Monthly Archives

May 2013

Book Review: ANGEL BABY by Richard Lange

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

Richard Lange’s Angel Baby starts with Luz literally busting out of the hellish life she has in Mexico with her abusive husband, Rolando. While he’s away, she shoots her way out of the house where she’s kept under guard, and hooks up with Malone, an American who will drive her over the border so she can reunite with her young daughter, Isabel, in Los Angeles.

Trouble is, Rolando is El Principe, a big shot in a drug cartel, and there’s no way he’s letting her get away. He puts his most dangerous man, Jerónimo, on her trail, threatening to kill Jerónimo’s family if the man fails to bring Luz back. Along the way, a crooked Border Patrol cop also gets involved, and Luz’s dream of seeing Isabel again gets dimmer, as well as her hope that she’ll survive Rolando’s wrath.

As with his debut novel, This Wicked World, Lange showcases a cast of complicated, multidimensional characters. Jerónimo is a stone-cold killer, but he’s also terrified for the family he dearly loves. Luz is a former drug addict who’s made bad choices, but she’s determined to go clean and start over with her child, if only given the chance. Malone is a sad drunk, but will do the right thing when necessary. At times, the story digresses into the background of too many characters, but Lange’s unflinching glimpses into people’s hearts, where darkness resides alongside the light, make this a riveting read.

Nerd verdict: No Angels here, only complicated characters fighting personal demons

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Favorite TV Theme Songs Ever

Yesterday, I heard that actor Steve Forrest had passed away on May 18 at the age of 87. Even though he appeared in many TV series, to me he’s best remembered for the mid-seventies show S.W.A.T., which I used to watch Thursday nights on CBS at 9 p.m. Forrest was a commanding presence, leading young cute guys like Robert Urich and Mark Shera into battle every week.

One of the show’s biggest attractions for me, though, was that theme music and action-packed title sequence, with the S.W.A.T. truck barreling down the street and dudes diving through windows and rappelling from buildings. I wanted to jump out of a S.W.A.T truck (on TV, anyway) when I grew up.

This made me think of other TV theme songs that bring back indelible memories for me, of time spent gasping and laughing in front of the tube, either with my family gathered round, or later with my college friends. Shows just don’t open with catchy tunes anymore.

Below, in no particular order, are my favorite TV theme songs of all time.

  1.  S.W.A.T. (see above for reasons)
  2. Mission Impossible. I used to watch this show in Vietnam, and couldn’t understand anything, but the music would get me excited, because I’d get to spend time with Dad, who’d watch it with me sometimes.
  3. Hawaii Five-0. This one makes me think of Mom, who was a Jack Lord fan. Mama always has good taste.
  4. Batman. I just liked singing along to this one, because the lyrics were simply “BATMAN!” over and over, and then 13 “nah”s in a row at the end. Any six-year-old could do it, and it was fun to do it at the top of my lungs.
  5. Gilligan’s Island. I used to sing along to this one, too, but messed up the lyrics a little, e.g. the tiny ship was “toast” instead of “tossed.” But it was one of the first American theme songs I learned to sing all the way through, because I’d watch the reruns every day after school.
  6. M*A*S*H. I have never seen an episode of this, but learned to play the theme on my violin for a school concert. I thought it was a lovely tune…until I learned the lyrics and found them depressing. Can’t deny the music’s memorable melancholy vibe, though.
  7. Laverne & Shirley. How could I not like a theme song about two plucky women making their dreams come true and doing it their way? Years ago, while I sat backstage waiting to go on a game show as a contestant, this theme song crept into my head and it wouldn’t quit. I was slightly antsy because I was surrounded by a bunch of competitors, so maybe the song was my brain’s way of psyching me up, saying I was “gonna do it.” And I did. Win, that is.
  8. Three’s Company. They invited you to knock on their door; they’ve been waiting for you! Dad and I used to watch this show, too. Most of the double entendres flew right over my head, but I remember Dad being slightly scandalized and then laughing anyway.
  9. The Love Boat. Yes, it’s cheesy, but there’s something wonderful about watching people board the Pacific Princess, knowing they’ll find love by the end of their vacation.
  10. Cheers. I remember hanging out in my college dorm’s common room on Thursday nights at 9 p.m., and the other residents and I would sing along to the now classic opening song, hoping we’d find a place where everybody knew our name, someday somewhere, out in the big bad world.

What are some of your favorite TV theme songs?

Have a safe weekend, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite crime fiction books and authors for the Stalker Awards!

