Monthly Archives

July 2014

Movie Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy

Disclosure one: I went into the Guardians of the Galaxy screening a few weeks ago knowing nothing about it, other than that it has a weird group of characters at its center and a bunch of name actors are in it, either on camera or as voice talent.

Disclosure two: I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the movie, even if I didn’t understand some of the finer details.

The plot, which seems almost beside the point, involves Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a treasure hunter who obtains a mysterious orb that everyone in the galaxy seems to want. It brings him into the orbit of Zamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned badass; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), an angry, genetically altered raccoon; Rocket’s buddy, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a talking tree with a limited vocabulary; and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a man hell bent on revenge. They form a tentative bond to stop a bad guy named Ronan (Lee Pace) from doing more bad things.

Guardians has something for everyone: humor, action, special effects, and most importantly, good actors. Pratt is nimble with his zingers and a likable anchor, though he still seems too generic for me, his screen presence not quite remarkable enough to put him into the same category of movie star as, say, Ryan Gosling or Robert Downey Jr.

Saldana is solid, but after Avatar and the Star Trek movies, there’s nothing surprising about seeing her in yet another big-budget sci-fi movie.

I was surprised by Cooper’s performance. His voice is unrecognizable—raspy, rapid fire, and with a slight Jersey accent at times. He brings many colors to Rocket and the raccoon stole the movie.

Oh, and how can I not mention the soundtrack of ’70s and ’80s hits? I cannot hear 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” or Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” now without thinking of specific scenes. What clever use of music.

So far this summer, I’ve been subjected to some mind-numbing blockbusters, but Guardians is something that won’t have you begging for mercy (*cough* Transformers *cough*) before the movie’s over.

Nerd verdict: Fun ride through Galaxy

Photo: Marvel Studios

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Book Review: BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

big little liesWhen you’ve loved doing something your whole life and that thing stops giving you pleasure, you can be thrown into an existential crisis. This is what happened to me with reading.

For 2-3 months recently, I couldn’t find a book that enthralled me, that pulled me into its world and made me fall in love with it. I started to wonder whether or not I needed to find another hobby (gasp!), because I just couldn’t bear the repeated disappointment.

And then I read Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which swooped in to save the day.

The author of The Husband’s Secret has done it again. Lies is another multi-layered story of characters in difficult situations, faced with only hard and harder choices.

The central trio of women consists of Madeline, who might be losing her 14-year-old daughter to the ex-husband and his new wife; Celeste, whose seemingly perfect marriage to a dream man contains a painful secret; and Jane, a single mom whose 5-year-old son becomes ostracized (as is Jane by proxy) after an incident at his school during orientation.

The book begins with the revelation that someone gets killed during the school trivia night. Then the story goes back six months, showing how the women met and befriended each other. Excerpts from interviews with town denizens are inserted throughout as a kind of Greek chorus. The action eventually leads up to the disastrous trivia night, finally revealing the victim’s identity.

It’s not just that mystery, though, that held my attention. The three lead characters are well drawn and sympathetic, people capable of doing unwise things but who can also be breathtakingly kind and fiercely loyal. Nobody is one thing in Moriarty’s world—not all good, not all bad, only all too human.

The story is heartwrenching and disturbing at times, but also contains plenty of humor, courtesy of the PTA moms jockeying for position. Moriarty’s observations are sharp and her prose hums along with nary a false word. The 460 pages flew by for me within a 24-hour period, because this book is captivating and that’s no lie.

Nerd verdict: Big entertaining book

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Book Review & Giveaway: ONE PLUS ONE by Jojo Moyes

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

one plus oneBritish novelist Jojo Moyes (Me Before You) examines the different shapes of families and the widening gap between rich people and those who toe the poverty line in One Plus One.

Jess is a single mom and house cleaner for Ed, a tech whiz with his own company and two homes and cars. Suspended from his job while he awaits possible prosecution for insider trading, Ed decides to drive Jess, her two kids and “cow-sized” dog from England to Scotland so Jess’s daughter can participate in the Math Olympiad. Tanzie is a 10-year-old math prodigy and if she wins the competition, the prize money would enable her to attend a top private school.

