Monthly Archives

September 2009

Guest Blogger: Author Sara Angelini

I’m pleased to welcome another guest blogger today. First, I had little children do my work, and now a published author. I could get used to this.

Sara Angelini is an attorney and writer living in the San Francisco area. She’s here to talk about her new book, The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy. Recognize that surname? You’ll have to read on to find out more. Sourcebooks is generously letting me give away 2 copies of this book. See details on how to enter below Sara’s post.

I’ll now sit back, have another piece of cake and give Sara the floor.—PCN


Hellooooo.  *peeks head around door* Did I come at a bad time? No? Phew. What a relief. I’m pretty new to this whole blogomajigger, so when I was invited to do a little promotion for my book here, I was nervous. I mean, “Pop Culture Nerd” sounds so…well…cool. And I’m not cool. Not at all.

So please bear with me as I expose my unbearable dorkiness and try to wow you with reasons to read my book.

Oh yeah. The book. Maybe I should get around to telling you about that, hmmm? OK.  It’s called The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy, and it’s a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Why, you might ask, would one do a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? Wasn’t the Regency version just fine?

The answer is because I love the characters in Pride and Prejudice and wondered what it would be like to hang out with them, only I have no idea what the Regency period is like. So rather than immersing myself in their world, which would involve lots of research and maybe wearing some funny clothes, I brought them into mine. They got over the culture shock pretty quickly.

I suspect Ms. Austen may be twirling like a dervish in her grave at what I’ve done to her stoic Darcy and her charming Elizabeth. A Darcy who sleeps with Caroline? An Elizabeth who drops the “f” bomb with alarming frequency? A Mrs. Hurst who is actually a gay man? Surely Austen’s beloved characters would never act so crass…or would they?

Modern culture has become extremely relaxed over the last two hundred years, and undoubtedly Austen’s characters would have evolved with the times. Regency spinsters are today’s working women. The landed gentry are today’s internet moguls.  Couples are waiting longer to get married and have kids, and serial unmarried monogamy is the norm.

With all this in mind, I set out to give Elizabeth Bennet a makeover, a literary What Not to Wear, if you will. She had solid basics: “fine eyes” and a “light and pleasing figure,” was educated, witty, and determined to marry for love even if it meant the ruin of her family. It was much the same with Mr. Darcy: He was tall, handsome, had too much money and not enough humility but was, at heart, a decent guy.

The real challenge was updating the plot, which I summarize thusly: Destitute spinster turns down marrying obscenely rich man because he’s a jerk and thinks her family is inferior, jerk learns his lesson and cleans up his manners, proves his love by sullying his hands to rescue spinster’s wicked, wicked sister, spinster realizes she does love him after all, and he’s got a *dope* house. Spinster and jerk get married, live happily ever after. Only Austen writes it so much better.

I started by scrapping the Mr. Wickham element. Who cares if Elizabeth’s sister eloped with a gambling soldier? The only purpose of Mr. Wickham was to prove that Darcy could overcome his proud distaste for him enough to become his brother–in-law. Plus he’s a pedophile. Ick.

Then I got rid of the whole your-family-is-rude-and-uncouth angle. Elizabeth’s family is just like the vast majority of middle-class America: sorta loud, kinda embarrassing at parties, but hey, they’re your family and you have to love them or you go to jail.

Next I gave them a conflict they could sink their teeth into: an ethical dilemma. By making Darcy a judge and Elizabeth an attorney, I created a situation that actually prohibits their involvement because it creates a conflict of interest. Somebody was going to have to sacrifice a career in order to make this relationship work.

Finally, I gave them modern sensibilities and humor. Nothing in Austen’s work implies that Darcy is dour, as is so commonly assumed. In fact Mr. Bingley seems to think Mr. Darcy is a real laugh riot when he’s with his friends. Nor is there anything to suggest that he is virginal, prim, or dainty. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me that he and Caroline would be friends “with benefits.”

As for Elizabeth, she has such a sparkle and wit in the original that it only wanted a little lipstick to make it modern. She’s vivacious, talented, and confident. No off-hand remark about not being “handsome” enough to tempt anyone is going to get her down.

For their interactions, I tried to hold to the spirit of Austen while plucking events from my own experience to give them life.  Contentious court confrontations? Check. Embarrassing gaffes? Check. Massages with friends? Check. Slow, smoldering, smokin’-hot sex in an elevator? Uh…no comment.

Some might say that I modernized Austen’s characters by superimposing myself onto them. I’m sure that’s true to some extent, since it’s impossible not to imprint onto them. But I also believe that Austen’s characters are so well written, so vivid yet generalized, that everyone can see a piece of themselves in them. We all want to be Lizzy, and we all want to marry Darcy.  It’s just a matter of figuring out exactly who Lizzy and Darcy are; and the answer is, they are us.


Thanks so much, Sara! If you insist that we’re all smart, witty, handsome and rich, I shall not object.

