Monthly Archives

October 2015

Book Review: THE KILLING KIND by Chris Holm

killing kindHit man Michael Hendricks stares through his rifle’s scope at a man in Miami. Crack. Hendricks’s target is rubbed out. Which makes Hendricks the bad guy, right? Wrong.

Hendricks, the protagonist of Chris Holm’s The Killing Kind, makes his living as a hit man who kills only hit men. As a former US military operative presumed dead after a mission went awry in Afghanistan, he’s specially suited for his work. When he hears a contract has been taken out on someone, he contacts the target and offers his services to remove the threat—but only if the target is someone worth saving.

The Council, an organization of representatives from every crime family in the world, isn’t having it. It hires a hit man named Engelmann to stop Hendricks from messing with the group’s killing plans. Also on Hendricks’s trail is FBI Special Agent Charlotte “Charlie” Thompson, who has a hard time convincing her colleagues that Hendricks even exists. Hendricks is very good at his job, but can he elude his pursuers, who also excel at theirs?

Holm (The Collector Trilogy) is good at his job, too. His prose is lean, his pacing brisk, the suspense high, and his plot unpredictable. He encourages the reader to care about characters that aren’t normally sympathetic, and if they’re not likable, they’re at least amusing. There’s plenty of violence and dark humor, but heart as well, with Hendricks holding a candle for a love he can’t forget. He’s not just the killing kind; he’s also the romantic kind.

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


Movie Review: ROOM

ROOM_web-203x300Prepare to be emotionally shattered by Room, the movie. I walked out of the screening with my face soaked in tears and told the studio rep I couldn’t see straight. But this is a good thing, because it means the movie did right by the book.

In 2010, Emma Donoghue’s novel had the same effect on me (see review here), and I wondered how the story would translate to the screen. Luckily Donoghue adapted her own book, so the result is faithful to the source material, losing none of its power.

As with the book, I think it’s better going in knowing as little as possible, so I’ll be vague and succinct with the synopsis. A 5-year-old boy named Jack lives with his ma in a tiny room and they never go outside. A man called Old Nick brings them Sunday treats. The story is told through the boy’s eyes.

Lest you think that sounds simple and harmless, Room is extremely disturbing and suspenseful at times. My hands started cramping from clutching Mr. PCN’s arm too hard while watching.

The cast is note perfect from top to bottom, but the movie belongs to Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma and Jack. Though Ma puts on a positive face for Jack, Larson’s portrayal makes it clear her character is only a hair’s breath away from complete despair. But if her kid is threatened, she can transform into full Mama Bear.

I can’t say enough about Tremblay’s tremendously complex performance. He nails how Jack is in the book—preternaturally smart but still innocent, and without a whiff of cutesiness. Sometimes he throws tantrums, other times he rips your heart out. There’s a moment when Jack sees the unfiltered sky for the first time, and his expression is everything.

Tremblay’s work made me think of other extraordinary performances from young actors, like 8-year-old Justin Henry’s in Kramer vs. Kramer and 4-year-old Victoire Thivisol’s in Ponette, and I’d put Tremblay’s accomplishment right up there with them. He deserves to be nominated for every award he’s eligible for. As does director Lenny Abrahamson, who found just the right tone for the movie. He doesn’t shy away from the difficult subject matter, but reminds us love can come from tragedy, and there is light on the other side of darkness.

Nerd verdict: Beautiful and deeply moving Room


Guest Post & Giveaway from Author Laura Benedict


Photo: Jay Fram

I’m thrilled to have Laura Benedict here today because she’s one of my favorite people in the crime-fiction community. She’s as nice as can be, entices you with cookies and tea, but when you read her suspense thrillers, you think, “What the Freud? THAT’S SO CREEPY!” And when you tell her that, she laughs gleefully. How could you not love her?

Laura has a new book out October 15 called Charlotte’s Story, which has received a starred Booklist review. It’s a follow-up to 2014’s Bliss House but not quite a sequel. This means the two books share the house as a character and both involve Bliss family members, but they can be read in either order.

