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All Asians All the Time

This past holiday weekend turned out really Asian for me.

First I saw writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching, starring John Cho, and thought it was a riveting, innovative thriller. In case you don’t know the concept, the entire movie is viewed via the different screens in our lives—phone, computer, surveillance cameras, TV, etc. It highlights how we think we’re so connected and have so much information about people but we really don’t.

Sony Pictures

David Kim (Cho) is looking for his missing teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), and searches for clues in her laptop and social media accounts.

I like how there’s nothing particularly Asian about the movie. It’s a thriller that happens to have an Asian-American family at its center, speaking perfect English and doing everyday, even boring things (David’s job). Well, until the daughter goes missing. But Dad still doesn’t break out any martial arts or have any particular set of skills a la Liam Neeson. He’s just a regular dad. Who looks like John Cho.

Next I binged the first season of Ronny Chieng: International Student on Comedy Central and laughed hard. Got a big kick from Elvin (Hoa Xuande), the Vietnamese student who’s the most hilarious character, and how Asians are portrayed as smart, funny, *and* good in sports. Whaaaat? Mind blown. Chieng also gets laughs in breezy fun Crazy Rich Asians, which killed at the box office for the third weekend in a row. Have you seen it yet?

CBC

On a roll, I checked out Kim’s Convenience on Netflix and ended up also whipping through its first season. This show about a Korean-Canadian family who owns a store is sweet and laugh-out-loud funny.

The show’s humor is topical, mainstream, and specifically Asian, all at the same time. Every actor shines, even the customers in the store who have only short exchanges with the Kims. Can’t wait to continue with season 2.

I can’t recall the last time I’d had so much quality entertainment available to me that featured central characters of Asian descent. These people have agency, are masters of their own lives, are sexy, funny, flawed, not second bananas, or targets of racist remarks or butts of jokes.

As I wrapped up my binge-athon, I had a realization. I’d spent the whole time bracing for the Asian characters to experience some kind of bullying or microaggression. Hours later, when that hadn’t happened, I became aware I could finally exhale.

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Movie Mini Reviews: MAMMA MIA 2 & MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE–FALLOUT

It’s been 110+ degrees here and I’ve been hiding in places with A/C because I’m trying to avoid an electric bill for $47K next month. This means lots of time at the library and movie theater. Luckily a couple of good movies are playing.

Photo: Jonathan Prime

I’ve seen Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again twice now and laughed both times, cried both times. I found it better than the first because it resonates more emotionally and deals with slightly more complex issues.

My second viewing was at an uncrowded matinee so I got up and danced in the aisle and surprisingly wasn’t kicked out by theater employees. If you need a burst of joy (who doesn’t?) and a dash of Colin Firth (again, who doesn’t), I highly recommend seeing it. Best to go in knowing as little as possible and just let the sunshine and music wash over you.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible–Fallout is also quite entertaining. The action is breathtaking and so visceral, if you wear your Fitbit while watching, you might see a million steps recorded afterward.

The death-defying stunts provide an adrenaline rush you get to experience while safe in your seats. The plot is a bit confusing (lots of physics…or something) but it doesn’t matter. The acting is good and there’s even a softer side to Ethan Hunt. This is the rare franchise that has improved as it ages.

Which movies have you enjoyed recently?

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Nerdy Special List June 2018

Summer is here so that means packing 5 books for every 1 day of vacation you take, right? Consider stuffing the following titles into your over-the-weight-limit bags!

Jen at Brown Dog Solutions recommends:

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Atria, June 5)

In this emotional sequel to Beartown, Fredrik Backman picks up with the small, struggling city as the citizens try to rebuild their beloved hockey team amid violence, deceit, and hate.

Backman’s complex plot illustrates how the club touches lives in every corner. Using hockey merely as the tool, he tells a story of humanity in all its beauty and foibles. His language is poetic, his approach often humorous, and his understanding of mankind astounding.

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, Us Against You takes Backman to new heights. Readers needn’t have read Beartown first but spoilers are present here.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, June 26)

Antiracist educator and author of the term “white fragility,” Robin DiAngelo succinctly explains white people’s defensive reactions and how they impede necessary discussions about race.

She illustrates how racism is everpresent in our culture and even well-meaning people perpetuate the problem. Being more aware of this fact and open to it is the first step in enacting real change.

