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January 2017

Nerdy Special List January 2017

Since almost half the month has passed, I figured I should get this list up. I’ve been moving slowly due to January rains, days that get dark at 1:00 p.m., and my general tendency to be sloth-like. My big win today was changing out of pajama pants.

The one thing I’m not lazy about is talking books. Below are the January releases we recommend you check out.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Fever Swamp: A Journey Through the Strange Neverland of the 2016 Presidential Race by Richard North Patterson (Quercus, January 10)

fever swampThroughout the entirety of the 2016 presidential race—both the primaries and the general election—novelist Richard North Patterson wrote a weekly commentary for Huffington Post. Fever Swamp is a collection of those articles, with additional remarks from Patterson after the November election.

Patterson takes his legal background and the knowledge he’s accumulated writing political thrillers to base his arguments in facts, data, and other tangible evidence. His margin notes and section introductions indicate where his predictions went wrong and why, where he was correct and what that meant, and other insights looking back on arguably the most unprecedented election in American history.

Patterson is unapologetically liberal, he’s thorough and knowledgeable, and Fever Swamp is at times infuriating and at others terrifying, especially when Patterson discusses the Supreme Court. But it’s always enlightening.

It may feel early to scratch the scabs off the wounds created by this election, but we all need to be aware of what is now at stake. Fever Swamp is a good place to start.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey (William Morrow, January 24)

clownfish bluesIf you’ve read Tim Dorsey’s books, you know what to expect from Clownfish Blues and will be glad to hear he’s in top form. If you haven’t yet traveled to Dorsey’s Florida, you’re in for a treat.

In Clownfish, our erstwhile hero, Serge, and his trusty (although he can’t be trusted with much) sidekick Coleman are hard at work reenacting the classic TV show Route 66. Did you know a Florida episode of Route 66 introduced the country to the concept of a bookmobile? Neither did I. I didn’t even know there were Florida episodes. But I digress.

Like all Dorsey’s novels, Clownfish has moments that are laugh-out-loud funny. There is, however, much more than humor. Serge kills people with more style than any protagonist I’ve met.

The complicated plots highlights aspects of Florida life, yes, but also American culture as a whole, including state lotteries (and the people who play—and manipulate—them), undocumented immigrants, the legal system, psychics, and…sign spinning.

I would hate to be the person in a bookstore who has to decide where to shelve Clownfish Blues. Crime? Social commentary? Humor? Whatever you love to read, this will not disappoint.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Burning Bright by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam, January 10)

burning brightAs in real life, there is no shortage of literary military veterans suffering from PTSD. That makes what Nicholas Petrie has done with his protagonist Peter Ash all the more special.

Ash feels very grounded in reality, but also different in a way that’s both refreshing and unsettling. As Burning Bright (second in a series after The Drifter) begins, Ash hasn’t slept in anything but a tent or his truck for two years. Instead, he’s roaming the outdoors planning to get arrested, since being locked in a cell might force him to “get over” his claustrophobia.

While taking shelter in the California redwoods, Ash stumbles upon the nature fortress of investigative journalist Jane Cassidy, who is also trying to outrun forces beyond her control. Jane’s demons are external rather than internal, and take the form of dark-suited men.

It’s clear Jane is being hunted, and the men appear to be connected with her recently deceased mother, a genius tenured professor at Stanford. Unfortunately, Jane has little idea what her mother was working on that could spark such dark interest.

Jane and Ash join forces (he has nothing better to do and Jane is attractive), and her investigative prowess coupled with Ash’s brawn and resourcefulness make for a compelling team. Although the romance and competitive banter get a bit schmaltzy, it’s also obvious neither has connected with another person in a long time.

Petrie focuses on character and action and does both quite well. The pace doesn’t let up and the story turns are engaging. The investigation is fraught with mercenary violence and heady computer technology, but the characters’ talents always feel righteously earned.

