Monthly Archives

June 2015

Movie Review: INSIDE OUT

I’m going to start this review by saying if you haven’t seen Inside Out and have any reservations about seeing it, thinking it’s only for kids or girls or whatever, just throw those doubts out the window. This is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.

The best way to experience it is without knowing too much about the plot so I’ll be very brief: The movie is a trip inside the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley who’s trying to adapt to a major life change. Her emotions are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger, who take turns at a control board to guide Riley through life.

The voice cast is terrific, with Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith being standouts as the dominant and seemingly at-odds Joy and Sadness. You’d think a character named Sadness would be a downer, but Smith, best known as Phyllis in the American The Office, made me laugh as much as she moved me. And the little blue character representing this emotion is adorable, reminding us Sadness is not always scary and sometimes is exactly who we need to sit beside us.

As with Riley, Joy and Sadness were my primary emotions during Inside Out. I laughed often and hard, and cried just as hard. Pete Docter and his codirector/cowriter Ronaldo Del Carmen have created a confection that looks like a dream but is firmly rooted in reality. Its psychological insight on childhood, parenthood, marriage, and life in general is spot-on and depicted in beautifully subtle ways. Repeated viewings are encouraged to catch all the smart jokes and little nuggets of wisdom. When the Oscar nominations come around next year, Inside Out deserves a place among the best-picture nominees, not only relegated to the animated-feature category.

Docter also had a hand in writing and/or directing Up, Wall*E, and the Toy Story movies, the best in the Pixar canon. From now on, when I see his name on a movie, I won’t pass Go or collect $200 and will just head straight to the theater.

Nerd verdict: Moving and beautiful Inside Out

Image: Walt Disney Pictures


Book Review: DISCLAIMER by Renée Knight

disclaimerImagine reading a thriller and suddenly realizing the much-hated main character is you. And the disclaimer about resemblances to real people being coincidental has been crossed out. This is the premise of first-time novelist Renée Knight’s Disclaimer.

Catherine Ravenscroft, a documentary filmmaker in London, finds a book on her nightstand one evening and starts reading it. With horror, she recognizes the story is about her and something that happened 20 years ago, a terrible incident no one—including her husband—is supposed to know about.

Catherine doesn’t recall buying the book or how it ended up on her nightstand. It’s published under a pseudonym by Rhamnousia, a self-publishing entity named for the goddess of revenge. As Catherine investigates the book’s origins and author, her dark secret threatens to surface and shatter her family and life.

Disclaimer alternates between Catherine’s point of view, written in third person, and the first-person point of view of the man who’s tormenting her with the book. This creates an unsettling experience, as if readers are asked to side with the person who stalks Catherine and wreaks havoc on her. It also keeps Catherine mysterious, making it unclear why she doesn’t work harder to defend herself.

But Knight’s technique pays off, and the ending delivers more than one emotional wallop. Readers’ feelings about each character will likely be upended as they’re reminded that sometimes people commit atrocious acts out of love, and those who behave abhorrently can also be honorable.

This originally appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission. Disclaimer also made the May Nerdy Special List.


Guest Book Review: PARADISE SKY by Joe R. Lansdale

When a copy of this novel first appeared on my doorstep, Mr. PCN, being a big Joe R. Lansdale fan, immediately snatched it up and claimed it for himself. After he tore through it in about two blinks, he submitted the following review. This title also made the Nerdy Special List for June—PCN

paradise skyJoe R. Lansdale’s latest novel Paradise Sky is witty, outlandish, and full of adventure. Fans of his previous books such as The Thicket, Edge of Dark Water, and A Fine Dark Line will recognize the familiar narrative framing device, as well as the usual references to the Sabine River and the fickleness of East Texas weather. Lansdale, however, deftly manages to escape being formulaic in Sky.

Not long after the Civil War, twenty-year-old Willie (aka Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick, a character first referenced in A Fine Dark Line) is sent on an errand by his Pa from their farm in rural Texas to town for supplies. It’s a long walk on a hot day, young Willie’s mind wanders, and his eyes absentmindedly alight on a woman’s bottom while she’s bent over doing laundry—just as her husband’s eyes catch Willie looking.

It’s a defining moment in the story because the couple is white, Willie is African American, and Texas has yet to embrace the notion that former slaves are now free and equal, as opposed to animals that can be killed for little or no reason. This incident begins a world of trouble and the odyssey of a young man toward wisdom. Along the way, Willie strikes up a friendship with Wild Bill Hickok, sleeps with four Asian women (one with a wooden leg), joins the army, wins a shooting contest, and even eats a dead guy.

Among my favorite passages:

I ain’t no great judge of poems, though Mr. Loving had me read a considerable number of them, but I can tell you these were so bad they hurt my feelings. I threw the book away and had an urge to bury it lest a coyote come across it, read a few lines, and get sick.

The buildings was thrown up willy-nilly along the sides of the street, as if some drunk had been given lumber, hammer, and nails and told to go at it. A few buildings had seen paint at one time or another; some rambled nearly into the street, as if they was trying to slink across it and into the hills and return to timber.

This novel is great storytelling as it ought to be, and readers should reach for the Sky.

Amazon | IndieBound


Meeting a Childhood Idol

When I was a kid, my role models were four pop-culture icons: Princess Leia, Jaime Sommers (The Bionic Woman), Wonder Woman, and Laura Holt from Remington Steele. I don’t think it’s hard to see why—they’re all smart, strong women, often smarter than their male counterparts, especially in the case of Laura Holt, who was the brains behind the fake detective played by Pierce Brosnan.

Years ago, I got to meet Carrie Fisher. I cried, because there was no way I could’ve conveyed in words how much the Star Wars movies meant to me as a child. The experience was surreal and mind-blowing and full of joy.

This past weekend I got to meet another of my longtime idols. It started when my very talented friend Eileen Galindo posted on Facebook that she was doing a stage reading of Nora & Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore, adapted from Ilene Beckerman’s bookAmong her castmates: Stephanie Zimbalist. Laura Holt herself.

IMG_2059The reading was one weekend only. I scrambled for tickets and Mr. PCN and I drove to the Laguna Playhouse on Saturday. I even wore my Holt-ish hat.

I looked at this trip as going to support Eileen, with no expectations I’d get to meet Ms. Zimbalist. I’m no good at walking up to famous people and telling them I used to idolize them. I mean, I recently stood about twenty feet away from Harrison Ford and didn’t say a word to him.

The reading was funny and poignant, and afterward Mr. PCN and I waited in the lobby for Eileen. She came out, we shared hugs and congratulations.

Then, because Mr. PCN (unbeknownst to me) had told Eileen ahead of time about my rabid Laura Holt fandom, she said, “Wait right here. I’ll get Stephanie for you.”



Before I could compose myself, Stephanie walked out, shook my hand, was as nice and gracious as can be, and I started getting that verklempt feeling.

Since the stage reading had been about fashion and the clothing we wear during significant moments of our lives, I told her that in college, while some of my friends were dressing like Madonna with their underwear as outerwear, I liked hats and classic clothes and pencil skirts because of Laura Holt. Her style was timeless, and while I’m not sure I have any fashion sense, to this day I shy away from trends and stick with items I can wear for years. Stephanie said she still has the hats and suits, and that they were her idea.

I didn’t want to take up too much of her time because she needed to rest up for another performance that evening, so I just asked for a photo and thanked her.

I didn’t tell her how much seeing her play a smart, independent woman on TV meant to me, how I admired Laura for being her own boss and teaching her male partner the tricks of the trade, not the other way around. How Laura inspired me to briefly work for a detective agency in L.A.


This is my keep-calm-and-don’t-freak-out face

To Stephanie, I was just another fan. But to me, it was a special afternoon.

Now I just have to find out where Lynda Carter and Lindsay Wagner hang out.

Any other Remington Steele fans here? Who have you always wanted to meet? What would you say to them?


Nerdy Special List June 2015

Summer starts in June, so I’m looking forward to more time for pleasure reading. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m self-employed and make myself work every day.

But for those who do get to take summer vacations, here are the June releases my blogger pals and I recommend. I’m giving away one of these books. Read on to find out more.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books, June 16)

Fredrik Backman’s follow-up to his amazing debut, A Man Called Ove, proves he is the real deal when it comes to writing superb novels. My Grandmother incorporates his hiccup-triggering humor, heartwarming compassion, splendidly quirky and complex characters as well as universal themes about the beauty of life and the pain of loss.

Elsa, a precocious seven-year-old who doesn’t really fit in with other kids her age, finds joy in the fantasy world of the “Land of Almost-Awake” with her grandmother. But when her grandmother dies of cancer, the lonely, grieving girl finds herself on the most monumental adventure ever, contrived by her grandmother before she dies. The life lessons Elsa’s grandmother bequeaths her through the exploits of the scavenger hunt are relevant to children 7 or 70.

Backman’s language is breathtaking, creating art with metaphors. And dialogue is splendidly natural and authentic, evoking a rainbow of emotions that mirror the characters’. The layers of the plot and levels of symbolism make this a keeper of a book to read and reread, and walk away with something extraordinary and new every time.

A Force for Good by Daniel Goleman (Bantam, June 23)

Daniel Goleman, a longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, outlines the Tibetan monk’s inspiring vision for changing the world with genuine compassion. A Force for Good is not a religious book; it’s a plan for humanity that incorporates science, economics, education, and more. Goleman shares experiences the Dalai Lama has had as well as evidence and anecdotes from others, all supporting his platform of compassion over greed, violence, and fear.

Many books of this ilk create inspiration but leave their readers wondering what they can do. A Force for Good offers ideas that every individual can work with and build on, ranging from things that help the environment to things that help the less fortunate. Good is a long-range, global plan from a brilliant futuristic thinker, so this is a book that can be of value to any human living on Earth. When you’re ready for a jolt of optimism, pick up this book.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland Books, June 16)

paradise skyDespite his life being glamorized throughout dime novels, Deadwood Dick needs to set the record straight—including how he got his name, how he saved Wild Bill Hickok, and how his life changed by looking up at exactly the wrong time.

Willie Jackson was born in East Texas and spent his childhood in slavery. The war between the states changed that, but not enough to make survival easy. Caught looking at a white woman’s backside, Willie inadvertently steals what may be the slowest horse in East Texas to escape said woman’s furious husband. Escape he does, barely, but his father and farm do not.

From there, Willie is kindly taken in, nearly caught again, and then begins a new life as Nat Love, and then eventually Deadwood Dick. Joe R. Lansdale truly is a master storyteller and Paradise Sky is no exception. It’s delightful, funny, and full of the best tall tales. I would highly recommend adding this to your summer reading list.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller (Crown, June 2)

freedoms childJax Miller’s impressive debut is a hard and fast cross-country trip through a family tree full of violence, betrayal, and vengeance. Freedom Oliver has been in witness protection for 18 years when she finds out her daughter, Rebekah, is missing. Freedom gave birth to Rebekah during her two years in prison for killing her husband, and never saw Rebekah again. Throwing a wrench in the works is brother-in-law Matthew Delaney’s release from prison after 18 years, where he was doing time once Freedom turned the tables and implicated him in brother Mark’s murder.

Not sold yet? Throw in three more Delaney brothers; their 600-pound, coke-dealing matriarch, Lynn; Rebekah’s brother (and Freedom’s son) Mason; and Mason and Rebekah’s adoptive parents, who run the church from which Mason was shunned and Rebekah might have been trying to escape. The Delaneys are out for blood, Freedom and Mason (who also haven’t seen each other for 18 years) want to find Rebekah, and all paths are bound to meet up at a bloody intersection. Fast and lean with few missteps, Miller’s debut is a gritty but worthwhile ride.

