Monthly Archives

June 2012

Musical Memories

A couple weeks ago, I discovered this cool new iPad and iPhone app called Songza. When you log in, it knows what day and time it is and what you might be doing, and it offers musical options for those activities. For example, if you sign in Monday morning, you can choose a song list for working out, while you make breakfast, or to sing along to in the shower. If you sign in on a Friday evening, it’ll give you music to help you unwind after a long week, or party with your friends. Best part? It’s free.

Anyway, I chose the unwinding-music option one day last week, and it gave me several song lists to choose from. I think I picked ’80s hits or soft rock or something like that, and Air Supply came on with “Lost in Love.” When I heard the opening notes, I thought, “What song is this? It’s so familiar…”

Next thing I knew, I was not only singing along (and knowing all the words), but rushed back into a memory of my teenage self with feathered-back hair listening to this song on a Sunday afternoon as Casey Kasem counted down the week’s top 40. I was in the living room of my parents’ house, a house that no longer exists, and the music was streaming from a stereo system that had a turntable and dual cassette player. Every Sunday afternoon, I’d have my ears glued to that stereo, hoping my favorite songs made it into Casey’s top 10.

The next song that popped up on the list was “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton-John. I was hit by another visceral memory of going to see the movie on opening day for I idolized “Livvie” back then. Well, the movie was seventeen kinds of dreadful (though it made for a hilarious live parody many years later) but I loved the music, bought the soundtrack, danced to it in leg warmers and terry-cloth gym shorts.

As the song list continued, more memories kept waking up. I cannot hear Boz Scaggs’s “Look What You’ve Done to Me” without thinking of the first slow dance I ever had, at music camp with a boy who had tear-inducing body odor. (The first line is “Hope they never end this song” and I was thinking, “Oh, please, I hope it ends before I pass out.”) And Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” made me recall standing in the corner at a dance when a boy I was crushing on walked over and asked…the girl next to me to dance. These are the reasons I love listening to these songs, no matter how cheesy they are. They’re reminders of the person I once was, the moments that might have caused me distress once upon a time but only make me smile now.

What songs from your past bring back strong memories?

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First Impressions 6.22.12

Today sees the return of my featuring three openers from new or upcoming books for you to determine which make(s) you want to keep reading. Intros with long descriptions of weather and/or scenery are immediately disqualified.

This week’s selections:

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli, Bantam, available now

I’d come five years and two thousand miles to stand in the rain while they prepared my brother for his own murder.

He had two weeks to go before they strapped him down and injected poison into his heart. I knew Collie would be divided about it, the way he was divided about everything. A part of him would look forward to stepping off the big ledge. He’d been looking over it his whole life in one way or another.

I moved this book up my TBR pile based on this tweet from Piccirilli last week: “I knocked down a cripple, threw the book at his head, and took $25 out of his wallet. #howtosell” If he can entertain me with fewer than 140 characters, what can he do with a whole book?

 

Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft, Emily Bestler Books/Atria, available now

Prologue

Östergötland, Tuesday, January 31

In the darkness.

Don’t hit me. Do you hear me? Leave me alone.

No, no, let me in. Apples, the scent of apples. I can almost taste them.

Don’t leave me standing here, in the cold and wet. The wind feels like nails that tear at my hands, my face, until there is no frosted skin, no flesh, no fat left on my bones, my skull.

Haven’t you noticed I’m gone? You couldn’t care less, really, could you?

What the hell is going on here? I’m intrigued.

 

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood, Viking, available now

PRELUDE

June 2003

They heard the caterwaul of sirens, and saw the dust rising underneath the ambulance wheels at the far end of the driveway, and soon the darkening garden was a wash of flashing blue lights. It only seemed real when they told the paramedics where to find the bodies. There was one upstairs on the top floor, they said, another in the organ house, and one more at the foot of the garden—the riverbank in a nest of flattened rushes, with the cold water lapping against his feet. When the paramedics asked for his name, they said it was Eden. Eden Bellwether.

What do you think? Any of these pique your interest?

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Book Giveaway: SHADOW OF NIGHT by Deborah Harkness

I had family in town for the past several days and had a lovely time, but I’m seriously sleep-deprived so it may be another 144 24 hours before I can write a longer post. Today, I’ll run this fantastic giveaway that the very nice people at Viking have allowed me to host.

One winner will receive a finished copy of Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night, the much-anticipated sequel to A Discovery of Witches, plus an Ashmole 782 temporary tattoo, and “a set of 6 buttons, displaying different alchemical symbols” (click on the image to see them in detail). The book won’t be out until July 10 but perhaps you can get your hands on it early!

First, a description of the book from the author’s website:

A Discovery of Witches introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782. Drawn to one another despite longstanding taboos, and in pursuit of Diana’s spellbound powers, the two embark upon a time-walking journey.

Book Two of the All Souls Trilogy plunges Diana and Matthew into  Elizabethan London, a world of spies and subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night.  The mission is to locate a witch to tutor Diana and to find traces of Ashmole 782, but as the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them they embark on a very different journey, one that takes them into heart of the 1,500 year old vampire’s shadowed history and secrets. For Matthew Clairmont, time travel is no simple matter; nor is Diana’s search for the key to understanding her legacy.

Shadow of Night brings us a rich and splendid tapestry of alchemy, magic, and history, taking us through the loop of time to deliver a deepening love story, a tale of blood, passion, and the knotted strands of the past.

Enter by answering the following question in the comments section: Which real book comes closest to being the story of your legacy? You don’t have to answer truthfully; I post these questions to make the entries interesting. Fine by me if your answer is Lolita or Sh*t My Dad Says.

Giveaway ends next Thursday, June 28, at 9 p.m. PST. One winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours to claim the prizes. US/Canada addresses only, please.

OK, let’s hear about your fake family history!

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Nerdy Hot List 2012

It’s been a hard, sleep-deprived week, so I thought I’d do a fun post today. First Impressions should return next week if I get some books with strong openers.

Every year for the past three years, I’ve published a list of 10 nerdy hot celebs as a response to Maxim‘s Hot 100 list, which focuses only on physical perfection. The magazine released its selections a couple weeks ago, so it’s about time I got mine out.

The men chosen here are sexy for being incredibly good at playing goofy or awkward. You can have your Magic Mike beefcake; I’d rather watch these guys in action.

1. Benedict Cumberbatch. He not only manages to bring Sherlock Holmes into the twenty-first century, he makes the detective’s antisocial behavior highly entertaining, leaving fans panting for more.

 

2. Jean Dujardin. Yes, he has leading-man looks and played a movie star in his Oscar-winning role in The Artist, but George Valentin was also a giant ham, mugging for his audiences and doing tricks with his dog, Uggie. The actor himself is also committed to being silly, as he cameos on Saturday Night Live and “auditions” for these villain roles after winning his big prize.

 

3. James Marsden. The actor has shown glimpses of buffoonery before as the prince in Enchanted, but lately he’s been holding his own against Tina Fey on 30 Rock as Liz Lemon’s hapless boyfriend Criss. Criss looked like yet another loser at first, but Marsden imbues him with such joy and sweetness that his cluelessness is forgiven. Now I hope he and Liz last for a while, and maybe even have a “plant.”

 

4. Josh Hopkins. Though he regularly popped up on different drama series, he never left any traction in my consciousness until he showed up on Cougar Town as Grayson. When his character started singing silly songs (many of which the actor says he wrote himself), sometimes accompanying himself on a ukulele, I sat up and paid attention. And realized he’s hot.

 

5. Matthew Lewis. He played Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter’s awkward, chubby friend, for most of his childhood, and made me cry in the final movie. But when he showed up at the premieres, I realized the little nerdy boy was all grown up.

 

6. Blake Shelton. He acts reasonably normal as a coach on The Voice, but his goofball side gets unleashed in his crazy Twitter feed, which is filled with “drunk” tweets and TMI about the inner workings of his privates. Sometimes he goes too far, but his unapologetic wackiness gets him nerdy hotness points.

 

7. Michael Fassbender. He, uh, was kind of nerdy as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method. Is that reaching a bit? OK, fine, he’s not nerdy at all, but dang it, I wanted to put him on this list, and it’s my blog, so there.

Fassbender as Jung

Fassy all purrrty

 

8. Max Greenfield. When we first met his character Schmidt on New Girl, any hotness he had was strictly in his mind. There’s a reason his roommates have a douche-bag jar, to which Schmidt seems to contribute the most money. But Greenfield has managed to somehow make Schmidt insecure and sweet beneath the DB exterior, and more importantly, he regularly makes me laugh.

 

9. Jon Hamm. Yes, he made my very first Nerdy Hot List three years ago, but he has risen to such new heights of ridiculousness recently, I had to put him back on here. Did you see his shirtless, saxophone-playing, hair-weave-wearing cameo in Saturday Night Live‘s 100th digital short? Or his ignorant actor playing a black character in a vintage skit on 30 Rock? He is SO stupid in that. How about his Italian singing in the opening skit of the recent SNL finale, which he did not host? (Mick Jagger did.) The man takes such delight from playing fools, I might as well induct him into the Nerdy Hot List Hall of Fame.

I got to number 10 and realized I didn’t have one more, so I thought I’d open it up to you—who should complete this list??

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And the 2012 Stalker Award Winners Are…

To help celebrate May being Mystery Month, I accepted nominations from crime fiction readers at large for authors and books they’re obsessed about. The nominees were announced at the end of May, and 960 people stopped by to vote for their favorites.

Congratulations to the following winners:

Novel You Shoved Most Often in People’s Faces

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Lead Character You Most Want As Your Friend

Charlie Hardie—Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski

Most Scene-Stealing Supporting Character

Elvis Cole—The Sentry by Robert Crais

Most Throat-Grabbing Opening Sentence

“There are drunken assholes, and there are assholes who are drunks.”—Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder

Most Memorable Dialogue

Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski

Catchiest Title (this won by one vote)

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

Most Eye-Popping Cover

Getting Off by Lawrence Block

Favorite Author on Social Media

Meg Gardiner

Most Criminally Underrated Author

Eric Beetner

 

This was great fun for me, and I hope it was for you, too. Thank you to everyone who took time to submit nominations, spread the word, and vote. I hope you’re making notes as you read this year’s books, so you’ll be ready with your noms for next year’s Stalkers!

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Armchair BEA—Day 5: Blogging Tips

Design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room

Today we’re supposed to share advice on blogging if we’ve been doing it awhile, or ask for tips if we’re new. I’ve visited several other participants already, and there are lots of good suggestions out there, so I’ll just add a couple I haven’t seen.

Use yourself to judge your success. I see a lot of bloggers obsess over their stats—hits, number of followers, etc.—and why someone else is getting certain ARCs and they’re not. And then they beat themselves up, thinking they’re not good enough or doing something wrong.

It’s not a competition; there are no blogging Olympics or medals for bloggers with the most books. Set your own goals and try to achieve those. Is your writing at the level you want it to be? Do you feel your blog design represents who you are, and is aesthetically pleasing to you? Do you have interesting conversations with the nice people who regularly stop by and leave comments, even if there are only two of them? At the end of the day, if you’re meeting your goals, then I think you’re a success. In life, I don’t compare myself to others and feel bad if I don’t have as big a home, or as nice a car, so I don’t do it in blogging.

Make it easy for people to reach you/explore your site. I’m surprised by how many blogs don’t have the blogger’s contact info easily accessible. There should be a contact form or email address so people can reach you if they want to drop you a line or pitch you books. (I recommend a contact form so your email address isn’t out there for spamming robots to find.) Also, have a Home button. If someone found your blog via a permalink to a specific post and liked what they read, they might want to see what else you’ve written. Having a button that takes them back to your home page will be extremely helpful.

That’s all for now, because I’m still in my jammies and haven’t had coffee. It’s a good thing you can’t see what my hair looks like. Armchair BEA has been fun. Many thanks to regular and new visitors alike for stopping by, and as we say in our high school yearbooks, I hope we stay in touch.

What advice do you have for bloggers? Even if you don’t blog, you probably read blogs, so what do you like and not like?

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Armchair BEA, Day 4: Beyond the Blog

Design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room

You might have seen earlier this week that I’m participating in Armchair BEA, in conjunction with BookExpo America that’s going on in NYC right now. The event was created so bloggers who couldn’t make it there could still convene and network online.

The ABEA team has given us topics to write about, and today’s is how our blogs have led to professional opportunities, writing-related or otherwise. These are some of the gigs I’ve landed since I started blogging three and a half years ago.

Shelf Awareness for Readers. A little over a year ago, a blogger friend, Jen Forbus (whom I met because of this blog), told me that Shelf Awareness, the daily newsletter for book industry professionals, was hiring freelance reviewers for its new edition aimed at readers. I submitted three reviews from this blog, and was offered the job. If I hadn’t been blogging, I wouldn’t have had writing samples available online.

Criminal Element. When I saw last year that Macmillan was about to launch a website for crime fiction fans, I wrote to the community manager at the time, Clare Toohey, to say I was interested in contributing crime-related blog posts. I then asked Jen (she’s a very nice friend) to put in a good word for me because she’d been previously hired as a social media maven for the site. When Clare responded, she said she was already familiar with my blog and accepted my request to join the writing team. The blog scored again.

I got to see this man at AFI Fest (Getty Images)

American Film Institute Film Festival press passes. Two years ago, I pimped out a few blog posts to apply for a press pass for the annual film festival in November, during which many awards contenders make their world premieres. I submitted links to three of my movie-related articles and was thrilled to be approved as a press member, receiving an ID in a lanyard that got me into most of the screenings. Tickets are free, but they go fast every year. I didn’t have to try snagging some online (the site would always freeze due to traffic overload), or wait in long standby lines. I saw other lanyard-wearers from publications like Variety and the Los Angeles Times. And there was me—Pop Culture Nerd. Heh. My name also got put on press lists, and now I occasionally get offers of screeners and invitations to screenings of upcoming films.

Copyediting jobs. Because of the blog, I met two wonderful, talented writers, Brett Battles and Laura Benedict (among many other fantastic authors). We started out as Twitter pals, with them occasionally visiting my blog and leaving nice comments, but both relationships led to my being their copyeditor.

I finally met Brett in person two years ago, and mentioned I was an editor. I wasn’t pushing my services on him; he was traditionally published at the time. But last year, when he decided to dive into the self-publishing world, he contacted me about editing his book. I have since edited 7 novels, 1 novella, 3 short stories, 1 long blog post for him, and am currently working on his next novel, Pale Horse. I got to meet Laura last year at Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, and not long thereafter, she asked me to copyedit her novel Devil’s Oven, the inaugural title for Gallowstree Press, the new publishing press she started with her husband. Two years ago, I was only reading their books. Now I get to have input. All because of the blog.

Wow. When I started this post, I thought I’d make a short list and just say a few things. Seven hundred words later, I have before my eyes proof that this blog has been good to me. And I just started it as a creative outlet, with no clear goals. I didn’t really know what I was doing in the beginning, and couldn’t have imagined where it’s taken me so far. No doubt, it’s a lot of work, and you can see via the time stamps that many of my posts have been published at ridiculo’clock in the morning. But I do find it rewarding, and some days still feel like I’m winging it. Which keeps it fun, because I’m never quite sure what will happen next.

Where has your blog led you? If you’re a new blogger, where would you like to go with it?

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Movie Review: PROMETHEUS

It’s not such a big secret anymore, but during production, Ridley Scott and the creative team behind Prometheus (out Friday, June 8th) were very coy about whether or not this was an Alien prequel. Well, it takes place before the events in Scott’s 1979 classic, shares certain elements, and has a thread that leads to Alien. So, yes, I’d say it’s a prequel.

Marshall-Green, Rapace, Fassbender

Other than that, I’ll be vague about plot points so as not to spoil anything, because things do get pretty wild. In 2089, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find evidence via cave drawings that extraterrestrials visited Earth a long time ago. They determine that these beings came from a planet in a far-away solar system, and manage to get wealthy Peter Weyland and his Weyland Industries to fund an expedition on a space ship called Prometheus to investigate the origins of man. The journey takes two years, during which the travelers are in hypersleep, and most of the movie’s action unfolds in 2093, upon their arrival on planet Zeta 2 Reticuli. Of course, the environment (impressively rendered in 3D) is not what they expected, and bad things start befalling them.

It’s exciting to see Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salander, in her first lead Hollywood role, though for the first half of the movie, she doesn’t get to really bust out and show her acting or action chops. And then she gets this one scene that’s so horrific and unconventionally badass that I thought, “OK, that’s probably one of the reasons Scott hired her.” She does something I’d never seen done on screen, and it requires someone who can convince us she’s tough enough to handle it. I’m still cringing just thinking about it.

Fassbender is the other highlight, playing the ship’s robot, David, with a mechanical smile and friendly demeanor that perhaps masks something darker underneath (though I don’t understand the motivation behind some of his actions since robots aren’t supposed to want things or think for themselves). The actor continues to impress, with his wide array of roles that are vastly different from each other. Charlize Theron, as the onboard Weyland rep, uses her icy blondness effectively. And British actor Idris Elba, as the ship’s genial captain, surprises by speaking in a Southern drawl.

The movie is melancholy in some parts, and while Elizabeth’s belief in creationism is emphasized in the beginning, the theory of how we came about gets a little murky once hell breaks loose. It’s as if screenwriters Damon Lindelof and John Spaihts wanted to ask deep, philosophical questions, but they also wanted to make us jump with scary monster stuff. In the end there are some questions left dangling, including whether what we see here is consistent with what we already know about the aliens, but since there are almost thirty years between the end of this and the beginning of Alien, it’s possible this won’t be the only prequel.

Nerd verdict: Familiar Alien territory

Photos: Kerry Brown/20th Century Fox

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Book Review: INTO THE DARKEST CORNER by Elizabeth Haynes

After I read this book, I wrote an email about it to my friend Lauren, who said I had to include what I wrote to her in my review. So let me start with that:

Stayed up ’til 5:30 to finish. [Mr. PCN] wasn’t feeling well and really needed sleep so I couldn’t read in bed with the lights on. Instead, I STOOD IN THE HALLWAY to read. Why didn’t I go to the living room? Because I thought I’d just read a little and then go to sleep. I didn’t even sit down or lean against the wall. I really wanted to be as uncomfortable as possible to tire myself out so I’d go to bed. But I kept reading, and reading, and next thing I knew, I’d been standing in the hallway for three hours.

That might sound insane, but I love it when a book makes me do that. This is the story of twentysomething Catherine Bailey, who meets super-hot guy Lee Brightman at a nightclub. There’s a spark of attraction, which quickly grows into a relationship, then devolves into a nightmarish, obsessive situation.

The novel begins with Brightman on trial in 2005 for an attack on Catherine, though he spins it as something else. Cut to 2007, and Catherine, now Cathy, has turned into a hermit living in a different city, with PTSD and an extreme case of OCD that makes her repeatedly check the locks on her doors and windows. It’s exhausting, but at least she’s a survivor rebuilding her life. And then she gets a phone call saying Lee is being released from prison.

Cathy is certain Lee will come for her, but has a hard time convincing others of that, including the kind upstairs neighbor who might be developing an interest in her. She starts feeling gaslighted, as little things in her apartment are moved around, something Lee used to do, but nothing she can call the cops about. Would she have to confront him herself, and would she survive this time?

Haynes cuts back and forth between 2003, when the two lovers first meet, and 2007, when Cathy is a shadow of her former self. Each time period plays with our emotions differently. It’s nice to see Catherine and Lee in happier times, when they were passionate and romantic. But as the story gets closer to the date of when The Terrible Thing happened, I was filled with dread, not wanting to witness it.

In 2007, Cathy’s OCD is sometimes painful to read about, but Haynes helps us understand the reasons behind her protag’s compulsions. And her growing friendship with Stuart, the nice neighbor, gives the story a sense of hope. Until Lee gets out of prison, and the terror starts all over again.

The novel has its frustrations, such as how Catherine couldn’t find one person, not even among close friends, who would believe her when things with Lee start taking a dark turn (everyone’s dazzled by his surface charm), or how she makes it astoundingly easy for him to find her in 2007 (let’s just say her contact info is the opposite of unlisted). But there was no stopping my obsession with knowing how it’d all end. After finishing the book, standing in the hallway at 5:30 a.m., I let out a sigh of relief that I could breathe—and sleep—again.

Nerd verdict: Head straight to the Corner

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

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Armchair BEA Intro: The Self-Interview

Design by Emily of Emily's Reading Room

As many of you know, today is the beginning of the annual BookExpo America (BEA) in New York City. I hope to attend one day, but since it wasn’t in the cards this year, I signed up for Armchair BEA, an online event that allows bloggers and book lovers to still enjoy some of the festivities via live streaming and Internetworking, among other things. The armchair is pretty much my favorite place in my home so this should be fun and comfy.

The first thing we have to do is introduce ourselves via a self-interview, choosing 5 questions from a predesignated list. Here are my answers.

Q: What is your favorite feature on your blog?

Pop Culture Nerd: This will sound super cheesy, but it’s the comments section. Yes, I enjoy reviewing books and movies, and interviewing authors, and sharing random stories, but I would just be a nerd silently doing a face plant in the forest if people didn’t take time to leave funny, insightful, encouraging comments. I love the conversations they engender.

Q: What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?

PCN: Hogwarts. I want to eat in the Great Hall, play quidditch (as a beater, of course), hang out in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room, and just run around the grounds. Scratch that—I’d probably fly on my broomstick since I’m too lazy to run anywhere. I want the whole experience in getting there, too: running through the wall on Platform 9 3/4, the journey on the train, and the boat and carriage rides toward the castle. The closest I got to being teleported was a couple of years ago, when my friend Mari transformed her home into Hogwarts for Thanksgiving.

Q: Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.

PCN: Many know I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, but I don’t think they know I got to meet Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher. No, I didn’t jump on her. She surprised me by lifting me right off my feet.

Q: If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?

PCN: [Mr. PCN, skip to the next question] Elvis Cole from Robert Crais‘s novels. He’d have to cook, at his A-frame house, and we’d eat on his deck overlooking the canyons. Afterward…who knows?

Q: Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

PCN: The response to my Memorial Day post from two years ago was overwhelmingly kind, so I’ll link to that. For something lighter, check out my fake FTC disclosure.

OK, those are my five. I don’t want this to be a one-way conversation, so I’d love for you to answer some of these Qs in the comments if you’re not a blogger who already did one of these interviews. Even if you’re a regular here, I’m sure there are loads of things I don’t know about you!

Many thanks to the tireless ABEA team—Emily, Amy, Danielle, Tif, Chris, Pam, Julie, Florinda, and Michelle—for organizing this event!

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