Due to Tanzie’s carsickness, Ed has to drive below 40 mph, so the road trip takes several days and includes many mishaps. But the group starts developing deep feelings for one another, and their lives change in a variety of ways.

One Plus One contains a recurring element from Moyes’s previous three novels published in the US: a spirited woman with little money (or assets that actually belong to her spouse) meets a rich, successful, or powerful man and ends up thawing his cynical heart. While it’s admirable that Moyes gives voice to the have-nots, it’d be a nice departure for her next book to feature a female lead who doesn’t need a man to provide or buy anything for her. That said, Moyes’s characters are always multifaceted and sympathetic, and her plotlines unpredictable. One Plus One will induce chuckles and tears.

Nerd verdict: Affecting One

I’m giving away a copy of this book, courtesy of Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. To enter, leave a comment answering the question: Which fictional character(s) would you like to accompany you on a road trip?

Giveaway ends next Thursday, July 24, 9 p.m. PST. US addresses only. Winner will be randomly chosen and have 48 hours after notification to claim prize before an alternate winner is chosen.

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Book Review: LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell

landlineTV writer Georgie McCool finally gets a shot at writing her dream show. The problem: She needs to stay in L.A. and work on it over Christmas. Georgie’s husband Neal decides to take their young daughters, as planned, to Omaha, Nebraska, to be with his mother for the holiday. He then promptly stops answering Georgie’s calls to his cell phone, leading Georgie to fear her marriage is in big trouble.

While she’s at her mom’s house and the battery in her cell dies, Georgie finds her old yellow landline phone. She calls Neal on it and slowly realizes the phone is a line to her past—1998, to be exact, during the Christmas break when Neal proposed to her. Can she use the landline to make Neal fall in love with her all over again, or should she make sure he doesn’t marry her, knowing how unhappy he is in the present day?

Rowell’s writing is engaging enough, but I wasn’t sure I wanted Georgie and Neal to resolve their issues because they seem ill-suited for each other. Neal has been aimless his whole life. He knows what he doesn’t want, but Georgie points out he doesn’t know what he does want. So he usually just negates Georgie’s ideas without offering workable compromises.

He seems to resent her for working, but he chose to be a stay-at-home dad because he couldn’t decide on a choice of career. And he knew all about Georgie’s ambitions before they married. I have a feeling Neal will continue to be unhappy with Georgie’s demanding career if he stays.

Rowell also has the habit of overusing parentheses, sometimes three sets in a row, sometimes encasing whole paragraphs in parentheses. Parenthetical information is digressive information so this means there were many digressions from the story, which was distracting. Some of the info is arguably integral, in which case parentheses shouldn’t have been used.

But Rowell is adept at writing dialogue; her characters speak in stops and starts and interrupt each other and use real-world colloquialisms. She keeps the pace brisk, and the magic-phone concept did make me ponder who I would call from my past and what conversations—if any—I would change.

Nerd verdict: Landline doesn’t quite connect

Amazon | IndieBound

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Giveaway: THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness

book of lifeOn the July Nerdy Special List posted last week, one of the recommendations was Deborah Harkness’s The Book of Life, the finale to her Book of Souls trilogyI now have a giveaway of that book (out July 15), plus holographic buttons and a commonplace book that was featured in Shadow of Night.

Here’s the Book of Life synopsis from the author’s website:

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

The commonplace book includes never-before-seen content such as spells, recipes, astrology, as well as blank pages for you to write your own notes and journal entries. Below is a peek inside. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Enter to win a prize package containing The Book of Life, holographic buttons, and commonplace book by leaving a comment answering this question: If you were to explore your lineage, what deep, dark secrets do you think you’d discover about your ancestors? As usual, lies and imagination are accepted and encouraged.

Giveaway ends next Tuesday, July 15, 9 p.m. PST. US addresses only. Winners will have 48 hours after notification to claim prizes before alternate winners are chosen.

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Nerdy Special List July 2014

nerdyspecialfinalHappy short week! Since you have an extra day off from work, you’ll need to load up on reading materials, right?

For the first time in almost two years since I’ve been running these lists, I don’t have a recommendation. I read eight July releases but none was special enough for me to include here. Picture me sprawled across the sofa with my head thrown back and one arm flung toward the floor, groaning.

