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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




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.


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.


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.


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?


Book Review: MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER by Hilary Liftin

movie star lizzie pepperMovie Star by Lizzie Pepper is not actually by Lizzie Pepper, who’s a fictional celebrity, but by Hilary Liftin, a ghostwriter who has collaborated on bestselling celebrity memoirs. But Movie Star is a novel. Confused yet?

The concept is that this book is a fake memoir by Lizzie, cowritten by the very real Liftin. Lizzie is a young famous actress swept up in a whirlwind romance with a much more famous actor and in all the ensuing paparazzi hullabaloo.

Life seems perfect, with the private jets and multiple mansions and public declarations of love from her man and the elaborate wedding—until Lizzie realizes everything might be too perfect.

Lizzie and Rob Mars, her superstar husband, never fight, and she can’t seem to penetrate his unflappable surface. And oh, yeah, there’s that mysterious, cultish organization he’s dedicated to.

This is a thinly disguised roman à clef of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes story, so most readers probably know how it begins, quickly escalates, and how it ends. But we don’t know what happened in the middle parts of this fairy tale gone wrong, and Liftin provides a fictional account here, a very readable one.

The author humanizes the movie stars, people who often seem too glossy to be real. Lizzie is no dummy and she’s grounded, but Rob’s courtship is very heady, and I could understand how she allows herself to get drawn into his world so fast she doesn’t realize what’s happening until she’s imprisoned by it.

Though Rob remains a cypher, even to Lizzie, Liftin portrays him sympathetically, not as a nut case, as many tend to label Cruise. Rob’s behaviors and beliefs stem from his conviction that he’s doing the best thing for himself and those around him, that he must always be the hero, offscreen as well as on. Sometimes, though, Lizzie just wants him to get angry, fart, be human.

Liftin also doesn’t vilify One Cell Studio, the organization to which Rob belongs and devotes much of his time. While some higher-ups at the studio do behave atrociously and are definitely creepy, not all members are that way, and the practices don’t seem as alien as some Scientology exercises are rumored to be.

In a Twitter culture with the masses instantly slapping unflattering labels on things and people they don’t understand, Liftin offers a different perspective on very public figures, perhaps asking that readers be less hasty to judge, and to appreciate our ordinary, human lives.

Amazon | IndieBound


Shock vs. Sensitivity



Like most people, I was shocked by the on-air shooting of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. As I tried to learn more about what happened after first seeing only a tweet about the incident, my shock turned first to horror and then anger.

This isn’t a post about stricter gun-control laws. I fervently, deeply support that, but my friends Lauren and Chris Holm have already covered that in posts more eloquent and effective than anything I could write (click on their names to read them).

What I want to talk about is, why did some news outlets post the videos of Parker and Ward being murdered? The first site I visited was CNN, and though it posted a warning about graphic content, a freeze frame/screen grab of the video was visible and I felt sick after catching a brief glimpse of it.

I quickly scrolled past it, like a person trying to get rid of porn on the computer when someone else enters the room, but I was still shaking. I don’t need to see the final moments of Parker’s and Ward’s lives to understand how horrific their deaths were. I imagine Parker’s and Ward’s loved ones don’t want to watch them being killed, either. The shooting occurred during WDBJ’s morning broadcast so the station can’t be faulted for what went live, but other news outlets had no good reason to show the gruesome images after the fact.

The press exists because the public has the right to know, but did it need to witness Parker’s and Ward’s dying gasps? If the gunman (I refuse to write his name) were still at large and Ward’s footage contained the only lead to his identity, then I could understand it being shown with a plea to help identify the shooter.

But that’s not the case. Therefore I can only assume the video was shown for ratings or clicks. Which means it’s exploitation of a double murder.

I was once like Parker, a young TV news reporter at a small station in Virginia. Occasionally a cameraman would return from location with raw footage of a tragedy, the aftermath of a drunk driver colliding with another car or a child flipping an ATV.

