Monthly Archives

July 2016

Book Review: MISSING, PRESUMED by Susie Steiner

missing, presumedBeautiful Cambridge grad student Edith Hind goes missing, leaving behind her belongings, including her passport and phone. There’s also blood at her home, and the door wide is open.

Investigating Edith’s disappearance, Cambridgeshire Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw and Detective Constable Davy Walker are dismayed to discover Edith’s father has ties to the royal family, which means extra media coverage and pressure to find Edith quickly. But as days and weeks pass without credible clues, and the police uncover surprising details about Edith’s life, they wonder if the “high-risk misper” case is actually one of murder.

It’s not hard to guess the outcome of the mystery, and the pacing lags in chapters from the point of view of Edith’s mother, Miriam. She’s sympathetic but her grief is static.

The strengths of Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed lie in getting to know the detectives. Thirty-nine-year-old Manon is juggling her career with Internet dating, and her experiences with the men she goes out with are amusing. Some of Manon’s behavior toward potential love matches is cringe-worthy, but it’s understandable because underlying it all is her longing to connect with someone and have a child.

Kindhearted, unflappable Davy seems content with his girlfriend, whom everyone dislikes, but as the story progresses, Davy ponders whether or not being nice all the time truly makes him happy. These characters feel like old friends, which is good because readers will get to see them again in future series installments.

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

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Book Review: COLLECTING THE DEAD by Spencer Kope

collecting the deadSpencer Kope’s Collecting the Dead introduces Magnus “Steps” Craig, who works in the FBI Special Tracking Unit as the “human bloodhound.”

Steps has the synesthetic ability to see touch, i.e., he can spot the traces people leave behind on surfaces they’ve walked over and touched. “Shine” is what he calls these tracks, and each person’s shine has a distinctive color and texture, identifiers as specific as DNA.

Steps and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, are on the trail of a serial killer of young women. Even with Steps in pursuit, the killer remains elusive with cunning ways of covering his tracks, leading Steps and Jimmy to fight against time and hostile terrains to find the murderer before more women die.

Steps is a welcome new series protagonist, not only because of his unusual talent but also his sense of humor and personality. He hates forests—“They’re like nightmares with leaves”—but often ends up in one while tracking criminals.

Refreshingly, he’s far from being a hardened hero haunted by his past. Steps had a happy childhood with a loving family—he still lives with his brother—and thus it’s particularly upsetting for him to witness so much darkness in his work. Jimmy constantly reminds him, however, that they need his ability to save who they can.

Kope, a crime analyst, gives readers insight into a world in which good people, as he says in the acknowledgments, “confront fear so that others don’t have to.” He praises these defenders of justice, and readers will do the same to Kope for creating a humane and captivating character.

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

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Movie Review: GHOSTBUSTERS

ghostbusters_2016

The first things you probably want to know are: Is it as good as the original? Is it funny?

No, and yes.

I wanted to be fair to this version and not compare it to the 1984 movie, but people kept asking me that first question so I figured I’d get it out of the way. The version starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson is so beloved that it’s hard to beat. Even its 1989 sequel, with much of the original talent returning, couldn’t live up to it.

The reboot’s story is roughly the same as the original: three scientists who believe in the paranormal get fired from their jobs and must strike out on their own, eventually calling themselves Ghostbusters. Along the way, they’re joined by a fourth member to save New York City from an infestation of ghosts.

The leading cast is very talented, too: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. I don’t think the script, cowritten by Katie Dippold and director Paul Feig, supports them well enough, though it does give them some funny lines—unless they were improvised.

Some of the comedic bits go on too long, but McKinnon’s Holtzmann is a welcome kind of weird; McCarthy’s and Jones’s Abby and Patty, respectively, are reliably sassy; and Wiig proves she can still be funny as the straight person of the group, the “serious” scientist. It’s nice to see the power of female friendship onscreen, smart women working together to accomplish great things. They own their misfitness.

