Monthly Archives

July 2017


I was in a bad reading slump recently. Picked up six novels and put them all back down after reading only the opening paragraphs. Nothing pulled me into its world, or introduced me to characters I wanted to spend time with.

Then I met Eleanor Oliphant, and she was exactly what I needed.

Eleanor is the star of Gail Honeyman’s delightful debut, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. She does accounts receivable in an office, takes phone calls from her mum every Wednesday, eats pizza and gets drunk on vodka every weekend, and talks to no one until Monday comes back around.

When she does have to be around people, she has no edit button or social skills. When she goes to events, she sees no problem with putting sausage rolls into her purse for later consumption. In other words, she’s my kinda gal.

Here are glimpses of her inner life.

On sports:

Sport is a mystery to me. In primary school, sports day was the one day of the year when the less academically gifted students could triumph, winning prizes for…running from Point A to Point B more quickly than their classmates…

As if a silver in the egg-and-spoon race was some sort of compensation for not understanding how to use an apostrophe.

Her thoughts while walking through a neighborhood:

The streets were all named after poets—Wordsworth Lane, Shelley Close, Keats Rise…poets who wrote about urns and flowers and wandering clouds. Based on past experience, I’d be more likely to end up living in Dante Lane or Poe Crescent.

Her disdain for obvious statements, after buying a coffee at McDonald’s:

Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape!

How she’d like to be dealt with after her death:

I think I might like to be fed to zoo animals. It would be both environmentally friendly and a lovely treat for the larger carnivores.

She’s a straight-up weirdo but this is why she’s wonderful. Her life is forced out of its routines when a man falls down in the street in front of her. Extending herself is something she doesn’t do, but when she helps him, it leads to unexpected places—and feelings. Eleanor is funny and tragic, innocent and wise.

There’s an element of mystery to her backstory—why did she show up at her job interview with a black eye? Why can’t anyone meet her mum?—but it’s hardly necessary. Eleanor is the draw. She believes no one thinks she’s interesting, but she’s all that and more.

Nerd verdict: Eleanor is more than Fine

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Nerdy Special List July 2017

Oh, man, it’s been so hot here, I’m tempted to run down the street naked and dive into random sprinklers. Mr. PCN said the neighbors would just think it’s a regular Friday.

The other day, I was reading with the window open and smelled smoke and got all annoyed at my neighbor for ruining my air. He’s always outside my window smoking something or other.

Then I turned on the news and saw it wasn’t my rude neighbor but a FIRE.

Speaking of heat, below are our favorite July reads. This month, we have a guest contribution from Mr. PCN, who liked a book so much he wanted in on the NSL action.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais (Putnam, July 11)

Set in the midst of apartheid in 1970s South Africa, Bianca Marais’ debut novel is heartbreaking and inspiring, revolting and uplifting. The darkness of hate is countered by the illumination of love and compassion. The result is an intensely powerful story that transcends time and geography.

Robin is nine years old when her parents are killed. Her only remaining relative is her aunt, Edith, an airline hostess.

Beauty is a widow schoolteacher whose daughter, Nomsa, goes missing during the Soweto student uprising. Beauty leaves her home in the rural village of Transkei to search for Nomsa.

Fate brings the two together when Edith needs someone to look after Robin while she travels for work, and Beauty needs a residence in order to stay and try to find Nomsa. Robin’s white world clashes with Beauty’s black one at first, but they each learn from the other. The lessons are rarely easy, but their journey together is gripping and hopeful.

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words is at times very difficult to stomach. The hate and disregard for human life is too easily disseminated. But Marais does find light in the darkness, reminding readers that change starts with those little glimmers of kindness and compassion, and that bigotry is learned behavior that, under the right circumstances, can also be unlearned.

King Louie’s Shoes by D.J. Steinberg, illustrated by Robert Neubecker (Beach Lane Books, ages 4-8, July 11)

D.J. Steinberg’s nonfiction picture book about King Louis XIV is whimsically delightful. Adults will have as much fun reading it to children as kids will have taking in the world of this famous French king.

The story (accompanied by fun facts at the end) of short-stature Louie’s high-heeled shoes is as captivating as Neubecker’s fantastic caricature illustrations, bold with color and humor.

