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August 2016

Book Review: THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR by Shari Lapena

couple next doorAt the outset of Shari Lapena’s first novel, Anne and Marco Conti are enjoying a rare night out at a dinner party next door. Their babysitter canceled at the last minute, so the Contis have brought along their baby monitor and are taking turns every half hour to go back to their place and check on six-month-old Cora. When the party wraps at one a.m., Anne and Marco return home to find their front door ajar—and Cora gone.

Detective Rasbach arrives at the scene, and suspects the Contis know more about their child’s disappearance than they’re admitting. There’s also tension between Marco and his father-in-law, and Anne’s wealthy parents may have been the real targets for ransom.

And what to make of the fact Anne can’t remember what her own baby was wearing the last time she saw her? Rasbach is determined to get to the truth, even if everyone he encounters seems intent on hiding it from him.

The prose is wooden, often stating the obvious (“The truth is there. It’s always there. It only needs to be uncovered.”), and the omniscient narrative voice makes it hard to form a clear picture of anyone. But this last quality works in the novel’s favor, because it means any or all of the cryptic characters could be guilty of something. The plot turns are many, and though not particularly shocking, they speed this psychological thriller along toward a satisfying ending.

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

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Nerdy Special List August 2016

Happy Friday, everyone! At least, I think it’s Friday. I’ve locked myself in the den this entire week because it’s too hot to go outside, and—wait, wasn’t I wearing these same shorts yester…anyway, my point is, sometimes the days of summer blend together.

I do know it’s August, though, which means it’s time for this month’s Nerdy Special List. Here are the new releases we recommend.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Repo Madness by W. Bruce Cameron (Forge, August 23)

repo-madnessRuddy McCann, the former high school football star turned repo man, returns in W. Bruce Cameron’s humorous second book of the series. The voice of dead realtor Alan Lottner is gone, and McCann discovers he’s lonely without the meddlesome spirit intruding on his thoughts.

So as the book opens, he’s visiting mediums to try to reconnect with Lottner. While visiting one of these mediums, a stranger approaches McCann and shares information that shakes the very foundation of his existence.

The stranger bolts before McCann is able to learn who she is or how she came upon this information, leaving him stunned and full of questions. He knows he has to find the woman and uncover the truth.

Cameron takes McCann through a whirlwind adventure complete with quirky characters, murder-for-hire, and a love triangle. There’s no shortage of laughs, and the plot is full of satisfying surprises.

Readers don’t need to read the first book (The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man) to understand this new installment, but if you’re considering reading both, definitely start with book 1. Going back after having read the second novel will spoil some of the fun twists of the first. I’m hopeful we’ll see more of this series in the future because I have a bad case of Repo Madness.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (Thomas Dunne Books, August 9)

all the ugly...Wayvonna Quinn was born in the back of a stranger’s car while her parents hitchhiked across Texas. Eight years later, her circumstances have improved, but barely.

Now living in a dilapidated farmhouse, Wavy’s trying to parent her infant brother. Her father runs a meth lab on the property and her mother barely functions. To say her life is difficult is an understatement. She is poor, abused, and afraid.

Then she meets Kellen. Kellen changes her life, they take care of each other—and care for each other, in a world that doesn’t want them. Aside from Wavy’s brother, Kellen is the only wonderful thing in her life. But when tragedy upends and exposes Wavy’s family, her life looks ugly to the outside.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is an unexpectedly touching novel. Filled with tragedy and told effortlessly from multiple narrators, Bryn Greenwood’s novel is one that will stick with me for a long time. It’s a story that challenges the way you view the world.

As Wavy falls in love with Kellen, a man who is much too old for her, the novel needs to be read with empathy and understanding. Greenwood does not romanticize the relationship; she is not sentimental about Wavy and Kellen. Instead she presents their brutal, hard-won existence with an honest, straightforward appeal that is, well, very appealing. I sincerely hope readers give this one a chance. It’s not an easy book to read, but it is worth it.

From Erin at In Real Life:

A Time of Torment by John Connolly (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, August 2)

time of tormentI make no secret of my adoration of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series. Whether you’re already a fan or the series is new to you, A Time of Torment is at once terrifying and comforting, a story that will, trite as this is, keep you up all night and stay with you long after.

Connolly’s plots are nothing if not complex, and this one is no exception. It begins with a man who might or might not be a hero, having been recently released from prison, and the story proceeds to bring readers on a journey to a fictional town where evil is the primary currency.

Our uncompromising hero, Charlie Parker, is compelled to battle the malevolence that inhabits the hearts of some of the most fascinating bad guys ever written, and he’s aided by sidekicks who get more interesting with each book. Connolly’s prose is so vivid that it’s hard to remember at times this book is fiction, because it feels as if you’ve been dropped into this world, and your only hope for survival is Mr. Parker himself.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris (St. Martin’s Press, August 9)

behind closed doorsGrace can’t believe her luck. Until she met Jack Angel, her relationships all fell apart over her devotion to her 17-year-old sister, Millie, who has Down syndrome. Not only does Jack have movie-star good looks and charisma to burn, he’s crazy about both Grace and Millie.

