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Review: GOOD GIRLS REVOLT

 

From L: Camp, Darke, Angelson

From L: Camp, Darke, Angelson

It’s funny. When I started PCN eight years ago, I made TV one of the categories because I occasionally review TV shows, but as I started writing about Good Girls Revolt, I didn’t know how to label it because it’s on Amazon Prime. Is it an iPad show? Laptop show?

Whatever you call it, it’s an engaging, thought-provoking series you should definitely check out. The 10 episodes premiered last Friday and I binged them (how else?) in 24 hours.

It’s about the real case of 46 female Newsweek employees who filed a complaint against the magazine in 1970 for gender discrimination, because no women were allowed to be reporters there.

One of those women, Lynn Povich, wrote a book about it called The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, which became the basis for this show, though the characters and magazine have been fictionalized to give the creators more creative license.

The focus is on three young women: Patti, Jane, and Cindy, researchers and photo caption writer, respectively, for the male reporters and photographer at News of the Week (so subtle). The women chase down stories, gather facts, interview people, write up drafts, and then the men make some revisions (sometimes not) and slap their bylines on the stories.

Patti is the ambitious flower child, the leader of the group. Cindy feels trapped in an unhappy marriage with a man who has given her only one year to work before she must start producing babies. Jane comes from money and is fine with remaining a researcher because she’s certain she won’t be there long, only until her longtime boyfriend proposes, which should be any day now.

Into this mix comes Nora Ephron (one of only two characters who retain their real names), the catalyst for the revolt because she refuses to accept the status quo. When she sees her female colleagues fighting over stories for which they’d receive no credit, the future famed writer says, “It’s like you’re fighting over the bottom bunk in prison.” Grace Gummer nails Ephron’s essence but looks exactly like her mom, Meryl Streep.

Ephron doesn’t last long at the magazine, but long enough to give the other women a wakeup call. Their trajectories move at different speeds, but eventually they realize they deserve more and must challenge the system to get it.

Genevieve Angelson is a major discovery as Patti, the spunky girl who knows what she wants and boldly goes after it—or him. Angelson imbues her character with scrappiness and intelligence, convincing us Patti would be a very good writer if only she’s allowed to be one.

Patti has the most fabulous bohemian chic wardrobe, alternating between looking like Brigitte Bardot, Julie Christie, and Michelle Phillips. Angelson has said in an interview she was tempted to abscond with all her costumes but didn’t want to get fired. I understand that urge after seeing her strutting around in boots and one cool mini after another.

Erin Darke is endearing as sweet, vulnerable Cindy, who at first has the least confidence of the three leads but experiences an awakening at work and sexually, occasionally at the same time.

ggr-just-janeAnna Camp, best known for the Pitch Perfect movies, delivers a complex yet subtle performance as the seemingly perfect woman who holds so tightly to tradition, she becomes the hardest obstacle to move. Her fashion choices are more proper than Patti’s but equally eye popping.

Comparisons to Mad Men are probably inevitable but Good Girls Revolt is from a female point of view. Besides creator Dana Calvo, most of the directors and writers are women—a rarity for any show.

Which isn’t to say the men get bashed. The male characters receive fair and balanced treatment from the writers and the actors who portray them, particularly Hunter Parrish as star reporter Doug and Chris Diamantopolous as Editor-at-Large Finn.

Yes, I often yelled “WTF?!” at the screen due to the men’s sexist behavior. Jane experiences one incident of sexual harassment that’s so obscene, I was shocked into silence. (And it was depressing to think that, judging by a certain presidential candidate’s boasts, that kind of behavior still exists.)

But Doug and Finn are more products of their time than male chauvinists at heart. Once they’re schooled on what women want and how they’d like to be treated, Doug and Finn do attempt to change, albeit not always successfully. Enlightenment doesn’t happen overnight, after all.

What did happen overnight was my finishing the entire season of this show. I didn’t know much about the landmark case before I started watching, and afterward googled many of the key players to learn more. As a former journalist, I’m so thankful I never had to endure what those women did in the newsroom, and that they helped make it possible for me to even call myself a reporter.