Here’s the synopsis of Charlotte’s Story from Laura’s website:

charlottesstoryThe fall of 1957 in southern Virginia was a seemingly idyllic, even prosperous time. A young housewife, Charlotte Bliss, lives with her husband, Hasbrouck Preston “Press” Bliss, and their two young children, Eva Grace and Michael, in the gorgeous Bliss family home.

On the surface, theirs seems a calm, picturesque life, but soon tragedy befalls them: four tragic deaths, with apparently simple explanations.

But nothing is simple if Bliss House is involved. How far will Charlotte go to discover the truth? And how far will she get without knowing who her real enemy is?

Though Bliss House may promise to give its inhabitants what they want, it never gives them exactly what they expect.

I asked Laura what was the creepiest thing she encountered while researching, and she sent along the post below. (Don’t look at the pictures before bedtime.) Not only that, she’s giving away an audiobook version of Bliss House and a groovy set of headphones to one PCN reader!

Read on to learn more.

Growing up, I was pretty certain I’d be a librarian. No one I knew was a writer—and it never occurred to me that I was even allowed to be one. Strange, I know, for someone who practically burst from the womb in love with books. (More on this womb thing in a minute.)

Mostly, I wanted to know things. No, that’s not quite right. Mostly I was bored with real life, and the best way I found to amuse myself was to read about other people and places and the things in those places.

It made sense to me that the place to surround myself with that stuff would be the library, right? (Let’s ignore the fact that I have always found the Dewey Decimal system completely opaque, and I am a scattered researcher, let alone the information-gathering superstar that every librarian is born to be.)

All I can say is, thank God for the Internet. And pictures.

My laptop can’t get on the Internet at our local university library, so it’s a good place for me to get some writing done. (I stick to the non-stacks areas, or my concentration is toast.) But I do a LOT of research on my phone: When did red velvet cake first become popular? What forms of birth control did Victorians use? Did Cadillac El Dorados have air conditioning in the 1950s?

You can imagine the rabbit holes I disappear into every day. But all those details are linked to background and stories, and I find the stories I write deepening as I read. It feels magical sometimes.

There’s a young Japanese girl fluttering at the edges of my Bliss House series. You won’t meet her directly in Charlotte’s Story, but she’ll be a central character in next year’s Bliss House book, The Abandoned Heart. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about mid-19th-century Japan and the Meiji period (1868-1912). It’s the pictures that feed my imagination, though, and lend an authenticity that’s hard to capture in print.

I found a picture of my Japanese character, Kiku, in a set of images featuring apprentice geishas (maiko) posing in studio “seaside” photos. I love her challenging, enigmatic gaze. I also like that she might be about to rip the lobster in half, down the middle. She’s my kind of character: she looks innocent, but there’s something about her that’s unsettling.


flickr collection of Okinawa Soba (Rob)

What’s a young girl to do with herself when she’s not torturing lobsters? (Really, in the novel, she’s very sweet—she doesn’t get scary until later.) The first thing that comes to mind for me is that she would own at least one doll. I was thinking of something like this (though it’s fancy and a tad modern for the cusp of the Meiji period):

japanese doll

Perhaps this one is a little closer (and creepier):

male japanese doll

Neither is really perfect. I have in mind more of a rag doll. Quite homemade. Kiku is from a family of modest means, and the doll is given to her under tense, dangerous circumstances.

But look what I found down the rabbit hole: Anatomically correct Japanese teaching dolls. They’re like the most terrifying bodies ever made for the game Operation.

I know doctors have been taking apart bodies to learn about them for centuries. But there’s something so disturbing about the way the human body is objectified in these dolls. And yet there are all the parts. The fact that some have the same insides that I do unnerves me.