Readers, are you intrigued? Want to get your hands on the book? Did I mention there’s lots of hot sex?

For a chance to win 1 of 2 copies, leave a comment explaining why you must have this book. Make like Lizzy and give me a really persuasive argument for your case. Unlike my other giveaways in which winners are randomly selected, I’m going to be the, ahem, judge on this one. The two people with the most passionate pleas win.

Other eligibility requirements:

  • Must be a subscriber or Twitter follower
  • Must live in the U.S. or Canada (sorry, international readers, this is Sourcebooks’ request)

Contest ends on Sunday, October 4, 5 p.m. PST. Results will only be announced here and on Twitter; winners will NOT be e-mailed. If I don’t hear from winners within 48 hours, new ones will be chosen.


National Book Festival Reports from My Junior Reporters

For as long as I can remember, I have loved books and owe this passion to my parents, who were always reading and encouraged us kids to do the same lest we grow up stupid. I don’t have children but my siblings have inspired this same love of literature in my nieces and nephews, two of whom attended the National Book Festival this past weekend in Washington, D.C. and turned in the following reports. Aline Dolinh, 11, wrote the first article and her sister Mena, 8, submitted the second one. Aline also took the photos.

Hope you enjoy seeing the festival through their eyes. And yes, they really wrote these accounts.—PCN


by Aline Dolinh

The National Book Festival took place on Saturday, September 26, 2009 on the National Mall, and I’d like to give you a full account of my time there, from the journey to the overpriced food. The time was well spent in my opinion, so here’s my diary of the hours I was there, covering both the “OMG!” moments and the “When will this be over?” ones.

Part 1: Riding on the Health Nightma—I mean, Metro

Every journey starts with small steps, and so here I go, documenting my time on the Metro with my mom and sister.

After narrowly squeezing in through the doors, we were met with the annoyances of public transit. The seating was cramped and the rest of the train had no space to breathe, but luckily we were holding the Mother-with-Children card and found seats next to a rude, seat-holding stranger. I sat next to a woman who did not acknowledge me in any way as she continued to read her newspaper.

The Metro had other traits that made me slightly squeamish besides the claustrophobia and impoliteness: it was basically a disease-breeding ground. Bodies were pressed up against each other with no personal space, all of the poles have probably been held by hundreds of different people, and we were all breathing each other’s air, which had a variety of body odors in it.

This phase became more annoying when fewer people streamed out of the train [at each stop] than in, squishing the crowd together like sardines. I thought myself lucky for my roomy seat next to the aloof woman.

When the Smithsonian stop finally came along, I knew that more walking and waiting in a crowded place awaited me, but enthusiastically got out of the packed train anyway, breathing in the underground air for about two seconds before the mob swept us along onto an escalator. We were pushed around in this way before I saw it: the first glimpse of natural light.

Part 2: Hurray for Walking and Personal Bubbles

Taking my first step on D.C. ground was incredibly refreshing. Cities are my favorite kind of place. People fanned out in all directions, giving us a comfortable berth as we eagerly made our way to our final destination: the book signing pavilions. We exited a ways from the Capitol, where the signings were, but we were determined after braving public transit and crowds to make it there. The long walk began.

Organizers graciously offered us free brochures that were thick and glossy, but I was too excited to peruse them. I was actually here, I hadn’t done anything memorable yet, but I was here.

But then I got annoyed when Mommy kept stopping at other tents.

I understand the concept of stopping to smell the roses very well, but this was a serious matter. Rick Riordan, an author who had gained an almost cult following among my grade and had converted me as a fan to the popular Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, was here, and I was going to get my copies signed and perhaps even get a few words in. I was convinced people were devoted enough to camp out at the signing tent overnight so I insisted we keep going instead of listening to Paula Deen, who is probably a wonderful person but I didn’t really care at the time.

“But the book signing isn’t supposed to start until 1:30!” Mommy said when I tugged her sleeve as an indicator to get moving.

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t understand. People camp out overnight for these opportunities.”

“We have time. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t you understand? This is a popular author! I’ll bet there are huge lines already!”

Photo © Aline Dolinh

Photo © Aline Dolinh

In the end, I convinced her and my sister to keep marching, and we finally found the billowy white book signing tents. I felt inclined to give a small “Hurray!” upon reaching another milestone in today’s journey.

“Ha! I told you!” I pointed out when we saw the lines for Rick Riordan, whose signing had not even started yet. There were six different lines already and we moved quickly to secure a spot in the seventh one. I surveyed the crowd of fans, feeling warm and fuzzy inside that these people and I shared a common love for the same book series.

Soon, my friends arrived and we formed a small Internet café under the shelter of an umbrella with our iPods and phones to pass the time.

This wait period of around an hour was highly uneventful. The first real event happened when the author apparently came out, but after a short wave of cheering, it died down and the line ceased to move. It moved a little over the next hour and we heard the occasional whine of “How long now?” But we knew it was worth it, so we waited.

And waited.

