Sunday, December 31, 2023

The 50 best mysteries of all time

Gabino Iglesias is the author of the Shirley Jackson and Bram Stoker award-winning novel, The Devil Takes you Home, as well as author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novels Zero Saints and Coyote Songs. He is a writer, journalist, professor, and literary critic living in Austin, TX and a member of the Horror Writers Association, the Mystery Writers of America, and the National Book Critics Circle.

For Esquire Iglesias tagged the fifty best mysteries of all time. On the list at #8:
Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley

Few novels have been as frequently listed or celebrated as widely as Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, the first and perhaps the most well-known novel in Mosley’s bestselling Easy Rawlins mystery series. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, Devil in a Blue Dress introduces readers to Easy Rawlins, a recently unemployed Black war veteran who’s offered good money to locate Miss Daphne Monet, a beautiful blonde known to frequent Black jazz clubs. Besides being a great mystery, Devil in a Blue Dress, which was adapted into a movie starring Denzel Washington as Rawlins, is a perennially timely novel tackling issues of class and race that are as present now as they were in the 1940s.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Devil in a Blue Dress is among Zach Vasquez's nine novels that explore secrecy & deception in racial identity, Peter Colt's eight books featuring unlikely detectives, E.G. Scott's ten best pairs of frenemies in fiction, Alex Segura's nine top jazz-infused crime novels, Lori Roy's five top morality-driven thrillers, and Al Roker's six favorite crime novels.

Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, from Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, made The A.V. Club's list of “13 sidekicks who are cooler than their heroes.”

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Top ten books on booze

Henry Jeffreys is a journalist who writes about wine and other drinks in the Guardian, Spectator and Food & Wine. He is the author of Empire of Booze.

One of the writer's top ten books on booze, as shared at the Guardian:
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead is neither Waugh’s best book (I favour the Sword of Honour trilogy), nor his funniest (Scoop or The Loved One), but it is the best from a booze point of view. The scenes of drunkenness between Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder include some of the funniest parodies of wine talk: “a little, shy wine like a gazelle”. There’s also the excellent cognac-off between Rex Mottram and Ryder, which is a masterclass in razor-sharp snobbery.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Brideshead Revisited is one of Johanna Lane's five top imaginary castles in fiction, John Mullan's ten of the most memorable hunting scenes in literature, Robert Irwin's top ten quest narratives, Val McDermid's top ten Oxford novels, and Christopher Buckley's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six remarkable books set on New Year's Eve & Day

The Times of India tagged six remarkable books set on New Year's eve and day, including:
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

"On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society," reads the book's blurb.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Rules of Civility is among Glamour magazine's list of the fifty-seven best books of the 2010s and Michael Hogan's ten best New Year’s Eves in culture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 29, 2023

Eight books to explain economic development

Benjamin Selwyn is Professor of International Relations and International Development at the University of Sussex. At the Guardian he tagged eight books to help explain the way we live now, including:
Amartya Sen: Development as Freedom (1999)

One of the most powerful truisms that politicians, policymakers and academics buy into is that development depends upon economic growth.

Sen – an Indian economist and Nobel prizewinner – makes a compelling argument about why that narrative is wrong.

Many countries achieved rapid growth and industrial transformation during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The most prominent – Brazil and South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, and contemporary China – under authoritarian regimes.

Authoritarianism is justified by some as necessary for an ultra-hardworking labour force to catch up with developed countries. Sen argues that human development could and should be “a process of expanding the real freedoms” people enjoy.

Democracy, political participation and freedom of speech ensure that the poor cannot simply be ignored or exploited in the name of growth, he argues.

Core essential freedoms include a life free from the threat of starvation, undernourishment and premature mortality, alongside literacy and numeracy.

People’s freedoms are intrinsically important and enhance economic participation, generating further freedom-enhancing values.

States and public institutions have a crucial role to play. Sen’s thinking about development is evident in his understanding of poverty. He opposes metrics that count poverty based on income but focuses on ways in which poverty restricts freedom, and how it is expanded by anti-poverty measures.

Sen welcomed India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme of the early 2000s, which provided at least 100 days of unskilled wage employment a year to at least one member of every household, contributing significantly to poverty reduction.

The scheme enhanced its recipients’ “self-respect and participation in life and community” and he argues that women’s empowerment – through education, healthcare, changes to sexist laws – is key to women’s ability to advance social change.

