Monthly Archives

October 2010

Winners of Michael Connelly’s THE REVERSAL

My randomly selected winners are:

  • Erin
  • Travis
  • Carol M
  • Congrats! Please hit “contact” above and give me your addresses. Hachette will ship each of you a copy of The Reversal as long as I hear from you by midnight PST Sunday, October 10. If not, alternate name(s) will be chosen.

    Thank you to all who entered and shared your great stories. I love doing giveaways not just because I can help put free books in your hands; I really enjoy reading your clever entries.

    If you didn’t win this time, I have other giveaways here.


    Yet Another Giveaway: John Le Carré’s OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

    Because we’re at the weekend and it’s time to party, I’m giving away another free book. Woo-hoo! Loverboy’s got nuthin’ on me. (Yes, I know that’s an ancient reference to a cheesy ’80s band. Your point is?)

    Today’s title is John Le Carré‘s latest, Our Kind of Traitor, being released Oct. 12 by Viking. Thanks to the generous folks there, I have one copy to give away. I haven’t read this one yet but it’s been getting rave reviews, including starred ones from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. From the product description:

    Perry and Gail are idealistic and very much in love when they splurge on a tennis vacation at a posh beach resort in Antigua. But the charm begins to pall when a big-time Russian money launderer enlists their help to defect. In exchange for amnesty, Dima is ready to rat out his vory (Russian criminal brotherhood) compatriots and expose corruption throughout the so-called legitimate financial and political worlds. Soon, the guileless couple find themselves pawns in a deadly endgame whose outcome will be determined by the victor of the British Secret Service’s ruthless internecine battles.

    Who wants it? You know any novel that contains internecine battles has to be good.

    To enter:

    • be a subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which—new subscribers get 1 entry, current followers automatically get 2)
    • leave a comment about someone who betrayed you
    • have U.S. address only (sorry!)

    Giveaway ends next Saturday, October 16, 5 p.m. PST. The winner will be randomly chosen via then announced here and on Twitter. I won’t be notifying via e-mail so please check back to see if you’ve won. Winner will have 48 hours to claim the prize before an alternate name is chosen.


    Faith is the New Black? Conversation about GLEE, STONE & CONVICTION


    I’ve noticed in the last week that there was a trend in the entertainment I saw—an examination of faith in its different forms. Last night’s Glee questioned God’s existence, a discussion brought on by Kurt’s dad lying in a coma after suffering a heart attack. There was the funny approach—Finn believing in grilled cheesus, a Jesus-like image burnt into his grilled cheese sandwich—and the overwrought one—Rachel and her Yentl impersonation. The most affecting scenes turned out to be Sue’s revelation that she started doubting God as a kid because He didn’t cure her sister’s Down Syndrome, and Kurt’s singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for his dad because that’s something real he can believe in.


    I also attended screenings of two movies—Stone (out October 8th) and Conviction (October 15th)—that also deal with faith, though the movies’ styles and what the lead characters believe in differ dramatically. Stone stars Edward Norton as the titular character, a convict trying to manipulate his parole officer, Jack (Robert De Niro), into giving him an early release by getting his beautiful wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), to seduce Jack. Conviction is the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), a high school dropout who goes back to school to obtain a law degree so she can get her wrongly convicted brother out of a life sentence for murder.

    My contributing writer, Eric Edwards, and I had widely varying viewpoints on these movies so I’m posting the following discussion instead of traditional reviews.

    Pop Culture Nerd: I had no idea Stone was about spirituality. I thought it was a crime thriller. Did you know?

    Eric Edwards: No, I was expecting a violent prison movie. I didn’t see the trailer but didn’t think I needed to. They had me with Norton and De Niro. I had no clue it was about a journey of faith and redemption.

    PCN: Which I don’t have a problem with, but I don’t like being misled. Nowhere in the ad campaigns did I see an indication of the subject matter. I went in expecting a gritty thriller and got a talky examination of faith done in a heavy-handed way.

    EE: It was a bit heavy-handed…

    PCN: Characters were reading and quoting excerpts from the Bible! Stone’s wife’s name is Lucetta but Jack would call her Lucy, which could also be short for Lucifer. C’mon!

    EE: But it’s a topic that’s timely. These days, we need our faith, we need something to hang on to. And for the record, I’m not a Bible thumper. If you notice, the characters doing the heaviest thumping in the movie are the most lost.