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Book Review: SILKEN PREY by John Sandford

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

John Sandford’s Silken Prey finds Minnesota law enforcer Lucas Davenport entangled in deadly political machinations, when the governor asks him to clear the name of a state senator caught with child pornography on his computer only days before the election. Lucas’s investigation leads him to the disappearance of a political fixer named Bobby Tubbs, known for his dirty tricks. No one has seen Tubbs since the day the child porn was discovered, and he’s soon presumed dead by Lucas and his colleagues at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Lucas suspects Tubbs was working for the beautiful, young, and rich Taryn Grant, the opposing candidate in the senate race, and planted the porn as a smear tactic. Trouble is, he has no proof, and Grant’s bodyguards are a pair of former special ops guys—trained killers, they’re proud to admit—prepared to eliminate anyone getting in the way of Grant’s ambition.

Sandford’s sharp, lean writing makes even politics seem interesting, and though this is the twenty-third in the Prey series, readers should have no problem jumping right in. Davenport is a winning character, a smart investigator with a stable home life and dry sense of humor. His colleagues are amusing, too, each with a distinct personality, especially Virgil Flowers, the long-haired, cowboy-boot-wearing agent who has his own series of novels when not helping Davenport solve cases. Sandford’s fans will also recognize two lead characters from yet another series playing integral roles here. It’s like Sanford’s All-Stars, assembled in one fast-paced, entertaining read.

Nerd verdict: Silken writing

Buy it now from Amazon | From an indie bookstore

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Stalker Awards 2013—Submit Your Nominations!

May is Mystery Month and June is International Crime Month so it’s time to submit your nominations for the third annual Stalker Awards, given to crime novels you’re obsessed with and the authors who write them. You can be obsessed with the authors, too, but please stay legal.

Anyone from anywhere can submit nominations and vote, as long as you’re passionate about crime fiction. If you’ve ever seen the winners lists for different awards and thought, “Huh? Who picks these things?” let us know what you read and loved.

All nominees must’ve had a release or been released in the US in 2012 (original publication, not re-release, OK if it’s a foreign title available for the first time in the US last year).

Fill out the form below, and submit before 9 p.m. PST on Thursday, May 30. Nominate three in each category, and rankings will count so place your absolute favorite first. Include titles and authors for all nominations, except for the final two categories, which are only about authors.

I’ll announce nominees by the end of the month, at which time voting will begin. See last year’s winners here.

Let the stalking begin!

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Movie Review: IRON MAN 3

I went into this movie not knowing what to expect, since I really enjoyed the first one, but thought IM2 was too loud and chaotic. And this time Jon Favreau handed over directorial duties to Shane Black, who also cowrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce. Black is known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies, as well as the underrated The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a witty noir thriller in which Black directed Robert Downey Jr. in a comeback starring turn after the actor’s stints in prison.

The two have another winner on their hands with this latest collaboration, a big summer blockbuster that showcases more of Tony Stark’s humanity than the last installment.

The adventure starts in 1999 in Switzerland, where Tony meets a couple of brilliant scientists, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Killian tries to get Tony interested in his think tank, while Maya is experimenting with an idea called Extremis, or the rewiring of DNA that would enable a damaged body to do neat things like heal itself and regenerate new limbs.

These scientists come back to haunt Tony in the present, just as he’s facing down a global villain called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who Really Hates America, is killing innocents, and threatening to kill many more. The plot spins and twists from there so I won’t say more about it.

I do want to mention, though, the writing and acting. As mentioned, Downey has to spend more time as just Tony in this one, which is a joy to watch because what grounds the franchise is his presence, not the flying iron suit. His chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts was already evident in the previous movies, and Pepper is even more Tony’s equal here.

Downey also has some great interaction with a child actor named Ty Simpkins, who impressively maintains verbal volleys with Downey without being too precocious.

Can’t reveal much about Kingsley’s performance without possibly giving away spoilers, but the man sure seems to be having more fun than he’s had in years on screen, and we are right there with him. And one of my favorite things about this movie is that the screenwriters gave even bit players funny one-liners and memorable moments.

But it all comes down to the central character. Yes, the movie has wowza action scenes involving the superhero, but we get to see a lot of the man who built him, and that beneath the glowing arc reactor is a beating human heart.

Nerd verdict: Bright and glowing Iron Man 3 

Photos: Marvel.com

P.S. Are you still here? Just checking to see whether you like hanging around until the very end of things, because like other Marvel movies, you should stay until after all the credits have rolled by.