Part Three: The Interesting Stuff Actually Happens

Finally that fateful moment came when we were ushered up into the front row by organizers donning purple T-shirts. We were close enough to get pictures [of Riordan]. By now it was drizzling. I made sure to keep the camera safe and dry.

Photo © Aline Dolinh

Photo © Aline Dolinh

After snapping several pictures, one of which was actually good, it was my turn [to meet Riordan]. I was nearly hyperventilating as I passed my book over the table and a few words were exchanged.

“Oh, I love Percy Jackson!”

“I’m glad you like the books!”

And that was all. Two hours of waiting for a simple signature and a few seconds of conversation.

It was worth it, if I must say so myself. When my friends joined me, we were squealing like obsessive tweens at a Jonas Brothers concert. Except, you know, in a less weird way.

We shared our memorable experiences. “He said he liked my shirt!” said Emily, pulling out her Camp Half-Blood T-shirt. “I should have gotten a better picture!” I moaned, showing them my one good picture that was slightly out of focus.

But we lived in the moment and it was raining. We ducked inside a pavilion where Kate DiCamillo was speaking. Squeezing through a large crowd, we found spots on the grass and once again whipped out our cameras.

I got several good photos of her speaking, though I didn’t get any audio of her reading an excerpt from her new book. It was all a great experience, though, just to see her in person. The Tale of Despereaux, as much as they butchered the movie, is one of my favorite books.

We listened to several questions before she left the stage and Rick Riordan once again came up to roars and cheers. We snapped several more pictures. I felt lucky that my memory card wasn’t full.

He talked to us about the movie [Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, due in 2010] for a bit, which I rolled my eyes about. As a devoted fan, I had already looked up the whole cast and seen the trailer, which I was so afraid was going to be a disaster.

When he announced his new series about Egyptian gods, though, I stopped breathing. Please let me have memory left, I prayed frantically. I pulled out my camera one last time to record and pressed the button. To my surprise, it recorded the whole thing. Yes, I said to myself.

We decided to get out of the place now, as the rain seemed to have stopped, and we were all hungry. I knew the food would be overpriced to trap tourists, but I didn’t care. I was hungry. And the fries looked so good, I didn’t care if they were four bucks. We forked over money and ate ravenously.

Before I knew it, all was gone and we were heading home. The exhilaration I had felt earlier seemed so far away, though I felt good that I had brought home some memories of it.


My First Book Festival

by Mena Dolinh

My name is Mena and I am eight. I am in 3rd grade GT and I have started reading longer books. My sister Aline and I both like Rick Riordan.

When my mom told me we would go to the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. to get our books signed by our favorite authors, I got really excited. I wanted to get my book The Titan’s Curse signed by Rick Riordan. I like his books because they are humorous and have lots of Greek mythology in them. My favorite story is how Hercules tricked the Cyclops. This story is actually in The Sea of Monsters.

Before I came across Rick Riordan, my favorite author was Kate DiCamillo. Actually, I still like her a lot. I love her first book Because of Winn-Dixie. I read it when I was 7.

Mom let us skip our Saturday piano lesson so we could take the train into Washington for the Book Festival.  My dad and my younger brother Max stayed home that day. My dad was sorta not feeling well and Max, well, he only gets excited about cars, computer games and stuff. He said he was afraid that it would be long and boring. So it was a day trip for me, Mom and Aline.

I like riding the Metro train and seeing all the cars whizzing by on the freeway from our train’s window. Mom said the train is not that fast, but there are no stop signs and no stop and go like you are in the car so it just seems faster. I think Mom wants to live closer to the city. She drives fast and she doesn’t like slow drivers. She wishes she has magic spells so she can make big slow cars turn into tiny toy cars and leave them way behind.

It was crowded in the Metro train. The worst thing was the squishy crowd. The best thing was sitting on Mommy’s lap. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get out at our stop and one of us would be left inside the Metro.

Well, we finally met up with our friends and their mom on the Mall. I was happy to see my friend, Helen. She is eight like me and she is the younger sister of Emily, Aline’s friend. Aline, Emily and Dana can be silly when they get together. They kept wandering off without paying attention to where the adults were.

I did not mind that we waited nearly 2 hours to get our books signed by Rick Riordan. My most favorite thing was standing in line and playing with Aline’s iPod and watching iCarly on Emily’s mom’s phone under the umbrella. We sat on the ground under the umbrella because it was sort of raining and cold, but it was cozy underneath with all the girls.

After we got our books signed, we went into a tent where we listened to Kate DiCamilo and Rick Riordan read their books and talk to their fans. They had lots of adult fans, too, who did not want to leave their seats so we had to sit on the grass in the big white tent. The ground was wet so I got to sit on Mommy’s lap again. We met a woman who wore a black T-shirt with a pink pig. She told everyone she was E.B. White’s great niece.

Photo © Aline Dolinh

Photo © Aline Dolinh

When Kate DiCamillo came out she looked just like what I thought she would look because I saw her picture online when I did a paper on her last year for my Brownies troop, but in some way she looked different too. In her online photo she had more highlights mixed with dark brown hair. But I liked her when I saw her. I think she looked prettier in real life.