Without being told by our news director, my colleagues and I always knew to edit out the bloody parts and air only enough footage to indicate a tragedy had occurred, never anything that might upset the general public or, worse, the victims’ families. It’s been many years since I worked in TV news and the world has changed drastically, but is it too much to ask for a certain level of sensitivity and a professional standard of decency?

How do you feel about the graphic footage being on air and online? Should it be shown because it’s “part of the story”?


Book Review: RUBBERNECKER by Belinda Bauer

rubberneckerDue to a traumatic childhood incident, 18-year-old Patrick Fort is obsessed with death. He wants to analyze what happens when people die, which makes him a great candidate for the anatomy course at Cardiff University, which requires him and his classmates to dissect cadavers to determine cause of death.

When Patrick finds something unexpected inside his cadaver, he suspects that Number 19—the cadavers are assigned only numerical IDs—was murdered, despite the death certificate claiming natural causes. But Patrick’s attempts to prove his theory are hampered at every turn, resulting in events that threaten to grant him personal experience with the very condition he seeks to understand.

Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker is fast-paced and quick-witted, told from multiple points of view (one seems unnecessary, tied to an extraneous subplot). Patrick’s voice holds the most interest. He’s a curious and intelligent boy with Asperger’s syndrome, who takes everything literally and is deadly serious at all times, but is also funny and charming, albeit unintentionally.

Bauer’s (Blacklands) almost gleeful descriptions of cadaverous viscera display a macabre sense of humor that induces chuckles alongside groans of disgust. Then, with revelations that come only pages from the end, the author punches readers in the heart.

Though Rubbernecker, which was originally published in the UK, received the 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, it’s not just a mystery. It’s also a portrait of a memorable protagonist who finds a way to embrace life by confronting what lies beyond.

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


Sailboats and Seattle and STAR WARS

My posts were scarce these past two weeks because I was traveling with family up and down the West Coast, attempting to be all rugged with boating and mountain hiking and stuff. I’m amazed my legs didn’t fall off and I can still walk upright.

We went from Orange Co. up to San Francisco and Seattle and the San Juan Islands, stopping along the way in places like Santa Barbara and Morro Bay.

Sunset sail in Marina del Rey

Sunset sail in Marina del Rey. I was on the boat in the center. A passerby took the photo.


Hiking Mt. Rainier. Photo: Aline Dolinh (Mr. PCN is in blue on the bridge)

Seattle is where the EMP Museum has the Star Wars costume exhibit, which featured these guys.

Photo: Mena Dolinh

Photo: Mena Dolinh


Photo: Mena Dolinh

Speaking of Star Wars, I have a fun giveaway for you. A marketing rep from Underoos (yes, that Underoos) contacted me to let me know Underoos are now for adults, too. The rep sent along a free set in the design of my choice, and of course I chose something Star Wars related, though it was a tough choice between this and Wonder Woman.


From the Underoos site. Did you think I would pose in my underwear?

The starry blue background is beautiful and R2 pops, but it’s a transfer that sometimes makes a crinkling sound when I move, and I suspect it won’t last long after repeated washings. The set is 100% cotton and very comfortable.

Underoos is letting me give away one set in any design to one PCN reader. To enter, leave a comment letting me know which design you would choose and why. Giveaway ends next Thursday, August 27, 9 p.m PST. US addresses only.


Book Review: WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER by Carla Norton

what doesnt kill herIt’s been seven years since Reeve LeClaire, the heroine in Carla Norton’s What Doesn’t Kill Her, was rescued after being held prisoner as a teen by Daryl Wayne Flint, who’s serving time at a psychiatric hospital in Washington State. Reeve is now a student at UC Berkeley and feeling that her life “has finally bloomed and ripened.”

But a wrench is thrown into her newly idyllic world when Flint escapes and commits murder on his way to reclaim Reeve, his greatest obsession. Instead of running scared, she decides to confront the monster by teaming up with former FBI agent Milo Bender–the man who helped rescue her–to track down Flint. After spending four years in close proximity with her kidnapper, who else but Reeve would know best the inner workings of Flint’s twisted mind?

