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August 2012

Liebsterized

Earlier this week, my blogger pal le0pard13 gave me a Liebster Award. “Ich liebe dich” is “I love you” in German so I think this is a good thing. If “liebster” means something else in Chinese, I really don’t want to know.

There are a bunch of rules attached to accepting this award, but as usual, I’m too lazy to follow rules. So I’ll just comply with the easy ones, which include telling some facts about myself, and answering questions le0pard13 posed to the people to whom he presented this. Here goes.

Eleven things about me:

  1. I have met Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris. One was super nice and the other was similar to how he is on screen. I’ll let you guess who’s which.
  2. I once stumbled onto a nude beach and ran away. I didn’t want to watch the volleyball game.
  3. Every year on my birthday, I do something that scares me. (No, the nude beach was not a birthday experience, though it was plenty scary.)
  4. I used to have a photographic memory, which made my friends uncomfortable because I never forgot anything. Now that I’m older, it’s not so perfect anymore, much to some people’s relief.
  5. I worked briefly for a private investigator. Undercover.
  6. Children at ice-skating rinks fear me because I haven’t quite mastered the art of stopping.
  7. I’ve voiced video games but am no good at playing them. It’s disconcerting when I keep blowing up my character and hearing myself scream.
  8. I was sitting in my college advisor’s office when his wife, Alexandra Ripley, called him to say she’d been chosen to write the sequel to Gone with the Wind (eventually titled Scarlett).
  9. I’m scared of manholes.
  10. Once at a wedding, when someone asked how I knew the happy couple, I said the groom often stayed over at my place and we used to bathe together. When the man started choking on his drink, I added that the groom was my cousin and we were both three at the time.
  11. I will never, ever get over the death of my German shepherd puppy, Bear, when I was six.

Answering Michael’s Qs:

  1. What was the last reference book you used? Merriam-Webster dictionary.
  2. What pop song from your youth, used in a movie, immediately got you to react, “Oh, no you didn’t!”? I love the ’70s and ’80s music from my youth so I’d probably never react that way. More like, “Yeah, baby!” Scritti Politti, Milli Vanilli—it’s all good.
  3. Steve McQueen or Paul Newman? Mr. Newman, because he also made food.
  4. Which foreign country, known for its cinema, have you yet to watch a movie from? I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a snob, but I’ve seen at least one movie from every country famous for cinema. I like foreign films.
  5. Favorite film with Samuel L. Jackson in it (whether he’s starring, supporting, or cameo)? Jungle Fever. His performance blew me away. Runner-up is The Incredibles.
  6. Favorite over-the-top performance from Face/OffJohn Travolta as Sean Archer/Troy Castor or Nicholas Cage as Troy Castor/Sean Archer? Travolta.
  7. Ketchup or salsa? Salsa. Fresh and extra hot. With some habanero Tabasco thrown in.
  8. What clearly dramatic scene from a movie made you inexplicably burst out laughing in reaction? Probably one in which Nic Cage tried to emote.
  9. Wyatt Earp or Tombstone? Neither. I dislike Westerns, and haven’t seen either one.
  10. What was the latest, or earliest, movie screening you’ve ever attended? Earliest was probably Dr. Zhivago or Love Story, both of which I saw in Vietnam. They made me cry buckets, though I was only about five and couldn’t read all the subtitles.
  11. Who is your favorite writer (can be author, film or TV screenwriter, or director/writer)? Robert Crais and Bill Watterson for living writers, Joan Aiken and Hergé for deceased. Yes, I named four, but did you not see the part about how I don’t follow rules well?

Thanks so much, Michael, for awarding me with this and making me reveal all my crazy to people.

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone! Hope it’s as lazy as I am!

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Gunpoint Review: ALBERT OF ADELAIDE by Howard L. Anderson

My friend Lauren and I discuss books on a regular basis, and she always has incisive and insightful comments about why she likes or doesn’t like something. I’d asked her to be a guest reviewer several times but she kept demurring, saying she doesn’t consider herself a reviewer.

Well, last week, I found out she was reading a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while but just haven’t had time. I decided she had to write up something for me about it, so I sent her a form and made her fill it out. And the first Gunpoint Review was born, named because I forced Lauren to do it. You’ll see that she went above and beyond the form (hello, I asked for only 5 sentences) and is a natural at it. Leave her comments so maybe I can go easy on the threats next time I make her do one.—PCN

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by Lauren O’Brien

Title:     Albert of Adelaide
Author:  Howard L. Anderson
Length:  223 pages
Genre:   Hmm. Marsupial crime fiction? With a hint of fantasy. And Western. The Wind in the Willows meets Unforgiven. It defies classification.

Synopsis: Albert the platypus has called the Adelaide Zoo home for most of his life. He dreams of escape from the daily monotony and the constant intrusive staring of strangers. But Albert dreams of a particular escape: from the zoo and to “Old Australia,” a “rumored land of liberty, promise, and peace,” where things haven’t changed and life remains as it was when Australia belonged to the animals and men who used to inhabit the bush.

Your thoughts in 5 sentences or fewer: Drunk bandicoots. What more do you really need to know? I picked this book up on a lark as it appealed to my Australian side. I’m so thankful I did, partially because other books I’ve read about Australian wildlife have rarely included its propensity for clothing and conversation, much less bar fights or gun play, but mostly because what might appear to be a simple story about Albert’s hopeful journey to nirvana turns into much more. And sometimes those turns are dark.

It’s reminiscent of an old Western joined with a buddy movie, complete with dirty saloons, corrupt lawmen (law wallabies? lawallabies?), betrayal, prejudice, and revenge, along with friendship and honor. I laughed and teared up. Ultimately, this is not a story of Albert’s search for Eden, but what he finds and finds out along the way, about himself and others.

One important note: Don’t let the idea of anthropomorphism put you off. Yes, the characters are animals, but that could not have been further from my mind while reading. So much so that when a character showed up at one point holding the “paws of two young wallabies,” my first reaction was, “Who would cut the paws off baby wallabies?” Then it became clear the character was simply holding the hands of his children. Oops.

Verdict: Read it!

Buy it now from Amazon | Buy from an indie bookstore

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Book Review: THE ABSENT ONE by Jussi Adler-Olsen

This appeared last week in Shelf Awareness for Readers, and is reprinted here with permission.

In this second installment in the Department Q series (after last year’s excellent The Keeper of Lost Causes), Jussi Adler-Olsen wastes no time in hurling readers right into the action, with a suspenseful opening that portends a very bad outcome. Then the story cuts to Carl Mørck, the Danish detective whose laziness belies a sharp mind, receiving the file on a twenty-year-old double homicide that by all appearances is solved, with the confessed murderer in prison. It soon becomes apparent that the murders involved several other players still at large, including a homeless woman named Kimmie who’s elusive and dangerous. Mørck and his trusty assistant Assad decide to reinvestigate, and come face to face with people who would kill again to keep their secrets safe.

The story is structured so that readers know who the bad guys are early on. The draw is in rooting for Mørck and Assad to figure things out, and make the smug sociopaths pay for their crimes, perhaps in violent, painful ways. Adler-Olsen does make one of the gang surprisingly sympathetic, and it’s one of the author’s strengths—showing the humanity in even the vilest of people.

He’s also adept at injecting humor into a grim tale, like Mørck’s observation that another character’s “boozy breath was day-old, but of quality origin.” Assad continues to be a delightful sidekick who keeps revealing hints of a more sinister side. Each Department Q book is self-contained, but Adler-Olsen knows how to tease with serial details that will keep readers showing up for more.

Nerd verdict: Make Absent present on your reading list

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

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First Impressions 8.24.12

I’m back to sampling openers of new books to see which ones I should read first. Because of busy stuff, I went about five days last week without reading for pleasure and was getting twitchy, so I had to pick up some books lest I look like a crack addict.

Based on their first paragraphs, these are the ones that look most promising.

The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos (September 4, Mysterious Press)

PROLOGUE

Six years ago, my band’s bassist was shot dead in a New York nightclub. Her name was Gwen Dalton, and she’d only been with the band a few months when she was killed.

Our original bassist, Andy, had surprised us all when he decided to move to Los Angeles with his girlfriend. We were annoyed that he would leave New York just when the band was finally creating a stir. High Noon had been together for five years, and we’d worked hard to build up a following. We were finally packing the Wetlands and CBGB, and a small indie record label was talking to us about recording a CD. So how can you leave us now? we asked him. How can you do that to us?

“I’m doing it for love,” he explained.

And how do you argue with that?

Trust Your Eyes by Lindwood Barclay (September 4, New American Library)

PROLOGUE

It was just by chance he turned down Orchard Street and saw the window when he did. It easily could have been a week from now, or a month, even a year. But it turned out that this was going to be the day.

Sure, he would have wandered down here eventually. Sooner or later, when he got to a new city, he hit every street. He always started out intending to be methodical about it—follow one street from beginning to end, then head over a block and backtrack on a parallel street, like doing the aisles in a grocery store—but then he’d get to a cross street and something would catch his eye, and all good intentions would be abandoned.

The Right Hand by Derek Haas (November 13, Mulholland Books)

PREFACE

He smelled wood burning, and also flesh, like a pig roasting on a spit, and only then did he realize he was on fire. The pain came next, searing and relentless, and it drew him out of unconsciousness like a hypnotist snapping his fingers. He jolted upright and rolled, tamping out the flames at least temporarily.

 

So, are you interested in reading any of these? Which one would you read first?

Happy Fridayyyy!

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Book Review: WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple

After I finish a book, I often need some time to process it before reviewing it. But then life sometimes gets busy and I don’t get around to it and next thing I know it’s seven months later and I can no longer remember details. So, even though I just closed the cover on Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, I decided to put down some quick thoughts before I forget.

When fifteen-year-old Bee gets a perfect report card, all she wants as reward is a trip to Antarctica. Problem is, her mother Bernadette is an agoraphobe lacking in social skills, and the pending travel increases her anxiety. One day, she disappears. Bee sets out to find her mother by piecing together clues from various people’s notes, faxes, and emails, including Bernadette’s to a virtual assistant named Manjula in India. Despite almost every one else—including her father—believing Bernadette will never return, Bee refuses to abandon her search, determined to go as far as the end of the earth if she has to.

Semple, a former TV writer who has written for Arrested Development and Mad About You, has an engaging, breezy style, but beneath the wit, the pain and complexities of life are evident. The characters aren’t as they seem and things don’t turn out as expected—people who behave atrociously are capable of doing the right thing, and decent people make mistakes. Though most consider Bernadette an enigma who might be mentally unstable, she is extremely sympathetic through Bee’s eyes.

The circumstances surrounding the disappearance are complicated, but all Bee needs to know is that her mother loves her and would never abandon her. Her refusal to let anyone else convince her otherwise is quite affecting. I was completely invested in her search, and could not stop reading until she found “closure” (a word she hates but throws around so she can keep looking).

I’m running a giveaway of this book until Monday, August 27, so enter here if it sounds good to you. You can also watch Semple’s funny, self-deprecating trailer below.

Nerd verdict: Look for Bernadette for a good read

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Book Giveaway: WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple

This last week was a really good, busy one, in case any of you were worried I’d been snatched by bears. I did a commercial for Wells Fargo, finished a couple editing jobs, and continued rehearsals for the play I’m doing, which opens next month. We had our first run-through this past Saturday, and it gave me chills. I’ll post details soon regarding performance schedule. If you’re in the L.A. area, I’d love to see you there.

I’ll also be speaking on a panel about eBooks and e-publishing this Saturday, August 24, at the V3con Digital Media Conference at the Japanese American National Museum. The panel will be moderated by Edgar-winning author Naomi Hirahara and is scheduled for 4 p.m. in the Red Room.

OK, let’s move on to giveaway business. Before I get to the next one, I’d like to announce the winners of galleys of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Absent One (out Tuesday, Aug. 21, from Dutton):

  • Reggie Lim
  • Liz

Please fill out this contact form with your address so I can forward it to the publisher, who will ship the galleys to you directly.

This next book I’m giving away is something I’m enjoying right now. Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette is quirky and witty, but it’s becoming evident (I’m on p. 79) that something darker will be revealed later. My review will hopefully be posted soon (update: it’s up), but in the meantime, I’m excited to help get it into your hands.

Two finished copies are up for grabs. Here’s a description:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Watch the funny trailer here, listen to an audio excerpt here, and go to the author’s charming website for more info.

To enter, leave a comment about the most impossible journey you’ve ever taken. It could be to a far-flung location that’s difficult to access, or just a road trip in a clown car with your in-laws that you didn’t think you’d survive. Contest ends next Monday, August 27 at 9 p.m. PST. US/Canada residents only, no P.O. boxes. Winners will be randomly chosen and have 48 hours to claim prizes.

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A Few Thoughts on THE CLOSER Series Finale & MAJOR CRIMES

*SPOILERS AHEAD: Stop reading if you haven’t watched the finale*

 

Going into the finale, the only things I hoped for were that Brenda wouldn’t die in the line of duty, and that she’d leave with dignity, not disgrace. I got what I wanted, but still have mixed feelings about the episode. First, the good stuff: she finally gets to take down that nasty, sleazy Phillip Stroh! Oh, man, every time he shows his smug-bastard face, I just want to punch it really hard and then do it again at least seventeen times. Billy Burke owned that character. I feel better about Brenda’s exit with Stroh behind bars, because if she couldn’t take him down, who could?

The detectives giving Brenda a replacement bag filled with Ding Dongs was sweet, and it amused me to imagine which of the men went shopping for it (my bet’s on Flynn or Sanchez). But then she said it “looks like love” and that’s when I said, “Oh, nononono. Don’t say that. We can all see it. Don’t spell it out and make it corny.” And then she said it again. (Series creator James Duff explains why in this interview: the line echoes her very first words in the pilot.)

I thought the kid, Rusty, making Brenda reevaluate her life was interesting, but after promising to look for his mother, she just foists him on Captain Raydor in the Major Crimes premiere, which is weird. Now he has to hang around so Raydor can show us a nicer, maternal side? Her taking him home, revealing that she’d raised two kids, letting him call her by her first name—it was too contrived and too much softening up all at once for me. That doesn’t make her more compelling. I actually want to see her get angry more since she’s always so steely and controlled. She lost it a little with Rusty at the station, and it was good to see her feathers can be ruffled, too. Mary McDonnell is a gifted actress and I have no doubt she’s up to the challenge of playing the division’s new leader. It’s up to the writers to make Captain Raydor as complex and vital as Brenda.

Speaking of vital, the most appealing new series regular is Kearran Giovanni as Detective Amy Sykes, the ass-kissing addition to Major Crimes. Not only is the actress fun to watch, her character has possibilities of being unpredictable. For now, she’s overly nice to Raydor, but admits to Provenza she behaves that way to further her career. How long before she decides she wants Raydor’s job and stabs her in the back?

What did you think of the finale? Will you keep watching Major Crimes?

Photo: Karen Neal/TNT

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Lee Child Reads from Gregg Hurwitz’s THE SURVIVOR

I’ve been rehearsing a play six days a week while still editing and reviewing books, so my blog posts will probably be short—but hopefully not boring—for the next month or so.

I got a kick out of Lee Child reading the opening to Gregg Hurwitz‘s The Survivor, out August 21 from St. Martin’s Press. I think it’s a nifty idea, and it got me thinking about other authors reading someone else’s work. How about Robert Crais reading Fifty Shades of Grey (first and last time I’ll mention that book here)? Stephen King narrating a Harry Potter novel? Which matchups would you like to hear?

If you can’t listen to Child’s recording where you are, you can read chapters 1-4 here. You can also order from Amazon here or an indie bookstore here.

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Book Giveaway: THE ABSENT ONE by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Before I get to this giveaway, I want to announce the two winners of Karin Slaughter’s Criminal:

  • Tom Piccirilli
  • Sarah RH

Congrats! Please fill out this contact form with the address where you’d like the publicist to ship your book.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I don’t do a lot of giveaways, but I’ve been offered some really good titles to give to PCN readers this month. Next is Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Absent One, the second installment in his Department Q series featuring detective Carl Mørck and his trusty assistant, Assad. The first book, The Keeper of Lost Causes, was one of my top three reads last year. This time, Mørck and Assad reinvestigate a twenty-year-old double homicide that appears to have been solved, and their actions lead to devastating discoveries. My review of this for Shelf Awareness for Readers won’t run until close to the book’s August 21 pub date, but thanks to Dutton, I get to give away two galleys right now.

To enter, leave a comment telling me about something you thought was true for a long time, but then found out it was not. As usual, lies are accepted. Giveaway ends next Tuesday, August 14, 9 p.m. PST. US residents only, no P.O. boxes. Winners will be randomly chosen and have 48 hours to claim the prizes.

Have fun!

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