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Nerdy Special List May 2013

May always brings me a sense of excitement because it makes me think of possibilities, all the good things that May happen, and there are supposed to be flowers from all the April showers, right? Not that I know anything about rain, living in Southern California.

But I do know a little about books, so here’s the May Nerdy Special List, with recommendations from my blogger pals and me. Be sure and visit their sites for more reviews and fun bookish features.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Broken Places by Ace Atkins (Putnam, May 30)

Ace Atkins’s third Quinn Colson book takes an exceptional crime series and makes it even better. Colson has to battle escaped convicts on one hand, a questionable clergyman on the other, and the wrath of nature with both hands full. The plot is engaging, as any good novel should be, but what ratchets up the quality of The Broken Places is an incredibly well-developed theme (that also happens to be the title of the novel), the awe-inspiring use and depiction of nature, an enveloping atmosphere, a multi-voice approach that is pitch perfect, and some of the strongest characters in crime fiction. It doesn’t matter what section of the bookstore or library you shelve The Broken Places in, it’s an outstanding read.

Buy it from Amazon | IndieBound

From Danielle at There’s a Book:

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang (Clarion Books, May 14)

Billy is a normal baby with one very unique exception: a mustache. Is he destined to be a good guy or  bad guy? Only time and his mustache will tell. On good-guy days, he spends his time as a painter, a fighter pilot, a doctor, and even a ringleader at a circus. But on bad-guy days, Billy’s mustache curls up on ends and he leads a life of crime, by becoming a cat burglar and even a cereal criminal. Everyone has bad days, though, and one bad-guy day doesn’t mean a lifetime of bad-guy mustaches.

Bridget Heos’s newest picture book earned a spot on our most anticipated of 2013 list last year, and it has planted itself at the top of our favorite books of all time.

Buy it from Amazon | IndieBound

Julie at Girls Just Reading has two recommendations, one in women’s fiction, the other in crime fiction:

Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman (Pamela Dorman Books, May 28)

This book has something for everyone: mystery, love story, family drama, and an eccentric Southern town. The main character, Teddi, is either someone you want to know or someone you aspire to be. She is tied to her family’s farm in Kentucky, but made her grown-up life in Charleston. Ms. Hoffman has a knack for creating genuine characters, and novels  you want to read from cover to cover in one sitting, even if you can’t. It’s obvious she’s done her research on wildlife for this. Looking For Me is a novel you can get lost in anywhere.

Buy it from Amazon | IndieBound

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dutton, May 28)

This is the third installment in the Danish author’s Department Q series. While it might not be the best or the most succinct, it is definitely worth picking up. I love the way Mr. Adler-Olsen writes the crime part of the novel. You always know slightly more than Detective Carl Morck and his assistant Assad, but not enough to solve the case or even figure out the killer’s identity. Assad is very much an intriguing character. His past remains curious to me after reading this novel.

If you haven’t read any of the Department Q novels, then you must start with The Keeper of Lost Causes, The Absent One, and then this one, as there is a lot of background about the relationships that you need from the previous books.

Buy it from Amazon | IndieBound

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon (Ballantine, May 7)

This multigenerational, multicontinental novel centers around two men who meet during their senior year at Harvard. Ed, an ambitious but poor son of a boxer and plumber from Dorchester, pursues a friendship with the charming, wealthy, and charismatic Hugh. Although their friendship disintegrates over the mutual love of a woman, their lives keep intersecting unexpectedly, often too close for comfort. Hershon’s novel focuses on differences of class, love (in all its forms), and how the decisions we make can resonate throughout our entire lives. Reminiscent of novels by Jeffrey Eugenides, Richard Russo, and Philip Roth, A Dual Inheritance is not an easy read, but this darkly compelling, character-driven novel will be well worth the time you spend on it. Curl up on the sofa and spend a weekend getting lost in the richly textured world Hershon creates.

Buy it from Amazon | IndieBound

PCN’s Recommendation:

Silken Prey by John Sandford (Putnam, May 7)

My choice might seem obvious to some of you, but I’m not a loyal Prey fan. I read one book from this series many years ago, and never picked up another until now. Which made me question why, because I found Lucas Davenport sharp and witty, and Sandford’s prose lean and incisive, making me enjoy a story that involves dirty dealings in politics, something I have zero interest in. Silken Prey has an intriguing villain with narcissistic personality disorder, which Sandford portrays in both amusing and terrifying ways. Kidd and LuEllen, and Virgil Flowers, who star in two other series from the author, also make an appearance. If you have not kept up or never tried this series, now’s the time to pounce on some Prey.

Buy it from Amazon | IndieBound

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