Norton keeps the pacing swift in this second series installment, after The Edge of Normal. Reeve is based on a real woman the author covered as a true crime writer, and Norton compassionately details the survivor mindset–what it takes for someone to withstand years of torture in captivity and the lingering psychological effects after release. Norton also shows how the ordeal can derail the lives of survivors’ loved ones.

The dialogue is stilted and expository at times, and Reeve oddly seems to be the only person among seasoned FBI agents and therapists to see the obvious when it comes to clues and Flint’s intentions, but Reeve’s voice and fragile courage are welcomed in crime fiction, representing those who refuse to be victims.

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


Nerdy Special List August 2015

I’m traveling right now but the Nerdy Special List must go on. I’m excited every month when the recommendations start coming in from my illustrious contributors, but I think this month the list is especially spectacular. Hope you’ll find at least one or two books to add to your reading list.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year of Looking on the Bright Side Transformed My Life by Janice Kaplan (Dutton, August 18)

gratitude diariesPart memoir, part research project, The Gratitude Diaries is all inspirational. Janice Kaplan, former Parade Magazine editor, made a New Year’s resolution to look at her life differently. She theorized that one’s attitude was more important than the events that occurred—someone could win the lottery and still not be happy—but if that person reframed their perspective they could be happy regardless of circumstances.

To test her theory, she dedicated a year to identifying all she could be thankful for in her day-to-day existence as well as researching the scientific side of gratitude. This book is the journal of her findings.

Readers will likely discover it is extremely difficult to avoid looking for the positive in their own lives as they read The Gratitude Diaries. It’s packed with easily initiated ideas and fascinating information about the benefits of gratitude. I rarely feel I can recommend a book to absolutely anyone, but I don’t know a single person who couldn’t benefit from more happiness in their life. The Gratitude Diaries is a wonderful way to start finding it.

The Investigation by J. M. Lee, translated by Chi-Young Kim (Pegasus, August 15)

the investigationIn the midst of World War II, Sugiyama Dozen, a Japanese war veteran, is the Fukuoka Prison Ward Three guard and censor. When Sugiyama is found murdered, young guard Watanabe Yuichi is charged with investigating the case while taking over Sugiyama’s duties. At first the crime appears to be open-and-shut, but the smart, contemplative Watanabe isn’t convinced and his probing unearths amazing discoveries.

The Investigation is a stunning tribute to the power of the arts first and a murder mystery second. The juxtaposition of the two makes this novel reaffirming.

Inspired by a true story about a Korean poet, The Investigation is beautifully written. The insightful translation allows for a crystal clear and universal understanding of Lee’s powerful themes and characters, making The Investigation a soul-resonating read.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Andersonville by Edward M. Erdelac (Hydra Publications, August 18)

andersonvilleLourdes Barclay, a mysterious man posing as a black Union soldier, purposefully sneaks into Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville prison. He has a mission, a secret, and a vendetta, but he quickly realizes that his first priority is simply to survive the hellish prison.

Ruled by the mysterious Captain Wirz, tortured by the sadistic Sergeant Turner, and terrorized by the group of prisoners called the “raiders,” most soldiers pray for escape. Not Barclay. He realizes the suffering  radiating from Andersonville is the result of more than just human evil.

Historically, Camp Sumter was filled with human misery beyond comprehension, yet Erdelac expertly adds a layer of the supernatural to great effect. This Civil War horror novel (if that’s not a genre, this novel can spearhead the effort) is thoughtful, Lovecraftian, and well researched. Although it’s not for the faint of heart—much of the horror is vividly described and based on fact—I would recommend this novel to fans of Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and alternate histories.

For those who may be hesitant to pick up a “horror” novel, I wanted to add there is nothing truly scary about this book in the fictional sense. Yes, there are secret societies, forces of good and evil, and a few hellhounds, but the real terror lies in the suffering of the soldiers. What makes that terrifying, for me, is that it happened, without the added demonic influences.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Trust No One by Paul Cleave  (Atria Books, August 4)

trust no oneTrust No One is one of those rare and exceptional books that doesn’t just tell you a story, it makes you experience it.