Backed by a cadre of appealing secondary characters, Jane and Ash’s chase leads to a place they never expected and a satisfying conclusion worthy of the risks.

From PCN:

Blood and Bone by V.M. Giambanco (Quercus, January 3)

blood and boneWhen I first saw the cover of another edition of this book, it had nasty-looking jagged pieces of glass with blood spatters on them and my reaction was, Nope, not reading that. I’m terrified of graphic violence.

By the time the US version arrived on my doorstep, however, the cover has changed to something innocuous enough for me to pick it up. And I’m glad I did.

This is the third in the Alice Madison series but I was fine starting here. Madison is a Seattle PD detective trying to solve a series of extremely brutal slayings possibly linked to old cases that have already been solved. Or have they?

Madison is no-nonsense and so is the prose: after a long day at a murder scene, Madison picks up food on the way home but then doesn’t eat it. And that’s all that’s said about her emotional state that night. By holding back, Giambanco helps Blood and Bone resonate more.

Which books are you exciting about reading this month?

 

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Golden Globes 2017: Predictable *and* Surprising

Here we go, the first of one million award shows this season. I always look forward to the Globes because it’s usually the loosest, wackiest award show, with drunk celebs and the Hollywood Foreign Press often choosing odd winners (Madonna as best actress comedy/musical for Evita).

This year had predictable wins—La La Land swept, which I’m happy about—but some upsets, too, which kept us viewers awake at home.

Below are my own awards for the ceremony. The 2017 Nerdies go to:

Most smile-inducing musical number: OK, fine, there was only one number and that was the opening. Host Jimmy Fallon parodied La La Land but also referenced several memorable moments in movies and TV this past year, including what happened to Barb in Stranger Things and Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. He had help from singing stars like Amy Adams, Nicole Kidman, Evan Rachel Wood, and Sarah Paulson. I didn’t even know the latter two could sing. They always play such serious roles, it was nice to see them have some fun.

Best upsets: Aaron Taylor-Johnson winning best dramatic supporting actor in movies and Isabelle Huppert for best dramatic movie actress. I’ve long admired Taylor-Johnson for disappearing into his roles; I hated his character SO MUCH in Nocturnal Animals, but in real life, he’s well spoken and handsome and seems nothing like the lowlife he played. Huppert is a French legend, and though I’m too scared to watch Elle, I hear she’s fierce as a rape survivor who tracks down her attacker for revenge.

Funniest banter: Kristin Wiig and Steve Carell talking about the first time they saw an animated movie. We quickly realize these occasions were memorable for horrible reasons. And that’s how you do comedy.

Best speech, bar none: Meryl Streep. While accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award, instead of talking about herself, she spoke for five minutes about how we need to band together in this changing political climate to defend a free press and have empathy and not fear foreigners, pointing out Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem, Amy Adams in Italy, Dev Patel in Kenya, and Ruth Negga in Ethiopia.

You can watch below or read the entire transcript here, but the standout lines for me were “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” When she ends by quoting “the dear departed Princess Leia, [who] said to me once: ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art,’” I was in tears.

On to the fashion. For this, I’ll bring in my co-commentator, Mr. PCN, who always adds a unique perspective.

Thandie Newton

thandie-newton

Mr. PCN: She’s hot, as in she looks like she’s literally on fire.

 

Jessica Chastain

jessica-chastain

Mr. PCN: She was a bridesmaid who caught the bouquet, but then other people fought her for it and the bouquet broke apart all her over dress.

Natalie Portman

natalie-portman

Mr. PCN: I know she played someone from the ’60s, but she doesn’t have to look 60. The hair is too severe.

Zoe Saldana

zoe-saldana

Mr. PCN: Car wash.

Sarah Jessica Parker

sarah-jessica-paker

 

PCN: With her hair and white gown, she’s totally channeling Princess Leia.

Mr. PCN: The sleeves make me think the designer also designs straitjackets.

Blake Lively

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PCN: She looks like Wonder Woman in evening wear, with the bulletproof bracelets and pockets made out of golden lasso.

Mr. PCN: I see a golden octopus wrapped around her from behind.

Nicole Kidman

nicole-kidman

Mr. PCN: This looks one of those Magic Eye pictures from the ’80s, but I can’t see what the hidden image is supposed to be.

Emma Stone

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PCN: I saved the best for last. The actress who plays a girl with stars in her eyes is wearing stars on her dress. Perfection.

Did you watch? What were your favorite moments?

Photos: Getty Images

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Favorite 2016 Books

I’m baaaack!

I took off for a couple of weeks over the holidays, and when I go on vacation, I go off the grid. There’s no blogging or social media, sometimes no Internet or cell reception. I might as well have been in the witness protection program. And it was glorious.

This is me on Christmas Eve. The photo has not been doctored in any way.

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Now that I’m home, it’s a good time to review my year in reading. My 2016 goal was to hit 60, or 5 books a month. I reached 58 but I’m OK with that. I’m not counting all the manuscripts I read for work so my actual total is closer to 80.

A few stats:

  • Authors new to me  31
  • Debut authors  13
  • Non-American authors  14

Shortest book: 224 pages (Phoef Sutton’s Heart Attack and Vine)

Longest book: 560 pages (Keigo Higashino’s Under the Midnight Sun)

Publishers I read most: Minotaur (9) and Mulholland Books (8), both crime-fiction imprints

I don’t know what all that means. I’m just posting stats because they make me seem scholarly.

This year was good, reading-wise. When I compiled my list of favorite books last year, only 3 made the cut and that plunged me into an existential crisis.

Happily the 2016 list is much longer. Here are my favorites in the order I read them, each with an excerpt from my review.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

passenger

In her thrilling standalone…Lisa Lutz (the Spellman series) keeps the pace blistering without sacrificing characterization. (Starred Shelf Awareness review)

 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligible

This modern interpretation of [Pride and Prejudice] is…both familiar and fresh, contemporary and classic. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve read Austen or Sittenfeld or neither. Eligible is a thoroughly charming read. (April Nerdy Special List)

 

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

city of lost

The complex mystery takes unusual turns, and the setting of isolated territory surrounded by menacing woods is as breathtaking as it is unsettling. (Shelf Awareness review)

 

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

lily and the octopus

Rowley is a lovely storyteller and astute observer of life, and he will take you on an emotional, existential journey you didn’t even know you were looking for. (June Nerdy Special List)

 

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

collecting the dead

Steps is a welcome new series protagonist, not only because of his unusual [synesthetic] talent but also his sense of humor…. Refreshingly, he’s far from being a hardened hero haunted by his past. (Shelf Awareness review)

 

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

last days of night

Last Days is a cerebral thriller, full of twists, legal maneuverings, and courtroom drama, peppered with idealistic do-gooders and intimidating villains. (Starred Shelf Awareness review)

IQ by Joe Ide

iq

Isaiah and his sidekick, Dodson, are a hilarious urban version of Holmes and Watson. One can hear the characters talking in their lively, rhythmic dialogue, and the descriptions paint vivid pictures. (Shelf Awareness review)

 

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta

tell-the-truth

While large in scope, exploring timely issues such as terrorism, racism, the plight of immigrants and social media’s lynch-mob mentality, the book also tells the heartrending personal stories of multidimensional and memorable characters. Bish is like a British (and a quarter Egyptian) Harry Bosch. (Starred Shelf Awareness review)

 

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

under-midnight-sunHigashino, Edgar Award nominated for The Devotion of Suspect X, has created a Japanese Les Miserables…. The power of this novel lies in challenging the way we judge others…[asking] us to see that even people who commit horrific acts are capable of great courage, and sometimes they do the former because of the latter. (November Nerdy Special List)

What were some of your favorite books last year?

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