Monthly Archives

February 2012

AMERICAN IDOL S11: Top 13 Guys Perform

This post is by guest blogger, Poncho.—PCN

I have to thank PCN for inviting me again for this year’s Idol. Last year was sort of a disappointment but hey, Scotty McCreery’s selling like bread (or cheese, or cheesy bread…) so who knows, perhaps this year’s winner might oversell Carrie Under-bot (nah!).

As many of you know, I do NOT watch the auditions or the Hollywood rounds. I like knowing little-to-nothing about the wannabes when I first hear them sing, so I can hopefully bash judge them based on their talent and not their backstories.

Tuesday night, the top 13 guys sang for their professional lives a place in the infamous Top 12. This is what I think:

The second Ryan Seacrest said Reed Grimm was opening with “Moves Like Jagger,” I knew who I would give this year’s Spastic Chicken Dancing Award to. And Grimm delivered (the awkward dancing, that is), crowning it by playing timbales! I don’t know if the jazzy arrangement was my cup of tea, but he was really having fun. And I was laughing. A lot.

Then came self-labeled “White Chocolate” aka Adam Brock. And I must say: singing big black diva songs does not a big black diva make(or a white man with a black diva inside). His version of Aretha’s “Think” was nice, and he does have a soulful voice, but that’s it.

I must agree with the judges that Deandre has a (Bracken)sick falsetto. But when you open up your song—Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons—with that many pitch issues, and look THAT nervous, you’ve got serious problems. In the looks department, the guy reminded me of a charisma-less David Bisbal. And then Seacrest topped it with some nutty girls coming upstage to hug him. #EPICfail. Yuck!

I liked the beginning of Colton Dixon‘s performance of “Decode” by Paramore. But I have to say La Lopez was partially right: His place is behind the piano, because as soon as he left it, he sucked!

Jeremy “Jer-Bear” Rosado sang “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles. It was nice and he seems like a very nice guy, but it was forgettable.

When Seacrest said Aaron Marcellus was singing “Never Can Say Goodbye,” I went berserk. Why are these guys picking these vanilla songs when they should be wowing us? But then, Aaron owned it. I wouldn’t give him a standing O, but he outshone the ones before him.

Is it really that Chase Likens’s other talent is whistling? Say it with me: LAME! He sang some country song (I had to Google it and it turned out to be “Storm Warning” by Hunter Hayes). I agree it was good, but again, it wasn’t memorable.

By this time, I was ready to embrace (almost) whoever came next. And it was a weird guy with a funny name: Creighton Fraker. He did a pretty good take on “True Colors,” and had some interesting choices in his arrangement, but otherwise he played it safe. I’d like to see what he does on other songs.

Hey! A growler! Nobody has topped my favorite growler yet, but I’ll give Phillip Phillips a chance. Randy & JLo were right about his “In the Air Tonight”: He should stick a little bit more with the melody. But I like his sound. And the fact he’s so awkward.

About Eben Franckewitz? Franck(ewitz)ly, I thought his choice of “Fire to the Rain” was uninspired. His voice sounded too nasal and he had serious pitch issues. He did nail the final two “let it burn”s but if I were him, I’d wait a couple more years to mature musically. Wait, this doesn’t mean he’s gonna win, does it? Damn…

Heejun Han has a nice voice. I love “Angels” but he couldn’t keep with the tempo. And it’s a ballad. So… seeya!


And then Josh Ledet came on stage. And man, THAT’s singing. WOW! He “Pulled Me Through” and I got goosebumps. He doesn’t have the prettiest voice (perhaps that’s why they call him Mantasia)… but WOW! Simply, WOW!

The last one was a big reveal, because the judges supposedly brought him back from elimination. Jermaine Jones sang the overly emotional “Dance with my Father,” and he did it nicely. But coming after Mantasia definitely hurt him, because he couldn’t bring that emotional connection.

I guess you can see who’s my favorite right now, but then, I often change my opinions as the season goes on.

Who did you like? Who did you hate?