“Nothing, arguably, is as important today in the political economy of development as an adequate recognition of political, economic and social participation and leadership of women,” he concludes.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Thirty-one of the best horror books of 2023

Neil McRobert is a writer, researcher and podcaster, with a specialism in horror and other darkly speculative topics; he is the host and producer of the Talking Scared podcast.

For Esquire he tagged the thirty-one best horror books of 2023, including:
The Paleontologist, by Luke Dumas

Ghost dinosaurs! Has any pairing of words ever sounded more loaded with possibility, or more worryingly like a gimmick? Have no fear—Luke Dumas’ sophomore novel is not the literary Sharknado that the words “ghost dinosaurs” would have you believe. Quite the opposite; it’s a moving, sorrowful story of secrecy, institutional rot, and the everlasting power of love and loss that even geological eons cannot diminish. When Simon takes up the role of head paleontologist in his hometown museum, he becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of his sister’s abduction from that very institution decades before. In the process, he unearths plenty of skeletons, both literal and figurative, some of which belong to the prehistoric entity roaming the exhibit halls. The Paleontologist is a mixture of sober Gothic and B-movie flamboyance. It’s a family drama, a crime procedural, and a social critique, but did I mention the GHOST DINOSAURS?!
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Five top SFF books set in the American South

Renée Ahdieh is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Ahdieh enjoys having her head in the clouds. She and her family live in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Wrath and the Dawn series, the Flame in the Mist series, and The Beautiful quartet.

At Ahdieh tagged "five of my most beloved SFF books set in the American South," including:
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

This is a recent addition to the ranks of my favorite SFF set in the American South, but I was sold the moment I heard it was set at UNC Chapel Hill and involved a historically white magical society and a Black girl attempting to infiltrate its ranks to learn about its involvement in her mother’s death. As a Carolina grad, seeing my school through this lens of the occult was fascinating, as well as eye-opening when it came to the problematic elements in our history as the first public university to open its doors. Bree is an inspired, layered main character, and the book’s nod to Arthurian legend makes it one of the best urban fantasies I’ve read in a long time.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The best nonfiction books of 2023

One title on Publishers Weekly's list of the best nonfiction books of 2023:
Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA by Theresa Runstedtler

Runstedtler’s fleet-footed chronicle examines how Black athletes transformed the NBA in the 1970s, covering Cornelius Hawkins and Spencer Haywood’s policy-changing antitrust suits against the league and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s political activism. Scrupulous research illuminates the contributions of superstars and overlooked game-changers alike, making for a history as nimble as the players profiled.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Black Ball.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 25, 2023

Ten of the best noir fiction titles of 2023

The editors at CrimeReads tagged their ten best noir fiction titles of 2023, including:
Scott Von Doviak, Lowdown Road

Von Doviak’s new book is an absolutely rollicking, roaring journey across 1970s America, as two cousins with a jackpot of weed decide to pack it into their car and move it across country to the site of a daredevil feat: a motorcycle jump across Snake River Canyon. Von Doviak has the period details just right, but even more importantly he captures the uncanny, corrupt atmosphere of the Seventies in exquisite detail, all while moving an intricate plot relentlessly forward. (The cousins happen to have a big-time trafficker and the law on their tail.) This is noir that manages to be both gritty and light on its feet. You’d be hard pressed to find a more fun road trip story.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Nine titles featuring parasocial relationships

Lisa Zhuang is an intern at Electric Literature. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Emory University and currently resides in mid-Missouri.

At Electric Lit Zhuang tagged nine novels featuring characters who are in love with people who don't know they even exist. One title on the list:
A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan

Remy and Alicia do not have much going for them. A pair of millennial restaurant workers trying to survive in New York City, the unhappy couple share little in common save for their obsession with Jen, a former coworker of Remy’s turned globe-trotting social media influencer. Jen is trendy, Jen is glamorous, and the couple spend their days roleplaying sexual fantasies involving Jen, who is none the wiser. When the couple accidently bump into Jen at an Apple store, they are invited on a surfing trip to Montauk, along with Jen’s wealthy boyfriend and their elite social circle. What starts as an awkward weekend of biting remarks and trauma dumping escalates into an outright horror show, as the lines fragment between fantasy and reality.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Ten of the best speculative crime fiction books of 2023

Molly Odintz is the managing editor for CrimeReads and the editor of Austin Noir, forthcoming from Akashic Books. She grew up in Austin and worked as a bookseller at BookPeople, and recently returned to Central Texas after five years in NYC. She likes cats, crime novels, and coffee.