Kate told funny stories from the beginning to end, but Rick didn’t tell funny stories, it’s more like how he talks that’s funny. Kate DiCamillo told people she used to work at Disney World, where she wore a powder-blue spacesuit and told people to “watch their step.” She became a writer because she stunk at everything else.

She told people she wrote Because of Winn Dixie because she was in Minneapolis one winter and it was so cold she wanted to think of some place warm so she set the story in Florida, where she came from. She wanted a dog so bad in Minneapolis but she had no dog so she put him in the story. She also explained how she wrote [The Miraculous Journey of] Edward Tulane. One year she got a giant spooky rabbit as a present for Christmas. The rabbit was dressed really fancy, but one night she had a dream that it was completely naked and lying face down in the water.  She wanted to write about how the rabbit got there and it became Edward Tulane. But she said now she is not scared of that spooky rabbit any more because it helped her write the story.

I like both Kate DiCamillo and Rick Riordan. They were both interesting. I would come back next year. It depends on which books I read next year that I like, then I will see the authors.

Foreground: Mena. Back row, from L: Aline, Dana, Emily, Helen

Foreground: Mena. Back row, from L: Aline, Dana, Emily, Helen

Winners of John Sanford's ROUGH COUNTRY

photo by Lydia @ Putnam selected the following names as my 3 winners, who will each receive an ARC of John Sandford’s Rough Country.

  1. Sam Bradley
  2. Marcie
  3. Angela T.

Congratulations! Please click on “contact” in the upper right corner and send me your address. I’ll forward it to Putnam, who will send you the book directly.

Thank you to all who entered and shared your incredible stories. If you didn’t win but still want to read it, Rough Country conveniently comes out today. Also, keep checking back for more giveaways because I’ve got some exciting ones coming up, including the latest from Michael Connelly and Robert Crais!


Book Review: Audrey Niffenegger's HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY

This review was really difficult for me to write because I desperately wanted to like this book. I’ve been waiting six years for it, squealed with joy when I received it, and approached it with as much affection as one can muster towards an inanimate object.

Unfortunately, I found Audrey Niffenegger‘s Her Fearful Symmetry to be a disappointment, and not because I was so in love with her debut novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, I think it’d be unfair to compare this to that so I shall judge Symmetry strictly on its own merits.

The story begins with Elspeth dying from leukemia in London and bequeathing her flat to her nieces, Julia and Valentina Poole, twins who live in America with Edie, Elspeth’s own twin. The girls come to London and immediately get tangled in the lives of Elspeth’s neighbors, including Martin, a shut-in who suffers from OCD; and Robert, who had been Elspeth’s younger lover. They also share their space with Elspeth’s ghost, whom only Valentina can see.

As they explore their newfound independence and adulthood, Valentina starts longing for a life separate from her sister, who insists they must do everything together. Valentina gets extra impetus when she falls for Robert and senses her sister’s resentment of the situation. Valentina’s plan for escape from Julia has disturbing results with an O. Henryesque twist at the end.

One of my struggles with this book was to get past the first 300 pages or so, where not much happens while the twins get acclimated to London and acquainted with their new neighbors. They tour Highgate Cemetery, go to museums and look at jars of organs and dodo skeletons, learn how to use the tube, etc. Note the following samples from the book:

Days went by and nothing much happened.

Exactly. And this:

I’m bored, Julia decided. It was no fun to be bored alone. Julia looked around, but found nothing worth looking at or thinking about.

Me, neither. This is from p. 287.

But then Valentina puts in motion her plot to escape and things get really complicated in the last 100 pages. Niffenegger deserves credit for coming up with a wildly imaginative idea but I couldn’t understand why Valentina wouldn’t choose a much easier way out. I’m all for paranormal and dark and twisted but it has to make some sense.

The end results would be really tragic if it weren’t for my other big problem with the book: I didn’t really care about the characters. I couldn’t find an adequate guide to take me through this fantastical story. Robert, mourning Elspeth and unable to complete his thesis, is stuck in a rut with no real plan to get out of it. Likewise the obsessive-compulsive Martin. Though I’m sympathetic towards OCD sufferers because I’m very close to a few people who have it, scenes about Martin repeatedly scrubbing his floors and hoarding newspapers don’t make gripping fiction.

Because we never get a full glimpse of the relationship between Robert and Elspeth before she died, her yearning for him as a ghost feels superficial, stemming more from a desire for physical contact than deep romantic love. As for the twins, Julia is bossy and Valentina is weak, in spirit and body (she’s asthmatic). Their exclusive twin-ness and otherwordly vibe—with their almost-white hair and propensity to dress all in white—keep them at arm’s length from other characters and the reader.