Nerd verdict: Very good Revolt

Photos: Amazon Prime Video

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Book Review: WHERE AM I NOW? by Mara Wilson

mara-wilson-where-am-i-nowMara Wilson shot to fame when she was five years old, after playing Robin Williams and Sally Field’s daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire. That led to her stepping into Natalie Wood’s shoes in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. At seven, Wilson landed her dream role: the titular character in the film adaptation of Matilda, the Roald Dahl classic that Wilson and her mother loved.

Then tragedy struck. Wilson’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and would not live to see the release of Matilda. After her mother’s death, Wilson started having anxiety attacks and OCD symptoms. As she entered puberty, casting directors stopped calling.

Where Am I Now? contains engaging, poignant accounts of the actress-turned-storyteller’s struggles to find her identity after losing her mother and Hollywood’s adoration: “I didn’t want to stop acting because I had to, because I was too ugly.”

Wilson covers difficult topics but can leaven a painful anecdote with incisive wit. Remarking on a harsh review in which a movie critic expresses a desire “to shake [Wilson] by her tiny adorable shoulders until her little Chiclet teeth rattle,” Wilson writes: “What better way to show one’s edgy coolness than hypothetical child abuse?”

When fans ask for a picture with her, she panics: “I don’t photograph well, and…they’re going to put it on the Internet, where not everyone knows I’m funny and charming and generally a decent person.” But that’s exactly how she comes across in this memoir, with a sense of self-acceptance that indicates she knows where—and who—she is now.

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

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Squirrels and Kittens and Gators—Oh, My!

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Today is pub day for Laura Benedict‘s The Abandoned Heart, and I’m happy to welcome her back to PCN. She’s the nicest twisted person I know, as evidenced by the creepy post she wrote for me last year about medical dolls, which I’ve barely recovered from.

This year she takes a look at Victorian taxidermy, which plays a part in Abandoned Heart. Oh, man, I’m going to have nightmares about the kids below for a long time.

Read on, and then check out Laura’s book!

Victorians and Their Love for Creepy Dead Things

The Victorians were mad for taxidermy. One theory is that it had something to do with their legendary obsession with death. But given that Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert didn’t die until 1861—giving rise to elaborate mourning traditions that the middle class quickly embraced—I think it was more complicated than that.

From the very early nineteenth century, naturalists like Charles Darwin were traveling widely, trying to make scientific sense of the natural world. They brought that world back with them for research and curiosity purposes.

The middle and leisure classes were also always on the lookout for new and novel things to fill their free time. If you were even vaguely interested in exotica like a baby rhinoceros and couldn’t get to Africa to see one, why not trot down to the local exhibition and view the next best thing?

rhino

London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 featured the work of no fewer than fourteen taxidermists. The one who drew the longest lines was Hermann Ploucquet, who had published a book called The Comical Creatures from Wurtemberg. Its illustrations featured anthropomorphized animals, and Plouquet took the illustrations one step further by posing taxidermy animals in representative tableaux.

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reading-fox

drinking-cats

cats-around-table

From the pert look in the eyes of Ploucquet’s creatures, it would appear he figured out that animal eyeballs had to be replaced with glass. Not all early taxidermists understood this, and their work is sadly (and perhaps for the best) lost to time.

There are plenty of bad taxidermy examples on the Internet, but please enjoy this lion assembled from bones and skin in the eighteenth century by a taxidermist who had never seen an actual lion.

This is the famous Lion of Gripsholm Castle, along with his backstory.

lion-of-gripsholm

Plouquet was famous in his time, but the taxidermist who emerged from the era with truly enduring fame is Walter Potter. No one is certain, but he must have been inspired by Plouquet’s earlier work.

Potter (with whom I share a birthday; apparently Cancers are a little twisted) took the tableau method and went crazy with it, often with birds (many, many birds) and kittens. He exhibited his work in a private museum in the village of Bramber in England until 1914, and his animals do look incredibly lifelike and plausible. Let’s try not to think how all of these kittens and squirrels coincidentally died at the same time, yes?

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squirrels

The Guardian did a piece with some wonderful photography of several of Potter’s works.

