Monthly Archives

May 2014

Movie Review: MALEFICENT


Every once in a while, a role comes along that’s so perfectly embodied by an actor that you can’t imagine anyone else playing that character. Such is the case with Angelina Jolie in the titular role of Disney’s Maleficent, which provides back story for the villainess from the animated classic Sleeping Beauty. The casting is a bit obvious because we know Jolie can play dark and edgy characters, but what’s surprising is that she’s also funny in this movie.

The retelling of the well-known fairy tale also contains a few other surprising updates (which I’ll be vague about to avoid spoiling). We start with Maleficent as a young fairy with big powerful wings who guards the moors, a place that’s home to all kinds of magical creatures. Her heart is bright and she falls in love with an orphan boy who declares someday he’ll live in the castle in the land adjacent to the moors.

Fast forward to Jolie as the adult Maleficent, who leads her people into battle against the king of the neighboring land who’s looking to expand his kingdom. The outcome of the battle leads to Maleficent being horribly betrayed by the boy she thought was her true love. Enter the angry, vengeful fairy.

The story then treads familiar territory with the cursing of the infant princess Aurora, who shall prick her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday and fall into a death-like sleep and can only be awoken by true love’s kiss. Maleficent is being snarky there because she no longer believes true love exists.

But while the story still contains the classic elements—the fire-breathing dragon, a young prince, the three pixies who raise Aurora in the woods—it also takes off in new directions. It redefines true love and showcases female empowerment. This is the second Disney movie in a row I’ve seen (after Frozen) where the women are in control and don’t need saving by some guy. In light of the misogyny in recent news, this is a welcome thing.

maleficentThe main reason to see Maleficent, though, is Jolie. She commands the screen whether she’s being big and powerful, vulnerable, or funny. An actor with less screen presence might’ve been swallowed up by the dramatic costumes and horns and awesome wings, but Jolie wears them, not the other way around.

The movie veers into kiddie land with technicolor magical creatures flitting about while the teenage Aurora (Elle Fanning) looks on in wonder, and some plot points are underdeveloped, but Jolie will keep the adults entertained.

Nerd verdict: Jolie is a magnificent Maleficent

Photos: Walt Disney Pictures


Review & Giveaway: THE THREE by Sarah Lotz

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

the threeSouth African author Sarah Lotz’s The Three begins on January 12 in 2012—later known as Black Thursday—when four airplanes crash in four different parts of the world, leaving only one child alive from each flight, except for the one that crashes in Africa. The survivors are dubbed The Three in the media, which goes wild with conspiracy theories about how these children survived such devastation.

In the aftermath, the questions become more about how and why they survived and then what they are, for relatives of the children notice they’re not quite the same as they were before the crash. Unexplainable things start happening around them—some good things, some benign, and some creeeepy. Are these children miracles, harbingers of End Times, aliens, or simply traumatized innocents being hounded by the media and gullible masses?

The story is presented as a book within a book, a journalist’s nonfiction tome called Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy that includes interviews and conversations with people connected to the crashes. Lotz writes convincingly in the different voices of the interviewees, men and women of different ethnicities, regions, and walks of life. The sense of dread builds as characters’ paranoia mounts, and some plot twists are shocking. The coincidence of this novel coming so soon after the real-life disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 only adds to the eeriness. The ending may be frustratingly ambiguous for some, but this epic tale shouldn’t be missed. Just don’t read it on a plane.

Nerd verdict: Engrossing Three

Read also my interview with Sarah Lotz here.

Giveaway: The good people at Little, Brown are allowing me to give away one copy of this book to a PCN reader. To enter, leave a comment answering this question: What was the last unexplainable thing that happened to you? As usual, lies are accepted. Got to keep entries interesting, right? US/Canada only.

Giveaway ends next Tuesday, June 3, at 9 p.m. PST. Winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours to claim prize. Good luck!


Giveaway: SUSPICION by Joseph Finder

I’m excited to say I get to give away three copies of Joseph Finder‘s latest thriller, Suspicion. This is just the first of several fantastic giveaways I’ll be hosting for the next month. If you’ve been a longtime reader here, you know I don’t do giveaways often. I turn down many requests to do them because I only offer you books I’ve liked or ones I want to read.

But some really interesting books are being released in the next few weeks and I want to help put them in your hands. For some reason, my e-mail subscription function isn’t working so you’ll have to keep checking back here or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or via Bloglovin. (No, this isn’t a ploy to get more followers. Just letting you know the e-mail subscription service has stopped working.)

Anyway, on to Suspicion. Here’s the official description:

suspicionSingle father Danny Goodman would do anything—anything—to protect his teenaged daughter, Abby, from more unhappiness after her mother’s death. Struggling to keep her at the private school she loves, he accepts a favor from an unexpected benefactor: Thomas Galvin, father of Abby’s best friend and one of the wealthiest men in Boston. Galvin offers Danny a loan that would be enough to pay Abby’s tuition and relieve some of Danny’s other financial pressures, and Danny can’t help but be charmed by Galvin’s generosity and kindness.

Danny’s new friend, however, turns out to have some dangerous enemies—including some Federal investigators who think Danny’s in a perfect position to collect evidence against Galvin. The moment Galvin’s loan hits Danny’s account, Danny finds himself trapped into a dangerous undercover assignment that will put both his life and his daughter’s at risk. Danny tells one lie after another to hide more and more secrets, weaving a net that will ultimately require a desperate plan of action.