The one good thing I got from Symmetry was a comforting vision of the afterlife. I recently lost a friend to cancer so this is no small gift. Niffenegger posits that the soul lives on after death and if we open our minds to this possibility, we can visit and co-exist with our departed loved ones in a non-spooky way. Yes, being a ghost can be lonely but the ending suggests that rapture can also be found.

Nerd verdict: Fearful disappoints but has moments of grace

NOTE: Head over to Niffenegger’s website to see her striking artwork and photos of Highgate Cemetery, where she worked as a tour guide.


Notes on New Series

At the beginning of each TV season, I like to sample new shows at least once. Last night, I did a marathon, watching NCIS: Los Angeles, Modern Family, Cougar Town, Glee and half of Eastwick. Since my eyes have way exceeded their daily radiation allotment, I’m going to keep this short and just go with quick impressions of each show.

Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS

NCIS: Los Angeles. Chris O’Donnell is so wrong for this role of tough, military-trained leader guy. He’s as edgy as soup; his low-energy line readings and pauses slow down the show’s pacing, which broadcasts every plot development from a mile away. It makes no sense that O’Donnell’s character doesn’t know what his first name is (he only has the initial “G”). If he’s an orphan like it’s implied, at some point while he was going through the system, someone would’ve given him a name, if for no other reason than proper record keeping. Everyone else in the pilot is completely forgettable, except for maybe Barrett Foa, whose tech expert is quirky without being annoying, and Linda Hunt, whose character looks exactly like the costume designer Edna from The Incredibles.  Even LL Cool J couldn’t make this show like his name. Nerd verdict: NCIS=Not Cool or Interesting Show.

Photo: Bob D'Amica/ABC

Photo: Bob D'Amico/ABC

Modern Family. I was a little wary of all the hype surrounding this show since I was underwhelmed by CBS’s Julianna Margulies-starrer The Good Wife, which also had advance rave reviews. But Family got in a few good jokes and most of the characters are likable. My favorites are the gay men who just adopted the cutest Vietnamese baby and named her Lily. A family member asks, “Wouldn’t that be hard for her to say?” I’m Vietnamese, can pronounce all my “L”s properly and still found that hilarious. Nerd verdict: A Family I’m happy to see.

Courtesy ABC

Courtesy ABC

Cougar Town. I think Courteney Cox can be really goofy and she does good, brave work here. Who doesn’t like a beautiful woman who can make fun of herself? The pilot was trying too hard to be witty, though. We get that Jules, Cox’s character, is a little desperate but the show shouldn’t come off that way, too. Dan Byrd (Aliens in America), as Jules’s son, does have a sane, grounding presence and the show has potential if everyone would just relax. Nerd verdict: I’d visit this Town again if residents quiet down a bit.

Eastwick. I bailed halfway through so my remarks only apply to the first 30 minutes. The leads, Rebecca Romjin, Lindsay Price and Jaime Ray Newman, lack bewitching powers and the Jack Nicholson role is filled by an actor looking like Chris Noth-lite speaking in affected soap-opera tones. Nerd verdict: No magic here.


Courtesy Fox

Glee. This show has been on for a couple weeks and its pilot aired back in May but it’s still a new series. If you’re not watching it yet, you’ve got to start. Every week, it deftly mixes humor with pathos, features Jane Lynch as MVP, and includes at least one musical number. I don’t even like musicals but find myself looking forward every week to the showcase piece. This week, it was a high-school football team taking a timeout during a game to dance on the field to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” complete with the infamous moves. As entertaining as this was, though, the high point for me was the scene where Kurt (Chris Colfer) came out to his father (Mike O’Malley). Both actors handled the scene with the perfect amount of heart and it was a beautiful thing to watch. Nerd verdict: Glee, indeed.

What new shows have you seen? Which gets a season pass on the DVR and which will you just pass on?


Monday Night Madness

Photo: Mike Yarish/Fox

OK, I probably talk about Hugh Laurie a little too much around here but I love how, one night after the television academy denied him an Emmy, he showed them up with a brilliant performance in the season 6 House premiere that’s probably one of his best in the show’s history. In your face, TV Academy! Awesomeness is the best revenge.

This episode, which takes place solely in the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, was so good, I didn’t miss House’s team or Cuddy, not even when House got it on with Franka Potente. My favorite things:

  • Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda as House’s rapping roommie, Alvie. His energy was so infectious, I could see why he didn’t want to take his meds if they dampened it. Too bad we won’t get to see more of him.
  • That rap Alvie did with House!
  • House being constantly outwitted by Dr. Nolan (a formidable Andre Braugher). It’s nice to see House humbled and not always getting away with his abusive behavior.
  • The quiet grace Franka Potente brought to Lydia. Quite a difference from the kinetic Lola in Tom Tykwer’s film.
  • Megan Dodds as the unflappable Dr. Beasley. Fun fact: She and Laurie both recurred on the British series Spooks aka MI-5, he as a blowsy bureaucrat and she as a CIA agent.