Thanks to some adoring parents, we have photographic evidence that nineteenth and early twentieth century taxidermy wasn’t just for grownups, but was enjoyed by the kiddies, too.

kid-with-crocodile kid-on-animal

And, yes, also by the Paris Hiltons and Kardashians of their day.

cats-on-heads

Taxidermy as popular viewing entertainment fell out of favor early in the twentieth century as Victorian whimsy was replaced by the very real concerns of industrialization and World War I. People also began to examine the provenance of the animals. Surely they all could not have died natural deaths, as Walter Potter’s descendants suggested.

Hmmm…okay.

Laura Benedict’s latest dark suspense novel, The Abandoned Heart: A Bliss House Novel, is set in 1878 Virginia. One of the children in the novel is very attached to a balding taxidermy squirrel named Brownkin, given to her by her eccentric grandfather, an amateur taxidermist. Read more about The Abandoned Heart and Laura’s other books here.

Photo: Jay Fram

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Nerdy Special List October 2016

Need something to take your mind off all the ugliness in the news these days? How about checking out the books on this month’s Nerdy Special List? Our contributors have diverse and excellent taste so I hope one of these titles will spark your interest. Happy reading!

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some by Chris Edwards (Greenleaf, October 4)

ballsChris Edwards knew at the age of 5 that he’d been born the wrong gender. Every step of growing up only reinforced that understanding, leaving him depressed and suicidal.

Balls is the amazing, courageous and even humorous story of his 30+-year journey through the loneliness and isolation, the discovery of gender dysphoria and an amazing therapist, as well as the grueling ups and downs of 28 surgeries.

Before the term “transgender” existed, before Chaz Bono and Caitlyn Jenner, Edwards dared to pursue the life he was intended to lead. Balls is told with eloquence, grace, sharp wit and brutal honesty. This is currently my favorite book of 2016.

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris, trans. by Sam Taylor (Penguin Press, October 25)

you-will-not-hateIn November of 2015, French journalist Antoine Leiris lost his wife to a terrorist act. She was attending a rock concert at Bataclan Theater in Paris. You Will Not Have My Hate is partly his story of the days following the attack and partly his manifesto to the world.

He and his son will find happiness in her name, and they will deprive the terrorists of their hate and fear. A short book you will likely read in one sitting, You Will Not Have My Hate packs colossal impact into every single page. Leiris contrasts the hideousness of the crime with writing that sings a moving tribute to his wife.

The translation doesn’t seem to have lost an ounce of the emotion Leiris poured into this inspiring memoir. With so much hate in the world now, this book is a shining beacon of hope for us all.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (Hogarth, October 11)

hag-seedThe Hogarth Shakespeare project launched in late 2015, with prominent authors retelling and reimagining the works of Shakespeare.

With authors such as Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood, and Gillian Flynn participating, I couldn’t help but be excited about these novels. Yet despite Atwood’s contribution being the fourth installment, it’s the first one I’ve read!

Hag-Seed, Atwood’s take on The Tempest, is the perfect blend of humor and heart. Felix (as Prospero) is the artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, or he was, until he was maneuvered out of his position by his scheming assistant, Tony.

After a self-imposed exile, complete with a dilapidated shack, he takes on a new position at The Fletcher County Correctional Institute for nonviolent offenders. Here he teaches inmates about Shakespeare, changing their lives—and his—in the process.

I won’t say how it wraps up, but I loved it. While I had very little doubt about Atwood being an excellent choice for such a project, I am very happy my suspicions were confirmed. Hag-Seed is witty, wonderful, and tongue in cheek. I’d highly recommend it to most anyone.

From Erin at In Real Life:

IQ by Joe Ide (Mulholland, October 11)

iqA debut novel that shows great promise is a thing of beauty, and IQ is such a novel.

IQ is Isaiah Quintabe, a young man living in Los Angeles who is brilliantly clever, incredibly observant, and works as an unlicensed private investigator.

Sound familiar? It should. In many ways, IQ feels like a return to any one of a number of favorite PI stories. Isaiah is something of a neighborhood Robin Hood, helping those who have nowhere to go in exchange for whatever they can pay him. He’s the young man we’d all like our daughters to date, but his history is clouded and dark.