    PCN: Here’s the thing: my faith is strong but I don’t go around trying to hit people over the head with it. It’s a personal thing for everyone. I thought Stone was preaching too hard. That incessant chatter from the Christian talk radio station Jack listens to was driving me batty. While the radio host was hammering and hammering his points home, I just wanted to reach through the screen and turn off the radio.

    EE: We’re not subjected to that chatter while we’re in Stone’s world. I think the movie is about extremists and asks us where our positions are on the belief scale. Anything that makes us think like that is worth the price of admission.

    PCN: I’m all for movies that promote intelligent thought but I don’t like being suckered. The official synopsis for the film says it’s “a tale of passion, betrayal and corruption” but it’s really a long lecture on spirituality. If they want to do that, say it up front. And show, not tell.

    Like Conviction. That movie showed me what absolute faith looks like. Betty Anne believed in her brother’s innocence and set out to prove it. She was tested over and over, in ways that would’ve crushed most people’s spirit, but she never wavered. Actions speak louder than words, right? Betty Anne acted on her faith while Stone and Jack just sit around talking about it. And Betty Anne’s real.

    EE: Are you sure you didn’t just like Conviction more because you didn’t have to watch people going to church and reading from the Bible like in Stone?

    PCN: What?? I go to church.

    EE: OK, I’m not calling you an atheist. I guess my problem with Conviction is that I felt the brother (Sam Rockwell) wasn’t worth saving. He was kind of a jerk. Betty had such a tunnel-vision approach to getting him out of prison that she may have done more damage to her husband and kids while she was at it.

    PCN: Betty Anne sacrificed a lot in her crusade but that’s how her faith guided her.

    EE: To the detriment of everyone around her.

    PCN: Not her brother.

    EE: He was in prison.

    PCN: So he didn’t need her?

    EE: She could’ve balanced her focus more.

    PCN: She felt her life purpose was to get her brother exonerated. I’m still trying to figure out my life purpose so I’m not going to judge how she goes about accomplishing hers. I thought what she did was pretty inspiring.

    EE: Let’s agree to disagree on this point and move on. What did you think of the performances?

    PCN: I liked Ed Norton a lot once I got past the cornrows and character voice, which made me chuckle at first. My favorite line of his: “I don’t want no beef with you; I just want to be vegetarian.” De Niro was De Niro, Jovovich was interesting in that she kept me guessing about her true motivations.

    In Conviction, I really liked Minnie Driver’s and Swank’s performances. Driver brings so much levity and energy to the movie; her Boston accent is spot-on. Swank excels at playing the scrappy underdog who takes on impossible challenges.

    EE: I enjoyed Norton’s work—I believed the transitions in his performance the most. I don’t like seeing De Niro weak. I don’t mind him vulnerable, but not weak. He’s De Niro! As far as Swank is concerned, hasn’t she played the same character about 15 times? I think her performances are repetitive.

    PCN: You wanna talk about repetitive? When was the last time De Niro did something truly fresh in the last two decades?

    EE: OK, but if you consider his entire career, it’s more varied than Swank’s so far.

    PCN: True, but she’s got time. We’ll see.

    Nerd verdicts:

    Eric Edwards—A solid Stone, Misguided Conviction

    PCN—A dull Stone, Moving Conviction

    Photos by Ron Batzdorf


    Conjurer of Destinies: Review of Monique Truong’s BITTER IN THE MOUTH

    This review is by contributing writer Thuy Dinh, a practicing attorney and the editor of the literary webzine Da Mau.


    In Vietnamese, words that convey happiness and suffering are themselves distinct tastes. While happiness is always nutty-sweet (ngọt bùi), suffering provides a wide range of bitter tastes: bitter-spicy (đắng cay), sour-bitter (chua cay), medicinally sharp like bitter melon (khổ qua) or acidly bitter like soap berries (bồ hòn—a Southeast Asian fruit that’s also used as a natural detergent).

    In Bitter in the Mouth, Monique Truong dazzlingly explores a whole array of an outsider’s experience via the literal and figurative trope of synesthesia. Her main character, Linda Hammerick, suffers from a rare sensory disorder: she registers words first and foremost as specific tastes, isolated and independent from their meanings. When she hears the word mom, Linda thinks of chocolate milk. (Incidentally, the word chocolate from the Aztec word xocolatl means bitter water). Linda’s challenge–which is also the central mystery of the novel—is how to unravel her sensory confusion, to discard/distill the bitter from the nutty-sweet.

