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Pop Culture Nerd

A New Look and Some Old Faves

Sometime last month, I realized PCN had just had its 10th anniversary. It should’ve been a landmark, but I was buried in work and life and the date passed with a shrug.

I wasn’t sure about keeping the site going. It requires money and lots of time, and was anyone still reading it? I don’t track stats or traffic. Maybe my entire readership is one dude in prison. (And Kristopher at BOLO Books, who gave me a kind and completely unexpected shout-out in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.)

But then I remembered when I’d started PCN, I’d done it for me. I’d barely known what a blog was, much less how to get anyone to read it. I just wanted to write, and mostly amused only myself. What’s wrong with being the lone tree in the forest? I wasn’t falling; I was dancing, often without pants. Eventually, some very cool people came along and joined in. They became my friends.

So I decided to give the site a makeover, once again make it a place where I want to hang out. I forgot, however, that 10 years ago when I installed the original template, I’d cried, not having a clue about CSS code or HTML or any of that mumbo jumbo.

This time around didn’t go much better, as I found myself in the fetal position, unwashed, muttering to myself for days. It was like trying to build a spaceship with a plastic spoon, using only my feet. Why wouldn’t all the clicky thingies work??? Luckily, after much blind tinkering and tech support, I managed to make the site work.

And I like it. It’s not final yet—not sure what to do for the header—but it’s pleasing enough for me to want to fill its pages again. I hope you like it, too.

If you’re still here after 10 years, I thank you heartfully (a real word in my mind). If you’re back after being away, it’s nice to see you again and your hair looks fab. If you’re new, welcome.

Party for PCN (reenactment)

Ironically I start this new chapter by looking backward, at some of the pop culture I enjoyed most this year. I didn’t want to overthink these lists, which are in no particular order, because I’m going with the idea that the most memorable are the first titles that come to mind. Plus, I have no order in my life.

Favorite Movies

Despite having seen many awards contenders that aren’t out yet, my favorites remain those released earlier in the year (sorry, Mary Poppins Returns and Vice). Other films may have had superior acting or more important messages, but I found them overhyped or too earnest or straight up boring. The movies below entertained me, and isn’t that what movies are about?

Favorite superhero movie: Black Panther

This was a complete package for me: strong acting, complex characters, eye-popping action and costumes, humor, and a storyline addressing real-world social issues from which even the fictitious residents of Wakanda aren’t exempt.

Favorite indie film: Searching

Sony Pictures

From my review:

A riveting, innovative thriller…the entire movie is viewed via the different screens in our lives—phone, computer, surveillance cameras, TV, etc… . It’s a thriller that happens to have an Asian-American family at its center, speaking perfect English and doing everyday, even boring things (David’s job). Well, until the daughter goes missing. But Dad still doesn’t break out any martial arts or have any particular set of skills a la Liam Neeson. He’s just a regular dad. Who looks like John Cho. (Buy it here.)

Favorite action flick: Mission: Impossible—Fallout

From my review:

The action is breathtaking and so visceral, if you wear your Fitbit while watching, you might see a million steps recorded afterward.

The death-defying stunts provide an adrenaline rush you get to experience while safe in your seats. The plot is a bit confusing (lots of physics…or something) but it doesn’t matter. The acting is good and there’s even a softer side to Ethan Hunt. This is the rare franchise that has improved as it ages. (Buy it here.)

Favorite musical: Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

Photo: Jonathan Prime

From my review:

I found it better than the first because it resonates more emotionally and deals with more complex issues… If you need a burst of joy (who doesn’t?) and a dash of Colin Firth (again, who doesn’t), I highly recommend seeing it.

That was 5 months ago. Since then, I’ve bought the Blu-ray and seen it at least twice more, and last week attended my friend Mari’s Mamma Mia-themed holiday party. And I intend to organize a family sing-along when I go home for Christmas. The movie spreads cheer, and some of my happiest memories this year come from watching and dancing to it with the most wonderful people I know. (Buy it here.)

Me, in Donna’s overalls, with Mamma Mia friends. Photo: Christian Moralde

 

Favorite TV shows

This year I was on the TV nominating committee for the SAG Awards and had to watch even more TV than usual (twist my arm). Before I get to my favorites, can we discuss the beautiful packaging some of the screeners came in?