This is very much a “start of a series” book, combining Isaiah’s history, the how-he-got-here tale with a new case involving a self-absorbed rapper who’s on someone’s murder list. IQ is refreshing for its moderate violence and a cast of characters as varied as the world around us. You’ll want to meet IQ.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Annie Year by Stephanie Wilbur Ash (The Unnamed Press, October 11)

the-annie-yearWhen the new vocational-agriculture teacher arrives in Tandy Caide’s small Midwestern town, her staid life as a CPA takes a careening turn.

With his ponytail, man clogs, freshly-mown-ditch scent and multicolored beaded belt, the Vo-Ag teacher lights a fire in the semi-uptight Tandy, causing ramifications across town, including with Tandy’s former lover and the daughter of Tandy’s estranged best friend.

Ash’s raucous debut will have readers cringing and laughing as the first-person narrative takes them through Tandy’s awkward journey of redemption and self-discovery.

Soul-baring and heartfelt, Tandy’s story is both relatable and foreign, and always entertaining. The humor alone makes it a winner, and this reader is still laughing over the town diner’s nickname.

The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street, October 4)

heavens-my-fallAllen Eskens is a monster. In The Heavens May Fall, he takes two supporting characters from his prior novels, turns each into a hero protagonist, and then puts them on opposite sides of a high-profile murder case.

Law professor Boady Sanden agrees to return to the courtroom to represent his former law partner, who’s accused of murdering his wife. Boady is certain Ben is innocent.

Boady’s best friend, Detective Max Rupert, is just as sure Ben is a stone-cold killer. Each man is determined to see his view of justice served, even if the heavens may fall as a result.

The fact that one of these good men has to be wrong is an ingenious means of sucking readers in and holding them captive, and Eskens executes it brilliantly.

With short chapters from alternating perspectives, Eskens’s straightforward yet scintillating prose keeps the action moving at a perfect pace, and his legal acumen keeps courtroom scenes intriguing. This is a friendship-testing murder mystery well worth diving into.

From PCN:

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta (Mulholland, October 11)

tell-the-truthI was going to recommend Joe Ide’s IQ—it’s heartbreaking and hilarious, with lead characters I can’t wait to read more about—but Erin selected it above, so I’m going with Truth, not that it’s second best. The two books are equally excellent.

Bish Ortley has just been suspended from the Met Police when he gets a call saying a bomb went off on a bus containing his daughter. She turns out to be OK, but Bish sees something disturbing on the passenger list: the name of the granddaughter of a man who bombed a supermarket years earlier. And the girl disappears. Was she the target, or the bomber?

No blurb I write can do justice to the complexity and emotional depth of YA author Marchetta’s first novel for adults. The story deals with familial loyalty, the danger of racial profiling, and the sacrifices made out of love. Bish reminded me of a British Harry Bosch—relentless in seeking out truth and making sure everybody counts.

What are you excited about reading this month?

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Movie Review: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

gott

DreamWorks/Universal Pictures

Though I was less than impressed with The Girl on the Train in book form, I like the talent associated with the movie, especially Emily Blunt, who plays Rachel, the titular character. So I went in with an open mind, but the last thing I expected was to be bored.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a spoiler-free version: a woman (Rachel) who takes a train every day becomes a voyeur of the lives of people who live along the train tracks. One day Rachel sees a young woman (Megan) kissing a man who’s not her husband, and then Megan goes missing afterward. Rachel is convinced what she saw is important to the investigation, and finagles her way into it as a helpful citizen. But wait—she’s a drunk and an extremely unreliable witness.

I tore through the book because Hawkins’s nonlinear and unreliable storytelling kept me constantly wondering what the heck was going on, despite my intense dislike of all the characters. They remain unlikable in the movie, even though Blunt, Haley Bennett as Megan, and Allison Janney as the investigating cop do good work. Rebecca Ferguson, a revelation in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, is criminally underused as Anna, the third narrator in the novel.