Jerry Grey is a crime writer. Or he was. And he still sometimes is. Or might be. As his mind descends into early-onset Alzheimer’s, it’s not clear whether or not the brutal murders with which he’s so intimately familiar occurred only on the page. He confesses to crimes everyone else knows are fictional—or are they? Jerry is sure they aren’t, until he’s…not. People are dying, and Jerry can’t rely on anyone or anything around or within him.

As Jerry fights to chronicle the changes he’s experiencing, he loses all trust in his memory and his reality. It’s a terrifying premise, and one that Cleave presents with the mastery of a storyteller who is unafraid to venture into territory most writers would steer well clear of.

This isn’t a comfortable read—it’s not meant to be—but it is a thrilling one. And while it’s not horror, it’s one of the most frightening tales I’ve ever read.

From Shannon at River City Reading:

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (Henry Holt, August 11)

beautiful bureaucratAfter both Josephine and her husband have struggled to find work for far too long, she is thrilled when she’s hired to work on “The Database.” In a windowless building that takes up several city blocks, she works in a small office, entering strangely coded numbers in an increasingly mind-numbing task. Over time, Josephine’s once supportive husband grows distant, and work on The Database wears at her until she is desperate to discover its true purpose.

In just 192 pages, The Beautiful Bureaucrat packs in the tension of the best thrillers with a double dose of “WHAT IS GOING ON?” for good measure. And Helen Phillips uses every inch of those 192 pages to tell her story, forcing readers to puzzle out the narrative until the very last moment. (Read Shannon’s full review here.)

From PCN:

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer (Atlantic Monthly Press, August 4)

rubberneckerEighteen-year-old Patrick, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has been obsessed with death since a traumatic childhood incident. He signs up for an anatomy course at Cardiff University that requires students to dissect cadavers to determine the cause of death.

Though all the bodies supposedly belonged to people who died of natural causes, Patrick is convinced Number 19—the identifier given his cadaver—was murdered. No one believes him, and as he tries to gather evidence to prove his theory, he just might get to meet his own death.

Patrick is a memorable character with a singular narrative voice, serious in his own head but quirky and unintentionally witty to those around him. The novel’s subject matter is dark but so is the humor, and there’s a healthy dose of heart. Rubbernecker should turn the reader into just that—someone who can’t look away from it.


What are you looking forward to reading this month?


Interview with Shane Kuhn

A few days ago, I ran a review of Shane Kuhn’s Hostile Takeover. Now meet the author in the following interview I did with him, which also appeared originally in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.

Shane Kuhn: Word Warrior

Photo: Ted Frericks

Photo: Ted Frericks

Shane Kuhn has 20 years of experience in entertainment and advertising as a writer and filmmaker, and has paid his dues as an intern. His debut thriller, The Intern’s Handbook, was published in 2014, and a movie adaptation is in the works with Dave Franco attached to star as assassin John Lago.

Here, Kuhn discusses the sequel, Hostile Takeover; the childhood incident that led him to writing; and his encounter with a victim of gun violence.

John Lago was eight when he made his first kill. You were eight when you were grounded and started to keep a journal to vent your anger—which set you on the path to writing. Why were you grounded?

I was grounded for two weeks for (a) starting a fire in the ditch behind our house and (b) lying about it. I used to build World War II models of aircraft carriers, battleships, bombers, fighter planes, etc. And since I had an active imagination, I staged fierce and deadly battles.

On that day, I believe I was reenacting the kamikaze attack that sank an American escort carrier at the Battle of Iwo Jima. The aircraft carrier was badly damaged but I needed more dramatic effect for the grand finale.

So, I “played with matches” and set the aircraft carrier on fire. It was spectacular and really completed the scene. The only problem was the model glue in those days was highly flammable, so a small fire on the aft deck became a raging inferno and the plastic started melting in the water–still burning!