Prior to the 19th century, medical diagnoses—particularly among the upper classes—were made primarily through observation while the patient was fully clothed. In China (and I assume in other parts of Asia, like Japan), women were forbidden from exposing any parts of their bodies to doctors, so they would carry small ivory dolls and point to the affected body part. Beyond diagnosis, models were created and used as teaching tools for doctors because cadavers were often scarce due to moral objections—particularly in the United States.

Anatomical models have been around a long time. I found one photo in Wikipedia of an anatomically correct female doll—jointed—from the 2nd or 3rd century.

Here are a few of the more disturbing models I came across:

terrifying anatomy doll

more terrifying doll

doll with brains

doll with fetus

[Ed. note: OMG, what is happening right now???]

This guy is my favorite:

man doll

If you’re a brave sort of person, and like Pinterest, there are entire collections of images of anatomical models. Be warned. I can’t make this stuff up.

Watch yourself around those rabbit holes. Sometimes you’ll even find an animal or two peeking back at you.

pig parts

OK, can I open my eyes now? Is it over?

Actually, it’s not over, because Laura is giving away an audiobook of Bliss House, along with a snazzy pair of Skullcandy Sport Performance earbuds!

BenedictearbudBHTo enter, leave a comment answering this question: What’s the creepiest thing you’ve ever unearthed on the Internet while looking up something completely unrelated?

One winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim prize before an alternate winner is chosen. Giveaway ends Friday, October 23, 9 p.m. PST. US residents only.

Many, many thanks to Laura for terrifying me this guest post and giveaway. Visit her website to get to know her better, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Nerdy Special List October 2015

Happy October! Have you eaten all the pumpkin spice-flavored things yet? I have some pumpkin-flavored mochi balls calling my name from the refrigerator, so I’d better hurry up with this post.

Here are the book releases this month that my blogger friends and I found noteworthy.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

youdonthavetolikemeYou Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent (Plume, October 20)

Blogger Alida Nugent makes it abundantly clear in her new essay collection that feminism isn’t defined by wearing certain clothes, using certain vocabulary, forgoing certain traditions. What feminism IS defined by is a woman’s right to choose: to choose to take her husband’s name or keep her own, to choose the right to have a career or be a stay-at-home mom, to choose her level of sexual activity.

With a savvy mix of bluntness and humor, she discusses misperceptions about feminism, realities of being female, and why no woman needs to fear the label feminist. She candidly discusses her battle with bulimia, the ludicrous logic of expecting women to be flattered by catcalls, and what needs to be done on both sides of the gender line to help achieve some semblance of equality.

This is an empowering book, both for women and men. It’s also highly entertaining. Share this one with the favorite women in your life!

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Lake House by Kate Morton (Atria Books, October, 20)

9781451649376_p0_v4_s192x300Spanning seventy years in Cornwall, England, The Lake House is both suspenseful and moody. In 1933, Alice Edevane is a clever teenager living on a gorgeous lakeside estate, and while she loves to make up stories, nothing could prepare her for what is about to happen in her own life.

After a large summer party at her home, her brother disappears without a trace. Sending the family down a path they never anticipated, Theo’s disappearance is never solved. Seventy years later, Sadie Sparrow is a detective living in London. While on leave in Cornwall, she discovers the abandoned lake house and begins investigating the crumbling estate.

The lives of Sadie and Alice are about to intertwine in ways neither of them imagined. Despite the novel ending quite tidily, Kate Morton’s latest novel is far from disappointing. It’s a mystery at its core and Morton’s careful plotting keeps the pages turning.

If you’ve read and enjoyed any of her previous novels, you are going to love this one. If you’re new to Kate Morton, this is a good place to start. The Lake House is perfect for October’s crisp autumn nights, so this book may be best enjoyed under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate (or chocolate anything, because chocolate is never a bad idea).

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Dogist: Photographic Encounters with 1,000 Dogs by Elias Weiss Friedman (Artisan, October 20)

dogistAfter being laid off from a major New York agency, Elias Friedman decided to combine the two things he loved most: photography and dogs. The result was a 2013 Instagram feed (@TheDogist) that took off across most social media platforms (1.2 million followers on Instagram; same Twitter handle and Facebook page name).