After House, I switched over to ABC’s Castle to catch one of my favorite mystery authors, Michael Connelly, in a cameo. Sometimes non-actors can give really stiff line readings but I think Connelly did a nice job, with a touch of his trademark dryness that amuses me. It was fun to hear Harry Bosch getting a shout-out.

I also recorded Heroes but haven’t had time to watch it yet. It’s been infected by major suckage in recent seasons but I don’t know why I haven’t given up on it yet. Watching the premiere ep might decide it for me.

I love this time of year when new network series premiere, old favorites come back and my DVR is full. It’s been woefully empty all summer, when I stop watching TV due to all the reality trash.

What did you think of this mold-breaking House episode? What else are you watching or looking forward to this season? Which mystery author would you like to see on Castle next? Vote below!

[polldaddy poll=2028042]


Who Wants Free Books?

Since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you do so it’s a good thing I’m doing another giveaway!

Lydia from Putnam has generously offered me three advance reading copies of Rough Country, the latest by John Sandford, bestselling author of the Prey series with Lucas Davenport. The lead character in Country, though, is Virgil Flowers, an investigator with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This is the third Flowers adventure, with the following synopsis from Sandford’s website:

Virgil’s always been known for having a somewhat active, er, social life, but he’s probably not going to be getting too many opportunities for that during his new case. While competing in a fishing tournament in a remote area of northern Minnesota, he gets a call from Lucas Davenport to investigate a murder at a nearby resort, where a woman has been shot while kayaking. The resort is for women only, a place to relax, get fit, recover from plastic surgery, commune with nature, and while it didn’t start out to be a place mostly for those with Sapphic inclinations, that’s pretty much what it is today.

Which makes things all the more complicated for Virgil, because as he begins investigating, he finds a web of connections between the people at the resort, the victim, and some local women, notably a talented country singer, and the more he digs, the move he discovers the arrows of suspicion that point in many directions, encompassing a multitude of motivations: jealousy, blackmail, greed, anger, fear. And then he discovers that this is not the first murder, that there was a second, seemingly unrelated one, the year before. And that there’s about to be a third, definitely related one, any time now. And as for the fourth… well, Virgil better hope he can catch the killer before that happens.

Because it could be his own.

To enter the random drawing, leave me a comment answering this question: What’s the roughest territory or environment you’ve ever been in?

For me, it was Viet Nam during the early ’70s where, if my family wanted to eat chicken, we had to grab a live one and kill it ourselves. Ain’t no KFC there.

Your experience didn’t have to take place in another country, and “environment” could just mean a setting, like a family reunion or the prom. Let’s hear your survival stories!

To be eligible, you also have to:

  • be a subscriber or follower on Twitter
  • be a resident of the U.S. or Canada

If you’re on Twitter, you can get two extra entries by tweeting about this (my handle is @popculturenerd) but that’s completely optional. Entries will be accepted until 9 p.m. PST, Monday, September 28. Remember, I’m giving away THREE copies so you have a good chance of snagging one!


Emmys Highlights

First, let me get this out of the way. What does Hugh Laurie have to do to win a frakkin’ Emmy?! Jeff Probst now has two Emmys; Laurie, zero. ‘Nuff said.

Overall, the show was kinda boring because there weren’t a lot of surprises. Neil Patrick Harris did a good job in a thankless role—his opening number was amusing and I liked how he identified presenters by their most obscure roles—but I thought he’d be funnier and a lot more irreverent. Everything felt too safe. Even his Dr. Horrible appearance with Nathan Fillion fell a little flat.

If you want a complete list of winners, click here. Read on if you want to see who gets my Nerdies. (All photos via Variety.)

Most Deserving of Thanks: Stuntwoman Jeannie Epper. When Ken Howard won best supporting actor in a TV movie for Grey Gardens, he thanked Epper for giving him a kidney. Yeah, I’d say she was way more responsible for his winning the award than his agent was.

chenowethBest Audition for Her Next Job: Kristin Chenoweth. In her speech after winning best supporting actress in a comedy series for Pushing Daisies, she said, “I’m unemployed now so I’d like to be on Mad Men. I also like The Office and 24.” If you’re asking for a job, an Emmy is a good prop to be holding while you’re doing it. (It was cute how the Emmy was almost as tall as Chenoweth.)

Best Explanation for How He Became a Winner: Matt Hubbard, 3o Rock writer, said, “I’d first like to thank Walter Patterson for punching me in the 8th grade and turning me into a comedy writer.” If Chris Long didn’t repeatedly throw the dodgeball in my face in 5th grade, I wouldn’t be here, either.

Funniest Listing of Nominees: Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Every year I look forward to the category of best writing for a variety, music or comedy series because the nominated writers always do something goofy. This year, O’Brien is seen deleting all his writers as friends on Facebook. Runner-Up: Brian Williams reading the names of Saturday Night Live‘s writing staff and then saying that collectively they’re known simply as “Nerds.” Holla!