Some prominent details have been changed (mainly Rachel is in NY instead of London) or left out altogether, but the adaption, written by Erin Cressida Wilson and directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), remains mostly faithful. Since I now know all the answers, it was hard for me to maintain interest. The story had lost its only hook: keeping me in the dark.

I sat next to a woman who hadn’t read the book, and it was clear from her vocal reactions she was really into the movie, especially the ending. So it might be a solid choice if you’re coming to it clean. Otherwise, it’s OK to miss this Train.

Nerd verdict: Take a different Train

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Nerdy Special List September 2016

I’ve seen many fall-books list in the last couple of weeks, but they all seem to have the same five books on them. Well, WE’RE RECOMMENDING ALL DIFFERENT BOOKS.

(I’m not punchy, just hungry. And tired of seeing the same five books on lists.)

Here’s what we really liked and want you to read this month.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Darktown by Thomas Mullen (September 13, 37 Ink/Atria)

darktownBlending historical fiction with a police procedural, Thomas Mullen has imagined the lives of the first eight black officers on the Atlanta, Georgia, police force in 1948. The realism tears at the readers’ hearts while the suspense keeps them glued to the plot. It’s a magnificent work of art.

When a young black woman is found brutally murdered and left in a pile of trash, partners Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith decide they are going to find the murderer. They know the white detectives won’t make any effort, but Boggs and Smith could lose their jobs for pursuing the case.

As part of the black officers unit, they don’t have a patrol car, can’t arrest a white suspect, and aren’t even allowed in the main police department; they’re relegated to the basement of the YMCA.

But not long before she was killed, Boggs and Smith had seen the woman in the car of a drunk, white man who hit her. They feel an obligation to find out exactly what happened, no matter what it costs them.

Mullen doesn’t soft play the racism or bigotry of the era, and his despicable antagonists are as complexly drawn as the conflicted protagonists. Mullen has been quoted as saying he’d like to revisit these characters, and that’s the only consolation to turning the last page in Darktown.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi (September 6, Penguin Press)

red-bandannaImagine losing a child in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and not knowing how or exactly where. Then imagine reading a post-attack article in which survivors describe the courage of the man who saved their lives—a man wearing a red bandanna tied around his face, a bandanna just like your son carried with him every day since he was a boy.

The story of Welles Crowther, that bandanna-wearing young man, is shared by Tom Rinaldi in The Red Bandanna. Emotional but not overwrought, Rinaldi’s writing strikes just the right tone in setting out just who Welles was and the upbringing that turned him into a man who, when faced with a raging inferno, went back up instead of out to safety.

After the first half of background, buckle up for a stirring reenactment of the events of Welles’s final moments, and the impact he had on those he left behind.

When President Obama spoke at the dedication of the memorial museum in 2014, he only mentioned one name: Welles Crowther. Rinaldi’s recounting of the story is well worth a read and one to which we should bear witness.

One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist: Stories by Dustin M. Hoffman (September 1, University of Nebraska Press)

100-knuckled-fistDustin M. Hoffman has an extraordinary voice. To be more accurate, Hoffman has many voices, as evidenced by the sixteen distinct stories in his debut collection, One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist.

Each piece is an ode to the blue-collar worker, a cross section of some of society’s most forgotten and invisible individuals: painters, hardscapers, commission salesmen, and ice-cream truck drivers (to name a few), along with the homeless and the unemployed, each trying to make their way under the pressures their lives and the world exert on them.

The stories in this collection are wonderful and weird and gross and gritty and ingenious. Some made me say, “What the hell?” Others made me silent with awe. To a one they kept me glued to the page.

Although the blue-collar theme is carried throughout, each work is idiosyncratic in its own special way. I highly recommend this collection, winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (September 6, William Morrow)

hidden-figuresThis book is about black women being hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, precursor to NASA) during WWII to do computations as new airplanes were being designed to win the war.

Most of these women had had the opportunity to go to college and studied math. Many selected teaching as a profession as they could get jobs teaching in the then-segregated schools. Several started working at NACA as a summer job, but they stayed on as they made more money there than teaching.

