All Posts By

Pop Culture Nerd

Book Review: COLLECTING THE DEAD by Spencer Kope

collecting the deadSpencer Kope’s Collecting the Dead introduces Magnus “Steps” Craig, who works in the FBI Special Tracking Unit as the “human bloodhound.”

Steps has the synesthetic ability to see touch, i.e., he can spot the traces people leave behind on surfaces they’ve walked over and touched. “Shine” is what he calls these tracks, and each person’s shine has a distinctive color and texture, identifiers as specific as DNA.

Steps and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan, are on the trail of a serial killer of young women. Even with Steps in pursuit, the killer remains elusive with cunning ways of covering his tracks, leading Steps and Jimmy to fight against time and hostile terrains to find the murderer before more women die.

Steps is a welcome new series protagonist, not only because of his unusual talent but also his sense of humor and personality. He hates forests—“They’re like nightmares with leaves”—but often ends up in one while tracking criminals.

Refreshingly, he’s far from being a hardened hero haunted by his past. Steps had a happy childhood with a loving family—he still lives with his brother—and thus it’s particularly upsetting for him to witness so much darkness in his work. Jimmy constantly reminds him, however, that they need his ability to save who they can.

Kope, a crime analyst, gives readers insight into a world in which good people, as he says in the acknowledgments, “confront fear so that others don’t have to.” He praises these defenders of justice, and readers will do the same to Kope for creating a humane and captivating character.

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

Share

Movie Review: GHOSTBUSTERS

ghostbusters_2016

The first things you probably want to know are: Is it as good as the original? Is it funny?

No, and yes.

I wanted to be fair to this version and not compare it to the 1984 movie, but people kept asking me that first question so I figured I’d get it out of the way. The version starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson is so beloved that it’s hard to beat. Even its 1989 sequel, with much of the original talent returning, couldn’t live up to it.

The reboot’s story is roughly the same as the original: three scientists who believe in the paranormal get fired from their jobs and must strike out on their own, eventually calling themselves Ghostbusters. Along the way, they’re joined by a fourth member to save New York City from an infestation of ghosts.

The leading cast is very talented, too: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. I don’t think the script, cowritten by Katie Dippold and director Paul Feig, supports them well enough, though it does give them some funny lines—unless they were improvised.

Some of the comedic bits go on too long, but McKinnon’s Holtzmann is a welcome kind of weird; McCarthy’s and Jones’s Abby and Patty, respectively, are reliably sassy; and Wiig proves she can still be funny as the straight person of the group, the “serious” scientist. It’s nice to see the power of female friendship onscreen, smart women working together to accomplish great things. They own their misfitness.

Standouts in the supporting cast include Karan Soni as a droll Chinese restaurant delivery boy, and Zach Woods as a tour guide who sees ghosts.

Not as successful is Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters’ dim-witted and clumsy receptionist. Hemsworth can be funny (see: Vacation remake), but here he’s trying too hard. It’s like he’s asking for the laugh instead of simply being the character.

The actress who played the original receptionist, Annie Potts, shows up as…a receptionist. Look also for appearances by Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver. The late Ramis appears, too, in a way. Half the fun is keeping your eyes peeled for original cast members, who drop in long enough to give a touch of nostalgia but not long enough to distract from the current cast. Oh, and stay for the tag after all the credits.

So, if you’re looking for some diverting entertainment, who you gonna call?

Nerd verdict: Doesn’t bust new ground, but good for some laughs

Photo: Sony/Columbia

Share

Nerdy Special List July 2016

Hope you all have been enjoying summer! People usually go somewhere around this time for vacation, and this year they are all coming to stay with me. I’ve been hosting family and friends, and though their visits create total cleaning panic, it’s the only way I can be motivated to clean.

Before I go back to stuffing crap into closets scrubbing the kitchen sink, I present you with this month’s reading recommendations. It’s a varied list as usual; hope at least one selection sparks your interest!

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry (Tyndale House Publishers, July 1)

jesse-woodsChris Fabry’s lyrical writing style makes this charming story of three young outcasts growing up in t1970s Dogwood, West Virginia, moving and memorable.

Matt Plumley is the new kid in town. Besides being the preacher’s son, Matt is overweight. The first people he meets in Dogwood are Dickie Darrel Lee Hancock, a mixed-race boy, and Jesse Woods, a dirt-poor, fatherless tomboy. Matt’s parents aren’t so thrilled with his new friends, but Matt sees the best in them and finds acceptance in their eyes. The three-way friendship bonds the young teens until a fateful night in 1972.