Luckily, my contributors had a better time and came through with the following recommendations for you. This month, I’m excited to welcome a new blogger, Erin Mitchell. Erin is a voracious reader who’s well known to almost everyone within the crime-fiction community. Full disclosure: She also runs a firm called HEW PR and some of her clients are authors, but her contributions to this list will reflect her personal tastes and be separate from work. In other words, she won’t just be pushing her clients’ books here. You can always check who her clients are on her site.

Now, on with the program.

From Jen of Jen’s Book Thoughts:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Atria, July 15)

man-called-oveIt seems more than great crime novels are coming out of the Scandinavian countries these days. Fredrik Backman’s debut work is a charming love story wrapped up in a curmudgeonly old man called Ove. He values order and routine. He’s a proud Swede and only drives a Saab. He loves his work and worships his wife. So when Ove’s wife, Sonja, succumbs to cancer and he’s downsized from his job, he sees no reason to continue living. He carefully plans his exit from the world, only the world has other plans for him.

Backman has created a colorful cast to populate his universal tale of relevance. From a very pregnant Middle Eastern woman with a ridiculously clumsy husband to a stray cat with missing patches of fur, they are authentic and engaging. Delightfully funny, soul-touchingly beautiful, and exquisitely written, A Man Called Ove is a heartwarming reminder of the importance of community and the strength of love.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (Viking Adult, July 15)

book of lifeIn the wrap-up to the All Souls Trilogy, Deborah Harkness gives us the thrilling The Book of Life. After returning to present day at the end of Shadow of Night, Diana and Matthew struggle to understand her pregnancy—her, through the missing pages of Ashmole 782, and Matthew, through research. The star-crossed pair face a variety of threats, from both family and rivals trying to keep them apart as they continue their search for answers.

This is a fabulous ending to a wonderful trilogy. While A Discovery of Witches will always remain my favorite, this is a worthy conclusion to a trilogy that seems to effortlessly weave magic, history, science, geography, and romance. [Ed. note: I’ll have a giveaway of this book in the next week or so.]

Amazon | IndieBound

From Florinda of The 3 R’s Blog:

Arts & Entertainments: A Novel by Christopher Beha (Ecco Press, July 1)
arts & entertainment coverWhen failed actor turned private-school drama teacher Eddie Hartley sells a sex video he made with his ex-girlfriend, TV and tabloid superstar Martha Martin, to an Internet entrepreneur, he’s not thinking about any consequences other than funding his and and his wife’s efforts to have a baby. He certainly never imagines his action would lead to a high-risk pregnancy played out on social media and reality TV, or that his role of a lifetime will be an edited-for-broadcast version of himself.
Arts and Entertainments is both artful and entertaining, and it’s also a thoughtful examination of how we shape our own stories. Beha’s observations of crafted, carefully produced versions of private lives becoming public property resonate in a time when it sometimes feels like a life unexamined by other people isn’t a life worth living.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Erin at In Real Life:

The Competition by Marcia Clark (Little, Brown; July 8)

competitionL.A. Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight and LAPD detective Bailey Keller’s fourth outing starts with a bang…or rather, a bunch of them, each a shot from a student’s gun. (Important note: The first couple of scenes are extremely graphic. In a world where we, sadly, have become accustomed to school shootings, the violence in these scenes still jumps off the page.) Rachel and Bailey quickly learn that nothing about this shooting is what it seems, and they follow clue after clue down a tortuous road, with each development threatening their safety and, often, their sanity.

Like her previous three novels featuring Rachel and Bailey, Marcia Clark tells a character-driven story, and with this one, she has truly found her stride. Rachel and Bailey—and those around them—seem more mature, and Clark’s storytelling has the feel of someone who’s been doing this for a long time. Of course, considering that in her former career she also told stories—albeit to juries rather than readers—she has. If you like your stories smart, shocking, and thought-provoking, you’ll enjoy The Competition.

Amazon | IndieBound

I love the diversity in this list and hope at least one of the books piques your interest. Which releases are you looking forward to this month? (View past Nerdy Special Lists here.)

Have a safe and fun Fourth of July!

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