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Nerdy Special List June 2017

School’s out and summer has started, which means lazy days—or in my case, lazier days. I blame it on the heat. And laziness.

But there’s one activity I’ll always do a lot of and that’s reading. The NSL contributors and I enjoy diving into pools of books to find the standouts each month.

Here are our favorites for June.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls’ Escape from Slavery to Union Hero by Cate Lineberry (St. Martin’s Press, June 20)

There are many amazing African-American heroes whom we read and hear about in school, see memorialized around the country, and easily recognize by name. One who isn’t quite as common but easily as exceptional is Robert Smalls, a South Carolina slave who stole a Confederate steamer and sailed it in the Union Navy forces.

Smalls’ goal was to save his family, but he accomplished far more. Following his incredibly dangerous escape, Smalls went on to pilot vessels for the Union, raise funds for a community of freed slaves, own a business, learn to read, provide education for his children, and buy the South Carolina home he grew up in as a slave.

Lineberry’s thorough research and obvious passion make this account of Smalls’ life engaging and fascinating. As Americans, this is a story we should know as well as Fredrick Douglass’ or Harriet Tubman’s.

Unsub by Meg Gardiner (Dutton, June 27)

Caitlin Hendrix grew up surrounded by the case of the serial murderer dubbed The Prophet. Her father was the lead investigator for the Alameda Sheriff’s Department.

The case was never solved but it ended her father’s career as well as his marriage. That didn’t prevent Caitlin from following her father’s career path, though.

Twenty years after The Prophet disappeared, Caitlin is a making a name for herself in the narcotics division when she’s summoned to a murder scene. The victim is found with a Mercury symbol, The Prophet’s calling card.

Whether it was left by the actual killer, back after 20 years, or a copycat is unclear, but Homicide Sergeant Joe Guthrie knows the most important clues of the case are locked in the mind of former detective Mack Hendrix, and the only way to him is through Caitlin.

Based on the notorious unsolved case of San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer, Unsub is a creepy, atmospheric, fast-paced thriller full of plot twists and suspense.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Perennials by Mandy Berman (Random House, June 6)

Is there a better way to welcome summer than with a debut novel about summer camp? I don’t think so.

I never went to summer camp, but I always, always wanted to, so perhaps a bit of my appreciation of Mandy Berman’s Perennials is rooted in envy. Regardless, it’s good.

Rachel and Fiona are campers—and later camp counselors—at Camp Marigold. They come from vastly different backgrounds but are best camp friends.

Told from multiple perspectives over the course of multiple summers, resembling linked short stories more than a novel, Fiona’s and especially Rachel’s stories are fleshed out in this coming-of-age novel. It’s heartfelt and melancholy, awkward and bittersweet. It’s not about action-packed summer hijinks, but rather a meditation on the benefits and burdens of friendship.

Berman is a talented writer, and I look forward to seeing what she writes next. In the meantime, Perennials is the perfect literary kickoff to summer.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow, June 6)

I did not want to read this book. The cover creeped me the hell out and I wanted to throw it on the “get rid of this book” pile as fast as possible. [Ed. note: she offered to send it to me.]

But duty called and I’m glad it did, because it’s a super enjoyable read and not nearly as doll-creepy as I thought it would be.

Sorrel Woodham, dollmaker extraordinaire, has purchased a newspaper ad every year since her daughter Janey disappeared. The ad offers a reward for the return of the doll that was made by Miss Sorrel in Janey’s likeness and taken along with her.

Forty years later, a response to the ad sends three generations of Woodham women on a mission to finally find out what happened to Janey. Ephron is a smart writer who keeps the plot engaging while avoiding the numerous pitfalls that can turn an amateur investigator story into an eye-roller. I tore through this traditional suspense mystery and recommend it as a great summer read.

Ash Falls by Warren Read (Ig Publishing, June 13)

In the beautifully written opening of Ash Falls, convict Ernie Luntz escapes into Washington mountains following the crash of his prison transport vehicle. As word of Ernie’s run for the hills makes its way through his hometown of Ash Falls, Read unexpectedly turns his fantastic novel into something other than a prison escape story (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The reader is treated to interconnected stories from multiple third-person points of view, including that of Ernie’s wife, son, and others impacted by the violence that sent Ernie away in the first place.

Read’s language is beautiful and stark, with many passages that are repeat-read worthy. This debut novel is not to be missed by grit-lit fans.

From PCN:

The Child by Fiona Barton (Berkley, June 27)

An infant’s skeleton is found under the foundation of a building being demolished. The bones have been there for decades. Whose child was it and how did it get there?

Kate, a reporter, jumps on the story. Two other women, Emma and Angela, follow the case closely, with dread and for entirely different reasons, until the three women’s paths converge in an emotional and satisfying way.

Barton (The Widow) makes loss and longing palpable, but she also shows what lies on the other side of grief is joy.

What’s in your reading stack?

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Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN (No Spoilers)

I’m so excited the review embargo has finally been lifted on Wonder Woman and I can share how good it is!!

I hated last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and even Wonder Woman’s cameo couldn’t save it. I wasn’t impressed by what little I saw of Gal Gadot in that movie. All she was allowed to do was be a mannequin in gorgeous gowns and briefly fight as WW, without showing much personality.

What a difference it makes when she gets to be the star of her own movie. Gadot doesn’t have the greatest emotional range, but she’s much warmer and playful in Wonder Woman. She’s convincing as both a warrior and an innocent, when Diana meets a man, leaves her all-female home island of Themyscira, and experiences the real world—all for the first time.

That man, of course, is pilot Steve Trevor, imbued by Chris Pine with gravitas when called for, and deadpan humor when not. Steve isn’t just a helpless mortal always in need of being saved, like women often are in movies about male superheroes. Pine gets to do some heroic stuff, too. He and Gadot make a winning crime-fighting pair.

The supporting cast of Amazons, led by Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta and Robin Wright as General Antiope—Diana’s mother and aunt, respectively—can be best described by one word: fierce. Their fight scenes are awe-inducing. I’ve followed Wright’s career for more than 30 years and I’ve never seen her kick ass like this. It made me think of Chinese martial arts films, where women fight as brutally as men and no punches are pulled for them. They aren’t trying to be cute or bopping someone over the head with a frying pan. These women are warriors and have the scars to prove it.