    Linda’s memory begins not in infancy, but Athena-like in 1975 when she is 7. She either does not remember or is vague about the years and events that precede 1975.  Bitterness is the first taste that Linda remembers, which was “bitter in the way that greens were good for us were bitter. Or in the way that simmering resentment was bitter.” Linda’s favorite color is fire, because it contains “red and yellow and orange and blue.”  The following excerpt from the first chapter provides the main clues to the novel’s mystery, which is not revealed until the book’s second part:

    I’ll tell you the easy things first. I’ll use simple sentences. So factual and flat, these statements will land in between us like playing cards on a table: My name is Linda Hammerick. I grew up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. My parents were Thomas and DeAnne. My best friend was named Kelly. I was my father’s tomboy. I was my mother’s baton twirler. I was my high school’s valedictorian. I went far away for college and law school. I live now in New York City. I miss my great-uncle Harper.

    But once these cards have been thrown down, there are bound to be distorting overlaps, the head of the Queen of Spades on the body of the King of Clubs, the Joker’s bowed legs beneath a field of hearts: I grew up in (Thomas and Kelly). My parents were (valedictorian and baton twirler). My best friend was named (Harper). I was my father’s (New York City). I was my mother’s (college and law school). I was my high school’s (tomboy). I went far away for (Thomas and DeAnne). I live now in (Boiling Springs). I miss (Linda Hammerick). The only way to sort out the truth is to pick up the cards again, slowly, examining each one.

    Facts in Truong’s novel are never what they seem, the same way an acquired language may assault, dilute or obliterate an immigrant’s mother tongue. In this sense, all outsiders are synesthesiasts. Truong, a 21st century writer writing about displacement, has drifted a long way from the refined taste of Proust’s madeleine and the fragrant waft of Tran Anh Hung’s Scent of Green Papaya. Her protagonist’s sensory world is instead attacked by tuna casserole and chicken a la king, gray, gloppy food held together by Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup—“the Great Assimilator,” as Linda wryly quips. American optimism, embodied by Bisquick pancake mix (“the possibilities, the sweet and the savory, were all in that cheery box”) is both salvation and forgetfulness.

    Linda’s mom—her chocolate milk—is both her mom and not her mom. Linda’s true name and the word matricide both evoke peach. Linda is her father’s New York City because it was there that he met the love of his life. Linda’s best friend is her uncle Harper, who evokes a not-too-subtle reference to the novel’s literary influence, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. (Or perhaps Harpers Ferry, the site of the abolitionist John Brown’s failed rebellion against Southern slaveholders).

    Yet Linda asserts that she “was never Scout. I was Boo Radley, not hidden away but in plain sight.” Linda’s self-identification with Boo Radley is another clue to the novel’s mystery. She is a self-willed, almost ruthless exile who cannot even entertain the sentimental thought of nostalgia. While Uncle Harper is the closest embodiment to Linda’s sense of home, he is no Atticus Finch because he, like, Linda, is mutely and deeply estranged from his own Southern Baptist culture.

    Linda’s need to reconstruct her personal history from memory’s gaps and distortions is probably similar to an immigrant’s reinvention of identity in his/her adopted homeland. In this sense, a self-inventor is both explorer and fortune teller: how to construct a believable narrative from a jumble of cards?

    Truong proceeds to answer this question by weaving in the seemingly disparate legends of Virginia Dare (reputedly the first child born in North America to English parents), the Wright Brothers, and the poet-slave George Moses Horton—outcasts who helped define North Carolina’s cultural history. Her novel is an ambitious and poignant meditation on how to define your true essence, a compelling assertion that individual will can trump biological and geographical destinies. To celebrate your affliction—if being different is seen as an affliction—is not enough; you must learn how to synthesize your synesthesia into a larger canvas so that, like the Wright brothers, your ultimate achievement isn’t simply “flight but flight accompanied by a safe landing.”

    Monique Truong has flown and landed with amazing grace.

    Buy Bitter in the Mouth from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound


    Winner of Hilary Davidson’s Autographed THE DAMAGE DONE

    I reached into the grab bag and…er, actually, I punched names into and it said my winner is:


    Please hit the “contact” button and give me your address. Hilary will personalize a copy of The Damage Done to you and her publisher Forge will ship it. But I need to hear from you by midnight PST Wednesday, October 6, or another winner will be selected.

