Monthly Archives

September 2010

Celebrating Reed Farrel Coleman & INNOCENT MONSTER

Since Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest Moe Prager mystery, Innocent Monster, is coming out next week from Tyrus Books, I was asked to create a slideshow to help celebrate the launch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Reed or his books, below is a quick intro.

I could’ve mentioned that Reed is an award-winning novelist, poet and professor of writing at Hofstra University, but I thought I’d have some fun. (You can get the real story on his website.) What I took away from meeting him at this year’s L.A. Times Festival of Books is that he’s not only a gracious, talented writer but a man with a great sense of humor.

Hope you enjoy the show.

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Most importantly…

With Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books

All photos courtesy Reed Farrel Coleman’s website

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Nerd Chat with Hilary Davidson + Giveaway of THE DAMAGE DONE

Hilary Davidson‘s debut mystery novel, The Damage Done, doesn’t drop until tomorrow, September 28, but she’s already a star. Ken Bruen says in a Mulhollandbooks.com post that she’s among “a whole batch of gung ho mystery writers who believe that mystery is the new rock ’n’ roll…writing the most exciting literature this side of the Booker Prize.” Her award-winning short stories have been published in Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Spinetingler, among other venues. Hilary is also a freelance journalist, travel writer (she’s written many Frommer’s guidebooks) and expert on gluten-free dining. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s a skilled trapeze artist, CIA agent and world-class discus thrower, too.

The Damage Done is about Lily Moore, a travel writer living in Spain who returns to New York City to investigate her sister’s death. Upon her arrival, she finds that nothing is as it seems. Hilary and her reps at Forge have generously offered to let me give away one copy. But first, read on for our nerd chat, which is rated R for adult language and mature situations.

PCN: Many authors have to write several novels before they get published. You hit with your first one. Can you tell us how it happened and give one reason why we shouldn’t shove you down the stairs?

Hilary Davidson: There’s a big difference between what you’ve heard and what really happened. The Cinderella version is that I published my first short story in Thuglit, legendary agent Nat Sobel read it, and then his partner, Judith Weber, sold The Damage Done in a two-book deal to Forge. Technically that’s true, but the reality was more like this: I wrote a book that failed to sell and is now buried in a hard drive somewhere. After that, I tried working on short stories, and spent more than a year getting rejected by everyone. One publication strung me along for almost six months before saying no. I was on the verge of admitting fiction failure when Thuglit stunned me by saying yes to a story. That was “Anniversary,” which did eventually lead to many good things. But it took another ten months for me to get a second short story published.

PCN: All right, I shall abstain from shoving for now. You’ve published many non-fiction books, short stories, magazine articles. How was writing this novel different from those other experiences? What was easier? Harder?

HD: A lot of the non-fiction work is what I call “paint by numbers” journalism. There’s a set format, whether it’s a guidebook or a magazine article, and you know what your audience wants. It’s pretty easy to do when you get the hang of it. Short stories take me draft after draft to get to a point where I feel like they’re working. But a novel? Let me put it this way: I feel sorry for my husband because he has to live with me while I’m writing novels. When I start one, I know where I’m beginning, and I have a vague sense of the ending, and everything in-between is a mystery. My brain dwells on that mystery and the real world recedes bit by bit. While writing a book, I’ve been known to get lost on the way to a friend’s apartment (a place I’ve been only 50 times or so) and wander into traffic.

PCN: I do that all the time and I’m not even writing a book! I’ll blame it on writing this blog. You’ve traveled all over the world. What are some of the most mysterious, seductive places you’ve ever visited?

HD: The most mysterious was probably Easter Island, in that there are lots of theories about those giant statues there, but no one actually knows much of anything. Even the few remaining Easter Islanders can’t read the texts from the island’s glory days. But it’s a beautiful place, and the night sky is so clear you can see a glowing band of light cut through the sky at night — that’s the center of our galaxy. I’m an astronomy nerd from way back. I’m also a sucker for ruins, so I fell in love with Turkey. Before I visited, I hadn’t realized about half of the Roman Empire sits in what is modern-day Turkey.