Louie wants to be big in every way. He gives big gifts, holds big parties, but he needs to figure out how to change his height. He tries tall wigs and high thrones before asking his shoemaker to craft him special shoes. The result offers a life lesson complete with giggles. Steinberg and Neubecker know how to make learning fun, for kids and adults.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed (Little, Brown, July 25)

If a book can be said to be both dreadful and wonderful, then Gather the Daughters is one such book.

Set in an unknown period after a fire destroys civilization, an island community is formed by ten men desiring a deeply patriarchal society. These men, known as the ancestors, make a list of things a person shalt not do and those are the rules that govern their small society.

The men farm, or carve, or labor outside the home, while the women keep house. Females submit to their father until they are married, and then they submit to their husbands. When their child has a child, they take their final draught. The shalt-nots are never questioned, and if women were to question them, well, bleeding out is very common in childbirth.

Janey, Amanda, Caitlin, and Vanessa are four girls living in this rustic island community. They begin to question the rules, and that is a very, very dangerous thing to do. When one of the girls is murdered for desiring something better for her own daughter, the girls start a resistance.

Eerie, bleak, and full of dread, Jennie Melamed’s debut novel is also excellent. Her beautiful prose balances the grim existence of the characters, and the multiple narrators flesh out life on the island. For those who enjoy dystopian fiction, this will be my go-to recommendation of the summer.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips (Viking, July 25)

In Fierce Kingdom, Gin Phillips turns an idyllic mother-son afternoon at the zoo into a skin-prickling, breath-holding nightmare.

As Joan and her four-year-old son rush to the park’s exit at closing time, they find their path blocked by a man with a gun. What follows is a three-hour, real-time evening of cat and mouse, where every noise could mean death around the corner.

Phillips does a stupendous job creating an atmosphere that will take readers straight to the gut of the hunted. This is one hell of a summer blockbuster.

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite (Plume, July 11)

We’ve all been there. Watching a movie or reading a book, we’ve all said, “That could never happen to me,” or “There’s no way I wouldn’t have seen THAT coming.” Jen Waite is here to dispel those notions with her gutsy and oh-so-important memoir.

Jen and her husband Marco’s first encounters were out of a Hollywood movie. The sparks flew, they “just knew.” Five years later, the blissful couple is married and expecting a baby.

But after his daughter is born and his wife is at her most vulnerable, Marco changes into someone unrecognizable. In Before and After timelines, Waite takes readers through the horrific journey of discovering the man she thought she knew was a textbook psychopath.

Waite pulls no punches on any front, writing with scathing honesty about herself, Marco, guilt, shame, cognitive dissonance and the myriad emotional assaults that come from such a discovery.

This is not a story of redemption. Waite required none and Marco can never obtain it. It’s the story of one woman courageous enough to share her story to shine a light for others.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Chasing Down a Dream by Beverly Jenkins (William Morrow Paperbacks, July 4)

This eighth book in the awesome Blessings series, about a woman who bought a town on eBay, has two citizens marrying, one citizen planning another’s funeral, and Gemma and her grandson working on fostering and adopting two orphans injured in a tornado. Another very enjoyable visit with the Henry Adams community in Kansas.

From Mr. PCN:

First of all, I’d like to say I am honored to be among all of you who tirelessly contribute to the NSL. Here’s my contribution.

Afterlife by Marcus Sakey (Thomas & Mercer, July 18)

Marcus Sakey’s novel encompasses a London street urchin in 1532, a modern-day sniper being chased by two FBI agents, and not only what connects them but literally everything in between. I’d describe it as spiritual science fiction with a love story at the center of it all. Confused? Just read it.

Note: Producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have grabbed Afterlife to turn it into a feature film. I hope they don’t muck it up.

From PCN:

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner (Random House, July 4) 

Manon Bradshaw from last year’s Missing, Presumed is back, and this time she has 1.5 kids, one she adopted and another in her tummy. The single mom (by choice) has moved from London to give her family the elusive better life, but then murder happens nearby. And the main suspect is someone Manon will turn her full fierceness on to protect.

She and her former detective constable Davy, who’s now a detective sergeant, are the kind of decent, smart, and witty people with whom I’d want to share a pizza (English sandwiches?) if they were real. Add the complex plot and Unknown proves Steiner should be as well known as the best writers in crime fiction.