Suspicion is everything readers expect from a Joseph Finder thriller, and more.

Because this giveaway is in conjunction with Riffle and Dutton Books, the instructions are a little different this time. Click on the link below and fill out the form for your chance to win one of three finished copies. Giveaway ends May 27, when the book will be available in bookstores everywhere. Good luck!

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Nerdy Special List May 2014

It’s Monday—are you grumpy and dragging your feet after the fabulous weekend you had? How about I cheer you up a little with the list of May releases my fellow book bloggers and I recommend? These books made us happy and we’re excited to share them with you.

From Jen of Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Talk by Michael Smerconish (Cider Mill Press, May 6)

talkTalk is a political satire featuring Stan Powers, a conservative radio talk show host. Stan takes an extremist voice on air but doesn’t believe in what he promotes. He knows that taking on this persona will make him wealthy and lead to national syndication; he’s willing to shun his own beliefs for success. It isn’t until a bizarre chain of events leads to a shake-up in the presidential election, a shake-up that positions Stan—the conservative voice of the I-4 Corridor in Florida—to have more power than he ever imagined possible. His chance for national syndication is in his grasp if he’s willing to play dirty with the political big boys.

Stan aside, Talk has a moderate voice. Smerconish satirizes the entire US political system, its opposition to compromise, and the absurd power the modern media has over the system. Talk is at once humorous and terrifyingly bleak. It’s eye-opening, logical, and a definite must-read for any American, especially those who feel their votes don’t matter. This is the most powerful book I’ve read this year.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Bellweather Rhapsody (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 13)

bellweather rhapsodyKate Racculia’s sophomore novel is a clever murder mystery masquerading as a coming-of-age tale. Alice and Betram “Rabbit” Hatmaker are musically talented twins—Alice is a gifted singer and Rabbit is an equally talented bassoonist. They are competing at a prestigious music festival at a formerly prestigious hotel. Fifteen years earlier, there was a gruesome murder-suicide in Room 712. This happens to be the room Alice is assigned. Let the tale of music, murder, and haunting begin.

Bellweather Rhapsody is easily the most delightful novel I’ve read this year. While murder-suicide, angst-ridden melodramatic teenagers, and ghosts may sound a bit dark, Racculia’s dry wit and wonderful characters make this book—a cross between The Shining (the book) and Camp (the movie)—a must read. You needn’t have been a band geek to enjoy, although (confession!) I was.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Florinda at The 3 R’s Blog:

The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Simon & Schuster, May 13)

possibilitiesHemmings’s second novel strongly resembles her first, The Descendants, but relocated from Hawaii to Colorado, and this is not a bad thing at all. Told from the perspective of Sarah, a single mother who recently lost her 22-year-old son in an accident but is still being surprised by him, Hemmings’s exploration of family, grief, and moving on is filled with character interactions and dialogue that feel true to prickly, complicated life. Sarah’s life has taken a turn every parent fears; while her situation is less than appealing, her struggles with it are relatable and engagingly messy.

Amazon | IndieBound

From PCN:

The Three by Sarah Lotz (Little, Brown, May 20)

the threeOne day, four different planes crash in different parts of the world, and the world goes insane with conspiracy theories. The frenzy only intensifies when investigators discover three survivors, all children, who start behaving oddly. This novel is presented as a nonfiction book written by a journalist named Elspeth Martins, who tries to sift through the hysteria and present the facts so readers can come to their own conclusions about what happened. The Three defies categorization, with its sci-fi, mystery, horror, and epistolary elements, and in the wake of the still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it coincidentally and eerily evokes current events. (I’ll have a full review of this and an interview with Sarah later this month in Shelf Awareness for Readers.)

Amazon | IndieBound

Which of these look good to you? What are you looking forward to reading this month? (Check out past Nerdy recommendations here.)


Book Review: CASEBOOK by Mona Simpson

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

casebookAt the beginning of Casebook, from PEN/Faulkner Award nominee Mona Simpson (Off Keck Road), teenage narrator Miles Adler-Hart and his twin sisters are told their parents are divorcing. The separation isn’t as bad he’d feared, as the adults have remained amicable. The kids and their mother’s lives start to really change, however, when Irene begins dating an elusive man named Eli Lee.

Eli claims to work for the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC, but travels regularly to see Irene in Santa Monica, Calif. Eli showers her with sweet talk and, as Miles notes with dismay, orders red-pepper flakes for her in restaurants. Miles wants his mother to order for herself. He and his best friend, Hector, suspect Eli is not as he seems, and the boys decide to do some snooping, including listening in on her phone calls. Their amateur tactics don’t get enough results, so they eventually hire a sympathetic private investigator, Ben, and discover things about Eli they wish they could unlearn.

It’s a bit precious for Miles to call his mother “the Mims” and his twin sisters “the Boops,” and Sherlock Holmes fans might be further distracted by the mother’s full name being Irene Adler, but Simpson’s coming-of-age tale is otherwise striking for its restraint, effectively conveying a sense of heartbreak. Miles observes that Eli’s life story is sad, but “in a way that had no poignancy.” Casebook itself is poignant, showing that pain can transform us, and sometimes we have to go through it to find what we need when we least expect it.

Nerd verdict: Case of heartache and healing, told with restraint

Amazon | IndieBound