Photo: FOX


On the Road with Hilary Davidson

Award-winning author Hilary Davidson‘s second crime novel, The Next One to Fall, was released on Valentine’s Day to ecstatic reviews, such as the one from Publishers Weekly, which said, “Davidson’s exciting follow-up to her debut, 2010’s The Damage Done, takes travel journalist Lily Moore, who’s still reeling from her sister’s death in The Damage Done, to Peru…The rich history and geography of Peru add depth to an engrossing mystery that constantly keeps the reader guessing.” The book also received glowing notices from Jen’s Book Thoughts, The Maine Suspect, and Book Reviews by Elizabeth White, among many other publications.

Hilary has begun her World Domination Tour to promote it, and since she’s also a travel writer, I thought I’d ask her to do a travelogue. The idea was for me to text/tweet her at random times, asking her where she is, who she’s with, what she’s doing, etc., and have her take a candid snapshot at that moment to capture her experiences on the road. Not only did Hilary allow me to intrude upon her travels this way, she took the initiative and snapped photos for me even when I couldn’t reach her in pockets with bad cell/Internet reception.

Hilary’s back on the road today, with an event at Book Revue in Long Island, so I thought this would be a good time to present a glimpse of her life on tour. (Note: All times are local to Hilary’s locations.)

Hilary Davidson: When I checked into Houston’s Hotel ZaZa at midnight on Thursday night, there was some confusion. My first room was a themed room, known as the “Hard Times” room; this skull was on the wall. A few minutes after I got there, the front desk called up and said they had to move me; the people at the front desk were deeply upset at the thought of me being stuck in this room. I told them I was a crime writer, but they insisted on moving me to a swanky room with…

HD: George Clooney on the bathroom wall??? I liked the skull better, actually.

Pop Culture Nerd (Friday, Feb. 17, 2:42 p.m.): Hi Hilary, where are you right now?

HD: Grey Houston, pounded by rain. Wondering if anyone will show up at the event tonight!

PCN: I’m betting they’ll show. Everyone showing up wet will just make your signing more fun!

As I predicted, people did come, and Hilary had a surreal moment when she saw herself on Crimespree magazine’s cover for the first time at Murder by the Book.

Next up on Saturday was…

HD: BookPeople in Austin. Um, wow.

Then it’s on to…

HD: Austin’s Broken Spoke on Saturday night after my event, listening to a band called The Derailers.

It’s on to Scottsdale, AZ, but first…

HD: I love Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel—and here he is at the Austin airport!

PCN (Tues., Feb. 21, 3:38 p.m.): Where are you? What are you doing? Where were you last night at 11 p.m.?

HD: Right now I’m working on a Peru slideshow for the Poisoned Pen (yes, for tonight—eeep). Last night at 11? In my room, on phone with Dan! [This is] my suite at Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho.

PCN (Tues., Feb. 21, 9:16 p.m.): Where are you? Anyone you know show up at your signing?

HD (Tues., Feb. 21, 11:02 p.m.): Hey, I’m back! Tonight was AWESOME. Lots of friends turned out: Keith Rawson, Jason Duke, Lesa Holstine, Chantelle Aimee Osman, also my gluten-free friend Liisa Perry. Also huge crowd of strangers. Store had to get more chairs! Afterwards, Liisa & I went for dinner at a restaurant called Citizen Public House (that’s why I didn’t see your message until now). Oh, Rhys Bowen was there tonight, too! Very excited to meet her!

With Patrick, Keith, and Jason

PCN (Weds., Feb. 22, 9:09 a.m.): What are you eating/drinking/reading right now?

HD: Right now I’m packing because I have to check out of the hotel before my event at Lesa Holstine’s library!

PCN (Weds., Feb. 22, 1:22 p.m.): What are you doing to prepare for your appearance? [Her event was starting in about half an hour.]

HC: Hmm. I drove to the library with Lesa (I love her!). Does that count as event prep? Seriously, what do authors do to prep for an event?