In case it’s not obvious, season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel arrived in a hatbox and The Kominsky Method is in a sleeve resembling a script. The Handmaid’s Tale opens up like a board book, with pictures and script excerpts.

Julia Roberts’s series, Homecoming, came packaged like confidential documents.

Some others:

But just because I watched more doesn’t mean I found more to like, and sometimes an otherwise solid series has weak episodes. The following are shows I consistently enjoyed and had me looking forward to each new episode.

Favorite dramas:

Killing Eve

From my review:

[Sandra] Oh plays Eve, a bored MI-5 agent on the trail of [Jodie] Comer’s international assassin, Villanelle, and the two actresses are great foils for each other. Eve is messy and quirky but razor sharp when it comes to work. Villanelle is a slick sociopath, but Comer’s performance and Waller-Bridge’s writing manage to add ink-dark humor to the brutal kill missions. Even the soundtrack is funny. (Buy S1 here.)

Bodyguard

Richard Madden turns in a superb and nuanced performance as a war veteran trying to hide his PTSD so he can keep his job as bodyguard to the home secretary, played by Keeley Hawes. Watch the opening scene of episode 1, which takes place on a train that may have a bomb on it, and see if you don’t find yourself sweating with dread.

Bodyguard was created, written, and directed by Jed Mercurio, who’s responsible for the rocket-paced BBC drama Line of Duty, so I’m on board for anything with his name on it.

Favorite sitcoms:

Superstore

Eddy Chen/NBC

I previously wrote about this show:

America Ferrera heads the cast playing employees at a Walmart-like store, except here the employees are more outlandish than the customers.

But the characters aren’t weird for weird’s sake. The writing and acting show why they behave the way they do, which engenders more understanding and compassion than judgment toward them. And isn’t that what we need more of?

A recent episode has the store’s usually clueless manager, Glenn, give one of his employees an unexpected Christmas present that’s incredibly moving. The show addresses issues like lack of maternity leave for minimum-wage employees and undocumented workers with heart and humor.

The Good Place

Colleen Hayes/NBC

This is arguably the smartest sitcom on TV right now, or at least the most philosophical, often referencing Immanuel Kant. It’s hard to define; Good Place somehow tackles ethics and morality and life after death and makes us laugh at all the above while possibly reevaluating our life choices. The cast, led by Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, is crackerjack, and each season the show evolves into something different. I don’t know where it’s going but am eager to find out. (Start with S1.)

Ronny Chieng: International Student

This Comedy Central show easily won for most laughs per episode. Creator/star Ronny Chieng based the show on his experience as a law student in Australia, and the situations are zany but relatable at the same time. Extra credit goes to the hilarious Hoa Xuande as an ultraconfident, F-word loving Vietnamese exchange student who lords his superior intelligence over everyone. Oh, and the Asian students excel in school and sports. Where else on TV can you see that?

Favorite rom-com series:

Younger

TV Land

Are you watching this sexy show set in New York’s publishing world? It stars Tony winner Sutton Foster as Liza, a woman who reenters the work force after raising a daughter and has to pretend she’s 26 instead of 40 to get a job at a publishing house.

The situation gets complicated when chemistry develops between her and the publisher (Peter Hermann), who not only believes she’s way too young for him, but it’d be highly inappropriate for him to make any kind of moves toward an underling. (He’s hot because he’s moral!) This sexy tension has been escalating for four seasons, and this year it exploded, y’all. (Start by streaming S1 here.)

Speaking of publishing, this post is now almost novel length, so I’ll save my thoughts on this year’s favorite books for another post.

Which movies and TV shows have you enjoyed this year?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which could earn me commissions if you make a purchase.

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Book Review: WHISKEY IN A TEACUP by Reese Witherspoon

Oscar-winning actress and Emmy-winning producer Reese Witherspoon already leads a popular book club on Instagram, so it seems a natural next step for her to write a book. The title, Whiskey in a Teacup, refers to Witherspoon’s grandmother’s description of Southern women: “delicate and ornamental on the outside… but inside we’re strong and fiery.”

The book is a pleasant collection of lifestyle and decorating tips, personal anecdotes, and recipes of Southern staples like fried chicken and cornbread chili pie that are simple enough for even novice cooks. Witherspoon shares her pride for her roots and love for her Nashville childhood traditions (midnight barn parties!), some of which she has adapted for her adult life.

She goes Christmas caroling—in Los Angeles. She transforms her home into a pumpkin patch for Halloween—with 47 pumpkins in the front yard. She reveals she’s a highly competitive bowler and, as a child, ran two successful businesses (selling lemonade and personalized barrettes) and wanted to be president of the United States.

Some of her most interesting stories are about her grandmother Dorothea, a civil rights supporter and schoolteacher with a master’s degree, who always wore dresses, even while gardening, and looked like a movie star. Dorothea bought books for young Reesey and read them aloud in different voices, striking a spark that became Witherspoon’s love of performing.

Witherspoon’s voice in Whiskey is conversational, with elements of her perky onscreen characters, and when she writes “Y’all come back and visit sometime, ya hear?” fans will want to accept the invitation.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

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Mini Movie Reviews: FIRST MAN and WIDOWS

Fall has so many things to love: weather that doesn’t make me feel roasted alive, Halloween decorations going up 9 weeks early, soup…and industry movie screenings of award contenders! Even when the movies aren’t great, we get free popcorn and drinks so who’s complaining?

Following are mini reviews of two I’ve seen.

First Man (Oct. 12)

Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

Ryan Gosling reunites with his Oscar-winning La La Land director Damien Chazelle for this Neil Armstrong biopic, culminating in Armstrong’s landing on the moon.

The visuals are awe-inspiring and the acting is beautifully subtle—from Gosling and Claire Foy as Armstrong’s first wife, Janet—but perhaps Chazelle stayed too close to Armstrong’s stoic spirit.

While I admire the movie and respect the craftsmanship, I can’t say I was deeply moved by it. But see it in IMAX and you can almost cross off a trip to the moon from your bucket list, because Chazelle makes you feel like you’ve already been there.

Widows (Nov. 16)

20th Century Fox

“Hoo-weee, this movie’s intense.” That was the first thing I said to Mr. PCN when Widows ended.

Based on the novel by Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect), this heist thriller was adapted for the screen by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen, with the latter also directing.

Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizaeth Debicki give gritty, riveting performances as women whose men left them in a bad way. Their lives are threatened when shady characters want the women to repay their former lovers’ debts. The women give payback, all right.

The characters are strong but messily and realistically so. They’re not wonder women but regular folk tired of being messed with. Tony winner Cynthia Erivo joins the trio later in the heist’s planning stages, but they find she’s a quick learner.

Remember how Daniel Kaluuya’s character was unnerved by all the creepy white people in Get Out? His performance in Widows made me feel like that. He is a nasty piece of work here.

Flynn does what she does best—give us portraits of complicated women capable of whatever men do, with all the good and ugly and in between. McQueen ratchets up the tension so much, I was often holding my breath.

Heist movies aren’t my favorite subgenre, but this one is less about the score than people in desperate situations finding their mettle. It’s a character study—on steroids.

Which fall movies are you excited to see? Stay tuned for more reviews as the screenings ramp up!

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Book Review: A DOUBLE LIFE by Flynn Berry

Claire is a young London doctor, living a solitary life that consists of work and little else. Then a detective inspector comes to her door and says simply, “There’s been a sighting.”

Claire doesn’t need to ask of whom or what; she knows the DI is referring to her father, who is wanted for an almost 30-year-old murder and has been missing since.

While she braces herself for confirmation that the man in Namibia is her father, A Double Life moves back and forth in time to show what happened the night of the killing. The story also reveals that Claire can no longer accept waiting for the answers she feels her father owes her, and that she’s willing to cross dangerous lines to finally get them from him.

Flynn Berry’s follow-up to her Edgar-winning Under the Harrow is less a thriller than an examination of the psychological toll of violence on a family, specifically children. Claire doesn’t date and has changed her name—from Lydia—to avoid being linked to her father, and her younger brother fights addiction. Even though he was only a baby when the murder happened, it occurred in their family home and who knows what he absorbed? “Robbie looks like our father. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why he mistreats himself. It’s the only act of revenge he can take.”

Readers looking for plot-heavy stories might find Life slow going in parts, but Berry’s nuanced prose and complex characters leave a mark with their quiet suffering.

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

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All Asians All the Time

This past holiday weekend turned out really Asian for me.

First I saw writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching, starring John Cho, and thought it was a riveting, innovative thriller. In case you don’t know the concept, the entire movie is viewed via the different screens in our lives—phone, computer, surveillance cameras, TV, etc. It highlights how we think we’re so connected and have so much information about people but we really don’t.

Sony Pictures

David Kim (Cho) is looking for his missing teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), and searches for clues in her laptop and social media accounts.

I like how there’s nothing particularly Asian about the movie. It’s a thriller that happens to have an Asian-American family at its center, speaking perfect English and doing everyday, even boring things (David’s job). Well, until the daughter goes missing. But Dad still doesn’t break out any martial arts or have any particular set of skills a la Liam Neeson. He’s just a regular dad. Who looks like John Cho.

Next I binged the first season of Ronny Chieng: International Student on Comedy Central and laughed hard. Got a big kick from Elvin (Hoa Xuande), the Vietnamese student who’s the most hilarious character, and how Asians are portrayed as smart, funny, *and* good in sports. Whaaaat? Mind blown. Chieng also gets laughs in breezy fun Crazy Rich Asians, which killed at the box office for the third weekend in a row. Have you seen it yet?

CBC

On a roll, I checked out Kim’s Convenience on Netflix and ended up also whipping through its first season. This show about a Korean-Canadian family who owns a store is sweet and laugh-out-loud funny.

The show’s humor is topical, mainstream, and specifically Asian, all at the same time. Every actor shines, even the customers in the store who have only short exchanges with the Kims. Can’t wait to continue with season 2.

I can’t recall the last time I’d had so much quality entertainment available to me that featured central characters of Asian descent. These people have agency, are masters of their own lives, are sexy, funny, flawed, not second bananas, or targets of racist remarks or butts of jokes.

As I wrapped up my binge-athon, I had a realization. I’d spent the whole time bracing for the Asian characters to experience some kind of bullying or microaggression. Hours later, when that hadn’t happened, I became aware I could finally exhale.

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Movie Mini Reviews: MAMMA MIA 2 & MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE–FALLOUT

It’s been 110+ degrees here and I’ve been hiding in places with A/C because I’m trying to avoid an electric bill for $47K next month. This means lots of time at the library and movie theater. Luckily a couple of good movies are playing.

Photo: Jonathan Prime

I’ve seen Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again twice now and laughed both times, cried both times. I found it better than the first because it resonates more emotionally and deals with slightly more complex issues.

My second viewing was at an uncrowded matinee so I got up and danced in the aisle and surprisingly wasn’t kicked out by theater employees. If you need a burst of joy (who doesn’t?) and a dash of Colin Firth (again, who doesn’t), I highly recommend seeing it. Best to go in knowing as little as possible and just let the sunshine and music wash over you.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible–Fallout is also quite entertaining. The action is breathtaking and so visceral, if you wear your Fitbit while watching, you might see a million steps recorded afterward.

The death-defying stunts provide an adrenaline rush you get to experience while safe in your seats. The plot is a bit confusing (lots of physics…or something) but it doesn’t matter. The acting is good and there’s even a softer side to Ethan Hunt. This is the rare franchise that has improved as it ages.

Which movies have you enjoyed recently?

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Nerdy Special List June 2018

Summer is here so that means packing 5 books for every 1 day of vacation you take, right? Consider stuffing the following titles into your over-the-weight-limit bags!

Jen at Brown Dog Solutions recommends:

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Atria, June 5)

In this emotional sequel to Beartown, Fredrik Backman picks up with the small, struggling city as the citizens try to rebuild their beloved hockey team amid violence, deceit, and hate.

Backman’s complex plot illustrates how the club touches lives in every corner. Using hockey merely as the tool, he tells a story of humanity in all its beauty and foibles. His language is poetic, his approach often humorous, and his understanding of mankind astounding.

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, Us Against You takes Backman to new heights. Readers needn’t have read Beartown first but spoilers are present here.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, June 26)

Antiracist educator and author of the term “white fragility,” Robin DiAngelo succinctly explains white people’s defensive reactions and how they impede necessary discussions about race.

She illustrates how racism is everpresent in our culture and even well-meaning people perpetuate the problem. Being more aware of this fact and open to it is the first step in enacting real change.

DiAngelo is tactful but honest, explaining that the discussions and actions are uncomfortable, but trying to make them otherwise only exacerbates the problems. White Fragility can be eye-opening for those willing to take a close look with DiAngelo.

Rory at Fourth Street Review recommends:

Florida by Lauren Groff (Riverhead, June 5)

I love short stories. Possibly more than novels, which, if you’d asked ten years ago, I would’ve said was impossible.

When I saw the new work from Lauren Groff (author of the phenomenal Fates and Furies) was a collection of short stories set in Florida, I was thrilled. Florida is dark, oppressive, full of dread—an “Eden of dangerous things”—everything I hoped it would be.

Groff captures the gritty essence of the state. The stories are rich in characters, atmosphere, and perils of the natural world. This collection makes a wonderful addition to Groff’s work and a great pick for your summer reading list.

Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review recommends:

On the Java Ridge by Jock Serong (Text Publishing Company, June 12)

Jock Serong’s On the Java Ridge is devastatingly brilliant and the best work I’ve read this year. I cried. Twice. I am not a damn crier.

As two Indonesian-built sailboats head toward Australian waters, the government announces a new policy: no unidentified vessels will be offered maritime assistance. One boat is a charter full of white tourists on a surf trip; the other packed with asylum seekers.

The two boats cross paths to disastrous effect on the eve of federal elections, making the political maneuvering even more gut-wrenching.

Java Ridge is a grueling mix of high-octane action, life-and-death politics, and, at its heart, a haunting portrayal of worldwide refugee crises.

Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live and Love by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (Simon & Schuster. June 5)

Armstrong is becoming perhaps our greatest television historian, following Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted and Seinfeldia. She is now taking on the HBO blockbuster Sex and the City.

Armstrong’s insight is fascinating. This is an in-depth look at how four single women in New York changed the pop culture landscape and countless lives across gender and sexuality spectra. The show caused ripples in ways I never even imagined, and anyone interested in the influence of television will find this book meticulously researched and engagingly written.

PCN recommends:

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, June 5)

A woman walked into a mortuary to plan her own funeral, and hours later was murdered in her home. Wha? Did she know she’d be murdered? Or was it a freak coincidence?

Whatever your guess, it’s likely wrong. In this clever meta novel, the author, using real-life details, makes himself a lead character, a modern-day Watson to a prickly Holmesian (fictional) detective who investigates the woman’s death.

Murder is a mind-sharpening mystery, and fans of Horowitz’s TV and film work (Foyle’s War, Injustice, etc.) will enjoy the Easter eggs.

What are you reading this month?

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Nerdy Special List May 2018

Even though it’s not summer yet, I was inundated with May books that seem intended to be read in one sitting, as if we’re on vacation or something. And if we’re not, we’ll just have to say bye-bye to sleep. We had so many good books, Mr. PCN wanted to jump in with his own recommendation.

I’mma shut up now so y’all can start reading the following pronto.

Rory at Fourth Street Review recommends:

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Scribner, May 1)

Romy isn’t quite sure where she went wrong. Now serving two consecutive life sentences, Romy examines her choices, starting in her wild and neglected childhood, and how her choices may not have been choices at all.

Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a remarkable novel about life in prison, life leading up to prison, and those that cross the path of prisoners—fellow inmates, a well-meaning GED teacher, police officers, and lawyers involved in the justice system.

It’s difficult to do justice in so few words to this hard, humane novel, but it’s a thoughtful, nuanced story of the circumstances that make up an entire life.

Buy it now

Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review recommends:

Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (Harper Perennial, May 1)

I admit it—I was sucked in by the promise of swearing. But there is much more to Kimberly Harrington’s essays than motherhood and swearing, and you don’t have to be a mother or a swearer to enjoy the hell out of them.

Harrington is caustically funny, and her satirical pieces are spot on. Her more serious essays, however, are where she truly shines. The order of the pieces seems to have been done by Satan, as a hilarious piece on the rules of trying to write with kids at home (if there’s no blood, don’t interrupt) can be followed by a devastating essay on marital troubles.

Whether funny or serious-funny, Harrington bares her emotions and evokes the same from her reader. Smart and sarcastic, varied in form and substance, this collection is a true gem.

Buy it now

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle (Pegasus, May 8)

A young woman administering communion to house-bound parishioners sends her already spinning life off on a dangerous trajectory when she begins following a mysterious man.

Elderly Mrs. Epifano tells Amy Falconetti her caregiver’s son has recently been showing up in her place and hiding in Mrs. E’s bedroom. Amy can’t help but get involved, and it’s not the first time she’s trailed a potentially dangerous man.

The Lonely Witness‘s first half is a knockout character study, followed by a volatile, action-packed second half. Boyle’s love of character and place shines though in this gritty noir chock-full of ambiguous morality and loyalty.

Buy it now

Erin at In Real Life recommends:

How It Happened by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown, May 15)

How It Happened starts with a question: How did the young couple wind up dead? The answer appears simple to some, but leads to more questions at the dark heart of a rural Maine community.

FBI investigator Rob Barrett is all in to find answers, but the more he searches, the further he seems to get from the truth, and as more people are pulled into the vortex of this mystery, it’s unclear whether we’ll ever know the answers.

This is Koryta’s masterful storytelling at its very best.
Buy it now

Guest recommendation from Mr. PCN:

He by John Connolly (Quercus, May 1)

The first page of this departure from Connolly’s Charlie Parker series is a photocopy of a Los Angeles court document. It signifies a name change from Arthur Stanley Jefferson to Stan Laurel. For the rest of the novel, Laurel, one half of the legendary comedic duo Laurel and (Oliver) Hardy, is referred to only as He.

In short, poetic chapters, Connolly reveals a complicated artist journeying from vaudeville to silent film to starring in talking pictures. Laurel’s contemporaries included Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, and the great Charlie Chaplin, which should solidify this novel as a film archivist’s dream.

Thanks to Connolly’s ability to peel back the layers of a person, fictional or otherwise, this story of good, bad, and necessary choices speaks to the triumphs and heartbreaks experienced by everyone treading this stage called life.

Buy it now

PCN recommends:

Calypso by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, May 29)

My favorite humor essayist is back with this collection that finds him musing on mortality, as he’s nearing the age his mother died of cancer, and still processing the suicide of his sister Tiffany.

But if anyone can make you laugh about death, it’s Sedaris, who writes about family vacations at the beach house he bought (which he named the Sea Section), shopping for clothes with his sisters Gretchen and Amy (“Everything looks as if it has been pulled from the evidence rack at a murder trial”), and struggling with his softening feelings toward his ninetysomething father, with whom Sedaris has always had a difficult relationship.

Laughter may not solve everything, but Sedaris shows it sure can help make life more tolerable.

Buy it now

What are you excited to read this month?

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Weekend Watching: KILLING EVE, A QUIET PLACE & BLOCKERS

I had a lazy weekend—well, lazier than usual—and ended up watching lots of TV and movies. Good thing they were mostly entertaining. Here are some brief thoughts on the ones worth mentioning.

Killing Eve

I’ve been salivating for this since I heard about it back in February. BBC America’s comedic thriller stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer and is written and exec produced by Fleabag‘s brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whom I’ll follow anywhere (she’s next up in Solo).

Oh plays Eve, a bored MI-5 agent on the trail of Comer’s international assassin, Villanelle, and the two actresses are great foils for each other. Eve is messy and quirky but razor sharp when it comes to work. Villanelle is a slick sociopath, but Comer’s performance and Waller-Bridge’s writing manage to add ink-dark humor to the brutal kill missions. Even the soundtrack is funny.

The adaptation is much better than the novellas—all gathered in Codename Villanelleby Luke Jennings, who, while depicting two strong female protagonists, still wrote them from a male POV. Plus, Eve is white and 29 on the page; I love that Oh got the part. She, Comer, and Waller-Bridge bring the women vibrantly and gleefully to life.

A Quiet Place

This thriller about monsters who track their prey by sound is watching-through-your-fingers suspenseful, and its 6-person cast, including John Krasinski (also the diretor) and Emily Blunt, gives fantastic performances, almost entirely without dialogue.

My two quibbles are 1) we see too much of the creatures too soon and 2) we don’t know what their motivation is. Monsters need motivation, too. Take something like Aliens and it’s clear why the mother alien is hostile. A Quiet Place‘s creatures seem nasty for nasty’s sake.

But if you like fine acting and being kept on the edge of your seat for almost an hour and a half, this movie is worth a look.

Blockers

Three teenage girls make a sex pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Their parents find out and set out to stop the kids. Hijinks ensue.

I appreciate the questions Blockers poses—if boys are celebrated for losing their virginity, why can’t the same go for girls? Why is sex even bad?—but the movie still subjects viewers to really crude gags involving butts and balls. You’ve been warned.

Bottom line, I found more to cringe at than laugh at.

What did you watch this weekend?

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Nerdy Special List April 2018

Happy April! I’ve been wearing shirts and dresses in floral prints all week because I want flowers to be bloomin’ on my body if nowhere else. Hope spring is happening where you are.

To help brighten your day, here are our book recommendations this month.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Big Guns by Steve Israel (Simon & Schuster, April 17)

Ex-New York Congressman Steve Israel couldn’t have been more timely with his sophomore novel, Big Guns. A major gun manufacturer is threatened by a call for a national ban on handguns, so the company brings in its top lobbyist to convince the government that every citizen should be legally required to own a firearm.

Israel’s experience lends to the novel’s authenticity, and the current political climate makes the themes especially powerful. This satire is witty, thought-provoking, and shrewd.

Buy it now

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (Salaam Reads, April 3)

This heartwarming picture book is beautiful in every respect. The young girl narrating the story finds empowerment wearing her mother’s headscarves. The acceptance of those around her—her friends, teachers, and especially her grandmother who isn’t Muslim—encourages the child to be proud of her identity.

The stunning illustrations compliment the endearing prose, making the whole package one to treasure. This should be a staple of every child’s library. Seeing the wonder and complete absence of threat in diversity is something that can’t be experienced too often or too early.

Buy it now

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The City Where We Once Lived by Eric Barnes (Arcade Publishing, April 3)

Set in a semi-apocalyptic future in the town of West End, Barnes paints a haunting portrait of a town stripped to its bones and the lives of its few remaining residents. Residents of the bordering town of South End may seem better off, but their existence is filled with traffic, plastic homes, and a hunger for material things.

When a weather-related catastrophe brings the towns together in an unexpected way, the haves are forced to rely on the have-nots. Taut with timely themes of climate change, waning empathy and lack of community, the story hits scarily close to home.

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No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run by Tyler Wetherall (St. Martin’s Press, April 3)

By age nine, Tyler Wetherall had lived in thirteen houses in five countries on two continents, yet she still believed her father simply had “business problems.”

In her thrilling and gutting memoir, Wetherall recounts life on the run and how she and her siblings began to clue in to the family secret: her criminal father was a fugitive, wanted by the FBI and Scotland Yard.

Wetherall’s journals inform the first half of the book, a child’s narrative filled with the kind of details that can be found in great spy fiction. The second half, a present-day look at what followed her father’s capture, lacks the emotional touchstone of what came before but is no less compelling.

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From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes (Crown, April 3)

I love books where women reinvent their lives in some way and emerge strong or stronger.

Three women in their sixties meet on a tour of a retirement community and become friends, traveling to a cottage several times. This evolves into spending a year sharing a house in Tuscany, Italy.

All three women confront demons while becoming their best selves, working on life goals they never thought they’d tackle. The village nearby helps on aspects of each woman’s changes. One of their neighbors is also confronting an unexpected life obstacle while working on an exciting project. I really enjoyed the adventure taken by the women.

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PCN recommends:

Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan (Dutton, April 3)

When Leah married Robert, an author, she agreed to let him take a sabbatical from home whenever he needs to focus on writing. The only requirement is that he leaves a note, which he always does, until one day he doesn’t. And doesn’t return.

Clues lead to Leah moving with her two daughters to Paris, where “[o]nce a week, I chase men who are not my husband,” i.e. she follows men who look like Robert around the city.

Callanan’s insightful prose captures what it’s like to be a creative person and to live with one, the sacrifices that are made. Too often we love a movie or book but don’t give much thought to what it took to create it. I especially liked the many tributes to the French classic The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse, a childhood favorite of mine.

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Which April releases are you looking forward to?

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March Showers Bring Cover Flowers

It’s been raining on and off in L.A. for the past three weeks, which makes me miserable and cold. Had to put on socks and turtlenecks when it hit 70 degrees indoors! 🙂

I bought rain boots at the beginning of March, thinking I’d wear them for a couple of days and put them in the closet until next year. But I’ve worn them every time I’ve gone out this month. Granted, that’s only 5 times but still—it’s supposed to be spring!

All this might have something to do with my current attraction to book covers with bright flowers or artwork or sunny locales. They’re like happy pills on gray days. I haven’t read the books but the covers have done their job in catching my eye.

Check them out below, with fake plot lines I just made up because I don’t like to read synopses before reading a book. (For real descriptions, click on the covers.)

On the day of a concert, a member of an ensemble gives his fellow musicians flowers that are actually man-eating plants because nobody puts bass in a corner.

 

A young woman goes home, taking not only the shortest but prettiest route, and stops on the way to see Grandma with a basket of bread and lots of wine.

 

A single woman in Sicily having the time of her life cavorting with lions, code for swarthy Italian men. I want to teleport myself into this cover.

 

While I’m mentally in Italy, why not visit a museum? This novel is about an expat venting his angst through his art, the subject of which is the teacher who was so rubbish at teaching the man rudimentary Italian, the man ended up getting his wallet stolen by a prostitute when all he wanted was to find the nearest bathroom.

 

After her boyfriend cheated on her, the woman in this story goes to France, where she becomes chic and fabulous and rubs his face in what he missed out on.

 

This one has a dark background and disturbing title, but the flowers are so pretty! And the descriptor says this is a novel about living. That’s good enough for me.

Which covers piqued your interest?

This post contains affiliate links that, if used, could provide small commissions to PCN.

 

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Book Review: THIS FALLEN PREY by Kelley Armstrong

In Kelley Armstrong’s This Fallen Prey, third in the Casey Duncan series (after A Darkness Absolute), the detective and the off-the-grid town of Rockton remain as fascinating as ever.

Rockton, situated in the Canadian Yukon, is a sanctuary for people hiding from their pasts, but Casey and Eric Dalton—sheriff and Casey’s lover—are told they must keep a serial killer there for six months, until further arrangements can be made for him. Refusal isn’t an option because Rockton will receive $1 million for its trouble.

Oliver Brady arrives accompanied by stories of his sadistic murders, and Casey and Dalton, along with deputy sheriff Will Anders, scramble to build a facility secure enough to hold him. The trio also have to deal with residents who, fearing for their safety, develop a lynch-mob mentality, demanding crowd justice instead of shelter for the alleged murderer.

But Brady maintains his innocence, and some in Rockton believe him. When people start dying, Casey races to determine the truth about Brady’s guilt before she becomes a victim.

Some of the plot reveals aren’t shocking, but Armstrong keeps readers guessing about Brady. She holds readers captive with a sense of dread constantly lurking beyond the next tree in Rockton’s surrounding woods.

With residents who have mysterious and violent pasts, and uncivilized hostiles living in the wild, anything can happen. Rockton isn’t safe at all, but the threat of sudden Lord of the Flies-like savagery is what makes This Fallen Prey riveting.

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This review originally appeared on Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission. It contains an affiliate link that, if used, could provide a small commission to PCN.

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