From PCN:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (Crown, June 23)

little paris bookshopJean Perdu runs a Parisian bookstore called Literary Apothecary. What makes it different is that it’s on a barge moored on the Seine, and Jean doesn’t just sell books, he prescribes them. He can read customers’ emotional needs and give them the best book(s) to make them feel better.

The irony is that he doesn’t have the same insight about himself, and has spent the last 21 years emotionally blocked due to heartbreak from a failed love affair. He unmoors the barge one day and, along with a famous novelist experiencing writer’s block, goes on a journey to find himself.

The novel makes charming and witty observations about books, how they’re not merely a “balm for the soul” but “freedom on wings of paper.” Mentions of good food also abound, and George provides recipes at the end of the book, as well as “prescriptions” for readers, e.g. Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April being recommended “for indecision,” with side effects including “falling in love with Italy.” Bookshop is a prescription for those looking to escape to France and vicariously indulge in books and fine dining.


As promised, one of these books is up for grabs. I’ll try to make it a regular feature—giving away one of the recs on the NSL every month.

This month’s prize, thanks to Atria Books, is My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. To enter, leave a comment telling me something your grandmother has told you. Fanciful lies are accepted.

Giveaway ends next Friday, June 12, 9 p.m. PST. US addresses only, please. A randomly chosen winner will have 48 hours after notification to claim prize before an alternate winner is selected.


May 2015 Pop Culture Consumption

While I didn’t review everything I read and watched last month, I consumed a lot of pop culture. Much of it was unexceptional, but there were a couple of gems. I’ll write more about some of these in the coming weeks, but below are my lists and quick notes on the best in each category.

Books read:

  1. little black liesStay by Victor Gischler
  2. Day Four by Sarah Lotz
  3. The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango
  4. Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton
  5. How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz
  6. Invasion of Privacy by Christopher Reich
  7. Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories from Mystery Writers of America edited by Mary Higgins Clark
  8. What Doesn’t Kill Her by Carla Norton
  9. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

My favorites were Black Lies and Fire. Lies broke me out of a bad reading slump, and Fire shows that Lutz’s writing gets deeper and more complex with each book.

Movies seen:

  1. age of adalineAvengers: Age of Ultron with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, et al.
  2. The Age of Adaline with Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford
  3. Pitch Perfect 2 with Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld
  4. Welcome to Me with Kristin Wiig, Linda Cardellini, Wes Bentley
  5. Survivor with Pierce Brosnan, Milla Jovovich, Dylan McDermott

By far the best of this bunch was Adaline. Lively is luminous as a woman born in 1906 who has a freak accident in her 20s that arrests her aging process. Though this would seemingly be a dream come true for many Hollywood actresses, Lively imbues Adaline with melancholia and loneliness as she constantly has to leave loved ones behind. Adaline moves through more than a century in the course of this movie, but the actress’s mannerisms, speech, and classic beauty make her believable as someone who’s timeless.

Movie shot:

  1. The Waiting with James Caan. I play a small part.

TV shows binge-watched:

  1. schumerHappy Valley with Sarah Lancashire, James Norton
  2. Inside Amy Schumer with Amy Schumer
  3. Grace and Frankie with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin

I do recommend Happy Valley, a BBC show about a tough female cop tracking a gang of drug dealers/kidnappers, but the top spot here goes to Amy Schumer’s show.

The razor-sharp comic just won a Peabody and you can see why by watching her show, in which she tackles topics such as rape in the military and the media’s objectification of women but makes you laugh while she’s making her point. I don’t use this adjective often but will apply it here—Schumer’s comedy is brilliant.

Have you seen/read any of these? What did you think?