PCN: Different things I’ve heard: have a drink, nap, go for a run/to the gym, put clothes on.

HD: Had dinner at the Hotel Valley Ho’s restaurant just before my flight home. “Table for one, please,” is never fun to say, but I had a great meal and the restaurant staff was terrific. Looking forward to going back!

Thank you so much, Hilary, for sharing your travels with us, and letting me bug you along the way. Readers, I hope you all have enjoyed being on the road with her. She’s doing it so she can meet you in person so check out Hilary’s upcoming events and go see her!


Oscars Fashion 2012

OK, so you’ve read what I thought were highlights from the show, but what you really want to know about is the fashion, right? Let’s do a rundown of the beautiful, the bad, and the bland:

1. Meryl Streep. She fittingly came dressed like an Oscar, but the dress was ill-fitting. You can even see some kind of black undergarment peeking out from the right side of her chest. The queen of cinema should be decked out in a much better gown than this.

2. Angelina Jolie. This black velvet dress looked too heavy for a warm sunny day. I have no idea why she kept posing with her leg sticking out like that, but it now has its own Twitter account.

3. Viola Davis. The dress was pretty but the color of her hair clashed with it.

4. Berenice Bejo. Speaking of strange hair color, her new carrot top didn’t do her any favors. And her gown was kind of frumpy.

5. Rooney Mara. This is droopy and sad.

6. Natalie Portman. The polka dots made it look more like a casual summer dress than a formal gown.

7. Michelle Williams. If it didn’t have all that frou-frou action around the waist and hips, this would’ve looked much better.

8. Jessica Chastain. This reminds me of drapes or bed covers at a hotel.

9. Jennifer Lopez. This dress isn’t something I’d wear, but she looked striking in it. Don’t like that tight, gigantic bun on top of her head, though. A softer upsweep might have been more romantic.

10. Judy Greer. I like the slinkiness of this, and the built-in optical illusion that makes the wearer look really thin (not that Greer needs that).

11. Kelly Osbourne. I have no words for this mess.

12. Emma Stone. She looked really pretty, until you realized the dress is a rip-off of Nicole Kidman’s from 2007.

13. Penelope Cruz. The dress is bland, and her hair aged her by about twenty years.

14. Christopher Plummer. His velvet tux jacket made him look dapper and put him in a league of his own.

15. Louise Roe. I had no idea who she was before tonight (she interviewed stars on the red carpet for ABC), but her great look immediately had my attention. It’s…business formal?

16. Gwyneth Paltrow. I saved the best for last. I normally loathe white dresses but this is sleek, fashion forward, and super(hero) cool. She has a cape! And a badass (bulletproof?) cuff! And with that, she rescued the red carpet from being an endless parade of safe, boring gowns.

Which gowns were your favorite?

Photos: Getty


84th Academy Awards Highlights

When I first heard Billy Crystal named as host this year, I thought it was a very good choice. He’s one of very few hosts who can improvise and riff on unexpected moments that occur during the show. But then a friend of mine who went to the rehearsals told me the skits were boring and the banter dull. So I approached the show with somewhat lowered expectations but ended up enjoying it quite a bit, definitely much more than last year’s ceremony.

First, the winners in some of the major categories:

Best PictureThe Artist

Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, The Descendants

(For a full list, go here.)

Some of the highlights:

Funniest but least helpful focus group: Christopher Guest and Co. as an early focus group, giving feedback on a test screening of The Wizard of Oz. Favorite comments were Catherine O’Hara’s complaint about the use of little people to play munchkins (she thought they were kids): “You hire all these children and little people when there are plenty of capable, full-sized men out in the bread lines still.” Jennifer Coolidge chimed in with “there’s lots of ugly faces in this film, lots of elevator faces, faces that look like they were caught in an elevator, smushed together, hatchet faces, long chins…I’ve never seen so many unattractive people.”

Most inclusive thank-you: The sound editing duo of Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty, for Hugo, who said, “I’d just like to thank everybody who is here tonight, and everybody who isn’t, and everybody who’s ever been born, or may be born or be born again or reborn. If I’ve forgotten anybody then you probably know who you are.”