The real leader of cast and crew is director Patty Jenkins, who has managed to create a thrilling, action-filled movie that’s also surprisingly poignant and contains social commentary. Instead of going up against CGI monsters, Wonder Woman fights man, those consumed with power and greed who are willing to slaughter innocents in their bid for supremacy. WW is refreshingly free of angst—when she sees evil, she charges full steam ahead to combat it. She doesn’t go on a long trip to some far-flung location to gaze at her navel first, like some of her Justice League pals.

Wonder Woman—like the other Amazons of Themyscira—believes we should be governed by decency, wisdom, compassion, and courage. She’s the hero we need right now. Her world is an inspiring place to visit, and I can’t wait to see it again soon.

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Interview with Dennis Lehane

photo: Gaby Gerster/Diogenes, Zurich

Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, Since We Fell, was published this week. I reviewed it for Shelf Awareness, and interviewed Lehane for the same issue. Below is our conversation, reprinted with permission.

It seems the only thing predictable about your career is that you always do something unpredictable. Since We Fell is different from anything you’ve written. The central POV is female, and Rachel and her family aren’t working class.

After 20 years of writing mostly about guys, it was refreshing to step into a woman’s perspective. And, yes, I decided to write about a bit more upscale world than I have before. Rachel comes from an intellectual family–her mother and father were both professors–but the damage they inflicted on her is just as brutal as the more direct forms of violence that happen in my other novels. And her journey (at least until she meets her second husband) is one of dislocation and isolation, of people abruptly leaving her life without a look back. In the first third of the book she’s on a search for her paternity. After that search leads to a mental breakdown, her next journey is to reclaim herself, which is the main journey of the book.

Rachel’s voice was so convincing, both as a woman and an individual with agoraphobia. How did you go about finding it? Did it come easily, and how did you know when it was right?

The voice mostly came easily. I did a pass after I was done to red-flag any areas where I thought Rachel could be sounding like a man or where I was seeing the scene through a pair of guy goggles. But there weren’t too many moments like that, as luck would have it. I ran the manuscript past a few female friends and it passed muster with them, so I figured I was okay from there.

As for the agoraphobia, I did a tiny bit of research but hardly to a taxing level. Most of the hard work of the book centered around drilling down into the causes of Rachel’s maladies. The gender-specific stuff and the particulars of how her panic attacks manifested themselves came out without too much struggle.

Your recurring theme of family is present: biological vs. chosen. Has becoming a father yourself affected how you write about family and father-child relationships?

No how-to manual can prepare you for the depths of both love and fear that overtake you when you bring a child into the world. I mean, before you have kids, you sort of get it… but you don’t, not really.

Since I’ve had children, I wrestle with the not terribly original terrors of not measuring up to what they need me to be, of failing them at crucial moments and, most of all, of what will happen to them if something happens to me before they reach adulthood. That last fear is clearly reflected in both the father-son relationship in my previous book, World Gone By, and the relationship Rachel has–or, more specifically, doesn’t–with her own father(s) in Since We Fell.

Regarding movie rights, you’ve said you only “sell to a studio through somebody,” e.g., to Clint Eastwood who then approached Warner Bros. about Mystic River, not to WB directly. Via which director did DreamWorks buy Since We Fell?

In the case of Since We Fell, I broke all my usual rules. I’m writing the adaptation, for example, and I did sell directly to DreamWorks, although with the inclusion of three producers whose work I admire. I’ve been in L.A. now for almost four years, so the “studios” are not as faceless as they were when I lived in Boston; I know a lot of the top execs. So, it’s a bit different from the days when I refused to sell to a studio because it felt like dropping the book into an ocean filled with unknowable but predatory creatures.

Tell us about your decision to write the screenplay, which you’ve said you never wanted to do for one of your novels.

Most times when I write a novel, the last thing I can see is the structure of it. I usually mosey on into my novels with a character or a line or two and just fumble around blindly for the light switch. And I rewrite a lot, usually in no particular sequence. So it’s normally impossible for me to see the structural through-line. I leave that for readers and, yes, screenwriters who wish to adapt the book.

But with Since We Fell, the idea popped into my head, fully formed: What if an agoraphobic woman with the “perfect marriage” comes to believe her husband has a second life in another city? And the answers to why that husband might be lying and what was going on in the background and how Rachel was going to have to conquer her agoraphobia to solve the mystery–all of that came to me in a matter of days. So for the first time since Shutter Island, I started a book with the structure locked in place. That made it easy to see how to adapt it for film. And I seemed like the right guy for the job. For once.

You live in L.A. now. Has the city inspired you to write any L.A. noir?

No. You’d be jousting with giants there. [Raymond] Chandler, [John] Fante, [Nathanael] West, [Horace] McCoy, and [James] Ellroy–to name just five right off the top of my head. I don’t see the point. I still have my little neck of the woods in Boston, the one place I feel confident that I know better than almost anyone. L.A. would take a lifetime to learn and I’ve spent that lifetime learning Boston. The L.A. literary landscape can get along great without any contributions from me.

You’ve written different genres and in different mediums. Is there something you’d like to tackle but haven’t yet?

Two things: I’d like to do a straight-up chase novel someday, à la Three Days of the Condor, a film I love. And I’d like to do a purely naturalistic novel in which there are no big action sequences or even overtly big emotions. Something small and quiet.

What have you learned in the past 20+ years of your career that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Nothing. Careers are often built because of what you don’t know, what you’re too ignorant to fear or too stupid to realize you shouldn’t try. I never regret something I tried at and failed. I only regret things I never tried at all.

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Nerdy Special List May 2017–Take 2

OK, let’s try this again. Earlier this post was unfinished but published without my knowledge or permission. While writing it, I experienced technical issues so I saved what I had and asked tech support to look into the problems. When I went to bed, IT reps were still looking into it. 

In the morning, I got an email saying it had gone live and out to subscribers, even though I’d never asked the support team to publish it.

So here’s the finished post, including my own rec, if you still want to take a look.

********

Happy May, everyone! It’s raining as I type this so I’m happy to be inside curled up with a good book. Oh, who am I kidding? Even if the sun was shining, I wouldn’t be outside. It’s too…humany out there.

Luckily, books make great company, and here are the ones we recommend this month. Happy reading!

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (Amulet Books, May 2)

For those old enough to remember the Dustin Hoffman movie Tootsie, Noteworthy may conjure some of those memories.

This delightful young adult novel features Jordan Sun, a scholarship student at a prestigious performing arts boarding school. A junior at Kensington-Blaine, Jordan has never succeeded in securing a role in the school’s musical, so she confronts her advisor—also the show’s director—who tells her her Alto 2 voice isn’t conducive for most female roles in musicals.

Feeling dejected, Jordan thinks, “What have I got to lose?” when an all-school email arrives announcing try-outs for the elite, all-male a capella club on campus. She puts her theater training to work and disguises herself as Julian Zhang to audition. For the first time in her Kensington-Blaine career, Jordan, a.k.a. Julian, discovers a place she’s wanted, but how long can she maintain the charade and who exactly will she be when it’s over?

Noteworthy sings with fun language, sharp dialogue, and the cacophony of high school life. Redgate builds around themes of identity, class, and of course gender roles. This is a novel that exemplifies the high standards being set for young adult literature today. Humorous, complex and engaging, Noteworthy deserves a standing ovation!

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The White Road by Sarah Lotz (Mulholland Books, May 30)

“I met the man who would save my life twice—and ultimately destroy it—on a potholed road in the arse-end of the Welsh countryside.”

With an opening line that foreboding, I was hooked.

Sarah Lotz’s latest novel, The White Road, tells the tale of Simon, once a troubled youth now an adventure seeker, trying to get a spooky website off the ground. The cofounder, Thierry, sends Simon spelunking in search of three bodies left behind in a cave, Cwm Pot.

Guided by the unbalanced Ed, they find the bodies, just as a flash flood traps him with the bones. The intense cold and darkness, along with Ed’s corpse, terrorize Simon, but he makes it out alive with his film footage intact. The footage goes viral, against Simon’s wishes, leaving Thierry wondering how to top it.

He decides on a literal approach, and sends Simon to climb Mt. Everest to film the climbers who perished in the attempt. Once there, Simon realizes he didn’t escape the cave alone, nor is he the only one haunted.

The White Road is about Simon’s ill-fated exploits and the true weight of guilt. Lotz’s prose, though standard, is visceral and compulsory, and she absolutely nails the claustrophobic atmosphere. The beginning and end of the novel are excellent, and though it lags in the middle, it’s worth the journey to complete the whole thing. If you’re looking for a page-turner with an ending that will haunt you, give The White Road a try.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner (Down & Out Books, May 15)

Danny Gardner’s debut is a powerful work of historical crime fiction. Elliot Caprice is a chameleon with no clear space in the world. The son of an interracial couple raised under the wing of a Jewish loan shark, the semi-disgraced Chicago police officer has a history on both sides of the law.

Elliot returns home to Southville, Illinois in 1952 to find his uncle ill and the family farm in peril. Determined to save them both, Elliot takes a straight job, but ends up embroiled in the multi-fronted fight over a powerful businessman’s estate, not to mention his potential murder.

Elliot’s shady background, sense of justice, military and Chicago PD service, and skin color make for a fascinating and combustible mix mined superbly by Gardner. Intimate, violent and intense, with just the right humorous undertones, A Negro and an Ofay is a fast-moving crime novel with a soul.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (Touchstone, May 16)

Beatrice is very empathetic, and can feel some of what happens to her patients as she performs neurosurgery on them. Beatrice takes a leave of absence to clear up the affairs of her brother after he passes away overseas.

Ben lived in Siena, Italy, doing historical research on the plague. Once Beatrice is in Italy, she reads Ben’s research. Between her empathy and Ben’s project, she finds herself in Siena in 1347, shortly before the arrival of the plague. Ben was researching why Siena had suffered more during the plague than any of its nearby cities, and Beatrice discovers one of the reasons.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved Beatrice, how smart she was, her sense of humor, and how she took care of herself. The descriptions of Italy in the 1300s are wonderful (though going there from the 21st century would be hard). I loved the characters, the setting, and the hows and whys of Beatrice’s time travel.

Highly recommended!!

From PCN:

Where Dead Men Meet by Mark Mills (Blackstone, May 30)

Reading this is like watching a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie, one with an everyman caught up in engrossing intrigue and on the run from dangerous spies and nefarious characters.

Luke Hamilton (think a young Jimmy Stewart or Joel McCrea) doesn’t know why deadly strangers want him dead. He partners up with a beautiful woman named Piper (picture Veronica Lake or Joan Fontaine) who may be able to help him—or put him in even more danger. They race across Europe, encountering many dead bodies on their quest to find the answer to Luke’s troubles, and to complete Piper’s agenda of avenging a loved one’s death.

The charismatic leads, sparkling dialogue, complex characters, mysterious plot, fast pace, and vivid European locales all add up to one breezy, entertaining adventure. For more info about this novel, check out the Maximum Shelf issue I did on it, which includes an interview with author Mark Mills.

What are you excited about reading this month?

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Nerdy Special List April 2017

I’ll be having a birthday soon, which means I’ll have to confront something on my list of fears. This year’s challenge: spring cleaning. [Insert horror scream here.] I think I’ll read a book instead and hope the house elves come in the night to take care of the cleaning.

Here are the April releases we recommend for when you need to avoid doing something else.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman, trans. by Neil Smith (Atria Books, April 25)

I haven’t done a very good job of hiding the fact I love Fredrik Backman’s work. I’ve adored each of his previous three books published in the US, for their individual distinctiveness as well as their commonalities. But Beartown surpasses them all.

This time Backman takes a bit of a darker tone, and has an entire cast of protagonists as opposed to a central main character enhanced with supporting characters.

Beartown is a sleepy little village struggling in the economy. Jobs have left, but the town uses its hockey program as a reason to get up every day. Some residents are players or coaches, some former players and devout fans. This year, the junior team is positioned to go all the way to the championship. This could mean big things for Beartown: a hockey academy, a new arena, population growth. But a fateful night shakes the entire town and more than just the championship dreams could be extinguished.

Even though Backman’s tone is darker and graver than before, he still employs his smart wit and insightful perspective. Dialogue is sparse but sharp and the characters are brilliantly authentic.

One needn’t be a fan of hockey to love this book. Backman uses the sport as a vehicle for his rich themes, but it could have easily been replaced by any other sport…or community focus. Beartown is a universal tale of humanity—its strengths, weaknesses, beauty, and hideousness. Once again, Backman has stolen my heart with his larger-than-life tale of the common man.

Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope (St. Martin’s Press, April 18)

Conservative former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and liberal former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope teamed up on this book to show how efforts to save the planet are not only environmentally productive, they’re economically productive as well.

These two leaders look at the individual parts of climate change and offer solutions to the smaller parts, not one idea for the entire issue. They illustrate how this makes it more manageable as well as profitable. And they emphasize the need—and plausibility—for local governments, businesses, and citizens to take on these tasks instead of waiting for change from the federal government, especially in the current political climate.

The two men alternate chapters, addressing topics such as renewable energy, housing, food, and transportation. They don’t agree on everything, but Climate of Hope is a beautiful example of how progress can be made despite partisan differences.

It’s enlightening, motivating, and accessible, and should be required reading: for the good of the planet, the good of the people, and the good of the economy.

 

From Erin at In Real Life:

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole (Ecco, April 4)

This is one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read. The story opens with a detective, William Fawkes—or Wolf, as he’s known—with a sketchy past being pulled into a case involving a corpse comprised of stitched-together parts from six different bodies.

Pretty gross, right? Only, it’s not. This character-driven story is told with a respect for the victim that’s almost eerie. It’s not gratuitous. It is descriptive, but gracefully so.

Wolf and his backstory are at the center of the mystery of The Ragdoll (as the corpse is called), but the supporting cast—Wolf’s police colleagues, his TV reporter ex-wife and her colleagues, the victims and their families—makes this tale one to remember. As they each play their part in figuring out who the six victims are and what connects them, the urgency around catching the killer is palpable. Daniel Cole wastes no words; perhaps his former life as a paramedic honed his ability to vividly communicate just enough information.

Ragdoll is the first in a series; Cole’s publishing contract includes three books. If what comes next is anywhere near as good as RAGDOLL, readers are in for a wonderfully wild ride.

 

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil by Susan Ewing (Pegasus Books, April 4)

Heads up, shark and adventure nerds! Resurrecting the Shark is the story of the people who came together over the course of about a hundred years to solve the mystery of a 270-million-year-old fish fossil.

Now known as Helicoprion (“spiral saw”), this paleozoic shark has a two-foot-tall whorl of teeth sitting midline in its lower jaw like a circular saw, making Sharknado feel like staid Sunday programming. The fossil became a passion project in geology, taxonomy, paleontology, and the arts, from Australia to Russia to the United Sates.

Resurrecting the Shark is the compelling story of how it was ultimately determined what the fossil was, what it looked like, how it ate, how it lived and where.

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki (W. W. Norton & Company, April 11)

The minimalism movement has become quite popular lately, but Japanese editor Fumio Sasaki’s story of how he found greater happiness by giving up his possessions is more than just another piece of grist for the mill.

Sasaki shares his process (getting rid of just about everything, including his bed) and the emotional transformation that resulted. It’s a very personal journey, but the ideas and concepts are presented in a way that is both motivating and adaptable. Including photos and a list of tips, the book is physically beautiful (and minimal), as well as a fascinating read.

[Editor’s note: I need Fumio Sasaki to come to my apartment.]

 

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman (Harper, April 11)

It makes me happy that Ms. Hillerman is continuing her father [Tony]’s series with Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee, and Bernadette Manuelito. I like the marriage of Bernadette and Jim, and I love that Bernadette has a strong lead role in Ms. Hillerman’s books. I also like the respect that Bernadette and Jim have for Joe Leaphorn, and that they consider him a mentor.

In Song of the Lion, a bomb goes off in the parking lot of a high school, bringing another situation to light. How these two situations connect is a darn good story. Recommended!

 

From PCN:

Cruel is the Night by Karo Hämäläinen, trans. by Owen Witesman (Soho Crime, April 11)

Four friends sit down to dinner one evening in London, but some or all of them might end up dead before the night is over.

As the meal progresses, everyone gets more drunk and their true feelings for each other emerge, resulting in all-out violence. There’s even a sword involved.

Cruel is disturbing and darkly humorous, and fast-paced enough that you can probably devour it in one bite.

What are you reading this month?

 

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Movie Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Does anyone need a refresher on the plot of this “tale as old as time”? The one about a girl whose kindness saves a selfish prince and his household from a curse? No? OK, great. I can jump straight into details you may not already know about this latest version.

Yes, Emma Watson can sing. She doesn’t have the widest emotional range as an actress, but her natural intelligence, pluck, and sense of decency make her perfect as Belle, the bookworm who wants more than a provincial life.

Dan Stevens, playing Beast, can sing, too, but his performance isn’t especially memorable. Out of hairy makeup, he’s Generic Pretty Prince. Robby Benson left a stronger impression with only his voice in the 1991 animated classic.

This live-action retelling is faithful to that previous version and has moments of splendor, but it doesn’t improve on the ’91 film so I’m not convinced its existence is justified.

The ballroom scene with Belle in her golden gown? Lovely, but no better than the iconic iteration. The “Be Our Guest” number? Looks more like a typical, splashy musical number here than an enchanting moment with a singing, dancing candelabra and his dinnerware friends. (Ewan McGregor does a fine job voicing Lumiere but I really missed the late Jerry Orbach in this scene.)

One thing that is different is the “gay moment,” as it’s been dubbed in the media. I was pleasantly surprised by it (saw the movie before director Bill Condon’s comments were made public). It’s funny and sweet and just a quick bit, neither in your face nor so ambiguous it leaves you wondering. It’s not a big deal. At all. The hullaballoo and boycotts are much ado about nothing, people judging the movie before they see it.

Oh, and also? Luke Evans, who perfectly embodies Gaston, is openly gay in real life but that didn’t stop the studio from casting him as the alpha male and Belle’s most ardent suitor. Disney is gettin’ with the times, yo.

Another difference is the running time. The animated movie is less than 90 minutes, but this one is about 2 hours 10, which might be too long for little kids to sit through. And this Gaston is more violent toward Beast than I remember the previous Gaston being. Yet this movie is rated PG. Who is its intended audience?

This inconsistency between themes and running time and rating perhaps means the new Beauty and the Beast is trying to be all things to everyone, but as the prince eventually realizes, bigger spectacles don’t equal more substance.

Nerd verdict: Competent if not quite magical Beauty 

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Book Review: DISTRESS SIGNALS by Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard’s Distress Signals—shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards’ Crime Novel of the Year after its UK release—opens with a man plunging off a cruise ship into dark waters, but readers will have to wait to discover why he jumped.

Adam Dunne’s girlfriend Sarah leaves Cork, Ireland, to attend a business conference in Barcelona. She doesn’t return. And no one can reach her. Then he receives her passport in a package mailed from France, with a note saying, “I’m sorry—S.”

Adam sets out to track down Sarah, not believing she would leave him like that. When he digs into her recent activities, however, he discovers a shocking secret, and that Sarah was last seen on a cruise ship called the Celebrate. He books himself on the same ship, but will he find Sarah or encounter his own death?

Though this is Howard’s debut novel, she writes with complete command of language, plot, and the thriller genre. She also knows the ins and outs of maritime laws that often lead to deaths on ships in international waters going unsolved.

The chapters alternate among the points of view of three characters: Adam; a crew member on the ship; and a boy named Romain, whose story occurs mostly in the past and is itself a mystery in how it intersects with the others. In a testament to Howard’s skill, Romain’s narrative is the most moving and resonant—his soul may be distressed but his humanity comes through loud and clear.

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

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Nerdy Special List March 2017

March brings spring, and whoo boy, I could use some spring right now. Heavy rains (causing a tree to fall on a friend’s car—while she was in it) were rough, turning me into more of a hermit than usual. Good thing I have loads of books.

Here are the March releases we recommend. And no, I don’t know why they all come out today (except for the last one).

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Gizelle’s Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog by Lauren Fern Watt (Simon & Schuster, March 7)

What started out as an impulse purchase ended up being a wonderful relationship.

Lauren Watt bought her canine best friend, Gizelle—an English mastiff—on a whim while out with her mother one weekend. Lauren was just about to start college and her mother decided she needed a dog.

By the time Lauren graduates college and moves to New York City, Gizelle is a whopping 160 pounds. But Lauren explains Gizelle had a gift for fitting into places she shouldn’t fit, and she fit perfectly into Lauren’s life in NYC.

As any pet owner knows, our best friends never live as long as we’d like them to, but when Lauren learns Gizelle has cancer—and after she deals with her initial grief—she decides she’d make a bucket list for Gizelle.

Gizelle’s Bucket List is heartwarming and heartbreaking, funny and sad. It reminds us that since we don’t have a lot of days with our pets, we should make the ones we do have count. Dog lovers will identify with many of Lauren and Gizelle’s experiences, regardless of how large or small their own furbabies are. Their tale will have every pet lover scribbling bucket lists for their four-legged best friends.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler (Ecco, March 7)

Beginning at a Wisconsin summer camp in 1962 and spanning six decades, Nickolas Butler’s newest novel is his best yet (and I deeply loved Shotgun Lovesongs).

Nelson, bullied overachiever, is the camp’s bugler. Jonathan is a popular boy at camp. The two form an unlikely and uncertain friendship.

As the years pass, Nelson, a Vietnam veteran, becomes scoutmaster of beloved Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan becomes a successful businessman. They remain connected as both Jonathan’s son and grandson find their way to the camp.

This is not a happy book, and at times it is deeply unsettling, but it is timely. It shows what the most ordinary of boys and men are capable of.

As it examines both Nelson and Jonathan at turning points in their lives, we learn about the ways they are shaped from their childhood, the men they become, and how complicated even the simplest person can be. It’s a novel full of heart, beautiful prose, and memorable characters. It will undoubtedly be one of my favorite books this year.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Celine by Peter Heller (Knopf, March 7)

When a terrific mystery is the least fabulous part of a novel, you know you’ve hit the jackpot as a reader. Peter Heller has created a simply sublime protagonist in Celine, a 69-year-old former government worker born with a silver spoon who now works as a PI helping to reunite families.

As comfortable in Jackie O sunglasses as her Glock shoulder rig, Celine is a recovering alcoholic who suffers from emphysema and creates sculptures using animal skulls. When a young woman seeks Celine’s help to find out what really happened to her long-thought-dead father, Celine and her husband Pete hit the road to find the truth.

While painted with wicked-smart humor, Celine is about loyalty, despair, art, obligation, and privilege, carried out superbly in Heller’s hands.

From PCN:

I’m recommending two this month.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (Abrams ComicArts, March 7)

Bui was a toddler when she and her family came to the US as refugees from Vietnam. The ghosts of war came with them, and it took Bui many years to finally find the right way to tell her and her parents’ stories. She drops some truth bombs up in here.

This illustrated memoir is moving and funny, telling painful, complex tales without overwhelming readers. Sometimes Bui’s artwork says it all, no accompanying narration or dialogue needed. In this understated quietness, the Buis’ stories come across loud and clear.

Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith (Forge, March 21)

Mia receives call saying her twin brother has gone missing in their N. Dakota hometown. And oh yeah, he’s suspected of knocking up one of his high school students and then murdering her. Mia goes home, encounters life-threatening situations as she searches for Lucas and tries to clear his name. Someone—perhaps more than one—in town is determined to keep her from exposing old secrets.

Smith’s characters are demented and dysfunctional but riveting. I especially liked how Mia and other female characters get to be messily three-dimensional. They have all kinds of issues but they feel like people you’d know.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

 

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Oscars 2017: And the Winner for Biggest Flub Is…

Wow. I tuned into the Oscars hoping for at least one surprise and I got it, all right.

In case you’d bailed on the very long show and haven’t heard: the wrong best picture winner was announced (La La Land) and the winners had already come on stage and were in the middle of their speeches when Jordan Horowitz, one of LLL’s producers, announced Moonlight actually won best picture, saying “It’s not a joke,” and raised the correct card to prove it.

My reaction:

Horowitz and the rest of the La La Land crew were incredibly gracious to the Moonlight group, hugging and congratulating them as they came onstage in a daze.

Before they could give their acceptance speeches, however, Warren Beatty explained he was given the best actress card by mistake. To make things momentarily weirder, Emma Stone, who’d won that category, said backstage she was holding the Best Actress card the whole time. Whaaaat?

Turns out there were two cards for each winner. See explanation here. Mystery solved. Or at least some of it. How/why was Beatty given the wrong envelope? Why did Faye Dunaway say La La Land when looking at the wrong card? (She declined to comment when The Hollywood Reporter asked her at the Governors Ball afterward.)

Here’s a clip of the confusing moment:

This closeup, tweeted by ABC News, shows Beatty holding the wrong envelope.

I liked both movies and would’ve been happy with either as the winner. In a way, both did win, for Best Handling of a Mistake Seen by a Billion People.

Now, let’s see…what else happened during the show?

Justin Timberlake opened it with an energetic performance of best-song nominee “Can’t Stop the Feeling” that got everyone up and dancing, which was fun. But little did they know when they sat down that they wouldn’t be getting up again for many, many hours.

Some highlights:

Most delicious surprise: No, I’m not talking about Viggo Mortensen in a tux. That’s no surprise. I’m referring to the free candy and donuts dropping from the ceiling to keep the audience happy and not hungry. I swear, if bag o’ chips had started dropping, I would’ve jumped in my car, driven over to the Dolby Theater, and tried to grab a few.

Funniest disrespect of a celebrity: Host Jimmy Kimmel’s continuing diss of Matt Damon. The actor was announced only as Ben Affleck’s guest when the two came out to present Best Original Screenplay, and then Kimmel tried to play Damon off with music when Damon tried to announce the nominees. His takedown of Damon’s performance in We Bought a Zoo—“his acting is so effortful”—got in some good digs.

Cutest kid in the candy store: Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Hamilton creator was enjoying the heck out of himself, happy and smiling big the whole night, like someone had put all his favorite things in the world in one place and he couldn’t believe his eyes. It was nice to see someone who wasn’t too cool or jaded to be there.

Cutest kid who’s actually a kid: Sunny Pawar. I’m not sure how I feel about Kimmel holding up Pawar Simba-style, but it was adorable how Pawar asked for Mike & Ike candy while that was happening.

Favorite dedication to theater nerds: best song co-winner Benj Pasek (with Justin Paul and Justin Hurwitz for “City of Stars” from La La Land) said, “[My mom] let me quit the JCC soccer league to be in a school musical, so this is dedicated to all the kids who sing in the rain and all the moms who let them.” I hated soccer in high school, too, and was much happier in theater. High five, Benj, and to all the cool moms.

Moments that made me cry: tie between Katherine Johnson, now 98, one of the real-life “Hidden Figures,” coming out on stage; and the In Memoriam segment, with Sara Bareilles singing “Both Sides Now.”

On top of the reel reminding us of so many greats we lost last year (nice touch to have presenter Jennifer Aniston mention Bill Paxton, who died yesterday), that song guts me every time I hear it. And then the segment ends with Carrie Fisher as General Organa saying, “May the Force be with you.” I was gone.

From L: Janelle Monae, NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle, Johnson, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best political statements: there were many, done eloquently. It was as simple as Alessandro Bertolazzi, who won best makeup for Suicide Squad, dedicating his Oscar to “all the immigrants.” Or as pointed as best foreign film director Asghar Farhadi, who stayed in Iran to show solidarity with his people being banned from the US, sending someone in his place to read his statement that says, “Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war.” I never felt hit over the head or lectured by these remarks. And oh, yeah, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win an Oscar.

OK, Mr. PCN is yelling at me from the other room that I have to wrap this up because it’s 1:30 a.m. I’d better move on to the fashion commentary before he cuts me off by playing loud music.

No one’s gown wowed me. Most looked fine but safe. Below are a few who did stand out, for better or worse.

Emma Stone

Mr. PCN: She looks great on the top half, bottom half is a lampshade.

 

Nicole Kidman

Mr. PCN: Nude woman with doilies.

PCN: It does look in photos like she’s wearing a fancy nude bodysuit, but the beading looked much prettier on TV.

 

Janelle Monae

PCN: So much going on, but she carries it well.

Mr. PCN: Why is she carrying two birdcages?

 

Halle Berry

Mr. PCN: Auditioning for The Wiz.

PCN: Little Orphan Halle gets caught in fishing net.

 

Jessica Biel

Mr. PCN: Cleopatra in space.

PCN: Golden camo, so she can be invisible in a jungle of Oscars.

 

Karlie Kloss

Mr. PCN: Isn’t she a Victoria’s Secret model? She should be wearing wings instead of a cape.

PCN: I just want to know—why is she at the Oscars?

Ginnifer Goodwin

Mr. PCN: Spanish vampire.

 

Leslie Mann

Mr. PCN: I thought Emma Watson is playing Belle.

PCN: I didn’t know IKEA shopping bags could be worn as evening gowns.

 

Isabelle Huppert

 

PCN: My favorite look, elegance crossed with badass. Look at that pose and those dark nails.

Did you watch? What did you think? (See complete list of winners here.)

Photos: Stone–Kevin Mazur/Getty, Huppert–Steve Granitz/Wireimage, all others–Frazer Harrison/Getty

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Nerdy Special List February 2017

Like many people, I’ve been distressed by what’s going on in DC and have found it hard to focus on reading for pleasure. I also wondered if movie and book reviews are too frivolous to write at this time.

But then I realized books are never frivolous, and we need to support the arts right now because arts programs are at risk of being defunded. Arts are a part of culture, and our culture is our history.

So, with great pleasure, I present you this list of February releases we recommend.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press, February 7)

I read The Refugees long before the travel ban executive order was written, but how stunningly appropriate that I can recommend it as my Nerdy Special List pick this month.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s collection of short stories is rich in complex characters and relationships, with identity playing a recurring theme throughout the stories. Nguyen’s skill encourages his readers to connect with characters who are likely very different from themselves. In the current political climate, we can all benefit from more of that because, after all, we don’t tend to fear what we understand.

Nguyen’s language and imagery are stunning, making this collection captivating and memorable. I’m certain that even those who don’t tend to favor short fiction will find themselves engrossed in these gorgeous stories.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Shimmering Road by Hester Young (Putnam, February 1)

A little over a year ago, I was in one of the biggest reading slumps of my adult life. On a whim, I picked up Hester Young’s The Gates of Evangeline and absolutely loved it.

So I was both excited and nervous to read The Shimmering Road, Young’s second book featuring journalist Charlie Cates. I am happy to report it’s an enthralling read and a solid follow-up to her first novel.

Charlie, expecting her first daughter, is now in Arizona, searching for clues that might help solve the murder of her mother and half sister. Plagued by recurring nightmares, she can’t help but worry about the fate of her unborn daughter and that of her half-sister’s daughter, even as she gets drawn further into the mystery surrounding the murders.

The novel is fast paced, unexpected, and a pleasure to read. The Shimmering Road, as is its predecessor, is everything a page-turner—with a supernatural flare—should be.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard (Blackstone, February 2)

I find the idea of taking a cruise both intriguing and terrifying, so Catherine Ryan Howard’s debut thriller Distress Signals was right up my alley.

Adam figures he has a pretty great life, right up until his girlfriend, Sarah, doesn’t come back from a cruise to Barcelona. Adam goes after her, and that’s where any predictability in this story ends.

Help from the police? Nope. Her family? Nah. Adam doesn’t know whether Sarah is gone permanently or temporarily, voluntarily or by force, and as his unease builds, it’s impossible not to be roped into a story that doesn’t let up until the final page.

This alone would make this a fantastic book. But Howard shows herself to be a masterful storyteller by creating a parallel story that ties together with Adam’s beautifully and in a way I can’t explain without giving too much away.

If you like stories brimming with suspense and plot twists you’ll never see coming, you’ll want to grab a copy of Distress Signals immediately.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith (Lee Boudreaux Books, February 7)

After an 11-year prison sentence, Russell Gaines returns home to McComb, Mississippi, where he tries to get on with his life, apologetic to no one.

Despite a supportive father, however, the pull of his ex-fiancée and the vengeful family whose lives he changed keep throwing a wrench in his plans. Maben, a woman on the run with her young daughter, seems permanently caught in a web of problems. When Russell’s bumpy path intersects Maben’s troubled one, their rough lives only get rougher.

Smith is a beautiful writer, and a sense of poetry underlies the straightforward nature of his words. He writes about the slog of everyday life with integrity and grace, making even the difficult parts beautiful to read. This is a fantastic follow-up to Smith’s wonderful debut, Rivers.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

August Snow by Stephen Mack Jone (Soho Crime, February 14)

August Snow is an amateur detective in what is hopefully a new series from Soho Crime. It’s set in Detroit, and is an excellent mystery in the tradition of Robert B. Parker. A bit of violence, a lot of smartass talk—set in my favorite city!

August is half Hispanic and half African American, and lives in the Mexicantown area of Detroit in the house his parents owned. He’s a former cop who went up against the department and was awarded 12 million dollars in a lawsuit.

He is asked to look into the business dealings of a private bank, and while he hesitates to take the case, the woman who wants to hire him is killed. August looks into her death, going up against the police department again, as well as hired thugs from the private bank.

August ends up with some great friends and/or teammates, and they work well together to take care of a variety of issues. He’s pretty firm about not being a private investigator, but I would be thrilled if he becomes one. Highly recommended!

From PCN:

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong (Minotaur, February 7)

The first in the Casey Duncan series, City of the Lost, knocked me out last year, and Darkness is weird and menacing, too.

Casey is still the detective of Rockton, the off-the-grid town in Canada where people go to hide from someone or something. She and sheriff’s deputy Will find a woman who’s been kept in a hole in a cave for over a year. All Rockton residents have shady pasts but that’s just nasty. And almost anyone could be the sick bastard who abducted the woman (she never saw his face).

On top of the twisted plot and a heroine I continue to root for, the setting of blizzardy Rockton gives me the creeps, amplifying how isolated Casey is, and how if she gets in trouble, she’s on her own.

What are you excited to read this month?

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Nerdy Special List January 2017

Since almost half the month has passed, I figured I should get this list up. I’ve been moving slowly due to January rains, days that get dark at 1:00 p.m., and my general tendency to be sloth-like. My big win today was changing out of pajama pants.

The one thing I’m not lazy about is talking books. Below are the January releases we recommend you check out.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Fever Swamp: A Journey Through the Strange Neverland of the 2016 Presidential Race by Richard North Patterson (Quercus, January 10)

fever swampThroughout the entirety of the 2016 presidential race—both the primaries and the general election—novelist Richard North Patterson wrote a weekly commentary for Huffington Post. Fever Swamp is a collection of those articles, with additional remarks from Patterson after the November election.

Patterson takes his legal background and the knowledge he’s accumulated writing political thrillers to base his arguments in facts, data, and other tangible evidence. His margin notes and section introductions indicate where his predictions went wrong and why, where he was correct and what that meant, and other insights looking back on arguably the most unprecedented election in American history.

Patterson is unapologetically liberal, he’s thorough and knowledgeable, and Fever Swamp is at times infuriating and at others terrifying, especially when Patterson discusses the Supreme Court. But it’s always enlightening.

It may feel early to scratch the scabs off the wounds created by this election, but we all need to be aware of what is now at stake. Fever Swamp is a good place to start.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey (William Morrow, January 24)

clownfish bluesIf you’ve read Tim Dorsey’s books, you know what to expect from Clownfish Blues and will be glad to hear he’s in top form. If you haven’t yet traveled to Dorsey’s Florida, you’re in for a treat.

In Clownfish, our erstwhile hero, Serge, and his trusty (although he can’t be trusted with much) sidekick Coleman are hard at work reenacting the classic TV show Route 66. Did you know a Florida episode of Route 66 introduced the country to the concept of a bookmobile? Neither did I. I didn’t even know there were Florida episodes. But I digress.

Like all Dorsey’s novels, Clownfish has moments that are laugh-out-loud funny. There is, however, much more than humor. Serge kills people with more style than any protagonist I’ve met.

The complicated plots highlights aspects of Florida life, yes, but also American culture as a whole, including state lotteries (and the people who play—and manipulate—them), undocumented immigrants, the legal system, psychics, and…sign spinning.

I would hate to be the person in a bookstore who has to decide where to shelve Clownfish Blues. Crime? Social commentary? Humor? Whatever you love to read, this will not disappoint.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Burning Bright by Nicholas Petrie (Putnam, January 10)

burning brightAs in real life, there is no shortage of literary military veterans suffering from PTSD. That makes what Nicholas Petrie has done with his protagonist Peter Ash all the more special.

Ash feels very grounded in reality, but also different in a way that’s both refreshing and unsettling. As Burning Bright (second in a series after The Drifter) begins, Ash hasn’t slept in anything but a tent or his truck for two years. Instead, he’s roaming the outdoors planning to get arrested, since being locked in a cell might force him to “get over” his claustrophobia.

While taking shelter in the California redwoods, Ash stumbles upon the nature fortress of investigative journalist Jane Cassidy, who is also trying to outrun forces beyond her control. Jane’s demons are external rather than internal, and take the form of dark-suited men.

It’s clear Jane is being hunted, and the men appear to be connected with her recently deceased mother, a genius tenured professor at Stanford. Unfortunately, Jane has little idea what her mother was working on that could spark such dark interest.

Jane and Ash join forces (he has nothing better to do and Jane is attractive), and her investigative prowess coupled with Ash’s brawn and resourcefulness make for a compelling team. Although the romance and competitive banter get a bit schmaltzy, it’s also obvious neither has connected with another person in a long time.

Petrie focuses on character and action and does both quite well. The pace doesn’t let up and the story turns are engaging. The investigation is fraught with mercenary violence and heady computer technology, but the characters’ talents always feel righteously earned.

Backed by a cadre of appealing secondary characters, Jane and Ash’s chase leads to a place they never expected and a satisfying conclusion worthy of the risks.

From PCN:

Blood and Bone by V.M. Giambanco (Quercus, January 3)

blood and boneWhen I first saw the cover of another edition of this book, it had nasty-looking jagged pieces of glass with blood spatters on them and my reaction was, Nope, not reading that. I’m terrified of graphic violence.

By the time the US version arrived on my doorstep, however, the cover has changed to something innocuous enough for me to pick it up. And I’m glad I did.

This is the third in the Alice Madison series but I was fine starting here. Madison is a Seattle PD detective trying to solve a series of extremely brutal slayings possibly linked to old cases that have already been solved. Or have they?

Madison is no-nonsense and so is the prose: after a long day at a murder scene, Madison picks up food on the way home but then doesn’t eat it. And that’s all that’s said about her emotional state that night. By holding back, Giambanco helps Blood and Bone resonate more.

Which books are you exciting about reading this month?

 

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Golden Globes 2017: Predictable *and* Surprising

Here we go, the first of one million award shows this season. I always look forward to the Globes because it’s usually the loosest, wackiest award show, with drunk celebs and the Hollywood Foreign Press often choosing odd winners (Madonna as best actress comedy/musical for Evita).

This year had predictable wins—La La Land swept, which I’m happy about—but some upsets, too, which kept us viewers awake at home.

Below are my own awards for the ceremony. The 2017 Nerdies go to:

Most smile-inducing musical number: OK, fine, there was only one number and that was the opening. Host Jimmy Fallon parodied La La Land but also referenced several memorable moments in movies and TV this past year, including what happened to Barb in Stranger Things and Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. He had help from singing stars like Amy Adams, Nicole Kidman, Evan Rachel Wood, and Sarah Paulson. I didn’t even know the latter two could sing. They always play such serious roles, it was nice to see them have some fun.

Best upsets: Aaron Taylor-Johnson winning best dramatic supporting actor in movies and Isabelle Huppert for best dramatic movie actress. I’ve long admired Taylor-Johnson for disappearing into his roles; I hated his character SO MUCH in Nocturnal Animals, but in real life, he’s well spoken and handsome and seems nothing like the lowlife he played. Huppert is a French legend, and though I’m too scared to watch Elle, I hear she’s fierce as a rape survivor who tracks down her attacker for revenge.

Funniest banter: Kristin Wiig and Steve Carell talking about the first time they saw an animated movie. We quickly realize these occasions were memorable for horrible reasons. And that’s how you do comedy.

Best speech, bar none: Meryl Streep. While accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award, instead of talking about herself, she spoke for five minutes about how we need to band together in this changing political climate to defend a free press and have empathy and not fear foreigners, pointing out Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem, Amy Adams in Italy, Dev Patel in Kenya, and Ruth Negga in Ethiopia.

You can watch below or read the entire transcript here, but the standout lines for me were “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” When she ends by quoting “the dear departed Princess Leia, [who] said to me once: ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art,’” I was in tears.

On to the fashion. For this, I’ll bring in my co-commentator, Mr. PCN, who always adds a unique perspective.

Thandie Newton

thandie-newton

Mr. PCN: She’s hot, as in she looks like she’s literally on fire.

 

Jessica Chastain

jessica-chastain

Mr. PCN: She was a bridesmaid who caught the bouquet, but then other people fought her for it and the bouquet broke apart all her over dress.

Natalie Portman

natalie-portman

Mr. PCN: I know she played someone from the ’60s, but she doesn’t have to look 60. The hair is too severe.

Zoe Saldana

zoe-saldana

Mr. PCN: Car wash.

Sarah Jessica Parker

sarah-jessica-paker

 

PCN: With her hair and white gown, she’s totally channeling Princess Leia.

Mr. PCN: The sleeves make me think the designer also designs straitjackets.

Blake Lively

blake-lively

PCN: She looks like Wonder Woman in evening wear, with the bulletproof bracelets and pockets made out of golden lasso.

Mr. PCN: I see a golden octopus wrapped around her from behind.

Nicole Kidman

nicole-kidman

Mr. PCN: This looks one of those Magic Eye pictures from the ’80s, but I can’t see what the hidden image is supposed to be.

Emma Stone

emma-stone_2

PCN: I saved the best for last. The actress who plays a girl with stars in her eyes is wearing stars on her dress. Perfection.

Did you watch? What were your favorite moments?

Photos: Getty Images

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