But my very favorite place may be Peru, which has Inca ruins, stunning colonial architecture, the Andes, amazing art and food, and llamas. You can’t beat llamas.

PCN: Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

HD: No Turkish prison, but I have been inside a Turkish harem!

PCN: Even better! Why do you love cemeteries and brothels?

HD: I was quiet about my love of cemeteries for years, but I outed myself when I wrote a book of New York City walking tours and snuck in one of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. There was a debate over that, but my editor stood behind me and the tour made it into the book. Later, I found out my editor was a member at Green-Wood. There are lots of secret cemetery admirers around — I’m just more vocal about it. Green-Wood has great views (you can see the Statue of Liberty from there), a man-made lake (like Central Park’s), rolling hills and leafy trees, stunning statues everywhere…what’s not to like?

PCN: That sounds much nicer than my neighborhood.

HD: Ancient brothels, like what I saw when I visited Pompeii, are interesting, too. In history classes, the focus is on wars and speeches and philosophy. Everything sounds so grand. Then you visit, and you realize these ancient towns were filled with peepshows and brothels, kind of like Times Square before they cleaned it up. It’s a whole other side of history you don’t usually read about.

PCN: In Pompeii, there’s a penis etched in stone pointing the way to a brothel. Did you try to pull it out to see if you were the chosen one, a la King Arthur? It didn’t work for me.

HD: Hmm. I just took photos, actually. But now I’m on the lookout for similar signs at ancient sites. When I went to Ephesus, the “this way to the brothel” sign was an etching of a foot next to a “portrait” of a woman. I was disappointed, to tell you the truth. Too classy.

PCN: It doesn’t even make sense. A penis sign is much clearer. Now, you have a reputation for writing dangerous females. What qualities do you share with your femmes fatale? Don’t be shy–I know about your krav maga and karate! How are you different from the ladies you write about?

HD: I have two brothers and we grew up taking karate classes together. Since then I’ve studied krav maga and dabbled in other martial arts. This is something I have to be careful about when I write: most people don’t know how to break out of a chokehold. In The Damage Done, Lily’s had a very rough past, and she and her sister — the person she’s searching for in the book — have had some violent clashes. When I played them out in my mind, I had to forget what I would do in a fight, and think of how a normal person who hadn’t trained for years in a dojo would react.

There are things we share. Lily and I love old movies and travel — she’s even a travel writer, though a much more exciting, globetrotting one that I ever was. We also have the same taste in clothes. If we met in some parallel universe, we’d want to raid each other’s closets for the vintage finds.

PCN: Your next novel features Lily in the aftermath of events that occurred in Damage Done. Will she be a series character? Was that always your intention?

HD: When I was writing The Damage Done, I had vague ideas about writing two other books with Lily. She’s someone who’s constructed this very glamorous identity for herself, and she keeps a lot hidden because she’s ashamed of her past and her family problems, which run the gamut from mental illness to alcohol and drug abuse. That identity unravels in The Damage Done, and I wanted to explore where she goes from there. I was absolutely thrilled that my Forge editor wanted to do a two-book deal, because it gave me permission to follow this hazy yet powerful impulse.

PCN: What are your plans for pub day?

HD: I was going to hunt down a copy of The Damage Done at a bookstore and take pictures, but I’ve already embarrassed myself by doing that at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square on Friday night. On pub day, I’ll be having a party at Partners & Crime in Greenwich Village with two other authors, Joelle Charbonneau and Joshua Corin. Aside from that, I will be working because the truth is, I am a nerd.

PCN: Nerds rule! Thanks so much, Hilary, for chatting with us on the eve of your big day. I wish you a huge launch and magnificent book tour.

Fellow nerds, mobilize and support this book! Go see Hilary on tour by checking details here.

Now, for giveaway rules. One reader will be randomly selected to receive a copy of The Damage Done that Hilary will sign and personalize. To enter:

  • be e-mail subscriber or Twitter follower (new subscribers get 1 entry, current followers automatically get 2)
  • leave a comment about something you fixed that everyone thought had been irreparably damaged
  • have U.S./Canada address

Giveaway ends next Monday, October 4, 5 p.m. PST. The winner will be randomly chosen via Random.org and announced here and on Twitter. He/she will have 48 hours to claim the prize before an alternate name is chosen.