Best live special effects: The Cirque du Soleil performance. I’ll take them over lame musical numbers any day.

Funniest reality check: Chris Rock on why “I love animation. You could be anything you want to be. You’re a fat woman, you can play a skinny princess. If you’re a short wimpy guy, you can play a tall gladiator. If you’re a white man, you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man, you can play a donkey or a zebra.”

Randiest presenter: Melissa McCarthy, doing a take on her Bridesmaids character by coming to Crystal’s dressing room in a robe and asking him, “How about we make this dressing room an undressing room?”

Longest wait for an Oscar: Christopher Plummer’s. The 82-year-old actor started his acceptance speech by addressing the Oscar: “You’re only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?” He continued, “When I first emerged from my mother’s womb, I was already rehearsing my Academy thank-you speech.”

Best quip after a boring speech: After Academy president Tom Sherak gave his obligatory dull remarks, Crystal said, “Thank you for whipping the crowd into a frenzy.”

Funniest improvised bit from a winner: The Descendants‘ co-writer Jim Rash (who also plays Dean Pelton in Community), striking the same pose as Angelina Jolie when she came out to present his award.

Most exciting moment for a Flight of the Conchords fan: When Bret McKenzie won best song for “Man or Muppets” from The Muppets. Who knew half of that brilliantly goofy duo would one day be an Oscar winner? He said, “I grew up in New Zealand watching The Muppets on TV. Never dreamed I’d get to work with them. I was genuinely starstruck when I finally met Kermit the frog, but once you get to know him, he’s just a normal frog. And like many stars here, he’s a lot shorter in real life.”

Most, ah, interesting way of presenting awards for the short films: Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph making double entendres about the shorts, though Rudolph claimed they were talking about movies, not “wieners.” Wiig: “See, I’d rather have a short film with some heft that’s nice to me, rather than a long film that just lies there and makes you do all the work.” Rudolph: “But sometimes a film can be too long.” Wigg: “Not for me, not for me.”

Goofiest running gag: The Scorsese drinking game that the Bridesmaids ladies started at the Golden Globes, in which if someone says the director’s name, they have to drink. The best part was Scorsese’s delighted but completely befuddled reaction, having no idea what was going on.

Presenter who best managed to make scripted bits seem funny and sincere: Colin Firth, who presented the best actress award. When paying tribute to Meryl Streep, he said, “Mamma Mia! We were in Greece, we danced, I was gay, and we were happy.” He also told Michelle Williams she was his mentor on the movie they did together (A Thousand Acres), and that he aspired to be like her “even though you were 12 and I was 35.”

After the show, a friend of mine who was at the Oscars called and sent over a couple of fun photos she took. She said Octavia Spencer decided her clutch was too small so she also carried a giant handbag with her.

My friend also caught Kenneth Branagh photobombing John Corbett and his longtime partner, Bo Derek.

What did you think of the show? Favorite bits? Parts you hated? For my fashion roundup, click here.

Photos: The Artist cast/Ian West/PA; Cirque du Soleil/Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Angelina Jolie-Jim Rash/Entertainment Weekly; Rose Byrne & Melissa McCarthy/Kevin Winter/Getty


Movie Discussion: WANDERLUST

My day was a little stressy and funky so by the time I got to the Wanderlust screening, I was ready to laugh. And, boy, did I. The movie, directed by David Wain, is about married couple George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), who find themselves homeless after George loses his job. On their way to Atlanta to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), they stop at a commune named Elysium that’s full of hippies, free love, and vegan dining. George is just looking for a temporary roof over their heads, but Linda may have other plans. The experience takes them out of their comfort zones, but in the end helps them find where they’re supposed to be.

I’m being intentionally vague with the synopsis because I don’t want to spoil any of the outrageous surprises. Instead, I’ll just post the discussion I had after the screening with my regular contributor, Eric Edwards.