The Promise of Jesse Woods is a beautiful novel with sharply drawn characters, rich in authenticity and passion. The atmosphere of the period echoes the beautiful simplicities as well as the ugly complexities. With the engrossing magic of exceptional storytelling, Fabry will envelop readers in a time gone by wrapped in themes that transcend time. Stunning.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday, July 12)

heavenly tableDespite only having two published books, Donald Ray Pollock is one of my favorite contemporary authors. For over a year, I’ve been looking forward to the release of his new novel, The Heavenly Table. I was not disappointed, though I can’t quite say that his sophomore novel is better than his debut (The Devil All the Time is in a league of its own).

Following the Jewett brothers—Cane, Cob, and Chimney—-Table takes place in 1917 southern Ohio. After the sudden death of their father, the three brothers become outlaws in the tradition of (the fictional) Bloody Bill Bucket. Before they know it, they are a legendary gang of thieves, rapists, and murderers with a huge bounty on their heads, though the legends are far more preposterous than their true crimes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Eula and Ellsworth Fiddler, a naïve farming couple barely scraping by. An assortment of other characters fill the novel, from outhouse inspector and manhood wrangler Jasper Cone to the Roman military enthusiast Lieutenant Bovard.

Both perverse and violent, this novel is not without humor and heart. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with southern Gothic goodness; just don’t expect any good. In Pollock’s distinctive prose, the reader is taken for a wild, gritty ride that cannot be easily forgotten.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Revolver by Duane Swierzynski (Mulholland Books, July 19)

revolverDuane Swierzynski never fails to surprise readers. His latest novel is his finest work to date, and is a story readers will be well advised to start without any preconceptions.

Revolver is an intricate police procedural involving the murder of two Philadelphia police officers 50 years ago. It is told in three time periods (1965, 1995, and 2015), and Swierzynski weaves these narratives together with beautiful and graceful skill.

The 1965 murders haunt the Walczak family across generations, and each contributes to the story as it unfolds. As much as the family is central to the story, though, this is a tale about Philadelphia, a love story (of sorts) to a city whose history is, in so many ways, part and parcel of the whole of the United States.

Revolver is populated with a range of fascinating characters, including Stan, one of the victims of the 1965 murder; his son Jimmy and Jimmy’s siblings; and Stan’s granddaughter, Audrey. They are as different as most family members are, and each is fascinating in his or her own right.

Revolver will absolutely be on my Best of 2016 list.

From Julie at Girls Just Reading:

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen (Washington Square Press, July 5)

perfect neighborsThe Perfect Neighbors is a peek into the lives of those we live around and see daily but may not really know. It is about the facades we put on for the public vs. how we really are behind closed doors. It’s about how we all have secrets that we might not want to share, things that are private in our heart of hearts.

We are introduced to four women—three close friends and one newcomer. Each has something they are hiding from the others mainly because they are ashamed of their behavior but don’t know how to let go of it. What Pekkanen added to this was a mystery surrounding one of the couples.

I loved how Pekkanen kept you on the hook and laid out breadcrumbs for you to eat up. I liked how each storyline developes and is resolved. I have a been a huge fan of Pekkanen for years due to her realistic plots and ability to write characters we all can relate to.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Trap by Melanie Raabe (Grand Central, July 5)

the trapBestselling author Linda Conrads hasn’t stepped outside her house in eleven years. Twelve years ago she discovered her sister stabbed to death, and her eyes met those of the murderer as he fled. When the investigation ultimately goes cold, Linda retreats from the world.

More than a decade later, Linda sees the man again on a television newscast. Determined to bring him to justice yet unable to leave home, she decides to lure the man into an elaborate trap she designs by writing a book mirroring her sister’s murder. Linda hasn’t given an interview in years, but she plans to break her silence and give one to the journalist she’s certain killed her sister and who knows she saw him leave the scene.

Alternating between Linda’s first-person narrative and the chapters of her book within the book,The Trap is a fun, engaging read that flows despite getting a bit bogged down by repetition in Linda’s head as she obsesses over the murder and her plans to solve it. At times the story felt like a twisted game of cat-and-mouse, at others a game taking place only in the head of a really unstable cat.

Part of what made the book enjoyable was wondering who to believe and when, and despite one loose thread that nagged at me, Raabe brought the story to a satisfying conclusion.The Trap is an entertaining summer read with a unique premise that doesn’t feel too heavy despite the subject matter.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen (Doubleday, July 12)

nine womenThe one dress is more a style of a dress, not one dress worn by nine women. This is not The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

The book starts with a fashion show. A little black dress is featured and becomes the dress of the season. People shopping at Bloomingdale’s enter and exit the book’s stage, trying on the dress, purchasing it, returning it. The dress is perfect for some but not for others, and occasionally the book seems to ask: Which person deserves to wear this dress?

The book is also about the relationships the women have—with each other and the people they meet and let go—not just romantic partners but also friends and coworkers.

I loved this book, for the New York that exists in it, for the adventures people have in it, and for the endings. It’s a perfect light book for summer. Enjoy!