At CrimeReads Odintz tagged ten of the best scifi and fantasy crime fiction titles of 2023. One title on the list:
Allison Epstein, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead

An evil vila, or shapeshifting spirit in Russian folklore, is the catalyst for this noir take on the Russian Empire just after their pyrrhic victory against Napoleon. As untold suffering grips the empire, and revolutionary fervor brews, a beautiful woman appears to a discontented prince and promises him the changes he so desires, if he will but follow her lead. She soon makes the same promises to a small group of dedicated fighters trying to reform (or overthrow) their current regime. Full of historical detail, Epstein’s alternate history brings together many aspects of Russian history for a novel that, while it may skip around in its inspirations, feels true to the thoughts and feelings of its time period.
Read about the other entries on the list.

My Book, The Movie: Let the Dead Bury the Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Let the Dead Bury the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 22, 2023

Ten titles to make you feel better about your dysfunctional family

Marissa Higgins is a lesbian writer. Her fiction has appeared in The Florida Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, X-Ray Literature, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction has appeared in the Best American Food Writing 2018, Glamour, NPR, Slate, and others.

Higgins's debut novel, A Good Happy Girl, is coming out with Catapult in 2024.

At The Chicago Review of Books she tagged "ten books likely to distract you from your hyper-specific family dramas and/or destroy you and your sense of self completely." One title on the list:
Perfume & Pain (out May 2024) by Anna Dorn

Astrid, the self-hating midlist writer at the heart of this smart and funny ode to lesbian pulp, would be mortified to exist within a listicle about dysfunctional families. How cringe!!!! And yet Perfume & Pain is about nothing if not (sorry!!) queer chosen family; romantic, platonic, artistic, and otherwise. For people equally intellectually engaged by Carol and the Real Housewives franchise, as well as The Girlies who want a pink book for social media.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Twelve top mysteries and thrillers of 2023

One title on Publishers Weekly's list of the best mysteries and thrillers of 2023:
All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

This tale of a Black sheriff in rural Virginia facing off against a religiously motivated murderer imbues the standard serial killer thriller with uncommon depth. Rich characters, trenchant social observations, and breakneck pacing combine to make it Cosby’s best yet.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Ten books coming to TV & film in 2024

Claudia Guthrie is a writer covering culture, entertainment, and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in ELLE, The Muse, Food52, and more. Originally from Kansas City, she now resides in Denver, where you can find her reading the newest thriller or knitting sweaters for her cats.

At Electric Lit Guthrie tagged ten top upcoming literary adaptations, including:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

In the wake of the Russian Revolution, nobleman Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest at a hotel in central Moscow. The novel spans years as Rostov befriends staff, guests, and a one-eyed cat while living out his sentence within the hotel’s walls. A Showtime TV series based on the novel is expected in December, with Ewan McGregor playing Rostov.
Read about the other entries on the list.

A Gentleman in Moscow is among Suzanne Redfearn's six current architecturally inspired novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Seven novels that effortlessly blend travel & crime

John Marrs is a former journalist and author of ten best-selling novels, including When You Disappeared and Keep It In The Family. His book The One became an eight-part Netflix drama, and What Lies Between Us won an International Thriller Writer’s Award.

[My Book, The Movie: The OneThe Page 69 Test: The OneThe Page 69 Test: What Lies Between Us]

Marrs's new novel is The Vacation.

At CrimeReads he tagged seven favorite thrillers that effortlessly blend travel & crime, including:
Every Vow You Break, by Peter Swanson

If Swanson rewrote the dictionary, I’d read it. Ever since The Kind Worth Killing, I have been a fan and have read all of his novels since. This psychological thriller focuses on Abigail, a new bride who marries millionaire Bruce following a whirlwind relationship. For their honeymoon, he whisks her off to an Island retreat. But not all goes according to plan when she comes face to face with a final fling she had on her hen night, who also turns out to also be a guest. Satisfying, murderous fun.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Every Vow You Break is among Amanda Jayatissa's seven top thrillers set at weddings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 18, 2023

Seven NYC books that capture the city’s many sides

Jonathan Wells is the author of a memoir, The Skinny, and three collections of poems: Debris (2021), The Man with Many Pens (2015), and Train Dance.

The Sterns Are Listening is his first work of fiction.