Eric Edwards: It’s like the filmmakers drew a line, then decided to go a hundred miles beyond that line.

Pop Culture Nerd: No, it’s more like “What’s a line? We’ve never heard of such a thing.” This movie is definitely not appropriate for young people. It’s barely appropriate for adults.

EE: But I laughed, and that’s rare for me these days. A lot of the humor I’ve been seeing in movies lately is just cringe-inducing. The best comedy is grounded in truth, and I could see how this could happen, especially with George’s sudden unemployment, the couple’s feelings of uncertainty and questioning of everything.

From L: Lauren Ambrose, Rodney Peele, Aniston, Rudd, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Kathryn Hahn

PCN: You’re right, but that’s where reality stops. The characters at Elysium and some of the situations are pure zaniness and insanity. I haven’t laughed that hard at the movies in a long time. This is a good time to mention that when people go see this, they should be tolerant of their fellow moviegoers being loud. There were lots of gasping and guffaws and “Oh my gosh!”es all around. I might have seen flying nachos from the guy next to me.

EE: I think some of those guffaws came from me, and there was a lady behind me with a laugh that could only be described as “avant-garde.”

PCN: I’m so glad Paul Rudd finally gets another chance to be funny. Some of his recent movies have stuck him in the straight-man role—Dinner for Schmucks, anyone?—which is a waste of his talents. Here, we get to see him react to the hippies and slowly come undone. Many of the biggest laughs came from just the look on his face.

EE: I’m a fan of Rudd’s so of course I liked him in this, but this is the first I’ve liked Aniston in a very long time. Maybe since Friends.

PCN: Was it the material that made you like her? What was she doing that was different for you?

EE: I think Rudd both grounded her and pushed her to new levels.

PCN: She had a good script (by Wain and Marino), and was surrounded by so many strong supporting actors that she seemed relaxed. She didn’t have to try so hard to wring comedy out of crap. She also made a poncho look sexy. And useful.

Marino and Watkins

EE: From the supporting cast, Michaela Watkins stood out for me as George’s sister-in-law. She hilariously downplayed her character’s raging unhappiness. It was as though she wanted to pull out a gun or knife at any second.

PCN: If she could rouse from her drug- and alcohol-induced stupor, that is.

EE: Exactly.

PCN: She was funny because she made a lot of her mumbly lines sound like second thoughts or if she just improvised them. How about Joe Lo Truglio as the wannabe novelist?

EE: I found him annoying after a while. There are lots of other actors who could have done that part.

PCN: Um, I don’t know if many actors would’ve been willing to go as far as what that role demanded. (Readers, this will be clear to you, for better or worse, when you see the movie.)

EE: They kept pushing that one joke about his novel’s plot twist and it just wasn’t funny anymore after a while. It was probably the only weak link for me in an otherwise pretty funny movie.

PCN: I didn’t mind that running gag at all. I was too busy laughing.

Nerd verdicts: PCN—Wanderlust leads to hilarity. EE: You should wander into Wanderlust.

Photos: Universal Studios/Gemma La Mana


TV Review: AWAKE

After watching the pilot for NBC’s new show, Awake, I’m wondering why it was held for midseason—even the dull The Firm made it on air before this—because it’s an intriguing, intelligent show that gives hope to the struggling network.

The episode begins with a car crash involving police detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) and his wife (Laura Allen) and son (Dylan Minnette). Cut to Britten in the office of a therapist named Dr. Lee (BD Wong), trying to explain to him that though Britten’s son, Rex, died in the accident, when he goes to sleep at night, he wakes up the next day in a parallel universe in which Rex is alive and Britten’s wife, Hannah, is dead. The thing is, in that universe, the detective is seeing a Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones), who tells him his existence with Hannah is just a dream, and the life with his son is the real one. “I can assure you, Detective Britten, this is not a dream,” Dr. Evans says. “That’s exactly what the other shrink says,” Britten replies.