Person Who Couldn’t Be Nerdy if He Tried: Simon Baker. He came out to present an award wearing nerdy glasses and rumpled hair but still looked ultra hot. When I have bed hair and my glasses on, the neighborhood kids threaten to give me a wedgie.

Coolest “Rat”: As usual, Ricky Gervais was the funniest guy in the room. Sporting what he called a “Rat-Pack green” retro jacket, he said he felt comfortable and “above average” among TV stars since movie stars are so annoyingly good looking. He then invited an audit of his bank account in case anyone doubted how much he’ll make as executive producer of The Office (“whatever that means”) now that it’s going into syndication. Why hasn’t somebody hired Gervais to host an awards show already?

drew & JessicaBest Losing Reaction: Drew Barrymore. When Jessica Lange won for Grey Gardens, Barrymore bounced up from her seat with a face-splitting grin, clapping madly for her co-star. She got teary-eyed and exuded so much joy, you’d think she won the award herself. That’s either class or she pulled off an act deserving its own Emmy.

Most Boring Winner: Two and a half seconds after I said, “Please let it be anyone but Jon Cryer,” he was named best supporting comedy actor for Two and a Half Men. I’m too bored to write anything more about this.

What did you like or didn’t like? What did you think of Neil Patrick Harris? (Click here for my fashion comments.)


Emmys Fashion Roundup

There were very few standouts for me but I can’t do a recap without covering the fashion, right? Here are some of the best and worst.

Three-way tie for Best Dressed:

Sigourney Weaver. How magnificent does she look? When I grow up, I want to be this classy.

Photo by Mathew Imaging/WireImage

Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Olivia Wilde. Not many people can pull this off. It’s a risky, sexy look but still appropriate for a prime-time awards show. And it fits her like a second skin.

Photo: Mathew Imaging/WireImage

Photo: Mathew Imaging/WireImage

January Jones. There’s nothing retro about this gown. I love its futuristic, architectural design.

Most Convincing Argument that She’s a Grown-Up:


Mathew Imaging/WireImage

Blake Lively. She made it very clear she’s not a girl but a smokin’ hot Woman.

Worst Attempts at Adulthood: (tie)

Actress Leighton Meester arrives at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awar

Mathew Imaging/WireImage

Lively’s Gossip Girl co-star, Leighton Meester. She looked tired, greasy and messy and I didn’t know why she carried two baby bunnies around on her shoulders all night.

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty

Hayden Panettiere. Her face hasn’t lost all its baby fat but for some reason, she thinks she’s 50 years old. That hairdo and dress would look too old on Helen Mirren.

Worst Halloween Costume:

Mathew Imaging/WireImage

Mathew Imaging/WireImage

Kristen Wiig. I LOVE her but this looks like she couldn’t decide if she wanted to be Darth Vader or Spider-Man.

Which dresses were your favorites? Anybody frightened you with their fashion choices?


Movie Review: Jane Campion's BRIGHT STAR

Before I get to my review, I want to mention something funny that happened on my way into the Variety screening of Bright Star. There was a red carpet premiere taking place at the same multiplex where the screening was held but I had no intention of stopping to gape. Sometimes I just get annoyed at all the security and photogs who get in my way.

hughBut then I saw Hugh Laurie. I just stumbled upon Dr. House on a random Thursday evening! Most of you probably know I’m a huge fan of his and there he was, a cane’s length away from me. He was sporting a cropped do which he’d said helps him look like a mental patient (I disagree). Turned out the event was for House‘s season 6 premiere (airing next Monday, 9/21) and once I peeled my eyes off Laurie and looked down the line, I saw Lisa Edelstein, Jesse Spencer, Olivia Wilde and Robert Sean Leonard walking the carpet, too. I guess this time, the paps are forgiven.


OK, on to the review.

f&K kissingJane Campion has created a gorgeous piece of art. Bright Star (limited U.S. release today) is about the romance between the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), the spirited girl next door who is good at fashion and sewing. At first, she has no interest in poems and he thinks fashion is frivolous. But once she reads his Endymion, she asks him to teach her how to appreciate poetry. Soon, a passionate love blooms between them, rudely cut short by his death at 25.

curtainsIn this age of 3D movies with overblown budgets, director/writer Campion has created something almost magical—a full-bodied, 2D movie with a $13-million budget that seems to stimulate all five senses. In a scene where Fanny lies on her bed with the wind blowing seductively through her curtains, you can almost feel the coolness on your skin. You can smell the flowers in her garden, watch the brightly colored butterflies flitting about in her room (as part of her butterfly farm), taste the soup Keats slurps gingerly to soothe a cough and hear the wonderful a capella singing and violin playing which occur often in the Brawne household.

As Fanny, Cornish is definitely the bright star of this movie. Looking like a cross between younger versions of Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, she shines with intelligence, wit and spunk. In the last five minutes of the film, she’s devastating. She’s been on the cusp of stardom with significant turns in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Stop-Loss; I hope this role pushes her over the edge.