    Thank you to all who entered. I always enjoy reading the stories you share in your entries. You can buy Damage Done by clicking on the links below (I get a small commission) or try to win something else by entering my other giveaways.

    Buy The Damage Done from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound


    Audiobook Giveaways: David Sedaris’s SQUIRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNK & Jon Stewart’s EARTH

    Looks like the giveaways are piling up ’round here faster than my laundry basket. You got a problem with that, stop reading right now. If you’re a greedy little bugger and love free stuff like I do, I got treats for you!

    Anna from Hachette is letting me give away three unabridged audiobook versions each of the following titles: David Sedaris’s Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary and Jon Stewart’s Earth. That’s three copies per title.

    Squirrel is read by Sedaris, Elaine Stritch, Dylan Baker and Siân Phillips. Here’s the product description:

    Featuring David Sedaris’s unique blend of hilarity and heart, this new collection of keen-eyed animal-themed tales is an utter delight. Though the characters may not be human, the situations in these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to the insanity of everyday life.

    In “The Toad, the Turtle, and the Duck,” three strangers commiserate about animal bureaucracy while waiting in a complaint line. In “Hello Kitty,” a cynical feline struggles to sit through his prison-mandated AA meetings. In “The Squirrel and the Chipmunk,” a pair of star-crossed lovers is separated by prejudiced family members.

    With original illustrations by Ian Falconer, author of the bestselling Olivia series of children’s books, these stories are David Sedaris at his most observant, poignant, and surprising.

    Earth is read by Stewart, Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Jones, and John Oliver. The description:

    Where do we come from? Who created us? Why are we here? These questions have puzzled us since the dawn of time, but when it became apparent to Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show that the world was about to end, they embarked on a massive mission to write a book that summed up the human race: What we looked like; what we accomplished; our achievements in society, government, religion, science and culture — all in a lavishly produced audiobook of approximately 200 minutes.

    After two weeks of hard work and nights in the recording studio, they had their audiobook. EARTH (The Book) is the definitive guide to our species. With their trademark wit, irreverence, and intelligence, Stewart and his team will posthumously answer all of life’s most hard-hitting questions, completely unburdened by objectivity, journalistic integrity, or even accuracy.

    Sound hilarious? You can enter for one or both titles. To enter:

    • be a subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which—new subscribers get 1 entry, current followers get 2)
    • if you’re entering for Squirrel, leave a comment as if you’re writing a personal ad, telling me which animal you’d be and what kind of animal you’d be seeking (these entries are gonna be fun to read)
    • if entering for Earth, tell me what you think man’s most embarrassing accomplishment is so far (Jersey Shore? The mullet?)
    • have U.S. or Canada address, no P.O. boxes

    Giveaway ends next Monday, October 11, 5 p.m. PST. Winners will be randomly chosen and announced here and on Twitter. I won’t be notifying via e-mail so please check back to see if you’ve won. Winners will have 48 hours to claim prize(s) before alternate names are chosen. (Don’t forget to enter my other giveaways here.)


    Armchair Casting: Chesley Sullenberger & Wonder Woman

    A movie based on the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson River in January 2009, is coming to a screen near you. According to reports like this one, Sullenberger was persuaded to go Hollywood by Harrison Ford, who’s also a pilot. (Han Solo made him do it!) The movie, which might air on TV, will be produced by Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, longtime producers of Spielberg movies including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Schindler’s List.

    Who do you think should play Sullenberger? Two ideas off the top of my head: James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential) or Michael O’Neill (a million TV shows).



    The other interesting project that might be coming into your living room, according to the Hollywood Reporter, is David E. Kelly’s small-screen reboot of Wonder Woman. This news makes me feel 10 years old again. The 1970s version starring Lynda Carter was appointment television for me and I now own all the DVDs. I would prefer to see a cinematic version (I squealed like a kid who got a new pony when I found out Joss Whedon was writing a feature years ago) but I’ll take my favorite Justice League member on TV if it means I’ll get to see her in live action again.

    But who can fill Wonder Woman’s red boots? It’s harder to come up with ideas for this one because the actress has to be just right. I’ve already been disappointed by the recent Bionic Woman reboot because Michelle Ryan just didn’t click as Jaime Sommers. How about Ashley Greene from the Twilight movies or Minka Kelly from Friday Night Lights?



    How would you cast these roles? Would you watch either of these movies if/when they air?