Standouts in the supporting cast include Karan Soni as a droll Chinese restaurant delivery boy, and Zach Woods as a tour guide who sees ghosts.

Not as successful is Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters’ dim-witted and clumsy receptionist. Hemsworth can be funny (see: Vacation remake), but here he’s trying too hard. It’s like he’s asking for the laugh instead of simply being the character.

The actress who played the original receptionist, Annie Potts, shows up as…a receptionist. Look also for appearances by Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver. The late Ramis appears, too, in a way. Half the fun is keeping your eyes peeled for original cast members, who drop in long enough to give a touch of nostalgia but not long enough to distract from the current cast. Oh, and stay for the tag after all the credits.

So, if you’re looking for some diverting entertainment, who you gonna call?

Nerd verdict: Doesn’t bust new ground, but good for some laughs

Photo: Sony/Columbia

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Nerdy Special List July 2016

Hope you all have been enjoying summer! People usually go somewhere around this time for vacation, and this year they are all coming to stay with me. I’ve been hosting family and friends, and though their visits create total cleaning panic, it’s the only way I can be motivated to clean.

Before I go back to stuffing crap into closets scrubbing the kitchen sink, I present you with this month’s reading recommendations. It’s a varied list as usual; hope at least one selection sparks your interest!

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry (Tyndale House Publishers, July 1)

jesse-woodsChris Fabry’s lyrical writing style makes this charming story of three young outcasts growing up in t1970s Dogwood, West Virginia, moving and memorable.

Matt Plumley is the new kid in town. Besides being the preacher’s son, Matt is overweight. The first people he meets in Dogwood are Dickie Darrel Lee Hancock, a mixed-race boy, and Jesse Woods, a dirt-poor, fatherless tomboy. Matt’s parents aren’t so thrilled with his new friends, but Matt sees the best in them and finds acceptance in their eyes. The three-way friendship bonds the young teens until a fateful night in 1972.

The Promise of Jesse Woods is a beautiful novel with sharply drawn characters, rich in authenticity and passion. The atmosphere of the period echoes the beautiful simplicities as well as the ugly complexities. With the engrossing magic of exceptional storytelling, Fabry will envelop readers in a time gone by wrapped in themes that transcend time. Stunning.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday, July 12)

heavenly tableDespite only having two published books, Donald Ray Pollock is one of my favorite contemporary authors. For over a year, I’ve been looking forward to the release of his new novel, The Heavenly Table. I was not disappointed, though I can’t quite say that his sophomore novel is better than his debut (The Devil All the Time is in a league of its own).

Following the Jewett brothers—Cane, Cob, and Chimney—-Table takes place in 1917 southern Ohio. After the sudden death of their father, the three brothers become outlaws in the tradition of (the fictional) Bloody Bill Bucket. Before they know it, they are a legendary gang of thieves, rapists, and murderers with a huge bounty on their heads, though the legends are far more preposterous than their true crimes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Eula and Ellsworth Fiddler, a naïve farming couple barely scraping by. An assortment of other characters fill the novel, from outhouse inspector and manhood wrangler Jasper Cone to the Roman military enthusiast Lieutenant Bovard.

Both perverse and violent, this novel is not without humor and heart. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with southern Gothic goodness; just don’t expect any good. In Pollock’s distinctive prose, the reader is taken for a wild, gritty ride that cannot be easily forgotten.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Revolver by Duane Swierzynski (Mulholland Books, July 19)

revolverDuane Swierzynski never fails to surprise readers. His latest novel is his finest work to date, and is a story readers will be well advised to start without any preconceptions.

Revolver is an intricate police procedural involving the murder of two Philadelphia police officers 50 years ago. It is told in three time periods (1965, 1995, and 2015), and Swierzynski weaves these narratives together with beautiful and graceful skill.

The 1965 murders haunt the Walczak family across generations, and each contributes to the story as it unfolds. As much as the family is central to the story, though, this is a tale about Philadelphia, a love story (of sorts) to a city whose history is, in so many ways, part and parcel of the whole of the United States.