On top of this mind-bending puzzle, there are the cases Britten catches at work. In the Hannah world, he’s chasing a man shooting cab drivers in seemingly random fashion. On days he shares with his son, Britten is trying to solve a double murder of a couple during a home invasion and the abduction of their daughter. Things get interesting when details from one case bleed into the other.

Show creator Kyle Killen must have a thing for guys leading double lives because his last show was the short-lived Lone Star, about a man with two wives. Luckily, Awake is much more interesting and Britten is more sympathetic than the other series’ con man. Isaacs, whose tired eyes and lined face make him look like he hasn’t slept in a week, gives Britten a steely determination to maintain both lives, refusing to accept that either his wife or son is gone. How long he can keep that up before unraveling adds tension to the scenario (he has a terrible moment of confusion in the pilot).

We viewers aren’t sure what’s real, either, which means obsessive searches for clues could ensue. I think it’ll come down to which world looks more realistic and which therapist is more convincing in his/her argument (right now Evans has the edge). Or the more realistic life could be the dream. Isn’t the mind unreliable when dealing with grief? I’m intrigued enough to show up for future sessions, as long as writers don’t tell us it’s all a dream.

Note: Awake premieres on Thursday, March 1, at 10/9c on NBC, but you can watch it now here. If you’ve seen it, what did you think? Will you watch again? Which world is real?

Nerd verdict: Dreamlike, mesmerizing Awake

Photo: NBC


Book Giveaway: THE DARLINGS by Cristina Alger

Thanks to Lindsay at Pamela Dorman/Penguin, I get to give away one copy of Cristina Alger’s timely new novel, The Darlings (I’m still reading it so a review will come later). Here’s the description from the author’s website:

A sophisticated page-turner about a wealthy New York family embroiled in a financial scandal with cataclysmic consequences.

Now that he’s married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul’s luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie—will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger’s glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover—or cover up—the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society—a world seldom seen by outsiders—and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

The book has received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, among other publications. For more info on Alger, visit her website, where you can also read an excerpt.

If the novel sounds like it’s right up your alley, enter for a chance to win it by leaving a comment about a fake scandal from your past. Or it could be real—I won’t know. Just make it juicy!

Giveaway is open to US/Canada residents only, and ends next Tuesday, February 28, at 5 p.m. PST. One winner will be randomly chosen and have 48 hours to claim the book. Now let’s have you “leak” some scandalous details!


Book Review: ALI IN WONDERLAND by Ali Wentworth

Ali Wentworth, also known as the actress /comedienne/Oprah correspondent Alexandra Wentworth, adds author to her resume with a collection of stories about growing up in D.C. as the daughter of a journalist father and mother who was White House social secretary during the Reagan years. She also tells about her experiences at prep school, auditioning for her breakthrough gig on the sketch show In Living Color (Seinfeld fans might know her as Schmoopie from the Soup Nazi episode), and meeting and marrying her husband, George Stephanopoulos.

Despite her privileged upbringing (Henry Kissinger came to one of her mother’s parties), Wentworth manages to make her stories accessible, with a breezy style and some very funny moments. When she was twelve, her older sister Sissy decided she’d run away because she was bored out of her mind from being laid up at home after spinal fusion surgery. Instead of stopping her, their mother said to Wentworth:

“Please run away with your sister! I don’t want her out there alone!”

“But I don’t want to run away!”

“I’m asking you nicely, now go!”

I was getting irritated. “I don’t want to run away, Mom! I want to stay home! I’m happy!”

She also recounts what happened to one of her nannies:

Julia was our Mary Poppins, until one day she turned in her resignation. Marrying a successful financial adviser, not the chimney sweep. And she was off to have babies she wouldn’t be paid to love.

But while the anecdotes are witty, they often just peter out without going anywhere. Several stories end in ellipses or a question, making it seem as if even she wasn’t sure where she was going with them. I couldn’t help but think of Tina Fey’s Bossypants, in which the essays are wacky but when you get to the end of each one, the reason why Fey chose to relate that particular experience becomes clear, e.g. the rules of improv she learned at Second City can also apply to life. It’s okay to just be entertaining without making a point about something, but stories are more memorable when they can be taken at more than face value.