    Mondo’s Surprise on PROJECT RUNWAY


    Last night’s episode of Project Runway was probably the most emotionally resounding episode in the entire series. I was sitting there admiring Mondo’s bold textile design of plus signs on a bright fuchsia background when he revealed what it represented: his HIV-positive status. And then he said he’d been keeping that secret for over 10 years and even his mother, who visited him during the episode, didn’t know.

    Wow. Talk about a personal inspiration for a design. What made it so moving for me was the print being so bold and bright (though I would’ve liked it better on a skirt instead of pants). If you didn’t know the story behind it, you might think it’s whimsical. Mondo’s refusal to be somber about his status gutted me.

    During the judging, I really, really didn’t want Mondo to tell the judges his story, despite Nina Garcia’s prompting. It didn’t feel right for him to reveal his secret to the world before confiding in family. I also didn’t want him to milk the story for sympathy votes and I admired him when he held firm.

    But then he did it—he disclosed the reason for the plus signs. At least he waited until after the judges already fawned over his design. And then he cried and said he felt free—who can begrudge him that? I only hope he went home and told his mother after the taping so that she didn’t have to learn about it from watching TV.

    What did you think of Mondo’s revelation? Think he’ll be in the final three?


    Book Review + Giveaway: Michael Connelly’s THE REVERSAL

    Mickey Haller for the People.

    Say what?

    Haller, the renown defense attorney who fiercely stands for the accused, decides to prosecute a convicted murderer in Michael Connelly’s latest, The Reversal (Oct. 5, Little, Brown).

    Will Sherlock Holmes become friends with Professor Moriarty next?

    The reversal isn’t just Haller’s; the title also refers to a twenty-four-year-old guilty verdict in a murder trial being thrown out. Jason Jessup had been convicted in 1986 of kidnapping and killing a twelve-year-old girl but new DNA evidence reveals the semen found on her dress was not his.

    To avoid any semblance of prejudice, the Los Angeles district attorney brings in Haller as an independent prosecutor to retry Jessup. Haller puts together a crack team consisting of his ex-wife, deputy DA Maggie McPherson, as second chair and Harry Bosch as his investigator. But they face an uphill battle as they find that many witnesses from 1986 have died and the most important one, the victim’s sister, has gone off the grid. Meanwhile, Jessup is out on bail and behaving in mysterious ways, making Haller and company fear something ugly is about to go down, something which may involve their own little girls.

    This book is like an adventure featuring the Justice League or the Avengers, an all-star lineup of lead players from previous stories. Besides Haller, Bosch and McPherson, FBI Agent Rachel Walling also shows up to profile Jessup. (I kept expecting Jack McEvoy the journalist to make an appearance, too.) While it’s exciting to see them all in one place, they form a team that’s almost too powerful, giving them less to overcome in the courtroom (not that everything goes as planned).

    The suspense and obstacles come more from Bosch’s detective work in tracking down former witnesses and shadowing Jessup during his nocturnal activities. Connelly’s meticulous attention to procedural details puts the reader right in Bosch’s shoes. We feel his frustration when he hits road blocks in the cold case and experience his excitement when he makes new discoveries. Connelly also guides us through Los Angeles with a sure hand; his descriptions of Mulholland Drive and the Santa Monica Pier at night are both seductive and sinister.

    But the most important thing is Connelly’s ability to convince us that Haller would work for The Man after two decades representing the underdog. It turns out Haller isn’t all about clever lawyerly tactics—his passion for “a true and just verdict” burns as strongly as Bosch’s. He retains a healthy distrust of the DA’s office while getting schooled by his ex in how the prosecution works. His actions aren’t only believable, they make him a better lawyer and give new depth to his character.

    Nerd verdict: Bosch and Haller join forces for strong Reversal

    The book doesn’t come out until next week but the fantabulous Miriam at Hachette Book Group is allowing me to give away three copies. To enter:

    • be an e-mail subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which—new subscribers get 1 entry, current followers get 2)
    • leave a comment about something you were sure was true but found out later it wasn’t
    • have U.S./Canada address

    Giveaway ends next Friday, October 8, 5 p.m. PST. Winners will be randomly chosen via and announced here and on Twitter. I won’t be notifying via e-mail so please check back to see if you’ve won. Winners will have 48 hours to claim the prize before alternate names are chosen.

    Let’s hear about your reversals!