DiAngelo is tactful but honest, explaining that the discussions and actions are uncomfortable, but trying to make them otherwise only exacerbates the problems. White Fragility can be eye-opening for those willing to take a close look with DiAngelo.

Rory at Fourth Street Review recommends:

Florida by Lauren Groff (Riverhead, June 5)

I love short stories. Possibly more than novels, which, if you’d asked ten years ago, I would’ve said was impossible.

When I saw the new work from Lauren Groff (author of the phenomenal Fates and Furies) was a collection of short stories set in Florida, I was thrilled. Florida is dark, oppressive, full of dread—an “Eden of dangerous things”—everything I hoped it would be.

Groff captures the gritty essence of the state. The stories are rich in characters, atmosphere, and perils of the natural world. This collection makes a wonderful addition to Groff’s work and a great pick for your summer reading list.

Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review recommends:

On the Java Ridge by Jock Serong (Text Publishing Company, June 12)

Jock Serong’s On the Java Ridge is devastatingly brilliant and the best work I’ve read this year. I cried. Twice. I am not a damn crier.

As two Indonesian-built sailboats head toward Australian waters, the government announces a new policy: no unidentified vessels will be offered maritime assistance. One boat is a charter full of white tourists on a surf trip; the other packed with asylum seekers.

The two boats cross paths to disastrous effect on the eve of federal elections, making the political maneuvering even more gut-wrenching.

Java Ridge is a grueling mix of high-octane action, life-and-death politics, and, at its heart, a haunting portrayal of worldwide refugee crises.

Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live and Love by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (Simon & Schuster. June 5)

Armstrong is becoming perhaps our greatest television historian, following Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted and Seinfeldia. She is now taking on the HBO blockbuster Sex and the City.

Armstrong’s insight is fascinating. This is an in-depth look at how four single women in New York changed the pop culture landscape and countless lives across gender and sexuality spectra. The show caused ripples in ways I never even imagined, and anyone interested in the influence of television will find this book meticulously researched and engagingly written.

PCN recommends:

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, June 5)

A woman walked into a mortuary to plan her own funeral, and hours later was murdered in her home. Wha? Did she know she’d be murdered? Or was it a freak coincidence?

Whatever your guess, it’s likely wrong. In this clever meta novel, the author, using real-life details, makes himself a lead character, a modern-day Watson to a prickly Holmesian (fictional) detective who investigates the woman’s death.

Murder is a mind-sharpening mystery, and fans of Horowitz’s TV and film work (Foyle’s War, Injustice, etc.) will enjoy the Easter eggs.

What are you reading this month?

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Nerdy Special List May 2018

Even though it’s not summer yet, I was inundated with May books that seem intended to be read in one sitting, as if we’re on vacation or something. And if we’re not, we’ll just have to say bye-bye to sleep. We had so many good books, Mr. PCN wanted to jump in with his own recommendation.

I’mma shut up now so y’all can start reading the following pronto.

Rory at Fourth Street Review recommends:

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Scribner, May 1)

Romy isn’t quite sure where she went wrong. Now serving two consecutive life sentences, Romy examines her choices, starting in her wild and neglected childhood, and how her choices may not have been choices at all.

Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a remarkable novel about life in prison, life leading up to prison, and those that cross the path of prisoners—fellow inmates, a well-meaning GED teacher, police officers, and lawyers involved in the justice system.

It’s difficult to do justice in so few words to this hard, humane novel, but it’s a thoughtful, nuanced story of the circumstances that make up an entire life.

Buy it now

Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review recommends:

Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (Harper Perennial, May 1)

I admit it—I was sucked in by the promise of swearing. But there is much more to Kimberly Harrington’s essays than motherhood and swearing, and you don’t have to be a mother or a swearer to enjoy the hell out of them.

Harrington is caustically funny, and her satirical pieces are spot on. Her more serious essays, however, are where she truly shines. The order of the pieces seems to have been done by Satan, as a hilarious piece on the rules of trying to write with kids at home (if there’s no blood, don’t interrupt) can be followed by a devastating essay on marital troubles.

Whether funny or serious-funny, Harrington bares her emotions and evokes the same from her reader. Smart and sarcastic, varied in form and substance, this collection is a true gem.