Nerd verdict: Lightweight Ali

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore


REVENGE: Chaos, Indeed


Emily VanCamp (Emily) & Josh Bowman (Daniel)

After all the buildup, the big episode, titled “Chaos,” finally arrived, showing us who got shot in the pilot episode. I refused to believe it was Daniel because, well, this isn’t MI-5 so producers weren’t going to kill off a series regular. Plus, removing Daniel from the show would seriously hamper the storyline because 1) the nasty Grayson parents would lose the pawn in their nasty game of one-upmanship (Charlotte doesn’t count; no one cares about her, certainly not her grandfather), and 2) the love triangle between Emily, Daniel, and Jack would turn into…a straight line?

So whose dead body was on the beach? Tyler’s. This is especially satisfying because when we saw he’d returned, I said, “Ugh, I hate him so much!” and Mr. PCN said, “Someone needs to put a bullet through that guy.” BAM! He got his wish. When I saw Hiroyuki Sanada’s name in the credits (Tanaka), I said, “Yay! Give me some ninja action!” Alas, I didn’t get my wish.

VanCamp & Madeleine Stowe

Speaking of Tanaka, where was he taking FauxAmanda? Whose blood did she leave on Jack’s hand after she left him on the boat? With all the running around she was doing, she certainly didn’t seem to be feeling the effects of a gunshot wound if she had been hit by Tyler. Who shot Tyler? It was someone wearing a black jacket and gloves, which—I think—eliminates Nolan (love his red jacket) and all the men wearing white. The only people I could see in black were security so…was it Ed, Nolan’s bodyguard? Maybe it’s payback for Tyler stabbing his boss a little while back.

I don’t have the answers but the fun of this show is in the guessing. What did you think of this episode? Are you glad Daniel’s alive or angry because you felt the buildup was misleading? Who do you think killed Tyler? How stunning were those red dresses Emily and Victoria were wearing?

For more info about this episode and where the show goes from here, check out this Entertainment Weekly interview with Bowman and two of the producers.

Photo: ABC/Colleen Hayes


Book Review: NIGHT ROUNDS by Helene Tursten

Despite the title and the fact much of this novel concerns nocturnal activities, I wouldn’t recommend reading Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds (Soho Crime, Feb. 14) at night if you’re afraid of ghosts. As I went along, I wasn’t sure if I was imagining noises and things in the dark, just like the characters do in the book. Or do they?

One night the power goes out at an old rundown hospital in Göteborg, Sweden. During the blackout, a surgical patient dies when the machinery stops working, a nurse is found murdered, and another goes missing. A witness is adamant that she saw the murderer—a former employee named Nurse Tekla. Problem is, Nurse Tekla has been dead for sixty years, though legend has her haunting the hospital because she committed suicide there. Is there a ghost on the grounds? What does it have to do with the very real bodies that start piling up? Detective Inspector Irene Huss returns in this series’ second installment to investigate, and discovers that the recent killings are somehow connected to the hospital’s troubled history. And while most things aren’t as they seem, the truth could also be exactly what you think it is.

The novel was translated from its original Swedish version by Laura A. Wideburg, and contains some of the odd syntax I’ve come to expect from translations of Scandinavian mysteries. But this doesn’t detract too much from a solid police procedural with an undercurrent of creepiness. DI Huss, a third dan black belt in jujitsu and married mother of two teen girls, is an appealing character who keeps her head in tense situations, and makes witty observations about herself and the people she encounters in her investigation.

For example, she meets a witness who has a sallow complexion and a penchant for beige clothing. As they turn toward automatic doors to enter a building, “Irene imagined that the sensor wouldn’t react to such a colorless woman and the doors wouldn’t open.” After meeting the gorgeous young wife of the hospital’s head doctor, Irene briefly considers getting a facelift before deciding it’s “[n]ot a good look for a criminal inspector. You probably shouldn’t go around with a face that said, ‘Really? You don’t say!’ every time you visit the scene of a crime or bring a suspect in for questioning.”