The women we learn the most about are fascinated with math, and the ways they could use math to solve aeronautical problems so that airplanes, and eventually spaceships, could fly higher, faster, and more safely.

These women were very much like the women of today. They worked long days, were married, did the shopping, cooking, went to church, participated in their communities, raised children, and challenged them to follow in the women’s footsteps. They also participated in the civil rights movement, both in the workplace and out in their communities.

I admire these women so much, and the math they were capable of doing, and then how it impacted America’s progress with aeronautics during WWII, and then later with the moon landing.

[Ed. note: The movie adaptation of this book will be released on December 25, 2016.]

From PCN:

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (September 20, Minotaur)

daisy-in-chainsLast year, one of my top three favorite books was Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies. She’s one of those authors who, well, if I’m eating a pizza after being lost in the woods for a week and someone says, “This Bolton book for your pizza,” I’d hand over the pizza even if a slice was halfway to my mouth.

Bolton’s latest, Daisy in Chains, has that creepy atmosphere she’s so good at creating, and a strong female protagonist who intimidates or rubs everyone the wrong way—another welcome staple of the author’s work.

In this standalone, Maggie Rose is an attorney who specializes in overturning convictions, even of the vilest criminals. She’s trying to decide if she should take on the appeal of surgeon Hamish Wolfe, convicted serial killer of women. He’s charming and all, and keeps proclaiming his innocence (don’t they all?) but she doesn’t know if she can trust him. She embarks on her own investigation and of course it leads her to some pretty dark places.

Bolton’s prose has a mesmerizing quality, and unlike Maggie’s reaction to Hamish, I surrendered to Daisy in Chains.

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Movie Review: SULLY

 

sully-plane

Like many people, I thought I knew what happened on January 15, 2009 with US Airways Flight 1549, which Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed on the Hudson River about 3 minutes after takeoff from La Guardia Airport. A bird strike resulted in the loss of both engines and the captain had no choice but to do what he did, right?

Turns out, according to Clint Eastwood’s Sully (based on Sullenberger’s memoir, Highest Duty), we barely knew the story at all.

The movie starts out with a startling scene, of a plane in trouble flying low in Manhattan. I’ll leave it at that.

The story unfolds in a nonlinear way, alternating between what happened on the flight that day, the ensuing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, and Sully’s internal turmoil as he starts to doubt his actions (should he have tried to make it back to LaGuardia? Did he risk killing everyone on board by making that water landing?).

Tom Hanks, on a streak of playing real people (see: Captain Phillips and last year’s Bridge of Spies), is very good as Captain Sullenberger. It’s all in his eyes—the recognition that something is terribly wrong with the plane, the quick analysis of his options, his decision to do the impossible, and his courage as he does his job.

Even after landing, he doesn’t stop being the captain, wading through water in the fast-filling aircraft to make sure everyone has deplaned before being the last man off himself, then begging rescue workers to do a head count during a chaotic situation. It’s not possible due to passengers being taken to different hospitals, but later, when Sully is told simply, “One fifty-five,” Hanks’s quiet reaction, understating the immense relief the pilot must’ve felt in learning everyone has survived, makes that number seem like the most wondrous thing he’s ever heard.

sully-hanks-eckhartAaron Eckhart as copilot Jeff Skiles and Laura Linney as Sully’s wife, Lorraine, have little to do besides being supportive of the captain as the NTSB questions his decision to land on the river (the captain stresses on, not in, the Hudson), while the recovered data supposedly shows he had much safer options.

The investigation provides good conflict and an untold angle to the Miracle on the Hudson story, but I wondered how much of that was exaggerated for cinematic effect. Captain Sullenberger pulled off a remarkable feat, everyone lived—why were they trying to, well, sully his reputation and 42-year career?

The real NTSB investigators have since protested their portrayals, while Sullenberger, who consulted on the movie, stands by his account.

Though this movie is about a recent event whose outcome is well known, director Clint Eastwood still manages to make it thrilling and incredibly suspenseful. Scenes of the plane diving toward water, or coming straight toward the camera, or flying way too close to buildings made me tense. I was like Sully waiting for that head count after the landing—I could not relax.

Eastwood hired real emergency workers to give the rescue scenes veracity. Sully shows how the end result wasn’t so much a miracle, but a group of people coming together to take care of one another during 208 seconds of terror. (Stay for the credits to see some of those real people.)

Nerd verdict: Gripping Sully

Photos: Warner Bros.

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Not Too Long Ago, In a Place Not So Far Away…

This past Saturday, I got to do something I’ve long wanted to do: see John Williams perform live, conducting the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

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I did not come dressed as a Star Wars character, nor did I bring a lightsaber, but after talking to the costumed couple next to me, it was evident that my SW nerdiness ran just as deep, or deeper, than theirs, if only because I’m old and remember seeing the very first film in the theater when it first came out, when it was called simply Star Wars without any episode numbers or subtitles attached, and collecting the Topps trading cards and owning the action figures.

After the first segment of the concert, in which composer David Newman conducted the orchestra through scores for classic Hollywood films such as Sunset Boulevard and The Godfather, the 84-year-old Williams took the stage in a white tux jacket.

The crowd went wild, and out came the lightsabers in Force (heh).

Williams first teased us by playing his more recent compositions, including the score from this summer’s The BFG. But he knew what the crowd, dressed as Ewoks and Rey and gold-bikini Leia (it was cold!), was there to hear. First came “The Imperial March.”

Williams was very personable and witty between sets. He talked about how when he first saw the original SW, he saw two beautiful lead characters in Luke and Leia, assumed they’d end up together, and composed a love theme that built to “a torrid climax, hardly appropriate for a brother and sister. I didn’t find out until two years later!”

He also said he’d already said yes to scoring Episode 8 because “I can’t bear to have anyone else write music for Daisy—Rey,” whom he’d fallen in love with after seeing The Force Awakens.

After playing more SW music, Williams performed 3 encores: music from the Harry Potter and Superman movies, and ET. I kept hollering for the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, but no luck.

I can’t properly describe how special this experience was for me. The music didn’t bring back only memories of some of my favorite films ever, but also recollections of my time in the school orchestra when I played some of Williams’s iconic scores on my violin in school concerts. I remembered the notes and the runs and crescendos and pianissimos, my fingers tapping along on an invisible instrument.

During Newman’s portion of the concert, he played pieces by Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible) and Bernard Herrmann (North by Northwest, Psycho), giants in their field who left behind unforgettable themes. John Williams is a living legend, and I was thrilled I got to see him doing what he does best.

I leave you with this. May the Force be with you.

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Book Review: THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR by Shari Lapena

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

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

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

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

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

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Nerdy Special List August 2016

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

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

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Erin at In Real Life:

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

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

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

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

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

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

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

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

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

From PCN:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

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Movie Review: SUICIDE SQUAD

suicide-squad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Warner Bros.

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Book Review: MISSING, PRESUMED by Susie Steiner

missing, presumedBeautiful Cambridge grad student Edith Hind goes missing, leaving behind her belongings, including her passport and phone. There’s also blood at her home, and the door wide is open.

Investigating Edith’s disappearance, Cambridgeshire Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw and Detective Constable Davy Walker are dismayed to discover Edith’s father has ties to the royal family, which means extra media coverage and pressure to find Edith quickly. But as days and weeks pass without credible clues, and the police uncover surprising details about Edith’s life, they wonder if the “high-risk misper” case is actually one of murder.

It’s not hard to guess the outcome of the mystery, and the pacing lags in chapters from the point of view of Edith’s mother, Miriam. She’s sympathetic but her grief is static.

The strengths of Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed lie in getting to know the detectives. Thirty-nine-year-old Manon is juggling her career with Internet dating, and her experiences with the men she goes out with are amusing. Some of Manon’s behavior toward potential love matches is cringe-worthy, but it’s understandable because underlying it all is her longing to connect with someone and have a child.

Kindhearted, unflappable Davy seems content with his girlfriend, whom everyone dislikes, but as the story progresses, Davy ponders whether or not being nice all the time truly makes him happy. These characters feel like old friends, which is good because readers will get to see them again in future series installments.

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

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