I panicked and threw water and mud all over it, but eventually fled the scene. Our neighbor had seen it and put out the fire with his extinguisher. He also called my dad to dime on me. I lied right to my dad’s face, telling him I hadn’t been in the ditch for weeks while I attempted to hide my muddy Chuck Taylors under the kitchen table.

He was furious about the fire but despised lying more than any childhood transgression, so I got two weeks in solitary. I was allowed to read, do yard work and chores around the house, and that’s it. So, I started journaling to keep from going insane and found it to be incredibly fun and immersive. I guess I have my father’s strict German discipline to thank for helping me become a writer.

You’ve said you become your characters when writing. Considering they’re assassins, have you ever scared family and friends?

When I say I become my characters, I mean I like to immerse myself into their world. It’s kind of like doing shamanic journeying. I spend a lot of time with my eyes closed, allowing their imaginary world to unfold and allowing them to speak to me. And they often do. I know a good character by the fact he or she won’t shut the hell up.

I think what is scary to people is that I want to go to those places in my mind. In person, I’m wicked laid back, like a surfer (which I used to be) or rocker (which I am). Often times, people will tell me how shocked they were when they read my work. They say if they didn’t know me, they would think I was the prince of darkness.

You’re lead singer in a U2 cover band. If the powers that be allowed you to sing a song for the movie’s soundtrack, which song would you choose?

I love this question so much because what I really want to be when I grow up is a rock star! If I could sing a cover song for the film–which I may have to try to negotiate with the studio (he says, rubbing his hands together fiendishly)–I would probably sing the U2 song “Until the End of the World” for a couple of reasons.

First, that’s where John is willing to go with Alice, and second, that song is actually about Judas betraying Jesus (U2 is a very religious band), and betrayal is a major theme in both The Intern’s Handbook and Hostile Takeover.

hostile takeoverYour books’ cover designs are really clever. You tattooed the Intern’s Handbook design on your arm. Will you be doing the same with the Hostile Takeover cover?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my book cover art. Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich is an incredibly talented and clever designer, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had him produce those images. Obviously, or I wouldn’t have gotten a tattoo of the Intern’s Handbookart! That was done by Megan Massacre of New York Ink fame, by the way. She’s rad, too.

Both covers really nail the spirit of the work and they make you think. I am strongly considering getting a tattoo of the office supply handgun on the cover of Hostile Takeover, but there’s the small matter of deciding where to get it. It’s one thing to have a visible skull and bones on your body, but it’s quite another to have a visible gun.

Especially nowadays.

I’m very sensitive to the horrific gun violence that’s plaguing our country and would never want to make light of that in any way. I actually sat on an airplane next to one of the young women killed in the [Aurora, Colo.] movie theater shooting. She had survived another shooting incident in Canada and we talked about how terrified she was to go out in public. When I saw her picture on the cover of USA Today as a victim, it broke my heart.

I remember. Her name was Jessica Ghawi.

I don’t mean to get too political here, but the point is, this is part of what I’m considering when thinking about getting that tattoo. Megan Massacre told me that once you get a tattoo, you can’t stop at one, like Pringles or hash brownies. I said I was definitely going to stop at one, but it turns out she was right. I would like more, and I like that they will have real meaning for me. Being a novelist is a dream come true and part of my story as a warrior on this earth, so I’m proud to wear my ink!

One of the characters in Hostile Takeover, Kiana Nguyen, is based on a real person. Tell us about that.

This came about because of a contest Simon & Schuster ran, asking fans of The Intern’s Handbook to enter to win a chance at being named a character in the sequel. Kiana won, and her namesake in the book is a Wall Street suit by day, drug lord by night, a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of person featured in one of John’s more violent and fun flashbacks.

Kiana is not a drug lord or a Wall Street suit. She just graduated college and is an aspiring author! Wunderkind, my independent PR firm, ended up liking her so much they gave her–wait for it–AN INTERNSHIP! She’s working there this summer, learning the PR ropes, and evidently working on her first novel, which, based on her interesting and funny personality, will probably be great!