Tursten also issues harsh words against government systems that allow mentally ill homeless people to fall through the cracks, she exposes the misogynism that exists on the police force, and condemns zealots who resort to violence to support a cause (veganism, in this case). The Scandinavian crime novels I’ve read often seem to include this kind of social commentary, which gets woven into the plot in such a way that doesn’t make it feel too didactic. Bottom line, this is an engrossing whodunit that kept me up late into the night, leaving a chill on my skin as if touched by a ghost.

Nerd verdict: Night chills

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Whitney Houston 1963-2012

I was a radio DJ at a top 40 station in 1985 when a single by a new singer named Whitney Houston was added to the rotation. I was told she was going to be huge, something I always took with a grain of salt (remember Timbuk3?). Then I listened to “You Give Good Love.” Though I didn’t love the song, I was knocked out by her voice. I remember thinking, “That is a gift from heaven.” I hope she’s there now.

Rest in peace.


Book Review: DRIFTING HOUSE by Krys Lee

This review is by contributor Thuy Dinh, editor of the literary webzine Da Mau.

With nine cinematic, well-crafted stories, Krys Lee’s debut collection literally takes your breath away in its unflinching portrayal of displacement. Almost all the stories in Drifting House illustrate the horrific but rarely redemptive struggle toward love. Her characters, while longing for change, are ultimately doomed because they cannot escape their preordained sense of self. In this way they become “drifting houses”—unmoored, hermetic vessels that travel through languages, cultures, space, and time but never “arrive” anywhere.

Believing that people “carry their history with them,” and that history is not “just a family’s history but the history and culture of a nation,” Lee uses her writing to explore many paradoxical facets of the uprooted self. Born in South Korea, resettled in California, educated in Washington State and England, and now living in South Korea but active in resettlement efforts involving North Korean defectors, the author relentlessly navigates the porous yet alienating borders between America and Asia, North and South, reality and myth, freedom and incarceration.

Lee’s fractured, volatile characters provide the cataclysm for her richly layered fiction. Their tragic flaws denounce all established notions of infallibility. Fatalistic but afraid, Lee’s fugitives rarely trust their instinct. Tragedy ensues when these characters succumb to the illusion of order. In “At The Edge of the World,” a family is nearly torn apart when the wife, a devout Christian, refuses to acknowledge her husband’s deep yearning for his dead brother and his desperate resort to shamanism. In “The Goose Father,” a married accountant is troubled by strong feelings toward his tenant, a younger male named Wuseong with “anxious rosebud lips” who owns a mangy goose that may or may not embody his mother’s reincarnated soul.

In the rare instances when characters reject their predetermined roles, they are still left with a sense of profound loss akin to death or exile, because their former selves are intrinsically tied to their society and families. The snow-covered landscape in “Drifting House” is an apt metaphor. The children who flee the North Korean famine in the story face the harsh skyline of China and intuit “the dim sense that the world outstretched before them would never know or care about them.” In “The Salaryman,” the main character—a homeless man after losing his job—uses a pair of metal chopsticks to defend himself against thugs. Survival liberates him from illusions, and at the same time deprives him of civilization.

In Lee’s world, love becomes terror because it resists all man-made boundaries. The author skillfully applies magical realism in a few stories to depict the deathless bonds of love. In its best incarnation, love—like Wuseong’s deep attachment to his goose—reflects a childlike openness to mysteries. To reach this level of transcendence, acceptance of imperfection is a requisite step. In “A Small Sorrow”—my favorite story in the collection—Eunkang, an androgynous painter with “boy’s hips and nipples like wild berries,” finally comes to terms with her spiritual and sexual hunger. Eunkang’s realization of her husband as a vain, weak man does not diminish her love for him, because she now sees him, and herself, fully. Eunkang’s embrace of her condition gives a luminous cast over Drifting House. Even in her darkest, most startling depictions, Lee is full of grace.

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