Whishaw does solid work as Keats and generates chemistry with Cornish that’s more playful than sizzling. I thought he looked a little too old in the movie to play Keats from 23-25 years old (perhaps because of facial scruff) but when he showed up afterwards to do Q & A, he looked about 12.


Schneider as Brown


Schneider as himself

As Keats’s best friend, Charles Brown, Paul Schneider is practically unrecognizable with facial hair, ample girth and Scottish brogue. Though I’ve seen this character actor (and so have you) in lots of roles like Ryan Gosling’s brother in Lars and the Real Girl and the guy Amy Poehler has a crush on in Parks and Recreation, I didn’t know it was him until he showed up for the Q & A, clean-shaven and speaking in his native American accent. Then my reaction was “Oh, it’s that guy!” His transformation is quite impressive.

There are a few factors which might deter some moviegoers from seeing this movie: lack of big stars, period piece, poetry being a main topic. Let me emphatically say there’s no need to worry. I’m practically illiterate when it comes to poetry, always hitting a mental block whenever I try reading it (Campion said in the Q & A she had the same problem when she was younger). But this movie still made me swoon because the actors are very good at conveying the feeling behind the words. All you have to do is let the beauty wash over you.

Nerd verdict: A Bright Star indeed to start off Oscar season


Review: Allison Hoover Bartlett's THE MAN WHO LOVED BOOKS TOO MUCH

Though Allison Hoover Bartlett‘s reporting skills can’t be faulted—she’s more than thorough with her facts and even has footnotes—this true story of John Gilkey, the man in the title, is a frustrating one. Gilkey is an unrepentant book thief who steals rare first editions and Ken Sanders is the “bibliodick” who chases him. We learn much about the rare-book trade and there are some intriguing elements of a police procedural as Sanders tracks his prey, but ultimately this is a story without an ending.

The tale begins when a friend of Bartlett’s comes across an edition of a Kreuterbuch, or plant book of botanical medicine. Its publication is traced back to 1630 Germany and Bartlett suspects it was stolen. In researching its history, she finds the theft of rare books is rampant, with thieves seldom caught or punished. Many of the Internet accounts she reads refer to Sanders, a rare book dealer turned amateur detective to catch Gilkey. Once Bartlett hears about Gilkey, she knows she must get his story.

And get it she does. Despite Gilkey being an elusive character, Bartlett impressively manages in-person interviews with him and even gets the chance to accompany him on a scouting expedition when he goes to a store to peruse books he wants to acquire (he never actually commits any crimes in her presence). He also arranges for her to visit his mother and look around his bedroom, where Bartlett finds a stash of books in his closet, possibly stolen.

The story is fascinating when it educates me about book collecting and how to identify a rare edition. The first edition of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat would have a matte cover instead of a shiny one. A pamphlet of poetry Edgar Allan Poe wrote when he was 14 that was printed in 1827 without his name on the cover (he was simply identified as “a Bostonian”) was bought for $15 by a sharp-eyed collector and sold for $198,000.

Man is also engrossing when it details how Sanders worked with law enforcement to track and trap Gilkey. But the book thief remains a frustrating enigma. He seems intelligent enough to know about rare books and fool many dealers but can’t seem to grasp how his actions hurt others. He believes booksellers deserve to be ripped off since they’re mostly dishonest people who put such high price tags on rare editions that someone of moderate income would have to steal them.

As a former reporter, I understand how Bartlett wanted continuing access to Gilkey so she remained more or less neutral when he spouted these ridiculous claims, but I really wanted Gilkey to be asked harder questions such as, “How would you feel if someone stole one of your books? Why do you think the world owes you anything?” I don’t have to like the main character of a story to enjoy it but I do want to understand him and it’s not clear why Gilkey feels so entitled.

Because he is a sociopath, I wanted justice and it doesn’t happen. Bartlett fully explains why it’s hard to punish someone for this kind of crime and of course she can’t invent an ending to a nonfiction tale, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting one that’s more satisfying. I think all stories, whether true or not, needs an ending (which is different from closure), unless the door is left open for a sequel. That doesn’t seem to be Bartlett’s intention so this intriguing tale unfortunately feels unfinished.

Nerd verdict: Excellent reporting, though Man remains elusive


Will You Go to Harry Potter Theme Park?

via Entertainment Weekly

Entertainment Weekly has details about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park that’s set to open next spring in Orlando, Florida. Rides will include the Hogwarts Express train, a high-speed roller coaster based on the Triwizard Tournament, and a family coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff (depicted above).

The park will also feature Ollivanders, the wand store where “the wand chooses the wizard,” and hangouts like the Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head that will serve Butterbeer, the drink of choice for Harry and his friends. Of course, the park will also contain Hogwarts, where some newfangled technology will supposedly bring the magic and characters to life for visitors.

This all sounds good but I was hoping for a ride that would simulate playing Quidditch. I think I’d be great as a Beater. Ha!

What do you think? Will you go to this theme park? (UPDATE: has lots of photos and a virtual tour here.)