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Nerdy Special End-of-Year List 2017

December 8, 2017 – 1:36 am | 4 Comments

While all the TV shows and commercials are depicting snow, here in L.A. it’s raining ash and debris. Happy holidays!
Because a smoke advisory is in effect, I have to stay inside and read. Luckily, cabin fever …

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Mini Movie Reviews: Holiday Season 2017

November 26, 2017 – 9:41 pm | 2 Comments

Hope you had a wonderful weekend! My Thanksgiving was nice and relaxing and the only drama occurred onscreen, with my trying to catch up on movies being touted as award contenders. If you’re wondering what to see this holiday season, perhaps this guide will be helpful.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

If writer-director Martin McDonagh’s name is on a movie, I will run to the theater without passing Go or needing to know what the movie’s about. In Three Billboards, my choice for the year’s best picture, Frances McDormand plays the mother of a murdered teenage girl who puts up billboards to force the police to explain why they haven’t solved the case seven months after the crime.

Original, fiercely acted, and darkly funny, it makes you think it’s about one thing until you realize it’s about something else altogether, something bigger and more profound. McDonagh, McDormand, and Sam Rockwell (as a cop the mother antagonizes) are all sure bets for Oscar nominations.


This is surprisingly dark for a Disney movie—a kid is in a literal life-and-death situation and there’s a murder—but I appreciated how Coco tackles death and the afterlife in a complex, vibrant, moving, and almost comforting way. At some point, adults will have to explain death to their kids; take them to Coco. But make sure they’re older than 8. The 4-year-old next to me started crying after 10 minutes and had to leave.

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this funny and poignant semiautobiographical movie about a 17-year-old girl from Sacramento who’s told she’s average in every way and advised to aim lower in life. But she’s determined to get out of “the Midwest of California” and go to Columbia University.

Gerwig captures that feeling of being on the cusp of adulthood, the impatience to leave home and then realizing afterward how precious home was. The beauty lies in Gerwig’s compassion toward her characters, judging neither the parents who want to shield their daughter from disappointment nor the teen who wants more. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect alter ego for Gerwig, with Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts turning in subtle, nuanced work as the parents.


After being homeschooled for years, a ten-year-old boy born with craniofacial deformities goes to school for the first time. Let’s just say not all his classmates are nice to him. In another time, I might’ve found this too afterschool-special, but in our current atmosphere of hate, this uplifting movie was something I needed. Without getting too schmaltzy, Wonder reminds us to choose kindness, and that it saves us when we least expect it.

Jacob Tremblay, superb as the kid in Room, makes Auggie’s light shine through heavy layers of makeup. Julia Roberts provides the heart as his mom, and Owen Wilson brings the humor as Auggie’s dad.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

A debt-ridden Charles Dickens needs a book to save his career and comes up with A Christmas Carol. There’s nothing new here, the inspirations seem too obvious—a handicapped boy practically has an arrow pointing to him and a caption saying “Inspiration for Tiny Tim!”—and the performances, including Dan Stevens’s as Dickens, are forgettable.

Also—I hope it’s not a spoiler because we all know he finished the book, right?—I experienced an editor’s horror when Dickens, under a ridiculously tight deadline, writes the last word and then rushes the manuscript straight to the printer so copies could be printed in time for Christmas. What, no revisions? No proofreading??

Molly’s Game

Aaron Sorkin is hit-or-miss for me but I can’t deny he writes smart dialogue. He’s directing for the first time here so he also gets to guide actors through his trademark long speeches. Molly’s Game is based on the real story of Molly Bloom, who ran high-stakes poker games in New York and L.A. until she was busted by the FBI.

Because I know less than nothing about poker and everyone talks fast, I struggled with understanding all the machinations, in and outside the game, but the lead actors—Jessica Chastain as Molly, Idris Elba as her attorney, and Kevin Costner as her father—do compelling work.

Which movies are you planning to see?

Photos: Coco/Disney-Pixar, Three Billboards/Fox Searchlight, Lady Bird/A24, Wonder/Lionsgate, Man Who Invented Christmas/Bleecker Street, Molly’s Game/STX Films

Nerdy Special List October 2017

October 6, 2017 – 12:52 am | 2 Comments
we're going to need more wine

October is one of my favorite months. The leaves change colors—well, not in L.A. but back east in pictures from family. The weather is cooler so I don’t have to sweat my back off every …

Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life

September 27, 2017 – 1:11 am | One Comment
text don't call

Being an INFJ (the rarest personality type), I was happy to come across this book. The following review appeared originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.
Twenty years ago, as illustrator and …

Nerdy Special List September 2017

September 20, 2017 – 12:08 am | 4 Comments
dead woman walking

I’m late getting the list up this month because I ran away. It’s been an exhausting year and I needed a respite from everything, so I went to stay with relatives where there’s no cell service …

Nerdy Special List August 2017

August 7, 2017 – 1:37 am | 7 Comments
the blinds

Summer is almost over and I’m relieved because I’m melting. But I’ve had more excellent reads this summer than I did in the past few years, and many of the standout books are August releases.
Here are our recommendations this …


July 19, 2017 – 11:53 pm | 7 Comments

I was in a bad reading slump recently. Picked up six novels and put them all back down after reading only the opening paragraphs. Nothing pulled me into its world, or introduced me to characters I …

Nerdy Special List July 2017

July 6, 2017 – 11:41 pm | 2 Comments
beautiful, terrible thing

Oh, man, it’s been so hot here, I’m tempted to run down the street naked and dive into random sprinklers. Mr. PCN said the neighbors would just think it’s a regular Friday.
The other day, I was reading …

Book Review: THE LIGHT WE LOST by Jill Santopolo

June 13, 2017 – 8:43 pm | One Comment
light we lost

Lucy and Gabe met as Columbia University students on 9/11, when emotions were running high and “our shields were down.” After spending a very intense day together, however, Gabe reunites with an ex, and Lucy …

Nerdy Special List June 2017

June 8, 2017 – 9:13 pm | 2 Comments
the child

School’s out and summer has started, which means lazy days—or in my case, lazier days. I blame it on the heat. And laziness.
But there’s one activity I’ll always do a lot of and that’s reading. The NSL contributors and …

Interview with Dennis Lehane

May 9, 2017 – 8:37 pm | One Comment
photo: Gaby Gerster/Diogenes, Zurich

Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, Since We Fell, was published this week. I reviewed it for Shelf Awareness, and interviewed Lehane for the same issue. Below is our conversation, reprinted with permission.
It seems the only thing predictable …

Nerdy Special List May 2017–Take 2

May 8, 2017 – 12:44 pm | 4 Comments
where dead men meet

OK, let’s try this again. Earlier this post was unfinished but published without my knowledge or permission. While writing it, I experienced technical issues so I saved what I had and asked tech support to look into …

Nerdy Special List April 2017

April 10, 2017 – 6:34 pm | 4 Comments
cruel is the night

I’ll be having a birthday soon, which means I’ll have to confront something on my list of fears. This year’s challenge: spring cleaning. [Insert horror scream here.] I think I’ll read a book instead and hope the …


March 15, 2017 – 11:08 pm | One Comment

Does anyone need a refresher on the plot of this “tale as old as time”? The one about a girl whose kindness saves a selfish prince and his household from a curse? No? OK, great. I can jump straight into …

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