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PCNotes & Mini-Reviews

I’m sad to hear about Eddie Fisher’s passing last night at the age of 82. I follow Carrie Fisher on Twitter and just last week, she said he was on the mend after surgery for a broken hip. She sounded upbeat about his recovery so his death seems sudden.

Two years ago, I got to spend a day with Carrie. She was very kind to me and sent a nerdy girl over the moon. I’m sorry she lost her father.

*******************

A couple mini-reviews as you head into the weekend:

You Again

You wanna know how much trouble this movie is in? The ad campaigns make sure you know Betty White is in it when she only plays a minor role. This “comedy” starring Kristen Bell as Marni, whose brother (Lone Star‘s Jimmy Wolk) is about to marry her high school nemesis (Odette Yustman), is so bad, it’s painful to watch. People overact maniacally, as if they’re trying to cover up the fact the movie is DOA. Kristin Chenoweth’s wedding coordinator is eccentric for no reason and, worse, to no comedic effect. The best moments are between the veterans, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver, whose characters had their own rivalry in high school. And White is winning as usual as Marni’s grandma but since she’s everywhere, you don’t have to pay money to see her in the theater.

Nerd verdict: No fun seeing You Again

Undercovers

Can’t put my finger on why this new J.J. Abrams spy caper, directed by Abrams, didn’t blow me away, even when the lead spies played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe blew up stuff, the former with a rocket launcher while driving. Perhaps it’s because Mbatha-Raw and Kodjoe are nice to look at but somehow too slick to be fully accessible. Abrams’s previous spy muse, Jennifer Garner, switched between warm civilian Sydney and all-business Sydney whenever she was on a mission. So far, Samantha and Steven Bloom are all cool, all the time. Gerald McRaney, as their CIA handler, does inject a shot of welcome gruffness into the proceedings and I like the international locales so will tune in next week to see if the show manages to bloom.

Nerd verdict: Could be warmer Undercovers

What are you planning to see/read/watch this weekend?

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Capsule Reviews: GLEE Premiere, RAISING HOPE, RUNNING WILDE & CHASE

Though my butt is once again numb from too much couch time Tuesday night, I can’t say it was all time well spent. I enjoyed the Glee premiere but so far none of the new shows have wowed me. Here’s a quick rundown to help you spend your time more wisely.

**SPOILERS!**

Glee

Dot-Marie Jones, as the new football coach, Ms. Beiste, instantly made herself a welcome addition to the cast. Ms. Beiste is mean, vulnerable, unpredictable—someone only a skilled actress can pull off. Sue (Jane Lynch) now has a formidable opponent. The jury’s still out on Chord Overstreet as new kid Sam because I just can’t get past that “Bieber haircut,” as Finn calls it. Sam did a nice rendition of “Billionaire” but there’s nothing memorable about his voice.

Charice’s guest star turn as Sunshine was unnecessary since she doesn’t sing better than any of the girls in New Directions. I wish her solo moment could’ve been given to Mercedes (Amber Riley) or Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), incredible singers who don’t get showcased enough. Sunshine’s choosing to join Vocal Adrenaline was no big loss as far as I’m concerned. I did enjoy seeing Cheyenne Jackson as the new V.A. director and Charice’s line: “They gave my mom a condo and a green card!”

Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) and Tina are adorable together. Who knew Mike had those abs?? Brittany’s (Heather Morris) attempt to accuse Ms. Beiste of molestation was so wrong but her confession of “I actually want to touch her boobs” was even more so. I felt bad for Finn being thrown off the football team. His dating Rachel, who was super bitchy this episode, can’t possibly help his self-esteem. Rachel’s solo rendition of “What I Did for Love” was lovely but I missed the big group number that usually closes the show.