Revolver is populated with a range of fascinating characters, including Stan, one of the victims of the 1965 murder; his son Jimmy and Jimmy’s siblings; and Stan’s granddaughter, Audrey. They are as different as most family members are, and each is fascinating in his or her own right.

Revolver will absolutely be on my Best of 2016 list.

From Julie at Girls Just Reading:

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen (Washington Square Press, July 5)

perfect neighborsThe Perfect Neighbors is a peek into the lives of those we live around and see daily but may not really know. It is about the facades we put on for the public vs. how we really are behind closed doors. It’s about how we all have secrets that we might not want to share, things that are private in our heart of hearts.

We are introduced to four women—three close friends and one newcomer. Each has something they are hiding from the others mainly because they are ashamed of their behavior but don’t know how to let go of it. What Pekkanen added to this was a mystery surrounding one of the couples.

I loved how Pekkanen kept you on the hook and laid out breadcrumbs for you to eat up. I liked how each storyline developes and is resolved. I have a been a huge fan of Pekkanen for years due to her realistic plots and ability to write characters we all can relate to.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Trap by Melanie Raabe (Grand Central, July 5)

the trapBestselling author Linda Conrads hasn’t stepped outside her house in eleven years. Twelve years ago she discovered her sister stabbed to death, and her eyes met those of the murderer as he fled. When the investigation ultimately goes cold, Linda retreats from the world.

More than a decade later, Linda sees the man again on a television newscast. Determined to bring him to justice yet unable to leave home, she decides to lure the man into an elaborate trap she designs by writing a book mirroring her sister’s murder. Linda hasn’t given an interview in years, but she plans to break her silence and give one to the journalist she’s certain killed her sister and who knows she saw him leave the scene.

Alternating between Linda’s first-person narrative and the chapters of her book within the book,The Trap is a fun, engaging read that flows despite getting a bit bogged down by repetition in Linda’s head as she obsesses over the murder and her plans to solve it. At times the story felt like a twisted game of cat-and-mouse, at others a game taking place only in the head of a really unstable cat.

Part of what made the book enjoyable was wondering who to believe and when, and despite one loose thread that nagged at me, Raabe brought the story to a satisfying conclusion.The Trap is an entertaining summer read with a unique premise that doesn’t feel too heavy despite the subject matter.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen (Doubleday, July 12)

nine womenThe one dress is more a style of a dress, not one dress worn by nine women. This is not The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

The book starts with a fashion show. A little black dress is featured and becomes the dress of the season. People shopping at Bloomingdale’s enter and exit the book’s stage, trying on the dress, purchasing it, returning it. The dress is perfect for some but not for others, and occasionally the book seems to ask: Which person deserves to wear this dress?

The book is also about the relationships the women have—with each other and the people they meet and let go—not just romantic partners but also friends and coworkers.

I loved this book, for the New York that exists in it, for the adventures people have in it, and for the endings. It’s a perfect light book for summer. Enjoy!

From PCN:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout Press, July 19)

woman in cabin 10My recommendation this month was going to be Revolver, but since Erin eloquently covered it above, I’ll go with another July release I enjoyed.

In Ruth Ware’s follow-up to 2015’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist covering the maiden voyage of an exclusive cruise ship with only ten cabins. On her first day aboard, she meets a woman in the cabin next door, but later that night, Lo hears a scream and a splash—and the woman is gone. Leaving behind a bloody smear.

No one on the ship seems to know who the missing woman is, and the head of security insists the cabin next door to Lo’s has always been empty. Lo decides to investigate, even after mysterious messages tell her to stop. Of course she doesn’t, until it’s too late.

Lo is frustrating at times, repeatedly making foolish choices, but Ware’s propulsive writing locks you up and won’t let you out until the end of the journey.

 

Which books are you reading this month?

(See previous NSLs here.)

 

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