Buy it now

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle (Pegasus, May 8)

A young woman administering communion to house-bound parishioners sends her already spinning life off on a dangerous trajectory when she begins following a mysterious man.

Elderly Mrs. Epifano tells Amy Falconetti her caregiver’s son has recently been showing up in her place and hiding in Mrs. E’s bedroom. Amy can’t help but get involved, and it’s not the first time she’s trailed a potentially dangerous man.

The Lonely Witness‘s first half is a knockout character study, followed by a volatile, action-packed second half. Boyle’s love of character and place shines though in this gritty noir chock-full of ambiguous morality and loyalty.

Buy it now

Erin at In Real Life recommends:

How It Happened by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown, May 15)

How It Happened starts with a question: How did the young couple wind up dead? The answer appears simple to some, but leads to more questions at the dark heart of a rural Maine community.

FBI investigator Rob Barrett is all in to find answers, but the more he searches, the further he seems to get from the truth, and as more people are pulled into the vortex of this mystery, it’s unclear whether we’ll ever know the answers.

This is Koryta’s masterful storytelling at its very best.
Buy it now

Guest recommendation from Mr. PCN:

He by John Connolly (Quercus, May 1)

The first page of this departure from Connolly’s Charlie Parker series is a photocopy of a Los Angeles court document. It signifies a name change from Arthur Stanley Jefferson to Stan Laurel. For the rest of the novel, Laurel, one half of the legendary comedic duo Laurel and (Oliver) Hardy, is referred to only as He.

In short, poetic chapters, Connolly reveals a complicated artist journeying from vaudeville to silent film to starring in talking pictures. Laurel’s contemporaries included Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, and the great Charlie Chaplin, which should solidify this novel as a film archivist’s dream.

Thanks to Connolly’s ability to peel back the layers of a person, fictional or otherwise, this story of good, bad, and necessary choices speaks to the triumphs and heartbreaks experienced by everyone treading this stage called life.

Buy it now

PCN recommends:

Calypso by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, May 29)

My favorite humor essayist is back with this collection that finds him musing on mortality, as he’s nearing the age his mother died of cancer, and still processing the suicide of his sister Tiffany.

But if anyone can make you laugh about death, it’s Sedaris, who writes about family vacations at the beach house he bought (which he named the Sea Section), shopping for clothes with his sisters Gretchen and Amy (“Everything looks as if it has been pulled from the evidence rack at a murder trial”), and struggling with his softening feelings toward his ninetysomething father, with whom Sedaris has always had a difficult relationship.

Laughter may not solve everything, but Sedaris shows it sure can help make life more tolerable.

Buy it now

What are you excited to read this month?

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Weekend Watching: KILLING EVE, A QUIET PLACE & BLOCKERS

I had a lazy weekend—well, lazier than usual—and ended up watching lots of TV and movies. Good thing they were mostly entertaining. Here are some brief thoughts on the ones worth mentioning.

Killing Eve

I’ve been salivating for this since I heard about it back in February. BBC America’s comedic thriller stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer and is written and exec produced by Fleabag‘s brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whom I’ll follow anywhere (she’s next up in Solo).

Oh plays Eve, a bored MI-5 agent on the trail of Comer’s international assassin, Villanelle, and the two actresses are great foils for each other. Eve is messy and quirky but razor sharp when it comes to work. Villanelle is a slick sociopath, but Comer’s performance and Waller-Bridge’s writing manage to add ink-dark humor to the brutal kill missions. Even the soundtrack is funny.

The adaptation is much better than the novellas—all gathered in Codename Villanelleby Luke Jennings, who, while depicting two strong female protagonists, still wrote them from a male POV. Plus, Eve is white and 29 on the page; I love that Oh got the part. She, Comer, and Waller-Bridge bring the women vibrantly and gleefully to life.

A Quiet Place

This thriller about monsters who track their prey by sound is watching-through-your-fingers suspenseful, and its 6-person cast, including John Krasinski (also the diretor) and Emily Blunt, gives fantastic performances, almost entirely without dialogue.

My two quibbles are 1) we see too much of the creatures too soon and 2) we don’t know what their motivation is. Monsters need motivation, too. Take something like Aliens and it’s clear why the mother alien is hostile. A Quiet Place‘s creatures seem nasty for nasty’s sake.

But if you like fine acting and being kept on the edge of your seat for almost an hour and a half, this movie is worth a look.

Blockers

Three teenage girls make a sex pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Their parents find out and set out to stop the kids. Hijinks ensue.

I appreciate the questions Blockers poses—if boys are celebrated for losing their virginity, why can’t the same go for girls? Why is sex even bad?—but the movie still subjects viewers to really crude gags involving butts and balls. You’ve been warned.

Bottom line, I found more to cringe at than laugh at.

What did you watch this weekend?

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Nerdy Special List April 2018

Happy April! I’ve been wearing shirts and dresses in floral prints all week because I want flowers to be bloomin’ on my body if nowhere else. Hope spring is happening where you are.

To help brighten your day, here are our book recommendations this month.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Big Guns by Steve Israel (Simon & Schuster, April 17)

Ex-New York Congressman Steve Israel couldn’t have been more timely with his sophomore novel, Big Guns. A major gun manufacturer is threatened by a call for a national ban on handguns, so the company brings in its top lobbyist to convince the government that every citizen should be legally required to own a firearm.

Israel’s experience lends to the novel’s authenticity, and the current political climate makes the themes especially powerful. This satire is witty, thought-provoking, and shrewd.

Buy it now

Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (Salaam Reads, April 3)

This heartwarming picture book is beautiful in every respect. The young girl narrating the story finds empowerment wearing her mother’s headscarves. The acceptance of those around her—her friends, teachers, and especially her grandmother who isn’t Muslim—encourages the child to be proud of her identity.

The stunning illustrations compliment the endearing prose, making the whole package one to treasure. This should be a staple of every child’s library. Seeing the wonder and complete absence of threat in diversity is something that can’t be experienced too often or too early.

Buy it now

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The City Where We Once Lived by Eric Barnes (Arcade Publishing, April 3)

Set in a semi-apocalyptic future in the town of West End, Barnes paints a haunting portrait of a town stripped to its bones and the lives of its few remaining residents. Residents of the bordering town of South End may seem better off, but their existence is filled with traffic, plastic homes, and a hunger for material things.

When a weather-related catastrophe brings the towns together in an unexpected way, the haves are forced to rely on the have-nots. Taut with timely themes of climate change, waning empathy and lack of community, the story hits scarily close to home.

Buy it now

No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run by Tyler Wetherall (St. Martin’s Press, April 3)

By age nine, Tyler Wetherall had lived in thirteen houses in five countries on two continents, yet she still believed her father simply had “business problems.”

In her thrilling and gutting memoir, Wetherall recounts life on the run and how she and her siblings began to clue in to the family secret: her criminal father was a fugitive, wanted by the FBI and Scotland Yard.

Wetherall’s journals inform the first half of the book, a child’s narrative filled with the kind of details that can be found in great spy fiction. The second half, a present-day look at what followed her father’s capture, lacks the emotional touchstone of what came before but is no less compelling.

Buy it now

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes (Crown, April 3)

I love books where women reinvent their lives in some way and emerge strong or stronger.

Three women in their sixties meet on a tour of a retirement community and become friends, traveling to a cottage several times. This evolves into spending a year sharing a house in Tuscany, Italy.

All three women confront demons while becoming their best selves, working on life goals they never thought they’d tackle. The village nearby helps on aspects of each woman’s changes. One of their neighbors is also confronting an unexpected life obstacle while working on an exciting project. I really enjoyed the adventure taken by the women.

Buy it now

PCN recommends:

Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan (Dutton, April 3)

When Leah married Robert, an author, she agreed to let him take a sabbatical from home whenever he needs to focus on writing. The only requirement is that he leaves a note, which he always does, until one day he doesn’t. And doesn’t return.

Clues lead to Leah moving with her two daughters to Paris, where “[o]nce a week, I chase men who are not my husband,” i.e. she follows men who look like Robert around the city.

Callanan’s insightful prose captures what it’s like to be a creative person and to live with one, the sacrifices that are made. Too often we love a movie or book but don’t give much thought to what it took to create it. I especially liked the many tributes to the French classic The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse, a childhood favorite of mine.

Buy it now

Which April releases are you looking forward to?