At Lit Hub he tagged seven books that "do for me and New York City what I think the best writing does: animate, transform and illuminate." One title on the list:
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Set in the 1870s but written in the 1920s, Edith Wharton’s novel of morals and manners was set during New York’s “gilded age.” Its center was Broadway and 23rd street. The Trinity church where Edith Wharton was married is located on 24th Street West of Broadway.

From my office window, I looked down on its roof and exterior for ten years but rarely went beyond the plaque on the brick commemorating her wedding. Trinity was sold to the Serbian Orthodox community in 1945 when most of its parishioners had moved uptown. When it burned down in 2016, I felt that I (and Edith) had lost a touchstone in the city.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Age of Innocence also appears on Véronique Hyland's list of eight memorable literary “It” Girls, 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

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Ten top new or recent Texas books

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. For the Austin American-Statesman he tagged ten top new or recent Texas books, including:
Satire at its sharpest: 'Mr. Texas'

I could not stop giggling. Lawrence Wright's satire, "Mr. Texas" (Knopf), portrays the state's political culture so accurately, one winces with the shock of recognition. A well-meaning West Texas cowboy, considered something of a joke in his community, wins a seat in the state legislature with the help of a sleazy political consultant. What he discovers in Austin is a system so corrupt and convoluted, it might be hard for out-of-staters to credit. Texans know better. Wright has been developing this comic romp for decades. (I saw a stage version decades ago.) As a novel, "Mr. Texas" is expertly populated, textured and paced. He has updated the pointed political and cultural commentary already shared in his nonfiction book, "God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State."
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 16, 2023

The five best spy novels of 2023

The editors at CrimeReads tagged their five top espionage novels of 2023, including:
Paul Vidich, Beirut Station

Vidich has firmly established himself in the very top flight of espionage writers, with a series of slow-burn character studies putting him in the line of le Carré. In his latest novel, Beirut Station, he adds a shot of adrenaline into the mix, as his story follows a young Lebanese-American CIA agent involved in a joint operation with Mossad in Beirut 2006. She soon begins to suspect a deeper conspiracy in play, and when she voices her concerns, becomes a target herself. The interiority of Vidich’s characters is as complex as ever, but the meticulous operations work will keep you turning the pages and moving deeper into the chaos.
Read about the other entries on the list.

My Book, The Movie: Beirut Station.

The Page 69 Test: Beirut Station.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 15, 2023

Seven memoirs about addiction by women writers

Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones is a writer from Puerto Rico whose poems and short fiction have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, wildness, Ambit Magazine, Radar Poetry, and other publications. In 2019, she received an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook University, where she also taught poetry to undergraduate students. Her chapbook, Bedroom Pop, was published by dancing girl press in 2021. In 2022, she was awarded a Letras Boricuas Fellowship by the Flamboyán Arts Fund and the Mellon Foundation. Her full-length debut, The Hurricane Book, is published by Rose Metal Press.

At Electric Lit Acevedo-Quiñones tagged seven memoirs by women writers about the struggle with drugs and alcohol and the journey to recovery. One title on the list:
Lit by Mary Karr

The third in a memoir trilogy that includes the critically acclaimed The Liars’ Club and Cherry, Lit introduces Mary Karr as a full grown woman, poet, wife, and mother struggling with alcoholism. In her musical, no-nonsense style, she shows us how this disease, passed down from her own gun-toting, charming, erratic artist mother, almost wrecked her own life, following her on a quest for the stability she didn’t know as a kid. We see how through hard spiritual work, brutal self-effacement, hospitalization, community, and grace, she found a way through. This is also one of the first memoirs I ever read that included habitual disclosures about the haziness of memory, which made me feel safe as a reader and writer.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Lit is on Lindsay Lohan's jailhouse reading list and among Erin Lee Carr's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Five top books to capture the magic of magical realism

Lois Parkinson Zamora is a leader in the comparative study of literature of the Americas. Her books include The Inordinate Eye: New World Baroque and Latin American Fiction (2006), a comparative study of New World Baroque art, architecture and literature, and Writing the Apocalypse (1989) and The Usable Past (1997), both of which examine the nature of historical imagination and its representations in contemporary U.S. and Latin American fiction.

She is co-editor of Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (1995).

At Shepherd she tagged five of the best books from Latin America to capture the magic of magical realism, including:
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits tells the story of a family in an unnamed Latin American country over the course of fifty years, starting in the 1920s. We get to know four generations of Del Valle women, each of whom has a mystical side that allows her to commune with spirits and act upon the insights that these spirits provide.