Nerd verdict: A subdued but still-fun Glee

Raising Hope

This new FOX sitcom about a young man still living at home who becomes a dad from a one night stand is from My Name is Earl‘s creator, Greg Garcia. It resembles that other sitcom in several ways: the white trash family, the voiceover narration, an appearance by actor Gregg Binkley, who played Kenny on Earl. (A newscaster even mentioned Earl on TV, though not by name.) One way it differed was that it wasn’t funny. The confused and often topless grandma (Cloris Leachman) who kisses her grandson on the mouth makes me cringe. OK, there was one decent line—a prison guard, talking about a death-row inmate, says: “Her last meal requests are a McRib and a Shamrock Shake. That should buy her a few more months. Those things are never available at the same time.” Hope isn’t a terrible show; there’s just something off either in the comic timing or maybe the ensemble just hasn’t gelled.

Nerd verdict: My Hopes are low for this one

Running Wilde

This is an odd little show. Can’t really recommend it but it’s not without merits, one being that it’s odd. Not all of the eccentricities are funny but at least this isn’t a run-of-the-mill sitcom. Will Arnett plays a spoiled rich man, Steven Wilde, who’s trying to win over his childhood crush, Emmy (Keri Russell), an eco-activist who’s been living in the jungle for years. Arnett and Russell are both engaging actors but I can’t say I’m rooting for their characters to be together because there’s absolutely no romantic heat there. Heck, Arnett has more chemistry with his driver, Migo (Mel Rodriguez), who’s paid to be his friend. Young Stefania Owen, who plays Emmy’s daughter, Puddle, is also a winsome presence but in this instance, the sum is less than its parts.

Nerd verdict: Not Wilde about it

Chase

This is an NBC Monday night drama I only got around to watching last night. I’m not a big fan of Jerry Bruckheimer-produced television but this one’s fast pace kept my interest. The show about U.S. Marshals lives up to its title by providing quite a few chases, mostly on foot. The villain (Travis Fimmel) was a serial-killing bastard so watching the Marshals close him down was rather satisfying. Kelli Giddish, as team leader Annie Frost, has an athletic tomboy quality that makes her believable when she jumps from a helicopter or off a bridge to get the bad guy (the actors apparently do many of their own stunts). She chews some of her lines, though, trying a little too hard to act tough. She looks like she’s got the grit; if she relaxes a bit, she’d be even better.

Of her team, Amaury Nolasco is the one I’m most happy to see. I miss my Sucre from Prison Break. Can’t say the same for Jesse Metcalf, whom I couldn’t stand on Desperate Housewives and is now playing the dumbest Marshal ever. Admittedly, that’s not his fault; he’s given stupid lines. His character wouldn’t be qualified to fetch coffee for office staff, much less be a field deputy.

I was surprised I enjoyed this show on any level because the preview was terrible. Perhaps it made me feel a little safer to see the good guys prevail, something that doesn’t always happen in these uncertain times.

Nerd verdict: Action-packed Chase

What did you think of the Glee premiere? Did you watch anything else?

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Capsule Reviews of Monday Night TV

Whoa, the fall TV season slammed into our living rooms so hard last night, my DVR almost exploded. Didn’t get to watch everything I recorded but managed to get through the season premieres of House and Chuck and the pilots of The Event and Hawaii Five-O (I reviewed Lone Star last week here). It’s now 3:30 and my contacts are plastered to my eyeballs so I’ll just jot down some quick impressions and hit the sack. There will be SPOILERS!

First, the returnees.

House

So they got the House-and-Cuddy sex out of the way right off the bat, picking up in the same scene that ended last season’s finale. I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, man, you guys are caked in blood and dirt and sweat. Shouldn’t you shower first? Y’all must smell!”

I’ve never been completely on board with this relationship but it was nice to see them happy before the doubts started settling in. When House gave Cuddy reasons for why their relationship wouldn’t work, I agreed with him. He is an asshole and he hasn’t changed (we don’t want him to!). I didn’t like how Cuddy told House she loves him and then freaked out when he didn’t say it back, right after saying she didn’t want to badger him into moving too fast by going public with their relationship. If you can’t say “I love you” just for the sake of saying it, without expectations, you shouldn’t say it at all. It shouldn’t be used to make the other person feel obligated. Talk about badgering.

Elsewhere, I knew Thirteen had planted the envelope for the team to find and that she wasn’t really going to Rome. She was too cool when the others told her they’d read her letter to House. I didn’t expect Chase to bluntly asked her for sex—when did he get such cojones?—and kinda like it that her whereabouts are now a mystery. Of course, in real life, Olivia Wilde is off making Cowboys & Aliens with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. Lucky girl.

Nerd verdict: Happy House, but this wasn’t a great House

Chuck

I’ve always enjoyed this show but now that Linda Hamilton, one of my cinematic action heroes, has joined the cast as Chuck’s mom, I tuned in with even more fangirliness. And I wasn’t disappointed. During a scene reminiscent of one in T2 when she’s sitting at a table being interrogated by a bunch of guys, I thought, “Don’t they know who they’re dealing with? Their butts are gonna get kicked!” And sure enough, that’s what happened. Nobody puts Hamilton in the corner.

Dolph Lundgren makes an appearance as the main baddie and has some fun telling Casey (Adam Baldwin) “I must break you,” a line he made famous as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Another ’80s movie reference was made when Harry Dean Stanton shows up to repo the car Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Morgan (Joshua Gomez) use on their non-CIA missions. It’s a nice touch to have Stanton in the role because he, of course, was the original Repo Man.

Other changes: The Buy More has been rebuilt but this time it’s a spy center completely staffed by spies, with General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) as the manager. Ellie is pregnant, but I don’t really care because I’ve never gelled to Sarah Lancaster as Chuck’s sister. I’d be fine if her character as eliminated, which I was hoping for when Ellie was shipped to the Congo last season. Alas, she came back.

The big change is that Chuck and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) are a full-on, lovey-dovey couple, sexting during missions. Unlike Cuddy and House’s, this relationship has a chance at succeeding because Chuck and Sarah are not as dysfunctional and neither one is the other’s boss.

Nerd verdict: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to watch Chuck

Hawaii Five-0

I used to watch the original series but don’t have strong enough memories to make this a comparison. Regardless, I thought the pilot fell flat, though it’s not an outright disaster. Alex O’Loughlin, as Steve McGarrett, sounds so much like Nicolas Cage both in voice and line delivery, I couldn’t help chuckling even during intense scenes. Seriously, close your eyes next time you watch—you’d swear you were watching a Cage movie. I don’t know why CBS keeps throwing shows at this guy.

Scott Caan made the strongest impression as Danno because his character was the most fleshed out. Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly hasn’t been given much to do yet, and Grace Park is unconvincing as a tough cop-in-training. She looks like she weighs a buck minus a dime so when she punches a guy, I feared more for her hand than his face. It was also ridiculous how she went undercover as a poor illegal Chinese girl who works two jobs, one being a hotel maid. C’mon—she has blond highlights in her hair and they don’t come cheap! If you’re thinking maybe her hair was sun-bleached, no, it is not possible for an Asian to go blond naturally.

Speaking of Asians, what the hell kind of accent was guest star Will Yun Lee doing? He sounds like a villain from a ’70s chopsocky movie, the kind that’s badly dubbed and is hammier than the main course on Easter Sunday. Yes, his character is supposed to have a Chinese accent but Lee’s was so cartoonish, I thought at first he was doing a parody a la Kentucky Fried Movie.

You know a show is not living up to its potential when it squanders a guest-starring turn by James Marsters aka Spike from my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Marsters is a dynamic actor but even he couldn’t liven up the proceedings here.

Nerd verdict: Hawaii Zer-0

The Event

After so many title cards designating when things were happening, I lost track of where the baseline was. I wasn’t sure if something was occurring 23 minutes earlier or now or thirteen months earlier. But I was intrigued.

From what I can understand of the plot, Leila Buchanan (Sarah Roemer) was abducted and probably being used as leverage by bad guys who want her father (Scott Patterson) to crash an airplane into a compound where the president of the United States (Blair Underwood) is about to make a speech, accompanied by a mysterious prisoner, Sophia (Laura Innes), from a Gitmo-like facility. When the plane disappears into some kind of vortex, Sophia implies she knows what happened. I wasn’t happy to see a twist that’s so Lost-like but I’ll give it a chance to surprise me.

Nerd verdict: Event not momentous but has potential to improve

What did you watch last night? See anything you liked? Excited the fall TV season has officially begun?

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TV Pilot Review: LONE STAR

FOX’s new drama, Lone Star (premiering Monday, September 20), is set in the world of Texas oil with a two-timing con man at its center. If you’re thinking, Isn’t that called Dallas and was done in the ’80s? I’d say, Nope. Dallas had a compelling (albeit sleazy) lead character and was entertaining camp.

Lone Star has newcomer James Wolk as a con man leading a double life with two different women in different Texas cities. As Robert in Midland, he has a sweet blonde girlfriend (Eloise Mumford) and scams locals, including her family, by selling them fake investments. As Bob in Houston, he’s married to Cat (Adrianne Palicki) and angling his way into the company owned by his father-in-law, oil tycoon Clint (Jon Voight). Perhaps Robert/Bob can’t be faulted for his actions since he’s been living a life of crime with his scam-artist father (David Keith) since he was a little boy.

After Bob gets a top position at Clint’s company, he decides he wants to go legit. Well, as legit as he can be when he’s juggling two different women, both of whom he claims to be in love with. He also doesn’t know jack about oil drilling and Clint has already made overt statements about how he deals with people who cross him—it’s mentioned several times that Clint’s brother Ray is dead because he tried something foolish with Clint. I assume the rest of the season will deal with how Robert/Bob will manage to keep the scams going and his hide from getting skinned by Clint.

Wolk is perfectly good-looking but there’s something too self-conscious about him to make Robert/Bob work for me. The best actors make it look like they don’t even know the camera’s in the room, that we’re somehow peeking into their private moments. Wolk always seems to be aware of the camera; in close-ups, I can see him acting. I’m not talking about the scenes when he’s pulling a con so he’s supposed to be putting on an act, but those in which he’s being open with his father. Perhaps this is because Wolk hasn’t worked in film for very long—I read in an interview he’s been in L.A. only three years. In You Again, the movie opening next week in which he plays Kristen Bell’s brother, he has this same I’m-not-quite-comfortable-in-front-of-the-camera-yet quality.

He also doesn’t make a convincing con man because he gives giant tells when he’s cornered. In a scene when he thinks Clint is onto him, Bob looks like he might pee his pants. He needs to be less obvious or Clint will squash him like a bug. Maybe Wolk will loosen up eventually and then Bob will be more of a match for his father-in-law.

Besides the intimidating Voight, only Mumford makes much of an impression. She has an open, trusting quality that makes it believable her Lindsay wouldn’t suspect anything. If Robert/Bob had to pick one woman and asked my advice, I’d tell him to choose Lindsay. Cat comes with a lot of baggage from her family, including her two bland brothers played by Mark Deklin and Bryce Johnson.

Marc Webb, who helmed the charming (500) Days of Summer and is rebooting the Spider-Man franchise, couldn’t add any sparks to this, though his work is competent enough. For a show that takes place under the hot Texas sun, Lone Star is oddly tepid.

Nerd verdict: Lackluster Star

Disclosure: I was given a screener because I’m a Klout influencer. I was under no obligation to receive it or talk about it. I get no monetary compensation for talking about it or mentioning the company.

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THE TOURIST Trailer

The Tourist is one of the movies I’m most looking forward to this year. It stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and was shot in Venice, Italy. It could be about accountants and I’d watch it. I like how even though it’s supposed to be a thriller, Depp is bringing a little bit of goofy to it. And Jolie’s character’s name is Elise!

Anybody else excited about this movie?

Photo: Peter Mountain

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Book Review: I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman

I’m conflicted in writing this review because Laura Lippman is a very skilled writer, someone who can string ordinary words together to create a breathtaking sentence. But her latest novel, I’d Know You Anywhere, frustrated me immensely because I couldn’t find many characters to root for, including the lead.

Eliza Benedict is the former Elizabeth Lerner, who was kidnapped when she was fifteen and held hostage for six weeks by Walter Bowman. Bowman had snatched and killed other girls before Elizabeth and another one while she was with him. Neither is quite sure why he let her live. The book opens twenty-three years later when Eliza (she’d shortened her first name and taken her husband’s last name to avoid attention) receives a letter from Walter, now on death row, claiming he’s sorry and would love to hear from her. She writes back, telling him to not write her, but Walter’s accomplice, a woman who’s against capital punishment, shows up on Eliza’s street and pretty much bullies her into accepting phone calls from Walter. He slowly worms his way back into Eliza’s world and she realizes she must confront him to quiet the ghosts in her head and wrest control of her life.

**MILD SPOILERS**

While I can’t imagine what it’s like to have gone through what Eliza did, I had to repeatedly put down this book because many of her actions, or rather, non-actions, are hard to swallow. I couldn’t understand why she would respond to Walter’s first letter, much less agree to accept collect phone calls from him on a regular basis. Her reasoning is if she ignores him, he’d just continue his attempts to contact her. Well, giving in to him also encourages him to prolong the connection. She even buys a new phone and gets a different number just for Walter because she doesn’t want him to have her regular number. How about not giving him any number at all?

Her sister, Vonnie, painted as brash and self-indulgent, actually nails it on the head when she tells Eliza:

“You let life happen to you….Jesus, if there’s one thing I would have learned from your experience, I think it would be to never let anyone else take control of my life. Instead, you’ve handed yours over. To [your husband] Peter, to the children. And now you’re giving it back to Walter Bowman.”

I don’t fault the teenage Elizabeth for being passive and doing what it took to survive; I have a problem with her remaining so docile as an adult.

Eliza’s passivity is especially alarming when Barbara, the anti-death-penalty woman, is clearly stalking her. Barbara hand-delivers notes from Walter, always knowing where Eliza and her family are, including where her daughter has soccer practice. Besides invading Eliza’s privacy, Barbara is unbearable in her righteousness. I would have gone straight to the police station and filed paperwork requesting a restraining order. But Eliza does nothing, fearing her past would be revealed, that her children would be devastated since they know nothing of her dark secrets. This seems like a reckless decision since protecting them from a killer with an outside accomplice—Walter makes subtle threats against them—should be Eliza’s first priority.

**END SPOILERS**

The only thing that kept me reading is Lippman’s deft prose. She has a way of describing things that’s instantly visceral:

Getting a letter from Walter was like some exiled citizen of New Orleans getting a telegram signed “Katrina.” Hey, how are you? Do you ever think of me? Those were some crazy times, huh?

I also commend Lippman on presenting all sides of the story: Walter’s justification for his actions, Barbara’s crusade against capital punishment, the mother of a dead girl who wants to make sure Walter gets executed, and Eliza’s reasons for communicating with her tormentor. But in Lippman’s attempt to be fair to everyone, she has failed to make any strong statement at all.

Nerd verdict: I don’t care to Know these characters

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Quick GLEE Notes

Glee returns next week but in the meantime, a couple of fun tidbits have emerged. You may have heard, as this article on E!’s website says, Tina’s hooking up with “Other Asian” Mike Chang this season. I think Artie had his chance with her so I’m glad she’s moving on. Hopefully, this means Harry Shum Jr. will get more lines.

Here’s also a look at John Stamos as Dr. Carl, Emma’s new boyfriend. He’ll make his first appearance in the second episode, “Britney/Brittany,” airing September 28.

Music-wise, you can hear the cast singing Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind” below. What do you think? Looking forward to Glee‘s return?

Photos: Adam Rose/FOX

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TV Review: NIKITA

For months now, giant billboards of Maggie Q in slinky outfits have been decorating the streets of L.A., trumpeting the arrival of a not-quite-new badass. When the latest reboot of La Femme Nikita finally premiered Thursday night, it had about as much depth as its advertising campaign.

Maggie Q stars as the titular character, now a lone wolf seeking revenge on the Division, the shady government agency that plucked her out of jail and trained her to be an assassin. Meanwhile, Lyndsy Fonseca is Nikita Jr., a drug addict named Alex who gets caught during a robbery, charged with a murder she didn’t commit and recruited by the Division. The premiere episode cuts back and forth between Nikita trying to find the organization’s weak spots and Alex adjusting to her new situation as a trainee, with some asskicking and Q in sleek outfits thrown in.

The problem was I didn’t find any of the lead actors convincing. Fonseca has a soft, apple-pie healthiness that doesn’t translate into a Ukrainian meth head. She’d snarl and try to give ‘tude but comes across as posing. Shane West, as the Division recruiter/handler Michael, overacts with his cheesy chewing of every line, none of which held any conviction. He wants to be intimidating but I ain’t buying it.

Q is harder to pin down. She has an iciness befitting a killer but it also makes her inaccessible. In the original Luc Besson movie, Anne Parillaud was allowed to be vulnerable and fierce, sometimes wiping away tears while blowing away bad guys. Q’s Nikita is all glacier. She looks good in Nikita’s costume changes but that only accentuates how mannequin-like she is. And her slight frame, devoid of any muscle tone, is too fragile to be badass or sexy. When a bad guy hits her during a fight, I worried she’d snap right in half. That’s something I was never concerned about while watching Jennifer Garner on Alias.

I have a weak spot for fightin’ ladies, though, so until my favorite shows return and there are other new series to check out, I’ll probably give Nikita another go. But the show had better start making me care about its characters or it’ll be permanently eliminated from my DVR.

Did you watch? How do you think this Nikita compares to the previous incarnations?

Nerd verdict: Nikita misses the mark

Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/The CW

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STAND UP TO CANCER Tonight

I don’t think any of us can say we’ve never known anyone who’s been affected by cancer in some way. I’ve lost family members and friends to the disease, one friend a year ago this month, and would like to see a cure in my lifetime. I believe it’s possible and that’s why I’m spotlighting Stand Up to Cancer, the celebrity-packed one-hour event airing tonight to raise money for cancer research. It will be broadcast commercial-free starting at 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, HBO, VH1, E!, among other channels (click here to see all the participants).

In case you haven’t heard, A-list Hollywood talent will be there, including George Clooney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Renée Zellweger, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Rob Lowe, and a long list of others, some of whom are survivors like Christina Applegate and Lance Armstrong.

Half an hour before the show starts, the celebrity phone lines will open and a pre-show hosted by So You Think You Can Dance’s Cat Deely will be streamed online at the networks’ websites (cbs.com, nbc.com, etc.) plus Hulu, YouTube, AOL, MSN, YouTube and several other portals. These sites will also stream the one-hour special.

My friend Lauren Clemmons is among the amazing team of people working behind the scenes almost 24/7 to pull off this event. She tells me Glee‘s Mike O’Malley will be doing man-on-the-street interviews in the pre-show, asking people what they’d give up to end cancer. She says there’s also a funny segment in the main show involving Seth Rogen, Ken Jeong and Elizabeth Banks that’s not to be missed.

But celebrities aside, Lauren says, “If people can watch the show and learn about the science that we’ve funded, I think it will really make a difference on how the public sees how research is being done at SU2C. It really is so cool to see so many medical and science fields come together to help make strides in finding successful treatments for this disease.”

For more info about SU2C and to donate, click here.

So, will you stand up? Who will you be remembering as you watch tonight?

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First Photos of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

RooneyMara.net has posted the first photos of Rooney Mara in training for David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The pictures aren’t great quality but they’re clear enough to see Mara looking Lisbeth-y. You can click on the site’s name to see more photos.

Do these look promising or are you still skeptical? I want pics of my boy Daniel Craig as Blomkvist! [UPDATE: For the first official photos of Mara as Lisbeth, click here.]

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