Elias’ work is brilliantly expressive; it’s mostly close-up work on the streets and truly captures the many different personalities and essences of “dog.”

The collection is put together in entertaining categories too numerous to recount here, but including heavyweights, barkers, sassy, haircuts, head tilts, rare breeds, snow, bionic, tongues, beautiful blends, cones of shame—you get the picture. There’s something for everyone and I guarantee you’ll see more than one thing you’ve never seen before.

Elias has been doing the work long and steadily enough that there is no shortage of material to work with, and each page is a lesson in the beautiful and unique qualities of human’s best friend. Elias also created the Give a Dog a Bone program, featuring stories of shelter dogs (more than 50 in 20 different shelters), most of which have found homes.

Highly recommended for photographers and dog lovers alike, or a great Christmas present for the dog lover in your life.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

Dark Reservations: A Mystery by John Fortunato (St. Martin’s Press, October 13)

9781250074195_p0_v5_s192x300A recent winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut mystery set in the Southwest, Dark Reservations is a good mystery within the world of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and state politics.

Joe Evers is our hero, a widower still mourning the loss of his wife after two years. His drinking has cost him his job. At the beginning of the book, he is heading toward a forced retirement. He starts working on a new case, mostly because he’s the one available when the call comes in.

It’s a cold case that brings Joe out of his funk. A congressman’s car turns up, twenty-two years after it went missing, but the bodies that belong in the car are not there. Joe’s job is to find the bodies and to find out what happened two-plus decades ago.

I really liked Joe, his evolvement throughout the book, and his heart. Highly recommended!

From PCN:

Guess what? My October recommendation is the same as one of the above. Since we all have different tastes, this is the first time an overlap has happened in the 3 years since I started doing the list.

Instead of recommending another title, I’m going to throw my vote behind Rory’s and second her choice. The Lake House was my favorite October book, an intricate story deftly spun by Kate Morton. Six-hundred-page novels usually give me pause, but never when they’re by Morton. I enjoy diving into her lush, vivid worlds and staying there for a while. And one of the protagonists in Lake House is a mystery author—how could I resist?

Which books are you looking forward to this month?


Book Review: FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff

fates and furiesWhile reading Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, I wasn’t sure I liked the protagonists, Lotto and his wife, Mathilde, but I could not stop reading. About halfway through, I realized it was like being hypnotized, when you’re compelled to do something without being entirely in control of your actions.

The story opens with Lotto—short for Lancelot—and Mathilde on a beach, giddily making love after they eloped. They’re 22, beautiful, new Vassar grads, and the world is as infinite as the ocean before them.

Having enjoyed success and adoration in college as an actor, Lotto attempts to make it as a thespian in the real world. Mathilde gets a job in an art gallery and supports him while he pursues his dream. The first part of the book, called “Fates,” traverses 20+ years of their marriage from his point of view. The latter half, titled “Furies,” is her version. There’s a Greek chorus throughout adding commentary, though not often enough to be disruptive.

In school, Mathilde is a skilled writer known for her “rococo sentences.” Many of Groff’s sentences can be similarly labeled. Witness the following:

He would have liked to go deeper into her, to seat himself on the seat of her lacrimal bone and ride there, tiny homunculus like a rodeo cowboy, understand what it was she thought.

But Groff’s writing can also be powerfully succinct:

[S]he’d been so lonely that she let a leech live on her inner thigh for a week.

Lotto is a self-centered, infantile man with an incessant need to be loved—or at least positively reviewed—by everyone, but he also has a generous heart and a belief in the good of people. Mathilde…well, you’ll have to read the book to see. Though I found Lotto and Mathilde and their friends to be pretentious and callous at times, Groff created a world I was inexorably pulled into, like a mariner caught in a siren’s song.

Amazon | IndieBound