Monthly Archives

September 2015

TV Review: BLINDSPOT

Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

I’m not sure why I get excited every fall about new TV shows, especially since many turn out to be mediocre or unwatchable. But maybe because I’ve been so beaten down by the last TV season, I’m always optimistic that this is the season we’ll get some groundbreaking shows. A girl can hope, right?

One of the shows that looked most intriguing to me was NBC’s Blindspot, premiering tonight, starring Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton. She plays a woman with no memory, completely naked and covered in tattoos, found in a duffel bag abandoned in Times Square. He plays the FBI agent whose name, Kurt Weller, is one of her tattoos.

Jane Doe, as the mysterious woman is called, undergoes an invasive process in which all her tattoos are photographed and studied by people trying to decipher them. Jane realizes one is Chinese (and that she speaks Chinese!), a clue to something very bad that a Chinese person is about to do to NYC. She and Agent Weller set out to stop this bad thing.

And that seems to be the setup for this show: each week, Jane and Weller will focus on a different tattoo and find that it points to something they should investigate. Meanwhile, Jane will also try to discover who she was before her memory was erased.

Alexander, probably best known for the Thor movies, is a striking—sometimes literally—presence, with her green eyes and dark hair and almost Amazonian figure, so she has the proper physicality for the fight scenes, if not the grace (see: Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation). For now, though, she has a hard job trying to give Jane some emotional depth. How do you provide layers for a character who’s a blank slate?

Like in his previous series Strike Back, the Aussie Stapleton is once again playing an American law enforcement character, though Agent Weller is a more straight-laced version of Sgt. Damien Scott. While it’s good to see that the actor gets to keep his clothes on here, Weller is missing Scott’s roguish charm and devil-may-care attitude. Here’s hoping he’ll loosen up a little as Blindspot progresses.

Since pilots are full of exposition, it usually takes several episodes to get an idea of how strong a series will be. I think Blindspot deserves a second look, to see what else the creators pull out of the bag.

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Book Review: FURIOUSLY HAPPY by Jenny Lawson

furiously happyJenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, follows up her popular memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, with Furiously Happy, another book of essays about incidents that sound too wacky to be true, but which longtime fans of her writing will recognize as everyday occurrences in her life.

This time around, Lawson also delves into the topic of mental illness, which she struggles with, having suffered depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and a “terrible boxed set” of other disorders and phobias. For those who don’t understand, Lawson explains succinctly: “Depression is like…when you don’t want cheese anymore. Even though it’s cheese.”

Several years ago, when she’d had enough of the disease, she embarked on a mission to be furiously happy, and started a trending hashtag and movement of people who wanted to take their lives back from depression.

Despite the serious subject matter, Lawson’s sense of humor remains intact. Readers will likely shake with laughter at her escapades, such as encountering inept ninjas trying to break into her hotel room in Japan, receiving the skins of three dead cats in the mail, being chased by killer swans, and her cats stealing her voodoo vagina.

But the stories are most effective when Lawson reveals her most vulnerable self, the one full of fear and feeling that her brain is trying to kill her. In “It Might Be Easier. But It Wouldn’t Be Better,” she notes that openly discussing her intense suffering has encouraged others to say, “Me too,” and that 24 people stopped planning their own suicides when they read the comments on her blog posts. Lawson keeps their letters to her in a folder, and while on tour for her previous book, many fans approached her to say they’re number 25.

In the piece entitled “Pretend You’re Good at It,” Lawson tells about one night in New York City when she can’t sleep, is gripped by an anxiety attack, and her foot is bleeding badly from the combination of cold weather and rheumatoid arthritis. When she looks out a window and sees falling snow, she decides to takes a walk in her bare feet and experiences a sense of calm.

On the way back, she notices her footprints: “One side was glistening, small and white. The other was misshapen from my limp and each heel was pooled with spots of bright red blood. It struck me as a metaphor for my life. One side light and magical…. The other side bloodied, stumbling…. It was my life, there in white and red. And I was grateful for it.” It could also be a description for this book—half light and humorous, half dark and raw. And fans will be grateful for it.

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

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Book Review: HOSTAGE TAKER by Stefanie Pintoff

hostage takerDays before Christmas, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is seized by a hostage taker who threatens to kill the captives and blow up the landmark if certain demands aren’t met. The first demand: negotiations must be handled by Eve Rossi, an FBI agent who heads up a division made up of ex-cons.

The hostage taker wants Eve and her team to bring five specific people—who have no obvious links to each other—to the scene to witness an event the perpetrator has planned. The task must be completed within hours or the church and everyone inside will be lit up, but not by Christmas lights.

In Hostage Taker, her first contemporary thriller, Edgar Award-winner Stefanie Pintoff (In the Shadow of Gotham) pulls out the big guns, literally and figuratively, by taking aim at one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks. Though several characters lean toward stereotypes (one of the five witnesses is an actress who behaves in a self-centered, spotlight-grabbing way), and the narrative occasionally states the obvious (“she saw the telltale red marks on his wrist. The sign of having been recently bound”), the suspense level is high as Eve and her unit race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe.

Eve’s tactics offer an interesting glimpse into how a negotiator must walk the thin edge between placating and outwitting her opponent. And the hostage taker’s motivation resonates, giving dimension to a character who, despite committing dastardly deeds, may not be completely heartless.

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

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Nerdy Special List September 2015

Happy September! Even though fall in L.A. looks the same as summer, I always welcome it because it’s a good season for books and marks the start of TV and movie awards season. From now until the end of the year, lots of noteworthy titles will be released, including what my blogger pals and I recommend for this month.

I’m happy to welcome new contributor Patti from Patti’s Pen & Picks. Patti is the Adult Materials Selector for the Collection Development Office of the Pima County Public Library in Tucson. In other words, she knows books.

Here are our September selections.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich (Knopf, Sept. 29)

saving capitalismBefore you skip over this title because it’s *shudder* nonfiction about economics, give me a minute to tell you why this may be the most important book you read this year. Saving Capitalism isn’t about liberals and conservatives, even though Reich is liberal in his political standings. Saving Capitalism is about debunking the myths that continue the financial spiral sending a minute few almost everything and a vast majority little to nothing.

This book explains why the debate of “free market” vs. large government is a fallacy that effectively prevents people from seeing the reality, why meritocracy doesn’t hold water, and why the partisan divide needs to be overcome in order to right the American economy. A capitalist society where over 90% of the people can’t afford to buy in cannot sustain itself. Both Democrats and Republicans are at fault for the current state of affairs, but it can be reversed—and the system can be saved—if we have the facts and work together as a single powerful voice.

While some of the concepts Reich outlines in Saving Capitalism are complicated and complex, he delivers them in a clear, accessible approach with relatable examples and explanations. He offers realistic solutions and sound, experienced advice. Relevant, well researched, and so vitally important, this is a book that shouldn’t be skipped.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 1)

girl waits with gun

If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading Amy Stewart’s nonfiction, you’re missing out. The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants are two of the most charming and hilarious books about plants ever written. I say this as a horticultural librarian, so my range of plant-based literature is actually quite large. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to reading her first novel. I was not disappointed, not even a little.

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and women’s history is often more relevant than we’d like to admit. Those two things combine to make one delightful mystery. Constance Kopp, soon to be thirty-five, is having a more adventurous year than she anticipated. The destruction of her buggy by an automobile sets off a series of increasingly alarming events. Constance and her sisters make quite the trio standing against the bullying, harassment, and threatening behavior of Henry Kaufman, the driver of the car.

Based on the true story of Constance Kopp, Amy Stewart’s witty debut novel is full of charm. Although I imagined it as rather effective deadpan humor, Constance’s pragmatic voice is also one of a woman eschewing the expectations of 1914. The novel is fun and fresh, and Amy Stewart has managed to impress me once again. I highly, highly recommend it.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Scout Press, September 1)family bill clegg

Did You Ever Have a Family will shoot hundreds of tiny arrows into your heart, then take advantage of the breaches to crush it to a pulp. Hands down one of the best books I’ve read this year, Family is a before-and-after story, told from multiple perspectives and time periods, all anchored to an epic tragedy occurring just as the curtain opens on the small resort town of Wells, Connecticut.

A tightly written, continuous rabbit-puncher of a novel, Family is about connections (family and otherwise), burdens, guilt, loss, secrets, misconceptions, judgments, betrayal, love, sacrifice, grief, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Clegg manages to give unique voices to more than ten character perspectives in a truly magnificent portrait of sacrifice and loss at their deepest. Get your Kleenex ready. (Read Lauren’s full review here.)

The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray: A Critical Appreciation of the World’s Finest Actor by Robert Schnakenberg (Quirk Books, September 15)

bill murray bookThe Big, Bad Book is really a glorious encyclopedia, right down to the alphabetical format, thick glossy pages, and numerous photographs. It’s a dense, almost square volume that will look great on any coffee table, and is packed with material, which lends itself perfectly to parsing out the goodness an entry—or a letter—at a time.

There is a piece on every movie Murray has been in (and some he missed out or passed on), personal facts and opinions (he has many), history, weird tidbits, quotes, and fantastic stories, some told in Murray’s own words, some by others.

If you’re a fan of Bill Murray, who, if not the best, is certainly the most versatile actor of our time, this book is a must have. It exceeded my expectations even though it was one of my most anticipated books of the year.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (NAL, September 1)

a curious beginningA Curious Beginning is an interesting beginning to a new series. The main character is Veronica Speedwell, a cross between Temperance Brennan (as played in the TV series Bones), and Amelia Peabody, the wonderful character from Elizabeth Peters’s series. Veronica is blunt, occasionally naive, will attempt almost anything, and is a very strong-willed woman supporting herself in the 1880s.

Veronica, an orphan raised by two spinster aunts, is a lepidopterist who travels the world catching a variety of butterflies for clients. She’s visited by a baron who knew her mother and tells Veronica her life is in danger. She accompanies him to London, where his friend Stoker, a natural historian, will protect her. The baron is murdered after Veronica and Stoker meet, and the two take to the road, trying to unravel the murder mystery and why Veronica’s life is in danger.

I really liked how Veronica is always full steam ahead and not afraid to try new things or adventures. I look forward to more books in this series!

From PCN:

make meMake Me by Lee Child (Delacorte Press, September 8)

Jack Reacher is back for his 20th outing, and this one is more unsettling than the series’ recent installments. Reacher finds himself in a small town called Mother’s Rest, and though he starts out wanting to learn only the origin of the name, he ends up entangled in a much deeper, sinister mystery after he meets an FBI-agent-turned-PI named Michelle Chang who’s searching for a missing colleague.

Make Me has the requisite bone-crushing action, and is as entertaining as it is haunting. Reacher takes some hard physical blows in this book, but the series is still going strong.

Which books are you looking forward to this month?

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