There is also the patriarch of the family, Esteban Trueba, who is quite the opposite of the women in his family—a strongman whose exercise of economic and political power has terrible consequences.

The name of the country where the novel takes place isn’t mentioned, but we know that it is Chile because the plot moves inexorably toward 9/11/1973, the date of the military coup in Chile that led to thousands of “disappeared” or exiled citizens.

The personal and the political are well balanced in this novel because while we are deeply engaged in the lives of the characters, we also watch as a long-standing democracy crumbles and finally falls to a military dictatorship. Allende is herself Chilean and a relative of the President of Chile who was murdered during the military take-over in 1973.

This novel is her first, and it serves as a memoir of her family’s experiences, both political and personal, bitter and sweet.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The House of the Spirits is among Christopher Barzak's five books about magical families and Elif Shafak's five favorite literary mothers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Four top mysteries set in Early America

Mollie Ann Cox is the author of several popular mystery series, also writing under the pen name Maggie Blackburn and Mollie Cox Bryan. Her books have been selected as finalists for an Agatha Award and a Daphne du Maurier Award and as a Top 10 Beach Reads by Woman's World. The Lace Widow is the first book where she’s combined her passion for history and mystery.

At CrimesRead Cox tagged four favorite historical mysteries set in Early America, including:
The Turncoat’s Widow: A Revolutionary War Mystery, Book One by Mally Becker

This book is very different from [Paddy Hirsch's] Hudson’s Kill, but it’s just as good. It’s set in 1780, several years before, and the main character, Rebecca Parcell, is not an investigator. Like Eliza in my book, she’s an amateur sleuth and recently widowed, trying to make sense of the world as a widow. A widow’s life was precarious, especially one whose husband had secrets the government takes an interest in. The reader can’t help but love Rebecca as she navigates the mysteries she’s confronted with.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The best mysterious classic novels that take place in a grand manor house

Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written four novels, Deep Roots (2023), Skin Deep (2020), Love Love (2015), and Everything Asian (2009), which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award. In 2022, his Modern Love essay from The New York Times was adapted by Amazon Studios for episodic television. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.

[The Page 69 Test: Everything AsianMy Book, The Movie: Skin DeepQ&A with Sung J. WooThe Page 69 Test: Skin DeepMy Book, The Movie: Deep RootsThe Page 69 Test: Deep RootsWriters Read: Sung J. Woo (September 2023)Coffee with a Canine: Sung J. Woo & Koda]

At Shepherd Woo tagged five favorite mysterious classic novels that take place in a grand manor house, including:
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Why did I love this book?

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” That first line of Rebecca may be as famous as “Call me Ishmael.” And as soon as you come to the end of the very short first chapter, you realize what a haunting line it is, because Manderley is gone, burnt up in smoke.

Does anyone not like Rebecca? I’ve not met a single person who hasn’t liked the book. I know it’s cliché to say a place is like a character, but that’s exactly what Manderley is, a house suffused with the death of the previous wife, Rebecca. When I was writing my book, I wanted my own Manderley, a beautiful mansion that’s also a beautiful prison.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Rebecca appears on Stacey Halls's list of six novels about power, deception, and control, Veronica Bond's list of six great Gothic castles from literature, 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

Monday, December 11, 2023

Six books for a murder mystery tour of England

Award winning author Liz Fielding was born with itchy feet. She was working in Zambia before her twenty-first birthday and, gathering her own special hero and a couple of children on the way, has lived in Botswana, Kenya and the Middle East, all of which have provided rich inspiration for her writing. She has written more than seventy books, several of which have won awards, and sold over 15 million copies. In 2019 she was honored with the Romantic Novelists' Association Outstanding Career Award.

Fielding's latest crime novel is Murder unde the Mistletoe.

At The Strand Magazine she tagged six books for a murder mystery tour of England, including:

Craven’s Washington Poe series, set in Cumbria, in the north west of England, has the additional joy of one of the mostoriginal and engaging female sidekicks in Tilly Bradshaw. The books are a series and there are ongoing threads, but nothing that gets in the way of a great stand-alone crime novel.

The writing is pacy, the action non-stop and I chose this one because it has a winter setting in what is a stunning but always challenging landscape.

The Curator begins with the discovery of three pairs of fingers – one cut from the victims while alive, the other when dead. There’s a vile game afoot, with international connections. Nothing is as it seems. The killer is playing psychological mind games with police, but with each new twist the story goes to deeper until the truly shocking ending feels like a series of body blows.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Five great books that feature mediums & the spirit world

M. M. (Marjorie) DeLuca spent her childhood in the beautiful cathedral city of Durham in North-Eastern England. She attended the University of London, Goldsmiths College, studied psychology, then became a teacher. She immigrated to Canada and lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two children. There she also studied writing under her mentor, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Carol Shields.

She loves writing for all ages and in many genres—suspense, historical, sci-fi for teens. She's also a screenwriter with several pilot projects in progress.

DeLuca enjoys teaching workshops in Creative Writing and the writing process.

Her new novel is The Night Side.

[My Book, The Movie: The Night Side; The Page 69 Test: The Night Side]

At CrimeReads DeLuca tagged five great books that feature mediums and the mysteries of the spirit world, including:
Affinity by Sarah Waters

In this masterful Victorian Gothic chiller, Margaret Prior, an upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, has begun visiting the women’s ward of London’s grim and forbidding Millbank prison, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank’s murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by an apparently innocent inmate, the mysteriously charismatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own. The brilliant Sarah Waters makes this a visceral and terrifying story of passion, manipulation and deception.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Nine titles about the aftermath of the Balkan wars

Christine Evans was born in London and grew up in Perth, Western Australia. Prior to moving to the US in 2000, she played saxophone in Perth and Sydney bands and directed music for theatrical events, including her own plays.

She writes fiction, plays, opera libretti, and essays.

Three Marys, for which she wrote the opera libretto (Andrée Greenwell, composer), premiered at the Sydney Opera House in May, 2023, and is available for streaming worldwide from the opera house.

Evans's debut US novel is Nadia.

At Electric Lit she tagged "nine books—funny, tragic, absurd, harsh and beautiful—about the aftermath of the Balkan wars." One title on the list:
The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

Alexsander Hemon’s extraordinary memoir-in-essays interweaves memories of his life in Sarajevo; reflections on war’s aftermath, food, football and friendship; the divided condition of the immigrant; love, family and heartbreak; and the attempt to rebuild a sense of home in his new city-of-exile, Chicago.

Briefly in the US on a writing fellowship, during Hemon’s absence the looming war engulfed Sarajevo. On May 2, 1992, the day after he canceled his return flight, the last trains left the city and “the longest siege in modern history” began. At first unmoored and unable to comprehend American space, Hemon writes about the need to find in Chicago what he’d lost through exile from Sarajevo: a “geography of the soul.” He builds this, block by block, through walking the city and finding: a café, a bar, a football game in which he can anchor himself.

Hemon’s book is a mosaic made from such maps and stories, the ironies and impact of which are only apparent from absorbing the whole. The essay “The Book of My Life” is about Hemon’s Sarajevo literature professor, who told his students about the book his five-year-old daughter was writing. “She had titled it ‘The Book of My Life,’ but had written only the first chapter. She planned to wait for more life to accumulate, he told us, before starting Chapter 2. We laughed, still in our early chapters, oblivious to the malignant plots accelerating all around us.” Later, the professor joins the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) “headed by Radovan Karadžić, the talentless poet destined to become the world’s most-wanted war criminal.” When the SDS is involved in the bombing of the Sarajevo library, Hemon writes, “The infernal irony of a poet (bad though he may have been) and a literature professor causing the destruction of hundreds of thousands of books did not escape me.”

It was only on finishing the book that I was struck, in turn, by the infernal irony of Hemon naming his own book by adapting a title (“Life” to “Lives”) invented by the young child of a book-burner and mass-murderer.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 8, 2023

Six murder mysteries featuring bookish people at bookish events

V.M. Burns is the Agatha Award-nominated author of screenplays, children's books, and cozy mysteries, including the Baker Street Mysteries, the Mystery Bookshop series, the Dog Club Mysteries, and the RJ Franklin Mysteries. Born and raised in South Bend, Indiana, she currently resides in Georgia just outside Chattanooga with her poodles. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Her latest book is Murder on Tour.

At CrimeReads Burns tagged "six cozy mysteries where murder didn’t just happen between the covers of the book" but at a book event as well. One title on the list:
A Trace of Poison by Colleen Cambridge

The second book in the Phyllida Bright Mystery series features the housekeeper of Mallowan Hall, the home of Dame Agatha Christie and her husband, Max Mallowan. When the neighboring village of Listleigh hosts a Murder Fête organized to benefit a local orphanage, things in the quiet village take a sinister turn. Members of The Detection Club, a group of celebrated authors such as G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha herself, will congregate in support of the charity which includes a writing contest for aspiring authors. The stakes at the fete are high as the winner will get an international publishing contract. At a cocktail party, one of the entrants imbibes a poisoned cocktail intended for the president of the local writers’ club who was thought to be a shoo-in for the prize. It’s up to Phyllida to find a murderer among a group of guests who are experts in murder—and how to get away with it.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ten top campus novels

At Writer's Digest Michael Woodson tagged ten of the best campus novels, including:
On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty is the story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts, whose misadventures in the culture wars--on both sides of the Atlantic--serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith's reputation as a major literary talent.
Read about the other entries on the list.

On Beauty is among Michelle Webster-Hein's eight titles that wrestle with the complexities of religion, Ali Benjamin's top ten classic stories retold, Brian Boone's twenty books that are absolute dorm room essentials, Ann Leary's top ten books set in New England, and Tolani Osan's ten top books that "illuminate how disparate cultures can reveal the mystery and beauty in each other and make us aware of the hardships, dreams, and hidden scars of those we share space with."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Five crime novels about troubled teens

Tessa Wegert is the author of the popular Shana Merchant mysteries, which include Death in the Family (a Book Riot Best Locked Room Mystery), The Dead Season (“Deliciously twisty”—Bookreporter), Dead Wind (Publishers Weekly starred review), The Kind to Kill (a Strand Magazine Top Mystery Novel), and the hot-off-the-presses Devils at the Door.

[My Book, The Movie: The Dead SeasonThe Page 69 Test: The Dead SeasonQ&A with Tessa WegertThe Page 69 Test: Dead WindWriters Read: Tessa Wegert (April 2022)Writers Read: Tessa Wegert (December 2022)]

At CrimeReads Wegert tagged five "crime novels that tackle teens, their struggles, and their relationships with the adults around them." One title on the list:
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

A decade and a half after the disappearance of high school student Angela Wong, her remains are discovered near the home of her childhood best friend Georgina Shaw, who used to date Calvin, the man convicted of killing Angela. While the dual timelines in this spellbinding thriller treat us to both an unflinching look at Geo’s time in prison for helping her ex cover up the crime and the twisted love story of Geo and Calvin, others are dying, possibly at her ex’s hand. In the end, Geo must reconcile mistakes made in her youth in order to save her future as an adult…that is, if she survives long enough to see it.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Jar of Hearts is among Emily Smith's five top thrillers featuring the dead/surviving girl trope, B. R. Myers's top ten quietly effective suspense novels, and Alice Blanchard's ten chilling thrillers to get you through the winter storms.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Ten memoirs & essay collections by Black women

Alicia Simba is a writer and educator living and working in Oakland, California. She has been published in Teen Vogue, Slate, Blavity, and more, and runs a weekly substack titled "an education." She is a graduate of Barnard College and Stanford University.

At Electric Lit she tagged ten "memoirs and personal essay collections released in the past ten years [that] exemplify [the] growing urgency by Black women to tell our side of the story." One title on the list:
Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

Writing about her upbringing in a wealthy, professional Black community of Chicago in the 1950s, critic Margo Jefferson reflects on the intersections of race, gender, class, and color within her community, poetically delving into the nuances of Black life. The Pulitzer Prize winner manages a tight balancing act, honestly approaching the privileges and prejudices of her childhood family and friends, whilst remaining steadfast in her knowledge and understanding that Blackness—regardless of status or hue—is still ultimately Black. “We’re considered upper-class Negroes and upper-middle-class Americans,” her mother tells her, “But most people would like to consider us Just More Negroes.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 4, 2023

Five top holiday crime novels

Born and raised in West Lothian, Catriona McPherson left Edinburgh University with a PhD in Linguistics and worked in academia, as well as banking and public libraries, before taking up full-time writing in 2001. For the last ten years she has lived in Northern California with frequent visits home. Among numerous prizes, she has won two of Left Coast Crime’s coveted Humorous Lefty Awards, as well as the inaugural Anthony Award for Best Humorous Novel, for the Last Ditch comedies. Her latest novel is Hop Scot.

[The Page 69 Test: Go to My GraveWriters Read: Catriona McPherson (November 2018)My Book, The Movie: The Turning TideThe Page 69 Test: The Turning Tide; My Book, The Movie: A Gingerbread House]

At CrimeReads she tagged five favorite holiday crime novels, including:
Tied Up in Tinsel, by Ngaio Marsh

The action takes place in a country house, right enough. And there’s a gathering of old frenemies too. But, as is often the case with Marsh, nothing’s quite as cozy as it seems. The staff of the stately pile are all convicted murderers, out on parole; thus has the lord of the manor solved the servant problem. So when the corpse hits the parquet, as corpses must in this genre, there’s no shortage of suspects. By 1972, when this book was published, Marsh was unapologetically playing with the Golden-Age tropes and never better than here, her twenty-seventh entry in the series, with nothing to prove and fun to be had.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Seven mystery novels with the best twists

Emily Bain Murphy was born in Indiana and raised in Hong Kong and Japan. She graduated from Tufts University and has also called Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California home.

Enchanted Hill, Murphy’s debut adult novel, is a historical mystery set in 1930 over a glittering week of parties at a mansion on the California coast.

At Writer's Digest she tagged seven mystery novels with "engaging characters, an atmospheric setting, a mystery that keeps me turning pages, and at least one twist I didn’t see coming." One title on the list:
The Likeness, Tana French

Tana French is the queen of literary procedurals. Her first six novels shuffle recurring characters in the Dublin Murder Squad series so that they each take turns getting prime placement. The Likeness follows Detective Cassie Maddox as she goes undercover—after discovering a dead woman who could be her double, and infiltrating the victim’s life to see if she can draw out the killer. If you’re willing to go along with the premise, you’ll fall deep for this one.

French could teach a masterclass in dialogue and this novel is a slow-burn, chilling kind of creepy with gorgeous writing. It shimmers with lines like, “This girl: she bent reality around her like a lens bending light, she pleated it into so many flickering layers that you could never tell which one you were looking at, the longer you stared the dizzier you got.”
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Likeness is among Emily Beyda's seven top doubles in the twisted world of mystery fiction, Sophie Stein's eight books about small-town woman detectives, Alison Wisdom's sven great thrillers featuring communal living, Christopher Louis Romaguera's nine books about mistaken identity, and Simon Lelic's top ten false identities in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Seven books about authorship hoaxes

Ayden LeRoux is a queer writer and critic from New England. Once upon a time she attended culinary school, worked as a cheesemaker on a goat farm, and studied to become a sommelier. Now she writes fiction and nonfiction exploring embodiment, eroticism, and illness, in order to complicate narratives about caretaking, gender, sexuality, and family structures. She writes art and literary criticism regularly, often covering work that pertains to sexuality, disability, and the culinary world.

LeRoux's work can be found in BOMB, Bookforum, Catapult, Electric Lit, Entropy, Guernica, Lit Hub, Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Rumpus, and was honored as Notable in Best American Essays 2021. She is the co-author of Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (2016).

At Electric Lit LeRoux tagged seven notable books about authorship hoaxes, including:
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

At any given reading, it seems the most common question is “Where did you get the idea for this?” John Boyne’s main character Maurice Swift is obsessed with this too, because, simply put: he is a good writer with no good ideas. After a chance encounter with famed author and Holocaust survivor Erich Ackermann, he panders to the older gay man and preys upon his loneliness, becoming an assistant of sorts, traveling with him on book tour. Over the course of the tour, he teases out a story that Erich has never shared about his time during World War II, which Maurice uses to write his first novel. As the rest of this elegantly plotted novel unfolds, we watch as Maurice continues to find new and atrocious ways to grift stories for his novels.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 1, 2023

Ten scary novels to read while being nice to your family

Erika Johansen grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing. She lives in England.

Her new novel is The Kingdom of Sweets: A Novel of the Nutcracker.

At Lit Hub Johansen tagged "ten books [that] never fail to remind me that the world could use a little more love and kindness right now." One title on the list:
Within These Walls, by Ania Ahlborn

At the outset, this looks like a standard (if well-written) haunted house novel, but what has occurred in this particular house gradually becomes almost unbearable. Ahlborn is routinely fearless about venturing into forbidden territory in her work, and while that fearlessness can create a disturbing experience for the reader, she also knows how to wield her understanding of the taboo to write good and effective horror stories, like this.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue