Monthly Archives

May 2012

First Impressions—Flashback Edition

I couldn’t find any exceptional openers among the ARCs I received this week, so I decided to go back and look at the opening passages from three of my favorite novels to see whether each was as good as the rest of the book. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time. It was the early summer of 1945, and we walked through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Mónica in a wreath of liquid copper.

“Daniel, you mustn’t tell anyone what you’re about to see today,” my father warned. “Not even your friend Tomás. No one.”

I think this is a good indicator of what’s to come, though it’s only a tiny hint of the wondrous, mysterious world readers are about to enter. It had me at Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Is there really such a place? Why can’t Daniel tell anyone? Isn’t that how the books became forgotten in the first place, because people stopped talking about them? Regardless, I totally wanted in on the secret, and to go there and unforget all the books. Note: A sequel, The Prisoner of Heaven, comes out July 10!

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Libby Day

NOW

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders. Little Orphan Libby grew up sullen and boneless, shuffled around a group of lesser relatives—second cousins and great-aunts and friends of friends—stuck in a series of mobile homes or rotting ranch houses all across Kansas. Me going to school in my dead sisters’ hand-me-downs: shirts with mustardy armpits. Pants with baggy bottoms, comically loose, held on with a raggedy belt cinched to the farthest hole. In class photos my hair was always crooked—barrettes hanging loosely from strands, as if they were airborne objects caught in the tangles—and I always had bulging pockets under my eyes, drunk-landlady eyes. Maybe a grudging curve of the lips where a smile should be. Maybe.

There’s so much good stuff here, where do I start? A little girl with drunk-landlady eyes? A meanness inside her belly that’s meaty and dark and slithering? It’s so creepy but there was no way I could stop reading. Flynn writes nasty characters you can’t peel your eyes from, even if their vileness deserves to be stomped on. To read my full review of this, go here. You can also check out the opening of Flynn’s upcoming Gone Girl here.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Prologue

CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.

I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.

I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?

This may not be a throat-grabbing opener, but it evokes a sense of longing that drew me in. I too wondered where Henry is. Why did he leave Clare? Is he coming back? Is he okay? These questions—and the title—made me read on, a good thing since I ended up swooning over it, completely caught up in the heartbreaking, impossible relationship between the lovers.

Have you read any of these? Do these openers make you want to?

Happy Friday!

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Stalker Award Nominees 2012

Happy Tuesday after a long weekend! Hope you’re all well rested, sun-kissed, loaded up on burgers and potato salad, and caught up on your reading. Me, I’m still pasty, but I did manage to ingest a healthy amount of ice cream. In this heat, I consider it a survival technique.

I also snapped out of my sedentary stupor long enough to tally up the nominees for this year’s Stalker Awards, given to crime novels and authors readers are obsessed about. Nominations were submitted by genre lovers at large over the last two weeks.

The poll will be open for one week, so you can now vote for one winner in each category until June 5, midnight PST. I’ll reveal the results soon thereafter.

My profuse thanks to all who took time to submit nominations and/or spread the word. I hope you see some of your favorites on the ballot!

*Voting has ended. Winners will be revealed next week. Thanks for stopping by!*


[SURVEYS 2]

Nominated covers:

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First Impressions 5.25.12

I received nine books this week, and only two had interesting openers. The others began with descriptions of weather (blue sky, sunny day, rain, humidity), scenery (lake, houses), or people doing mundane things (walking, driving, eating). Some included two or all of these categories.

These were the two openers that wasted no time in getting my attention.

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen, Dutton, out August 21

PROLOGUE

Another shot echoed over the treetops.

The beaters’ calls had grown clearer. A throbbing pulse was thundering against my eardrums, the damp air forcing its way into my lungs so fast and hard that it hurt.

Run, run, don’t fall.  I’ll never get up again if I do. Fuck, fuck. Why can’t I get my hands free? Oh, run, run…shhhh. Can’t let them hear me. Did they hear me? Is this it? Is this really how my life is going to end?


The Facility by Simon Lelic, Penguin, out August 28

Welcome. Come in, sit down. Would you like some coffee? Muffin? They’re yesterday’s but they’re fine. There’s blueberry and chocolate and a lemon one with some kind of seed. Sesame, he thinks but his friend cuts in. Poppy, the friend says. Lemon and poppyseed. His personal favourite. Low fat too, he adds and he winks. And Arthur is saying, no, no thank you, and for the second time since entering the room he says, who are you? What is this about? And that is when they ask. They give him coffee even though he said no and they say, so, Arthur: do you like cock?

Do these intrigue you? Wanna know more about what kind of interview Arthur is having?

Special thanks to my friend Lauren, who was so determined to see this post up today, she took dictation over the phone and typed this out for me because I’m still in traction.

Have a safe, wonderful holiday weekend!

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Satisfying REVENGE (SPOILERS)

*Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the finale!*

 

I’m sitting here in a neck brace typing with only one hand because the other one arm isn’t working and the doctor says I really shouldn’t be on the computer. But the Revenge finale was quite good, after a few disappointing eps, so I wanted to tap out a few words about it.

Emily ninja’d White Hair with a giant ax! I don’t know why she threw it down after taking a few swings at him, and then got a good beating because of that, but her swinging that thing made her look formidable.

I like how simply Em and Daniel ended their relationship. He’s been slowly turning into a d-bag so I thought there’d be yelling or melodrama, but it was done quietly, and I believed Daniel might have even been hurt.

Loved Em’s response to Victoria when she came over to offer her “condolences” on their breakup: “I can feel your devastation.” And that engagement gift/empty box? Ice cold on V’s part.

Did anyone else think that kiss Conrad gave Lydia when he said goodbye was a total Godfather move? Could he be working with the mob?

I yelled, “Noooooo!” when Daniel and Ashley were making googly eyes at each other. She’s a backstabbing, manipulative little b. Then again, she might be perfect for him, where he’s headed.

Charlotte scrolled through a Rolodex to find the detective’s name? Was this 1996? I liked her OD at the end, though. That character has been so colossally annoying, I can only hope she doesn’t make it to next season, especially after that horrible, bullying stunt she pulled on Jaime.

Didn’t expect FauxAmanda to suddenly reappear—pregnant!—but am glad Em won’t be all happy with Jack. The show needs her to stay angry and “revenge-y,” as Nolan said. Also, I’ve never thought she had great chemistry with Jack, who’s a rather dull character. I resent him for not recognizing the real Amanda. If she’s his true love, he shouldn’t just buy a substitute so easily.

Speaking of FauxAmanda, where has she been all this time? No one bothers to ask her that? Just “Hey, I disappeared for months, but am now gonna have your baby, Jack”?

The twist about Em’s mom being alive was…interesting, though very Alias-y. Not just the previously-presumed-dead-mom-who’s-actually-alive plot line, but because Mom is apparently also a badass since White Hair said Em fights like her. Someone call Lena Olin’s agent to see what she’s doing this summer!

What did you think of the finale? Were you surprised by anything? Are you hooked for next season?

Photos: ABC/Eric McCandless

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Reaction to HOUSE Series Finale (SPOILERS)

Throughout most of the episode, I was reading a magazine, checking my Twitter account, and watching videos of my baby niece learning how to roll over because all the navel gazing happening on TV was sooo boring and making me twitchy. It was nice to see Kal Penn and Sela Ward and Jennifer Morrison return to the show as Kutner, Stacy, and Cameron, respectively, to talk to House as figments of his imagination while he considered killing himself, but even their appearances and a raging fire couldn’t add much dramatic tension to his internal conflict. It was about the same ol’ issues he’d been struggling with all along—Is life worth living? Will he ever be happy? Can he find true love? Blah, blah, blah. Twenty minutes in, I was shouting at the TV, “Do something!”

Finally, House did get up, but when the building collapsed and exploded, I didn’t feel anything. As Wilson said in his eulogy, it was a selfish death. House had more than enough time to save himself but waited until it was too late. Shrug. And I’m saying this as a former super fan of the show and current fan of Hugh Laurie’s.

So I thought, “That’s that. I didn’t expect a happy ending, anyway.” But when Foreman said the coroner confirmed the identity of the charred body in the building, I thought, “It’d be so easy for House to switch his records with his former patient’s.” Which is what happened, and House appeared quite alive on Wilson’s front stoop.

Finally, we got to see the two in leather and stubble, riding off into the sunset on badass motorcycles. (This was funny in its midlife-crisisness, but Wilson is at his endlife so he’s allowed.) At that moment, I suddenly realized I did care what happened to House, but more for Wilson’s sake, because I didn’t want him to end up being so angry and alone. It’s nice to know Wilson will have his best friend by his side in his last days, and perhaps House will learn to stand on his own after all when his crutch is gone.

What did you think? How did you want the series to end? Did you miss Cuddy?

Photo: Byron Cohen/FOX

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A Few Thoughts on SHERLOCK: “The Reichenbach Fall”

*SPOILERS*

 

Cumberbatch with Andrew Scott as Moriarty

OK, just finished watching the season 2 finale of BBC’s SHERLOCK, and spent some time with Mr. PCN trying to figure out how Sherlock survived that fall. We came up with a reasonable theory, I think.

Holmes tossed a body over the side of the building, probably one that Molly helped him procure from the lab at the hospital because we saw him pay her a visit. Holmes also had assistance from the Baker Street Irregulars (he mentioned a street network earlier in the episode), one of whom, on the bike, knocked Watson down as he ran to Holmes. This gained the other Irregulars time to swarm around the body, blocking it from public view and removing it, while Holmes ran down to the street and took its place, smearing himself with fake blood. And this is what Watson saw when he finally made his way over.

I think Moriarty also used some kind of prop gun and/or blanks and squibs for his “suicide,” because the Moriarty from the canon was definitely not suicidal.

What did you think? I read that filming for season three won’t start until next year so we won’t get definitive answers anytime soon. Arggghh!

Photo: Colin Hutton/BBC/Hartswood Films

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First Impressions 5.18.12

I had a hard time this week finding three really strong openers, even in the books I enjoyed. These were among the better ones (I haven’t read any of them).

Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark, Mulholland Books, available now

He listened as the car pulled out of the driveway. When the sound of the engine faded into the distance, Zack looked at his watch: 9:36 a.m. Perfect. Three solid hours of “me” time. He eagerly trotted down the thinly carpeted stairs to the basement, the heavy thud of his work boots echoing through the empty house. Clutched in his hand was the magazine photograph of the canopy he intended to make. It would probably cost a small fortune at one of those fancy designer stores, but the copy he’d make would be just as good, if not better—and for less than a tenth of the price. A smile curled on Zack’s lips as he enjoyed the mental image of Lilah’s naked body framed by gauzy curtains hanging from the canopy, wafting seductively around the bed. He inhaled, imagining her perfume as he savored the fantasy.

 

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton, Minotaur, out June 5

Prologue

Tuesday 22 January (a few minutes before midnight)

When a large object falls from a great height, the speed at which it travels accelerates until the upward force of air resistance becomes equal to the downward propulsion of gravity. At that point, whatever is falling reaches what is known as terminal velocity, a  constant speed that will be maintained until it encounters a more powerful force, most commonly the ground.

Suzy’s Case by Andy Siegel, Scribner, out July 10

Little Suzy is lying in a Brooklyn hospital bed fevered and weakened. If her temperature were heating a pot you’d hear the high-pitched tone of a whistling teakettle. That’s why her six-year-old frame is on top of the dingy white sheets and not under them.

If her lungs were a train engine you’d hear puff, puff…chug, chug with the internal dialogue of her autonomic nervous system repeating, I think I can…I think I can.

Any of these grab you? Can the Suzy’s Case cover BE any creepier? It makes my skin crawl, but it’s also rather clever. In a creepy way.

Happy Friday!

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All Holmes, All the Time

As many of you know, I’m a bit of a Holmesian nut, so I thought I’d point out a few upcoming Sherlock Holmes-related things.

CBS announced last Sunday that it had picked up the pilot Elementary, about a modern-day Holmes and Watson in New York City. It stars Jonny Lee Miller as the famous detective and Lucy Liu as his partner, Joan Watson. Below is a first look at the show.

Miller is a decent actor (I enjoyed him on Eli Stone), but I can’t help hearing Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice (Cumberbatch plays Holmes in the current hit BBC version) spouting some of the lines in this clip. The difference is that Cumberbatch’s detective is much more gleeful when he gets to show others how brilliant he is. Solving crimes is entertainment to him and he loves having an audience. Miller’s version seems to be more serious, having just come out of rehab.

Over on Criminal Element, author Lyndsay Faye has a post about what CBS needs to do with this show to keep fans happy. She knows what she’s talking about because she’s not only an expert on the canon, she has seen the pilot.

This Sunday is the final episode in season 2 of BBC’s Sherlock. It’s titled “The Reichenbach Fall,” which should give you an idea of what happens if you’re familiar with the stories. If not, the only thing you need to know is that this series is exceptional and possibly even makes you smarter after watching it. Check your local PBS listings.

On May 22, as my friend Debbie D. informed me (thanks, Deb!), the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles is hosting an event called “Some Favorite Writers: An Evening with Sherlock Holmes and Friends,” featuring Holmes scholar Leslie Klinger, writer/director Nicholas Meyer, crime novelist Denise Hamilton, and real-life P.I. Sarah Alcorn. More information here if you’re in the area and would like to attend the free program.

What do you think of the Elementary clip? Will you watch? Are you excited, or slightly distrustful like Faye?

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Book Review: OVERSEAS by Beatriz Williams

After four disappointing crime fic novels in a row, I decided I needed a change of pace, and was happy to fall into Overseas, an engrossing fairy tale by debut author Beatriz Williams.

Twenty-five-year-old investment banker Kate meets billionaire hedge fund manager Julian Laurence when he attends a meeting where she works on Wall Street. The two have an instant connection and embark on a tenuous friendship, but he suddenly disappears from her life, saying it’s not appropriate for them to continue. He surfaces several months later, and soon Julian and Kate are inseparable, deeply in love.

But Julian becomes overprotective, hinting at a danger that threatens their happiness. As the darkness approaches, Kate realizes she’ll have to take extreme measures to save his life, if not her own.

This novel is a time-traveling fantasy, with a prince doing dashing things for his princess. Julian is a powerful billionaire, a gentleman, poet, and hero, so he can pretty much give Kate anything: his heart, devotion, jewelry, use of a private jet, etc. It’s all very seductive, though Kate keeps saying she doesn’t want the material things. She won’t take his money, doesn’t want to be a kept woman, is determined to make her own way in the world, etc.

The problem is, after a major career setback at the beginning of the book, she doesn’t do anything toward that goal. She frets about not “paying my own way,” but she never even looks for a job. She becomes a damsel who’s entirely reliant on her man for most of the story.

It seems that Julian, when he meets her at different moments in time, is always immediately drawn to her simply because she’s beautiful and “not like other women.” As Kate points out, “You came out of the blue, my missing half. In love with me.” She also says, “And now I suddenly have this perfect life, and I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t earn you.”

And that’s how I felt, too—the relationship wasn’t earned. Sure, attraction can happen instantaneously, but true love takes time and requires both people to know the complexities and depths of the other. Kate asks Julian, “I’m nice enough, aren’t I?” and the answer is yes, but to have this larger-than-life man be instantly, completely smitten with her—“over time” and “over distance,” as the cover says—her niceness and good looks don’t seem enough. She should match him in magnificence.

Julian’s vocal fervor toward Kate, while swoon-inducing at first, was too much for me, but I don’t read romance (though I loved Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife). He constantly tells her how utterly devoted he is to her, how he’d be “a mere soulless husk of a chap” without her. After many, many declarations like that, they started to lose their value as I became immune to them. When language contains that much ardor—and I did enjoy the old-fashioned way Julian talks—a little goes a long way. (In fiction, anyway; in real life, express your love freely!)

These issues aside, I liked the book quite a bit, and stayed up until four a.m. three nights in a row to finish it. Williams’s prose flows easily and she keeps the action moving forward. Overseas transported me to a glamorous life in New York City, a northern French town during World War I, and…well, another dreamy place at the end of the novel. It’s escapist and romantic and grand and that is nice enough.

Nerd verdict: Appealing Overseas

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy it from an indie bookstore

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Stalker Awards Nominations 2012

Since May is Mystery Month, it’s time for the second annual Stalker Awards! I created these last year so that crime fiction readers at large can nominate and vote for their favorite novels and authors without having to be on special panels or belong to certain organizations. They’re like People’s Choice Awards except none will be given to Robert Pattinson or Justin Bieber. (See last year’s winners here.)

The kind of rabid fandom those actors experience, though, is encouraged, because there can never be too much fainting around writers. The only requirement for you to nominate and vote is that you’re passionate about crime fiction. These are called Stalker Awards because they’ll be given to books you’re obsessed about and the authors who write them. They’re not called It-Was-Kinda-Interesting Awards.

How it’ll work: I’ll take nominations until 9 p.m. PST, Thursday, May 24, via the form below. Nominees must have been originally published in 2011. Please nominate THREE in each category, with #1 being your favorite, #2 your second favorite, and so on. This is to reduce the chances of a tie. If 50 respondents place 50 different titles in their #1 slot for favorite novel, for example, I’ll look to see which titles also show up as #2 and #3 on people’s lists to determine the highest vote getters.

You don’t have to fill out all categories but if some are tough for you, perhaps you can discuss ideas with fellow genre fans. I hope the process will help you revisit the outstanding crime fiction you read last year or discover books and authors you overlooked. Any questions, leave them in the comments.

I’ll announce the nominees on or around Tuesday, May 29, at which time you can vote on them and winners will be revealed first week in June. Spread the word, get your friends to participate, and let the stalking begin!

*Submissions are closed. See the nominees here.*

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First Impressions 5.11.12

Time for another sampling of opening passages from the books in my TBR pile, a regular Friday feature here at PCN. As some of you know, I go straight to the first page of the ARCs I receive before reading any accompanying press materials because the book itself needs to draw me in. If it’s a long description of weather or scenery, I’m usually done with it before I even start.

Here are this week’s openers for your perusal:

Heart of a Killer by David Rosenfelt, Minotaur, out now

Prologue

Detective John Novack knew something was wrong even before he stepped in the blood. Though he was a fourteen-year veteran of the force, in this instance his sense of foreboding did not come from an instinct finely honed by experience, nor was it a result of piecing clues together. The voice on the 911 call, as played back to him while he drove to the scene, had said it all.

“I killed Charlie Harrison.”

 

The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang, Riverhead, out now

At the age of nine, I slept next to a coffin that Father had made for Grandma’s seventy-third birthday. He forbade us from calling it a “coffin” and insisted that we refer to it as shou mu, which means something like “longevity wood.” To me, it seemed a strange name for the box in which we’d bury Grandma, but it served a practical purpose. It was less spooky to share my room with a “longevity wood” than with a big black coffin.

 

The 500 by Matthew Quirk, Reagan Arthur Books, out June 5

Prologue

Miroslav and Aleksandar filled the front seats of the Range Rover across the street. They wore their customary diplomatic uniforms—dark Brionis tailored close—but the two Serbs looked angrier than usual. Aleksandar lifted his right hand high enough to flash me a glint of his Sig Sauer. A master of subtlety, that Alex. I wasn’t particularly worried about the two bruisers sitting up front, however. The worst thing they could do was kill me, and right now that looked like one of my better options.

Which one(s) struck your fancy? Where do you think these books go from here?

Happy Friday and happy reading!

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Book Review: BLACKBIRDS by Chuck Wendig

This originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers, and is republished here with permission.

Miriam Black, the protagonist of Blackbirds, has the Dead Zone-ish ability to see a person’s future when she touches him or her, but Chuck Wendig takes it one step further by having her foresee only how and when the person dies. She becomes a grifter, paying visits to people she knows will kick the bucket and then taking their money so she can pay for food and shelter until her next target dies. Things get complicated when she runs into Ashley, a punk who wants in on her game, and meets Louis, a kindhearted truck driver whom she sees murdered in the near future while he utters her name. Does she somehow bring about his murder? And how can she stop it when the last time she tried preventing one of her visions, she ended up causing the death?

Wendig’s dark and twisty adventure is filled with misfit characters who defy easy stereotypes. Miriam is self-destructive, but she’s doing the best she can to survive the difficult hand life has dealt her. Louis, big as Frankenstein, shows Miriam more sweetness than she’s ever experienced. Stone-cold killer Harriet has a scene that makes readers understand her first kill; her story is even funny the first time it’s told.

Wendig inserts surprising moments of humanity among all the profanity. There’s a tale of a little boy and his balloon that should crack readers’ hearts. And despite fate being hell-bent on keeping her down, Miriam’s stubborn struggle to change it makes Blackbirds take flight.

Nerd verdict: Black, twisty tale with as much humanity as profanity

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

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