Paris Review, Granta, Tin House, Strange Horizons, Vice's Motherboard, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. His essays and criticism have been published by The New York Times, GQ, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian.

Michel's science fiction thriller debut is The Body Scout.

At Publishers Weekly Michel tagged ten of his "favorite strange dystopian novels," including:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro’s disquieting masterpiece makes the list for seeming so normal at first. At the beginning, you are tempted to think it’s a classic English boarding school novel. We follow Kathy and her friends Tommy and Ruth at Hailsham as they navigate the awkward and fraught relationships of teens everywhere. However, you soon realize that things are… not quite right at Hailsham. The teachers are called “guardians” and the ones who hint at the truth of the students’ lives are quickly removed from the school. I probably shouldn’t say anything more or risk giving away the novel’s haunting twist. Ishiguro’s famously taut and minimalist prose deftly moves the story from normal to strange.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Never Let Me Go is on Amelia Morris's lits of ten of the most captivating fictional frenemies, Edward Ashton's eight titles about what it means to be human, Bethany Ball's list of the seven weirdest high schools in literature, Zak Salih's eight books about childhood pals—and the adults they become, Rachel Donohue's list of seven coming-of-age novels with elements of mystery or the supernatural, Chris Mooney's list of six top intelligent, page-turning, genre-bending classics, James Scudamore's top ten list of books about boarding school, Caroline Zancan's list of eight novels about students and teachers behaving badly, LitHub's list of the ten books that defined the 2000s, Meg Wolitzer's ten favorite books list, Jeff Somers's lists of nine science fiction novels that imagine the future of healthcare and "five pairs of books that have nothing to do with each other—and yet have everything to do with each other" and eight tales of technology run amok and top seven speculative works for those who think they hate speculative fiction, a list of five books that shaped Jason Gurley's Eleanor, Anne Charnock's list of five favorite books with fictitious works of art, Esther Inglis-Arkell's list of nine great science fiction books for people who don't like science fiction, Sabrina Rojas Weiss's list of ten favorite boarding school novels, Allegra Frazier's top four list of great dystopian novels that made it to the big screen, James Browning's top ten list of boarding school books, Jason Allen Ashlock and Mink Choi's top ten list of tragic love stories, Allegra Frazier's list of seven characters whose jobs are worse than yours, Shani Boianjiu's list of five top novels about coming of age, Karen Thompson Walker's list of five top "What If?" books, Lloyd Shepherd's top ten list of weird histories, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best men writing as women in literature and ten of the best sentences as titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Seven novels set in the literary world

Caitlin Barasch’s debut novel, A Novel Obsession, is out this month from Dutton/Penguin Random House in the U.S. and Canada, and from Eksmo in Russia.

Born and raised in New York, Barasch earned her BA from Colorado College and her MFA from New York University, where she also taught creative writing. Her work has appeared in over a dozen publications, and been nominated for Best Small Fictions.

A former bookseller, Barasch is currently a creative writing instructor at The Writers Circle.

At Electric Lit she tagged seven "books set at least partly in the literary world, featuring characters who will do whatever it takes—to find love, to get ahead (or to simply survive) in the industry, to make good art, and/or to lead a more novelistic life." One title on the list:
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

This book was the talk of the town last year, and for good reason! Just after 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers, tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books, welcomes Harlem-born and bred Hazel to the cubicle beside hers, a string of uncomfortable events occur. As Nella starts to spiral over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career. In a brilliant critique of the publishing world’s dark side, The Other Black Girl is a dynamic thriller and a sly social commentary chockfull of twists and turns.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Other Black Girl is among Ashley Winstead's seven titles that explore collective guilt & individual complicity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Six crime novels set in public school classrooms

Frederick Weisel has been a writer and editor for more than 30 years. He graduated from Antioch College and has an MA in Victorian Literature and History from the University of Leicester in England. His short stories were awarded an Artists Fellowship from the Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Foundation, and his articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and Christian Science Monitor.

The Silenced Women is his debut novel. The second novel in the VCI series, The Day He Left, brings back the five detectives to investigate a missing person case and was published in February 2022. Weisel is currently at work on the third novel in the VCI series. He lives with his wife in Santa Rosa, California, and shares a birthday with his favorite author, Raymond Chandler.

At CrimeReads Weisel tagged six "school mysteries set ... in today’s ordinary public schools, specifically middle and high schools," including:
Dare Me by Megan Abbott

This 2012 thriller by the redoubtable, Edgar-winning Megan Abbott was a bestseller and was made into a popular TV series. The novel ostensibly takes place in a public high school, but it is so drilled down into the subculture of a cheerleading squad that classrooms, teachers, and— with a few exceptions—adults barely exist. The story follows the conflicts that arise when a new cheer coach takes over the squad and crashes into the established power structure of the girls in the squad. Abbott does a brilliant job of capturing the inner lives of teenage girls, who are often far more knowing and tough than perceived by those around them. Murder is at the heart of this story, and as usual Abbott has surprises at every turn. Pervading the novel is the irony arising from the incongruity between the seemingly positive, encouraging nature of cheer and the cynical machinations of the players, which travel far from that surface nature. Once you read this novel, you’ll not only look differently at those smiling squads on a Saturday afternoon, you may want to run away as fast as you can.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Dare Me is among Rachel Kapelke-Dale's eleven unexpected thrillers about female rage, Debbie Babitt's eight top coming-of-age thrillers, Avery Bishop's top five novels that explore "mean girl" culture, Kelly Simmons's six books to buddy-read with your teen or twentyish daughter, Katie Lowe's top eight crime novels for angry women in an angry world, Kate Hamer's top ten teenage friendships in fiction, S.R. Masters's seven thrillers that capture some of the darker aspects of tight-knit friendship groups, Jessica Knoll's top ten thrillers, Brian Boone's fifty most essential high school stories, Julie Buntin's twelve books that totally get female friendship, L.S. Hilton's top ten female-fronted thrillers, Megan Reynolds's top ten books you must read if you loved Gone Girl, Anna Fitzpatrick's four top horror stories set in the real universe of girlhood and Adam Sternbergh's six notable crime novels that double as great literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 11, 2022

Six titles about the shifting unreliability of memory

Jo Harkin studied literature at university. She daydreamed her way through various jobs in her twenties before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Berkshire, England, and Tell Me an Ending is her first novel.

At Lit Hub she tagged six books about the shifting unreliability of memory, including:
Anne Tyler, Noah’s Compass

Anne Tyler turns her exquisitely humane, closely observed writing to the story of Liam, a 60-year-old man who has just lost his teaching job and has moved to a cheaper apartment. On his first night there, the apartment is robbed; Liam suffers a blow to the head, and he can’t remember anything about the incident. These missing hours—the “not knowing how he’d comported himself”—disturb him deeply. His preoccupation with the lost memory leads him into a relationship with Eunice, a professional “rememberer.” Yet, though Liam thinks his problem is that “his true self had gone away from him and had a crucial experience without him and failed to come back afterward,” this reading will be challenged as he comes to a deeper understanding of himself and his life.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Top 10 books about suffering artists

Tom de Freston is a visual artist based in Oxford. Among various fellowships and residencies he has held a Leverhulme residency at Cambridge University, a Levy Plumb Residency at Christ’s College and the inaugural Creative Fellowship at Birmingham University. His work is regularly exhibited, and is represented in numerous public and private collections. With his wife, the writer Kiran Millwood Hargrave, he is the co-author of Orpheus and Eurydice and Julia and the Shark.

Wreck: Géricault’s Raft and the Art of Being Lost at Sea is his debut non-fiction work.

At the Guardian de Freston tagged ten "works [that] complicate our understanding of the links between pain and art," including:
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Rankine’s book-length lyric poem/essay about race relations in the US moves fluidly between discussion of everyday racism through to the explicit and structural. The entire fabric of society meets her gaze, from the artwork of JMW Turner to the writings of James Baldwin and Robert Lowell, anecdotes of microaggressions, analysis of the media around police shootings, the YouTube performances of Hennessy Youngman and her collaboration with John Lucas.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Citizen is among Diana London's nine books that celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lit Hub's ten books we'll be reading in 2030.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Eight utopian books for dystopian times

Allegra Hyde’s debut story collection, Of This New World, won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award through the Iowa Short Fiction Award Series. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, The Best Small Fictions, and The Best American Travel Writing. Originally from New Hampshire, she currently lives in Ohio and teaches at Oberlin College.

Hyde's new novel is Eleutheria.

At Electric Lit she tagged eight books that "offer us opportunities to reflect on what a better world could look like, as well as why that world doesn’t exist." One title on the list:
Arcadia by Lauren Groff

It was tempting to included Groff’s latest novel, Matrix, which surely has utopian vibes, but Arcadia is a classic. Set at a hippie commune in upstate New York, the novel opens in the 1960s with a haze of free love and an abundance of tofu. But the paradise can’t last forever, nor can it serve all of its constituents the same way—especially the children of the community’s founding adults, who had no say in the circumstances of their upbringing. A depiction of going back-to-the-land that ultimately surges forward to an imagined present, this novel considers the long-term impacts of a hippie experiment.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Arcadia is on Emma Straub's top ten list of books that mimic the feeling of a summer vacation, Ewan Morrison's top ten list of books about communes, and Jami Attenberg's top ten list of dysfunctional families in literature.

The Page 69 Test: Arcadia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Ten groundbreaking true crime titles

Sarah Weinman is the author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, an Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece and the editor of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsession.

Her new book is Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free.

At Publishers Weekly Weinman tagged ten true crime "books [that] helped me make sense of the world's darkest corners," including:
True Crime edited by Harold Schechter (2008)

When a genre finally makes it into the hallowed halls of the Library of America, that is a sign of its growing respectability. (Psychological suspense did with my own two-volume set, Women Crime Writers, in 2015.) As a writer, Schechter has done more work and research on historical serial murderers than anyone else (and become, alas, ripe for pilfering by true crime podcasters.) Editing this volume demonstrates the breadth of his knowledge and his astute choices of other nonfiction crime writers and their pet cases. Someday, I hope, there will be a follow-up anthology.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 7, 2022

Seven titles in which families are destroyed by their own secrets

Jane Cockram was born and educated in Australia, where she studied Journalism at RMIT. After completing postgraduate studies in Publishing and Communication at Melbourne University, she worked in the publishing industry, fulfilling a childhood dream of reading for a living.

Cockram's novels are The House of Brides and the newly released The Way from Here.

At CrimeReads she tagged seven of her "favorite books featuring multigenerational explorations of family secrets and mysteries," including:
The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

The queen of the genre, every book Kate Morton writes effortlessly connects her research with deeply layered family mysteries. As a reader, we are drawn into her fully-drawn worlds, often across generations and countries, and as writers we marvel at the artistry of her writing and the way her stories come together so seamlessly. Although it is difficult to pick a favourite, The Forgotten Garden with its spectacular setting on the Cornish coastline, an unexpected family inheritance and long-kept secrets, is one of her best.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue