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Nerdy Special List September 2015

Happy September! Even though fall in L.A. looks the same as summer, I always welcome it because it’s a good season for books and marks the start of TV and movie awards season. From now until the end of the year, lots of noteworthy titles will be released, including what my blogger pals and I recommend for this month.

I’m happy to welcome new contributor Patti from Patti’s Pen & Picks. Patti is the Adult Materials Selector for the Collection Development Office of the Pima County Public Library in Tucson. In other words, she knows books.

Here are our September selections.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich (Knopf, Sept. 29)

saving capitalismBefore you skip over this title because it’s *shudder* nonfiction about economics, give me a minute to tell you why this may be the most important book you read this year. Saving Capitalism isn’t about liberals and conservatives, even though Reich is liberal in his political standings. Saving Capitalism is about debunking the myths that continue the financial spiral sending a minute few almost everything and a vast majority little to nothing.

This book explains why the debate of “free market” vs. large government is a fallacy that effectively prevents people from seeing the reality, why meritocracy doesn’t hold water, and why the partisan divide needs to be overcome in order to right the American economy. A capitalist society where over 90% of the people can’t afford to buy in cannot sustain itself. Both Democrats and Republicans are at fault for the current state of affairs, but it can be reversed—and the system can be saved—if we have the facts and work together as a single powerful voice.

While some of the concepts Reich outlines in Saving Capitalism are complicated and complex, he delivers them in a clear, accessible approach with relatable examples and explanations. He offers realistic solutions and sound, experienced advice. Relevant, well researched, and so vitally important, this is a book that shouldn’t be skipped.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 1)

girl waits with gun

If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading Amy Stewart’s nonfiction, you’re missing out. The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants are two of the most charming and hilarious books about plants ever written. I say this as a horticultural librarian, so my range of plant-based literature is actually quite large. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to reading her first novel. I was not disappointed, not even a little.

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and women’s history is often more relevant than we’d like to admit. Those two things combine to make one delightful mystery. Constance Kopp, soon to be thirty-five, is having a more adventurous year than she anticipated. The destruction of her buggy by an automobile sets off a series of increasingly alarming events. Constance and her sisters make quite the trio standing against the bullying, harassment, and threatening behavior of Henry Kaufman, the driver of the car.

Based on the true story of Constance Kopp, Amy Stewart’s witty debut novel is full of charm. Although I imagined it as rather effective deadpan humor, Constance’s pragmatic voice is also one of a woman eschewing the expectations of 1914. The novel is fun and fresh, and Amy Stewart has managed to impress me once again. I highly, highly recommend it.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Scout Press, September 1)family bill clegg

Did You Ever Have a Family will shoot hundreds of tiny arrows into your heart, then take advantage of the breaches to crush it to a pulp. Hands down one of the best books I’ve read this year, Family is a before-and-after story, told from multiple perspectives and time periods, all anchored to an epic tragedy occurring just as the curtain opens on the small resort town of Wells, Connecticut.

A tightly written, continuous rabbit-puncher of a novel, Family is about connections (family and otherwise), burdens, guilt, loss, secrets, misconceptions, judgments, betrayal, love, sacrifice, grief, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Clegg manages to give unique voices to more than ten character perspectives in a truly magnificent portrait of sacrifice and loss at their deepest. Get your Kleenex ready. (Read Lauren’s full review here.)

The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray: A Critical Appreciation of the World’s Finest Actor by Robert Schnakenberg (Quirk Books, September 15)

bill murray bookThe Big, Bad Book is really a glorious encyclopedia, right down to the alphabetical format, thick glossy pages, and numerous photographs. It’s a dense, almost square volume that will look great on any coffee table, and is packed with material, which lends itself perfectly to parsing out the goodness an entry—or a letter—at a time.

There is a piece on every movie Murray has been in (and some he missed out or passed on), personal facts and opinions (he has many), history, weird tidbits, quotes, and fantastic stories, some told in Murray’s own words, some by others.

If you’re a fan of Bill Murray, who, if not the best, is certainly the most versatile actor of our time, this book is a must have. It exceeded my expectations even though it was one of my most anticipated books of the year.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (NAL, September 1)

a curious beginningA Curious Beginning is an interesting beginning to a new series. The main character is Veronica Speedwell, a cross between Temperance Brennan (as played in the TV series Bones), and Amelia Peabody, the wonderful character from Elizabeth Peters’s series. Veronica is blunt, occasionally naive, will attempt almost anything, and is a very strong-willed woman supporting herself in the 1880s.

Veronica, an orphan raised by two spinster aunts, is a lepidopterist who travels the world catching a variety of butterflies for clients. She’s visited by a baron who knew her mother and tells Veronica her life is in danger. She accompanies him to London, where his friend Stoker, a natural historian, will protect her. The baron is murdered after Veronica and Stoker meet, and the two take to the road, trying to unravel the murder mystery and why Veronica’s life is in danger.

I really liked how Veronica is always full steam ahead and not afraid to try new things or adventures. I look forward to more books in this series!

From PCN:

make meMake Me by Lee Child (Delacorte Press, September 8)

Jack Reacher is back for his 20th outing, and this one is more unsettling than the series’ recent installments. Reacher finds himself in a small town called Mother’s Rest, and though he starts out wanting to learn only the origin of the name, he ends up entangled in a much deeper, sinister mystery after he meets an FBI-agent-turned-PI named Michelle Chang who’s searching for a missing colleague.

Make Me has the requisite bone-crushing action, and is as entertaining as it is haunting. Reacher takes some hard physical blows in this book, but the series is still going strong.

Which books are you looking forward to this month?


Book Review: MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER by Hilary Liftin

movie star lizzie pepperMovie Star by Lizzie Pepper is not actually by Lizzie Pepper, who’s a fictional celebrity, but by Hilary Liftin, a ghostwriter who has collaborated on bestselling celebrity memoirs. But Movie Star is a novel. Confused yet?

The concept is that this book is a fake memoir by Lizzie, cowritten by the very real Liftin. Lizzie is a young famous actress swept up in a whirlwind romance with a much more famous actor and in all the ensuing paparazzi hullabaloo.

Life seems perfect, with the private jets and multiple mansions and public declarations of love from her man and the elaborate wedding—until Lizzie realizes everything might be too perfect.

Lizzie and Rob Mars, her superstar husband, never fight, and she can’t seem to penetrate his unflappable surface. And oh, yeah, there’s that mysterious, cultish organization he’s dedicated to.

This is a thinly disguised roman à clef of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes story, so most readers probably know how it begins, quickly escalates, and how it ends. But we don’t know what happened in the middle parts of this fairy tale gone wrong, and Liftin provides a fictional account here, a very readable one.

The author humanizes the movie stars, people who often seem too glossy to be real. Lizzie is no dummy and she’s grounded, but Rob’s courtship is very heady, and I could understand how she allows herself to get drawn into his world so fast she doesn’t realize what’s happening until she’s imprisoned by it.

Though Rob remains a cypher, even to Lizzie, Liftin portrays him sympathetically, not as a nut case, as many tend to label Cruise. Rob’s behaviors and beliefs stem from his conviction that he’s doing the best thing for himself and those around him, that he must always be the hero, offscreen as well as on. Sometimes, though, Lizzie just wants him to get angry, fart, be human.

Liftin also doesn’t vilify One Cell Studio, the organization to which Rob belongs and devotes much of his time. While some higher-ups at the studio do behave atrociously and are definitely creepy, not all members are that way, and the practices don’t seem as alien as some Scientology exercises are rumored to be.

In a Twitter culture with the masses instantly slapping unflattering labels on things and people they don’t understand, Liftin offers a different perspective on very public figures, perhaps asking that readers be less hasty to judge, and to appreciate our ordinary, human lives.

Amazon | IndieBound


Shock vs. Sensitivity



Like most people, I was shocked by the on-air shooting of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. As I tried to learn more about what happened after first seeing only a tweet about the incident, my shock turned first to horror and then anger.

This isn’t a post about stricter gun-control laws. I fervently, deeply support that, but my friends Lauren and Chris Holm have already covered that in posts more eloquent and effective than anything I could write (click on their names to read them).

What I want to talk about is, why did some news outlets post the videos of Parker and Ward being murdered? The first site I visited was CNN, and though it posted a warning about graphic content, a freeze frame/screen grab of the video was visible and I felt sick after catching a brief glimpse of it.

I quickly scrolled past it, like a person trying to get rid of porn on the computer when someone else enters the room, but I was still shaking. I don’t need to see the final moments of Parker’s and Ward’s lives to understand how horrific their deaths were. I imagine Parker’s and Ward’s loved ones don’t want to watch them being killed, either. The shooting occurred during WDBJ’s morning broadcast so the station can’t be faulted for what went live, but other news outlets had no good reason to show the gruesome images after the fact.

The press exists because the public has the right to know, but did it need to witness Parker’s and Ward’s dying gasps? If the gunman (I refuse to write his name) were still at large and Ward’s footage contained the only lead to his identity, then I could understand it being shown with a plea to help identify the shooter.

But that’s not the case. Therefore I can only assume the video was shown for ratings or clicks. Which means it’s exploitation of a double murder.

I was once like Parker, a young TV news reporter at a small station in Virginia. Occasionally a cameraman would return from location with raw footage of a tragedy, the aftermath of a drunk driver colliding with another car or a child flipping an ATV.

Without being told by our news director, my colleagues and I always knew to edit out the bloody parts and air only enough footage to indicate a tragedy had occurred, never anything that might upset the general public or, worse, the victims’ families. It’s been many years since I worked in TV news and the world has changed drastically, but is it too much to ask for a certain level of sensitivity and a professional standard of decency?

How do you feel about the graphic footage being on air and online? Should it be shown because it’s “part of the story”?


Book Review: RUBBERNECKER by Belinda Bauer

rubberneckerDue to a traumatic childhood incident, 18-year-old Patrick Fort is obsessed with death. He wants to analyze what happens when people die, which makes him a great candidate for the anatomy course at Cardiff University, which requires him and his classmates to dissect cadavers to determine cause of death.

When Patrick finds something unexpected inside his cadaver, he suspects that Number 19—the cadavers are assigned only numerical IDs—was murdered, despite the death certificate claiming natural causes. But Patrick’s attempts to prove his theory are hampered at every turn, resulting in events that threaten to grant him personal experience with the very condition he seeks to understand.

Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker is fast-paced and quick-witted, told from multiple points of view (one seems unnecessary, tied to an extraneous subplot). Patrick’s voice holds the most interest. He’s a curious and intelligent boy with Asperger’s syndrome, who takes everything literally and is deadly serious at all times, but is also funny and charming, albeit unintentionally.

Bauer’s (Blacklands) almost gleeful descriptions of cadaverous viscera display a macabre sense of humor that induces chuckles alongside groans of disgust. Then, with revelations that come only pages from the end, the author punches readers in the heart.

Though Rubbernecker, which was originally published in the UK, received the 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, it’s not just a mystery. It’s also a portrait of a memorable protagonist who finds a way to embrace life by confronting what lies beyond.

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


Sailboats and Seattle and STAR WARS

My posts were scarce these past two weeks because I was traveling with family up and down the West Coast, attempting to be all rugged with boating and mountain hiking and stuff. I’m amazed my legs didn’t fall off and I can still walk upright.

We went from Orange Co. up to San Francisco and Seattle and the San Juan Islands, stopping along the way in places like Santa Barbara and Morro Bay.

Sunset sail in Marina del Rey

Sunset sail in Marina del Rey. I was on the boat in the center. A passerby took the photo.


Hiking Mt. Rainier. Photo: Aline Dolinh (Mr. PCN is in blue on the bridge)

Seattle is where the EMP Museum has the Star Wars costume exhibit, which featured these guys.

Photo: Mena Dolinh

Photo: Mena Dolinh


Photo: Mena Dolinh

Speaking of Star Wars, I have a fun giveaway for you. A marketing rep from Underoos (yes, that Underoos) contacted me to let me know Underoos are now for adults, too. The rep sent along a free set in the design of my choice, and of course I chose something Star Wars related, though it was a tough choice between this and Wonder Woman.


From the Underoos site. Did you think I would pose in my underwear?

The starry blue background is beautiful and R2 pops, but it’s a transfer that sometimes makes a crinkling sound when I move, and I suspect it won’t last long after repeated washings. The set is 100% cotton and very comfortable.

Underoos is letting me give away one set in any design to one PCN reader. To enter, leave a comment letting me know which design you would choose and why. Giveaway ends next Thursday, August 27, 9 p.m PST. US addresses only.


Book Review: WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER by Carla Norton

what doesnt kill herIt’s been seven years since Reeve LeClaire, the heroine in Carla Norton’s What Doesn’t Kill Her, was rescued after being held prisoner as a teen by Daryl Wayne Flint, who’s serving time at a psychiatric hospital in Washington State. Reeve is now a student at UC Berkeley and feeling that her life “has finally bloomed and ripened.”

But a wrench is thrown into her newly idyllic world when Flint escapes and commits murder on his way to reclaim Reeve, his greatest obsession. Instead of running scared, she decides to confront the monster by teaming up with former FBI agent Milo Bender–the man who helped rescue her–to track down Flint. After spending four years in close proximity with her kidnapper, who else but Reeve would know best the inner workings of Flint’s twisted mind?

Norton keeps the pacing swift in this second series installment, after The Edge of Normal. Reeve is based on a real woman the author covered as a true crime writer, and Norton compassionately details the survivor mindset–what it takes for someone to withstand years of torture in captivity and the lingering psychological effects after release. Norton also shows how the ordeal can derail the lives of survivors’ loved ones.

The dialogue is stilted and expository at times, and Reeve oddly seems to be the only person among seasoned FBI agents and therapists to see the obvious when it comes to clues and Flint’s intentions, but Reeve’s voice and fragile courage are welcomed in crime fiction, representing those who refuse to be victims.

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


Nerdy Special List August 2015

I’m traveling right now but the Nerdy Special List must go on. I’m excited every month when the recommendations start coming in from my illustrious contributors, but I think this month the list is especially spectacular. Hope you’ll find at least one or two books to add to your reading list.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year of Looking on the Bright Side Transformed My Life by Janice Kaplan (Dutton, August 18)

gratitude diariesPart memoir, part research project, The Gratitude Diaries is all inspirational. Janice Kaplan, former Parade Magazine editor, made a New Year’s resolution to look at her life differently. She theorized that one’s attitude was more important than the events that occurred—someone could win the lottery and still not be happy—but if that person reframed their perspective they could be happy regardless of circumstances.

To test her theory, she dedicated a year to identifying all she could be thankful for in her day-to-day existence as well as researching the scientific side of gratitude. This book is the journal of her findings.

Readers will likely discover it is extremely difficult to avoid looking for the positive in their own lives as they read The Gratitude Diaries. It’s packed with easily initiated ideas and fascinating information about the benefits of gratitude. I rarely feel I can recommend a book to absolutely anyone, but I don’t know a single person who couldn’t benefit from more happiness in their life. The Gratitude Diaries is a wonderful way to start finding it.

The Investigation by J. M. Lee, translated by Chi-Young Kim (Pegasus, August 15)

the investigationIn the midst of World War II, Sugiyama Dozen, a Japanese war veteran, is the Fukuoka Prison Ward Three guard and censor. When Sugiyama is found murdered, young guard Watanabe Yuichi is charged with investigating the case while taking over Sugiyama’s duties. At first the crime appears to be open-and-shut, but the smart, contemplative Watanabe isn’t convinced and his probing unearths amazing discoveries.

The Investigation is a stunning tribute to the power of the arts first and a murder mystery second. The juxtaposition of the two makes this novel reaffirming.

Inspired by a true story about a Korean poet, The Investigation is beautifully written. The insightful translation allows for a crystal clear and universal understanding of Lee’s powerful themes and characters, making The Investigation a soul-resonating read.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Andersonville by Edward M. Erdelac (Hydra Publications, August 18)

andersonvilleLourdes Barclay, a mysterious man posing as a black Union soldier, purposefully sneaks into Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville prison. He has a mission, a secret, and a vendetta, but he quickly realizes that his first priority is simply to survive the hellish prison.

Ruled by the mysterious Captain Wirz, tortured by the sadistic Sergeant Turner, and terrorized by the group of prisoners called the “raiders,” most soldiers pray for escape. Not Barclay. He realizes the suffering  radiating from Andersonville is the result of more than just human evil.

Historically, Camp Sumter was filled with human misery beyond comprehension, yet Erdelac expertly adds a layer of the supernatural to great effect. This Civil War horror novel (if that’s not a genre, this novel can spearhead the effort) is thoughtful, Lovecraftian, and well researched. Although it’s not for the faint of heart—much of the horror is vividly described and based on fact—I would recommend this novel to fans of Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and alternate histories.

For those who may be hesitant to pick up a “horror” novel, I wanted to add there is nothing truly scary about this book in the fictional sense. Yes, there are secret societies, forces of good and evil, and a few hellhounds, but the real terror lies in the suffering of the soldiers. What makes that terrifying, for me, is that it happened, without the added demonic influences.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Trust No One by Paul Cleave  (Atria Books, August 4)

trust no oneTrust No One is one of those rare and exceptional books that doesn’t just tell you a story, it makes you experience it.

Jerry Grey is a crime writer. Or he was. And he still sometimes is. Or might be. As his mind descends into early-onset Alzheimer’s, it’s not clear whether or not the brutal murders with which he’s so intimately familiar occurred only on the page. He confesses to crimes everyone else knows are fictional—or are they? Jerry is sure they aren’t, until he’s…not. People are dying, and Jerry can’t rely on anyone or anything around or within him.

As Jerry fights to chronicle the changes he’s experiencing, he loses all trust in his memory and his reality. It’s a terrifying premise, and one that Cleave presents with the mastery of a storyteller who is unafraid to venture into territory most writers would steer well clear of.

This isn’t a comfortable read—it’s not meant to be—but it is a thrilling one. And while it’s not horror, it’s one of the most frightening tales I’ve ever read.

From Shannon at River City Reading:

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (Henry Holt, August 11)

beautiful bureaucratAfter both Josephine and her husband have struggled to find work for far too long, she is thrilled when she’s hired to work on “The Database.” In a windowless building that takes up several city blocks, she works in a small office, entering strangely coded numbers in an increasingly mind-numbing task. Over time, Josephine’s once supportive husband grows distant, and work on The Database wears at her until she is desperate to discover its true purpose.

In just 192 pages, The Beautiful Bureaucrat packs in the tension of the best thrillers with a double dose of “WHAT IS GOING ON?” for good measure. And Helen Phillips uses every inch of those 192 pages to tell her story, forcing readers to puzzle out the narrative until the very last moment. (Read Shannon’s full review here.)

From PCN:

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer (Atlantic Monthly Press, August 4)

rubberneckerEighteen-year-old Patrick, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has been obsessed with death since a traumatic childhood incident. He signs up for an anatomy course at Cardiff University that requires students to dissect cadavers to determine the cause of death.

Though all the bodies supposedly belonged to people who died of natural causes, Patrick is convinced Number 19—the identifier given his cadaver—was murdered. No one believes him, and as he tries to gather evidence to prove his theory, he just might get to meet his own death.

Patrick is a memorable character with a singular narrative voice, serious in his own head but quirky and unintentionally witty to those around him. The novel’s subject matter is dark but so is the humor, and there’s a healthy dose of heart. Rubbernecker should turn the reader into just that—someone who can’t look away from it.


What are you looking forward to reading this month?


Interview with Shane Kuhn

A few days ago, I ran a review of Shane Kuhn’s Hostile Takeover. Now meet the author in the following interview I did with him, which also appeared originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

Shane Kuhn: Word Warrior

Photo: Ted Frericks

Photo: Ted Frericks

Shane Kuhn has 20 years of experience in entertainment and advertising as a writer and filmmaker, and has paid his dues as an intern. His debut thriller, The Intern’s Handbook, was published in 2014, and a movie adaptation is in the works with Dave Franco attached to star as assassin John Lago.

Here, Kuhn discusses the sequel, Hostile Takeover; the childhood incident that led him to writing; and his encounter with a victim of gun violence.

John Lago was eight when he made his first kill. You were eight when you were grounded and started to keep a journal to vent your anger—which set you on the path to writing. Why were you grounded?

I was grounded for two weeks for (a) starting a fire in the ditch behind our house and (b) lying about it. I used to build World War II models of aircraft carriers, battleships, bombers, fighter planes, etc. And since I had an active imagination, I staged fierce and deadly battles.

On that day, I believe I was reenacting the kamikaze attack that sank an American escort carrier at the Battle of Iwo Jima. The aircraft carrier was badly damaged but I needed more dramatic effect for the grand finale.

So, I “played with matches” and set the aircraft carrier on fire. It was spectacular and really completed the scene. The only problem was the model glue in those days was highly flammable, so a small fire on the aft deck became a raging inferno and the plastic started melting in the water–still burning!

I panicked and threw water and mud all over it, but eventually fled the scene. Our neighbor had seen it and put out the fire with his extinguisher. He also called my dad to dime on me. I lied right to my dad’s face, telling him I hadn’t been in the ditch for weeks while I attempted to hide my muddy Chuck Taylors under the kitchen table.

He was furious about the fire but despised lying more than any childhood transgression, so I got two weeks in solitary. I was allowed to read, do yard work and chores around the house, and that’s it. So, I started journaling to keep from going insane and found it to be incredibly fun and immersive. I guess I have my father’s strict German discipline to thank for helping me become a writer.

You’ve said you become your characters when writing. Considering they’re assassins, have you ever scared family and friends?

When I say I become my characters, I mean I like to immerse myself into their world. It’s kind of like doing shamanic journeying. I spend a lot of time with my eyes closed, allowing their imaginary world to unfold and allowing them to speak to me. And they often do. I know a good character by the fact he or she won’t shut the hell up.

I think what is scary to people is that I want to go to those places in my mind. In person, I’m wicked laid back, like a surfer (which I used to be) or rocker (which I am). Often times, people will tell me how shocked they were when they read my work. They say if they didn’t know me, they would think I was the prince of darkness.

You’re lead singer in a U2 cover band. If the powers that be allowed you to sing a song for the movie’s soundtrack, which song would you choose?

I love this question so much because what I really want to be when I grow up is a rock star! If I could sing a cover song for the film–which I may have to try to negotiate with the studio (he says, rubbing his hands together fiendishly)–I would probably sing the U2 song “Until the End of the World” for a couple of reasons.

First, that’s where John is willing to go with Alice, and second, that song is actually about Judas betraying Jesus (U2 is a very religious band), and betrayal is a major theme in both The Intern’s Handbook and Hostile Takeover.

hostile takeoverYour books’ cover designs are really clever. You tattooed the Intern’s Handbook design on your arm. Will you be doing the same with the Hostile Takeover cover?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my book cover art. Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich is an incredibly talented and clever designer, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had him produce those images. Obviously, or I wouldn’t have gotten a tattoo of the Intern’s Handbookart! That was done by Megan Massacre of New York Ink fame, by the way. She’s rad, too.

Both covers really nail the spirit of the work and they make you think. I am strongly considering getting a tattoo of the office supply handgun on the cover of Hostile Takeover, but there’s the small matter of deciding where to get it. It’s one thing to have a visible skull and bones on your body, but it’s quite another to have a visible gun.

Especially nowadays.

I’m very sensitive to the horrific gun violence that’s plaguing our country and would never want to make light of that in any way. I actually sat on an airplane next to one of the young women killed in the [Aurora, Colo.] movie theater shooting. She had survived another shooting incident in Canada and we talked about how terrified she was to go out in public. When I saw her picture on the cover of USA Today as a victim, it broke my heart.

I remember. Her name was Jessica Ghawi.

I don’t mean to get too political here, but the point is, this is part of what I’m considering when thinking about getting that tattoo. Megan Massacre told me that once you get a tattoo, you can’t stop at one, like Pringles or hash brownies. I said I was definitely going to stop at one, but it turns out she was right. I would like more, and I like that they will have real meaning for me. Being a novelist is a dream come true and part of my story as a warrior on this earth, so I’m proud to wear my ink!

One of the characters in Hostile Takeover, Kiana Nguyen, is based on a real person. Tell us about that.

This came about because of a contest Simon & Schuster ran, asking fans of The Intern’s Handbook to enter to win a chance at being named a character in the sequel. Kiana won, and her namesake in the book is a Wall Street suit by day, drug lord by night, a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of person featured in one of John’s more violent and fun flashbacks.

Kiana is not a drug lord or a Wall Street suit. She just graduated college and is an aspiring author! Wunderkind, my independent PR firm, ended up liking her so much they gave her–wait for it–AN INTERNSHIP! She’s working there this summer, learning the PR ropes, and evidently working on her first novel, which, based on her interesting and funny personality, will probably be great!


Book Review: HOSTILE TAKEOVER by Shane Kuhn

hostile takeoverShane Kuhn shot onto the crime fiction scene last year with The Intern’s Handbook (movie rights were snapped up), and now his assassin John Lago is back in Hostile Takeover with more explosive action.

At the end of Handbook, Lago had lost track of Alice, the person assigned to “exterminate” him. He not only finds her at the start of Takeover but, after a wee bit of gunfire, proposes to her. The two then stage a coup to take over HR, Inc., the company that places fake interns who are really assassins into the corporate world to kill their targets. As with many relationships, their partnership is heady at first, until they start fighting and turn on each other. As Lago says, “With normal couples, someone might get thrown out of the house after a fight. With us, someone is liable to get thrown out a window.” Or worse.

The violence in Takeover is even more over the top than in Handbook, but done in the same satirical way. A boy named Sue is a fun new character who gives Lago tech support–make that hack support. The identity of the big baddie is predictable, and some of the scenes seem more like set pieces rather than action that helps move the story forward, but Kuhn’s sharp-as-a-blade humor keeps readers, like the bullets, flying through pages. And despite the deadly doings, Hostile is quite romantic, for Lago is hopelessly smitten with Alice, just a boy standing in front of a girl, asking her not to kill him.

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


Nerdy Special List July 2015

We have a long weekend ahead! Hope you have fun plans for the Fourth of July, if you celebrate it. After a rough week, I hope to commence Operation Couch Potato.

This month, I’m very excited to welcome Shannon of River City Reading to the NSL. If you’re not already reading her blog, definitely check it out. It’s a fantastic site with smart, insightful reviews and lively bookish discussions. Shannon is also one of the bloggers heading up The Socratic Salon, which hosts in-depth conversations about books, spoilers and all.

Here are the July releases my fellow bloggers and I recommend. One of these is up for grabs.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe (Grand Central, July 7)

busy coverI don’t know a single person in my life who couldn’t benefit from the ideas expressed in business psychologist Tony Crabbe’s nonfiction book, Busy. The Information Age has brought more opportunities, more demands, more of just about everything, including stress and feelings of inundation. But strategies for coping and succeeding have not changed.

Crabbe, who’s worked with leaders of some of the most successful companies in the world, argues that concepts such as multitasking and time management are ineffectual. What people need to do is consciously choose to have a greater focus on fewer things. Crabbe offers research and anecdotes to support his ideas, but the greatest value of Busy lies in the activities and experiments that correlate with each of the book’s chapters.

The activities encourage examinations of core values, personal brands, and more, while the experiments help readers  see the feasibility of the book’s concepts. Busy is insightful, motivational, practical, and accessible. It’s the starter kit to having a more fulfilling life with less.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Brush Back by Sara Paretsky (Putnam, July 28)

brush backBrush Back is the seventeenth entry in Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski series. Seven. Teen. That’s an accomplishment in itself. That Sara Paretsky keeps telling stories that invite readers in and keep us flipping pages is a triumph.

When a high school sweetheart—after a fashion—shows up at V.I.’s office, she doesn’t want to hear his plea. But hear it she does, and it sends her back to the neighborhood where she grew up, where she tangles first with a nasty old woman who hates her and might be a murderer. Before long, V.I.’s managed to piss off a bunch of powerful folks, but she can’t stop looking for answers to the questions she’s brought to light.

V.I. makes no excuses, but she  knows when she’s pushed too far and she is not without humility. When her actions affect those she loves, she strives to put things right. But the forces she’s battling are powerful, and the danger in Brush Back feels altogether too real.

On July 16, a couple of weeks before Brush Back is released, Sara Paretsky will receive the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England. There can be nobody more deserving, as this latest novel demonstrates.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Swerve by Vicki Pettersson (Gallery Books, July 7)

swerveKristine and her fiancé are on their way across the Nevada desert to his well-to-do family’s Fourth of July celebration when Kristine is attacked in a rest-area bathroom. After returning to the car to find Daniel and most of their possessions missing, Kristine receives a text: Say good-bye. Now. Or he dies.

Thus begins a thrilling and gruesome 24-hour road trip scavenger hunt that means life or death for Daniel. Kristine is faced with horrific choices at each turn, knowing failure will mean the death of the man she loves. When the demands and clues from the madman who has Daniel become increasingly grotesque and personal, Kristine begins to realize the abduction may not be about Daniel’s money at all, but about her.

Swerve is not for the fainthearted. A first-class thriller with the soul of a scary movie, you’ll love it if you have a soft, grisly spot for movies like Joy Ride, Breakdown, and Duel. This was my first experience with the work of Vicki Pettersson, who’s a well-known fantasy/romance writer. If she continues to write edge-of-your-seat white-knucklers like this one, I will continue to peek through my fingers to read them.

From Shannon at River City Reading:

Secessia by Kent Wascom (Grove Atlantic, July 7)

secessiaWhen New Orleans falls to the Union in the middle of 1862, twelve-year-old Joseph Woolsack’s life is suddenly changed. His city is under the tightening grip of Union commander General Benjamin “the Beast” Butler while his father dies of mysterious circumstances, which leaves his mother, Elise, both questioning and questioned. A mixed-race woman passing as white, Elise’s situation grows intense after the death of her husband, as she attempts to hold on to her son and her position in a rapidly evolving, violent city.

As in Kent Wascom’s debut novel, The Blood of Heaven, which I loved, most everything in Secessia is grand. The novel’s key characters are all larger than life, with big personalities that are just as easy to fall into as the grimy, dangerous streets of New Orleans.

But it’s the way Wascom writes those characters and streets that sets his books apart. Though his words are as grandiose as the images they convey, each one is delicately placed to create a cadence that begs the reader to slow down and enjoy the ride.

From PCN:

Signal by Patrick Lee (Minotaur Books, July 7)

signalLast year Patrick Lee introduced us to his retired-special-forces hero, Sam Dryden, in the adrenaline-charged Runner. Dryden is back in another thriller that demands to be read in one sitting (I did just that—stayed up until 4:30 a.m. to finish.)

Dryden is again on the run, this time to protect a mysterious device that could destroy the world as we know it. Seriously, if it falls into bad guys’ hands, things would get messed UP. Lee combines action with scientific elements and what-if scenarios to create a book that has muscles and brains.

My full review will run in Shelf Awareness for Readers later this month.

Here’s the exciting part: I have one signed copy of Signal to give away. To enter, leave a comment telling me who would be chasing you if you were on the run. As usual, fanciful lies are accepted.

Giveaway ends Thursday, July 9, midnight PST. US addresses only. The winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim the prize before an alternate winner is chosen.


Movie Review: INSIDE OUT

I’m going to start this review by saying if you haven’t seen Inside Out and have any reservations about seeing it, thinking it’s only for kids or girls or whatever, just throw those doubts out the window. This is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.

The best way to experience it is without knowing too much about the plot so I’ll be very brief: The movie is a trip inside the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley who’s trying to adapt to a major life change. Her emotions are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger, who take turns at a control board to guide Riley through life.

The voice cast is terrific, with Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith being standouts as the dominant and seemingly at-odds Joy and Sadness. You’d think a character named Sadness would be a downer, but Smith, best known as Phyllis in the American The Office, made me laugh as much as she moved me. And the little blue character representing this emotion is adorable, reminding us Sadness is not always scary and sometimes is exactly who we need to sit beside us.

As with Riley, Joy and Sadness were my primary emotions during Inside Out. I laughed often and hard, and cried just as hard. Pete Docter and his codirector/cowriter Ronaldo Del Carmen have created a confection that looks like a dream but is firmly rooted in reality. Its psychological insight on childhood, parenthood, marriage, and life in general is spot-on and depicted in beautifully subtle ways. Repeated viewings are encouraged to catch all the smart jokes and little nuggets of wisdom. When the Oscar nominations come around next year, Inside Out deserves a place among the best-picture nominees, not only relegated to the animated-feature category.

Docter also had a hand in writing and/or directing Up, Wall*E, and the Toy Story movies, the best in the Pixar canon. From now on, when I see his name on a movie, I won’t pass Go or collect $200 and will just head straight to the theater.

Nerd verdict: Moving and beautiful Inside Out

Image: Walt Disney Pictures


Book Review: DISCLAIMER by Renée Knight

disclaimerImagine reading a thriller and suddenly realizing the much-hated main character is you. And the disclaimer about resemblances to real people being coincidental has been crossed out. This is the premise of first-time novelist Renée Knight’s Disclaimer.

Catherine Ravenscroft, a documentary filmmaker in London, finds a book on her nightstand one evening and starts reading it. With horror, she recognizes the story is about her and something that happened 20 years ago, a terrible incident no one—including her husband—is supposed to know about.

Catherine doesn’t recall buying the book or how it ended up on her nightstand. It’s published under a pseudonym by Rhamnousia, a self-publishing entity named for the goddess of revenge. As Catherine investigates the book’s origins and author, her dark secret threatens to surface and shatter her family and life.

Disclaimer alternates between Catherine’s point of view, written in third person, and the first-person point of view of the man who’s tormenting her with the book. This creates an unsettling experience, as if readers are asked to side with the person who stalks Catherine and wreaks havoc on her. It also keeps Catherine mysterious, making it unclear why she doesn’t work harder to defend herself.

But Knight’s technique pays off, and the ending delivers more than one emotional wallop. Readers’ feelings about each character will likely be upended as they’re reminded that sometimes people commit atrocious acts out of love, and those who behave abhorrently can also be honorable.

This originally appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission. Disclaimer also made the May Nerdy Special List.