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March Showers Bring Cover Flowers

It’s been raining on and off in L.A. for the past three weeks, which makes me miserable and cold. Had to put on socks and turtlenecks when it hit 70 degrees indoors! 🙂

I bought rain boots at the beginning of March, thinking I’d wear them for a couple of days and put them in the closet until next year. But I’ve worn them every time I’ve gone out this month. Granted, that’s only 5 times but still—it’s supposed to be spring!

All this might have something to do with my current attraction to book covers with bright flowers or artwork or sunny locales. They’re like happy pills on gray days. I haven’t read the books but the covers have done their job in catching my eye.

Check them out below, with fake plot lines I just made up because I don’t like to read synopses before reading a book. (For real descriptions, click on the covers.)

On the day of a concert, a member of an ensemble gives his fellow musicians flowers that are actually man-eating plants because nobody puts bass in a corner.

 

A young woman goes home, taking not only the shortest but prettiest route, and stops on the way to see Grandma with a basket of bread and lots of wine.

 

A single woman in Sicily having the time of her life cavorting with lions, code for swarthy Italian men. I want to teleport myself into this cover.

 

While I’m mentally in Italy, why not visit a museum? This novel is about an expat venting his angst through his art, the subject of which is the teacher who was so rubbish at teaching the man rudimentary Italian, the man ended up getting his wallet stolen by a prostitute when all he wanted was to find the nearest bathroom.

 

After her boyfriend cheated on her, the woman in this story goes to France, where she becomes chic and fabulous and rubs his face in what he missed out on.

 

This one has a dark background and disturbing title, but the flowers are so pretty! And the descriptor says this is a novel about living. That’s good enough for me.

Which covers piqued your interest?

This post contains affiliate links that, if used, could provide small commissions to PCN.

 

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Book Review: THIS FALLEN PREY by Kelley Armstrong

In Kelley Armstrong’s This Fallen Prey, third in the Casey Duncan series (after A Darkness Absolute), the detective and the off-the-grid town of Rockton remain as fascinating as ever.

Rockton, situated in the Canadian Yukon, is a sanctuary for people hiding from their pasts, but Casey and Eric Dalton—sheriff and Casey’s lover—are told they must keep a serial killer there for six months, until further arrangements can be made for him. Refusal isn’t an option because Rockton will receive $1 million for its trouble.

Oliver Brady arrives accompanied by stories of his sadistic murders, and Casey and Dalton, along with deputy sheriff Will Anders, scramble to build a facility secure enough to hold him. The trio also have to deal with residents who, fearing for their safety, develop a lynch-mob mentality, demanding crowd justice instead of shelter for the alleged murderer.

But Brady maintains his innocence, and some in Rockton believe him. When people start dying, Casey races to determine the truth about Brady’s guilt before she becomes a victim.

Some of the plot reveals aren’t shocking, but Armstrong keeps readers guessing about Brady. She holds readers captive with a sense of dread constantly lurking beyond the next tree in Rockton’s surrounding woods.

With residents who have mysterious and violent pasts, and uncivilized hostiles living in the wild, anything can happen. Rockton isn’t safe at all, but the threat of sudden Lord of the Flies-like savagery is what makes This Fallen Prey riveting.

Buy it now

This review originally appeared on Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission. It contains an affiliate link that, if used, could provide a small commission to PCN.

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Strong Women Taking Charge in TOMB RAIDER & COLLATERAL

Coincidentally, without even thinking about how March is women’s history month, I’ve been mostly reading books and watching movies and TV shows written or directed by women and featuring strong female protagonists.

I’ll write about the books in a separate post, but below are some quick thoughts about Tomb Raider, which opens Friday, and Collateral, the four-episode miniseries available now on Netflix.

Tomb Raider

MGM

I went in with very low expectations and was surprised when I didn’t find myself incessantly rolling my eyes. I can’t imagine this was the best project offered to Alicia Vikander after she won an Oscar, but the always riveting actress is the reason Tomb Raider is watchable. And hey, Angelina Jolie also chose to play Lara Croft after she won her Oscar so what do I know?

Vikander gives Lara a welcome vulnerability and grounds the action in this world even as Lara chases artifacts from ethereal realms. Yes, her arms and abs are corded with muscles, but her most impressive features remain her expressive and intelligent eyes, which let us know she can handle herself in tough situations.

The first half of the movie covers how Lara goes from being a broke bike courier to badass treasure hunter, and the second half resembles a video game that really wants to be Raiders of the Lost Ark. It doesn’t come close, but Vikander makes it palatable and you don’t feel stupider afterward.

 

Collateral

BBC

On paper, it sounds like this miniseries covers too many timely issues: anti-immigration sentiment, racism, fear of terrorism, sexual harassment, PTSD, human trafficking, drugs, and a church’s resistance to gay female vicars.

But somehow Collateral makes it all work without being preachywrapping everything up in a mystery surrounding the assassination of a pizza delivery man. In this way the show reflects real life, where we have to deal with multiple obstacles every day.

As Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie, Carey Mulligan gives the most quietly commanding performance I’ve seen from her. Jeany Spark is haunting as Captain Sandrine Shaw, an intense war veteran who only wants to protect her country but no one protects her when she needs help. And it’s always wonderful to see Nicola Walker (Ruth from Spooks/MI-5), playing a vicar who must choose between her own needs and those of her parish. I was slightly annoyed, though, that her lover, Linh, is Vietnamese but played by an actress (Kae Alexander) who obviously isn’t.

Written by lauded playwright/screenwriter Sir David Hare and directed by S.J. Clarkson, Collateral is a thought-inducing show about the complex times we’re living in, and the compromises that are sometimes made in order to do the right thing.

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Nerdy Special List March 2018

With Daylight Savings Time, I have no idea what day or time it is and have been eating dinner at 3:00 p.m. But I do know it’s March and time to post this month’s list of book recommendations. Pick them up before the next storm comes so you’ll be well stocked in reading materials!

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride (Crown Archetype, March 6)

In her highly moving memoir, Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, invites the world into her struggle to not only become her true self but also fight for the rights of others like her.

McBride always knew she was female, but the world considered her male. In college, just before she earned a White House internship, she came out. McBride’s story is extraordinary, and she points out the privileges she enjoys that many others like her don’t.

Heartbreakingly honest, authentic, and inspiring, Tomorrow Will Be Different has the power to ignite change.

Buy it on Amazon

Mary Had a Little Lab by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1)

This delightful picture book reads to the rhythm of the Mary Had a Little Lamb nursery rhyme in order to celebrate smart girls.

Mary, a science nerd, doesn’t have many friends so she invents a machine to make herself a pet—a sheep. When her classmates see how cool her sheep is, they all want one, too. Wonderful mayhem ensues.

The story’s charm has the added bonus of zany illustrations that include outstanding details. Perfect for little readers who like the wacky, sing-song nature of a Dr. Seuss tale, and for every little girl who needs to be reminded that smart is cool. (Read Jen’s full review at Shelf Awareness.)

Buy it on Amazon

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman (Dutton, March 6)

Los Angeles Times staff writer Amy Kaufman uses her insider knowledge and snarky love of the reality-television franchise to fill a whole book with details about The Bachelor, from tryouts through post-season fallout. Lest you think this is all fluff, Kaufman addresses the history of dating shows and delves into more complex issues of feminism and dating culture.

A great read for any fan, closeted or loud and proud.

Buy it on Amazon

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe (Grand Central, March 6)

Harley McKenna has shot a man, buried a mother, and plotted revenge, but her most defining characteristic is being the only child of Duke McKenna—widower, gun runner, and meth dealer extraordinaire. Harley plans to take over the family business, but not before she transforms it by whatever means necessary.

Barbed Wire Heart is a sharp, feminist novel about the length we’ll go to protect those in need, and how hard we hold on to the ties that bind, even when they’re strangling us. Sharpe has created an arresting family dynamic in the McKennas, and though I can’t speak to the constant Breaking Bad comparisons the novel has drawn, I will say it’s a compelling story.

Buy it on Amazon

PCN recommends:

The Sandman by Lars Kepler (Knopf, March 6)

Detective Inspector Joona Linna put serial killer Jurek Walter, aka the Sandman, behind bars years ago, so why are people who had tangential connections to Jurek still dying? Joona will have to confront his most terrifying nemesis again if he wants the living nightmares to end and to save one of Jurek’s victims.

From the first sentence, I was pinned to the page like I was hypnotized. Kepler, a pseudonym for husband and wife Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril, writes in a suspenseful, cinematic style that never allows readers to relax. Jurek is reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter in that he can inflict terror even in captivity. Grab The Sandman and then read the other books in this excellent series, too, starting with The Hypnotist.

Buy it on Amazon

Which books have you read this month?

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Book Review: THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED by Mick Herron

Mick Herron’s standalone This Is What Happened begins in medias res, with 26-year-old Maggie Barnes hiding in a bathroom in a high-rise building during a dangerous spy mission.

Until recently, she was working in the corporate mailroom there, but then the mysterious Harvey Wells recruited her into MI5. Her ordinariness makes her the perfect mole, the last person anyone would suspect of bringing down an evil establishment.

But that average quality also means she’s no Jane Bond. As Maggie creeps around the building to complete her mission while trying to evade the security guards, her chances of failure and level of fear are high. It’s a killer opening.

And that’s all anyone should know before starting this thriller. Part of its impact comes from the discoveries. Herron (Spook Street) constantly throws in plot bombs to blow up expectations. His sentences have no wasted words; they’re just long enough to land their punches and leave.

The story goes to dark, disturbing places, but not without a sense of humor. Regarding current events, Maggie observes, “people would still fight for stupid reasons. It didn’t matter that clever ones had become available.” Another character intimidates someone by invoking a fake law firm: “Her imaginary firm’s title contained five surnames, and simply reciting them felt like an act of assault with a briefcase.”

Readers can trust Herron knows exactly what he’s doing, even if what happened may not be what happened.

Buy from Amazon

This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permissionIt contains an affiliate link that could generate a small commission for PCN if used.

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Nerdy Special List February 2018

It’s Friday before a long holiday weekend for some. And after yet another school shooting.

When I’m heartsick, I turn to books to save me, and they always do.

Here are this month’s recommendations.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

A Forest in the Clouds by John Fowler (Pegasus, February 6)

While in college, John Fowler spent a year as a research assistant for Dian Fossey at the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda. People close to Fowler wanted to know what it was like to work with the great primatologist memorialized in Gorillas in the Mist.

Fowler experienced a dramatically different Fossey from the one the world knew, and struggled with how to respond to those who inquired. Now, decades later, A Forest in the Clouds is his answer.

It engages the reader like a novel, with humor and drama and suspense. The African backdrop, exquisitely woven into the story, adds to the exotic atmosphere with its distinctive climate and breathtaking wildlife. Fowler’s insider story is a new perspective in the world of animal science.

Buy it now from Amazon

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington (PublicAffairs, February 27)

Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington’s story of institutional racism, junk science, and a broken criminal justice system is a difficult one to read, but incredibly important. Their history of Mississippi racism is mortifying, and the ways it still exists today are equally horrifying.

The pair use meticulous research to build their case against Dr. Steven Hayne, a forensic pathologist; and his friend Michael West, a dentist who claimed to be a bite-mark specialist. Hayne and West took advantage of the flaws in the system, and their greed had devastating effects on people like Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, who were wrongly convicted of murder.

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is rich in information presented in a captivating manner. It’s a real-life horror story about a problem that can only be solved through increased understanding and awareness.

Buy it now from Amazon

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press, February 6)

After unexpectedly inheriting a homestead in remote Alaska, Ernt Allbright moves his family to the Kaneq wilderness. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as a POW in Vietnam, Ernt begins to unravel during the long nights in a hostile landscape.

The Great Alone is not his story, however; it’s the story of his resilient daughter Leni and the life she’s able to carve out in the wake of the family wreckage. Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous ’70s, Kristin Hannah has written a riveting novel of survival and brutality. Memorable characters and an unforgettable setting make this bittersweet novel a winter standout.

Buy it now from Amazon

PCN recommends:

Sunburn by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, February 20)

An attractive redhead with sunburned shoulders sitting in a bar in Delaware in the middle of a summer day. A handsome man approaches. They strike up a conversation, the start of something that soon escalates and spins out of control.

Sunburn was inspired by the work of James M. Cain, a master of noir and one of my favorite authors ever, so I approached it with interest but also some skepticism. From the first line, however, it was clear the description is apt. The prose is classic and contemporary at the same time, and even if you know how noir usually ends, Lippman makes Sunburn hard to resist.

Buy it now from Amazon

What’s on your reading list this month?

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