After a whirlwind courtship, Grace and Jack are married and living the “perfect” life. But no one can see what’s going on behind the closed doors of the dream house Jack built for Grace and Millie, and Grace begins to fear it wasn’t luck that brought Jack into their lives.

Along alternating timelines, Grace and Jack’s past and present unfold, winding together and building anticipation for a final confrontation. Paris does a good job explaining her characters’ decisions, as irrational as they may be, which helps keep the narrative on track. Behind Closed Doors is a steam train of a psychological thriller that may keep you up into the wee hours.

From PCN:

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore (Random House, August 16)

last days of nightLet me start by saying I don’t read much historical fiction or many books about science. And this is a historical novel about science. Why in the world did I even look at it, you ask?

Mainly because it’s written by Graham Moore, who wrote The Sherlockian (read my review here) and the screenplay for The Imitation Game, both of which I enjoyed (you might remember he won the Oscar for the latter). And I’m so glad I picked this up. Because it’s FANTASTIC.

It’s a David vs. Goliath story of Paul Cravath, 26 and fresh out of Columbia Law, being hired by George Westinghouse to defend him in a lawsuit—make that 312 lawsuits—claiming Westinghouse’s lightbulbs infringe upon an existing patent.

The opponent? Thomas Edison, who claims he invented the lightbulb and will crush anyone who tries to say otherwise.

Paul soon learns Edison’s threats aren’t idle, and all the young lawyer’s clever legal maneuverings may not be enough for him to win in court—or even survive the fight.

The synopsis doesn’t do this book justice, because in Moore’s hands, this fact-based account comes alive. Moore transports you to a time when the world was on the brink of awe-inspiring discoveries. He entertains while making you feel smarter, and that’s sexy.

News has just surfaced that Eddie Redmayne will star as Paul in the movie adaption, which is a great choice despite Redmayne being in his thirties. I can’t wait to see who gets to play the inventor Nikola Tesla (a singular character who figures prominently) and everyone else in the story.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

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Movie Review: SUICIDE SQUAD

suicide-squad

I didn’t know much about the squad when I went to the screening, and had avoided all the trailers, so I was open to whatever. I just wanted to be entertained.

And I was, by some of it, the parts that didn’t induce eye rolls.

Background for Suicide Squad neophytes like me: a government official named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), head of a secret agency, comes up with a plan to recruit some crazy-ass villains with special powers to work for the US government, because what if the next metahuman from Krypton isn’t a superman but a superterrorist? We need a super army for defense!

The chosen criminals include: Deathshot (Will Smith), an assassin who never misses a shot; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former therapist who fell for one of her patients and went nuts; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a gangbanger who can throw flames from his hands; Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Aussie who can throw his country’s signature weapon with deadly precision; and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a guy with a serious skin problem who looks like a cross between The Thing and Godzilla.

There’s also Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a badass chick with a sword that traps souls, but she’s a bodyguard and not a criminal. Neither is Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a very old witch who can teleport. The convicts must obey Waller’s orders or else get blown up by a bomb implanted in them. You know, employee incentives.

At times too many characters crowd the screen and the action gets too busy and the effects look like generic CGI. Most of the actors don’t have a chance to shine. Scott Eastwood practically does background work as a soldier.

The brightest spot is Robbie portraying the unhinged Quinn with glee. The actress, who seems to be in 53 movies this year, energizes every scene she’s in, but also gives a glimpse of the vulnerability beneath Quinn’s cuckoo exterior. She has brother-sister chemistry with Smith (the two worked together in Focus), and their breezy banter is fun. It almost—but not quitemakes up for the fact she has to walk around in hot pants that cover only two-thirds of her booty. Seriously?

Davis also stands out as the suit running the squad. She doesn’t need any weapons or gimmicks. Her power lies in her steely glare and low, steady voice. Everything about her says, “Don’t f*ck with me,” and the villains, as unstable as they are, know enough to be scared of Waller.

Less successful is Jared Leto as The Joker. While I could appreciate his trying to bring something unique to the iconic character, his interpretation doesn’t stick its landing. The Joker’s laugh is annoying. Having his smile tattooed on his hand serves no purpose. This Joker is neither intimidating nor formidable, and doesn’t come close to Heath Ledger’s still-resonant incarnation.

Delevingne is too lightweight an actress to play the powerful witch. She has no chemistry with Joel Kinnaman, who plays her love interest, Rick Flag, the soldier and field leader of the squad. Hernandez makes an impression, but it’s because his character is the lone holdout—Diablo really, really doesn’t want to use his firestarting powers or engage in violence anymore.

Director/writer David Ayer’s vision of the DC Universe is more palatable than Zack Snyder’s, and I applaud Suicide Squad for having a diverse cast, but in the end, it’s a slick, expensive, loud summer movie based on comic-book characters. Take that as you will.

Photo: Warner Bros.

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