From PCN:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Gallery/Scout Press, July 19)

woman in cabin 10My recommendation this month was going to be Revolver, but since Erin eloquently covered it above, I’ll go with another July release I enjoyed.

In Ruth Ware’s follow-up to 2015’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist covering the maiden voyage of an exclusive cruise ship with only ten cabins. On her first day aboard, she meets a woman in the cabin next door, but later that night, Lo hears a scream and a splash—and the woman is gone. Leaving behind a bloody smear.

No one on the ship seems to know who the missing woman is, and the head of security insists the cabin next door to Lo’s has always been empty. Lo decides to investigate, even after mysterious messages tell her to stop. Of course she doesn’t, until it’s too late.

Lo is frustrating at times, repeatedly making foolish choices, but Ware’s propulsive writing locks you up and won’t let you out until the end of the journey.

 

Which books are you reading this month?

(See previous NSLs here.)

 

Share

Nerdy Special List June 2016

I turned on the air conditioning and pulled out the tank tops two days ago, so you know what that means: I shouldn’t be opening the door to strangers.

It also means it’s time for the June Nerdy Special List! We have some fine selections for you this month, to ensure you’ll never have to be seen in public nekkid without a book. Oh, and I’d like to welcome back Julie at Girls Just Reading to the list!

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 7)

marrow islandTwenty years ago, Lucie was a young girl living on an isolated island in the Puget Sound. Twenty years ago, an earthquake devastated that region, sending tidal waves that ranged all the way from the coast of Alaska to the coast of California.

Now an unemployed journalist, she returns to her childhood home after receiving a mysterious letter from Katie, a fellow survivor and former best friend. Katie says she is living on Marrow Island’s “Colony,” which, following the oil refinery disaster that killed Lucie’s father the day of the quake, is supposed to be uninhabitable.

Curious and with nowhere else to go, Lucie feels pulled to investigate. What she finds is beyond her wildest imagination.

Told in alternating timelines, Smith’s sophomore novel features the same gorgeous language present in Glaciers, her wonderful debut. Part eco-thriller, part environmental meditation, the novel opens with Lucie’s rescue, and it is a pleasure to unravel what happened. At times, the dual timelines—2014 and 2016—can be slightly disjointed, but it didn’t deter my reading, and it did add a nice touch of mystery.

Contrary to my mild disappointment over the closeness in times, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the area as stunningly described by Smith. It’s moody and atmospheric. I appreciate when a novel utilizes a character’s close connection to the environment and surrounding landscape, and Marrow Island is a prime example of this done well. If you love a good mystery with an added post-disaster element, pick this one up immediately.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Die of Shame by Mark Billingham (Atlantic Monthly Press, June 7)

die of shameThis is a stand-alone psychological thriller from Mark Billingham, whose Tom Thorne series of police procedurals is beloved the world over. Die of Shame concerns the members of an addiction recovery therapy group in London. They’re as different as the population of any large city, in terms of age, social circumstances, and the details of their addiction, but they are drawn together each week to share their deepest secrets and most personal experiences.

The story centers around a murder, but it is ultimately a character study and a fascinating exploration of human interaction on multiple levels. None of the group members is especially likable on the surface, but Billingham gives each of them just enough sympathetic traits to ratchet up the story’s suspense because we care about them.

[Ed. note: Billingham is a former but not current client of Erin’s.]

From Julie at Girls Just Reading:

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Washington Square Press, June 7)

one true lovesPrepare yourself for the tears; you might not want to read this one in public.

Emma met her true love, her soulmate, in high school. Jessie inspired her to think about life beyond their small town in Massachusetts and to want a life of adventure. After school, they moved to L.A. to pursue their dreams and traveled the world.

All of a sudden, Emma finds herself having to make a life without Jessie, so she moves home and moves on. Until Jessie calls her and tells her he’s coming home.

What would you do if you found yourself in love with two men? One man was the love of your life in high school, throughout college and your early adulthood; the other man helped heal your broken heart and discover you had it in yourself to love again. Jessie and Sam are two completely different guys and each brought out a different side of Emma. All Emma needs to do is decide who she wants to be and which guy is the best fit for that person.

Ms. Reid does a fantastic job of showing us a heartbroken and devastated Emma, but she also shows us the hard work and pain that Emma goes through to rebuild herself and her life. You feel Emma’s pain as she has to decide between Jessie and Sam. This is the perfect summer read. (Read Julie’s full review here.)

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Property of the State: Book 1 of The Legend of Joey by Bill Cameron (The Poisoned Pencil, June 7)

property of the stateThis is Bill Cameron’s first foray into the Young Adult genre. If you don’t know Bill’s work from his fantastic Skin Kadash crime fiction series, do yourself a favor and check that out along with Property of the State. Bill writes with more heart than perhaps any author I read, and that’s never been more evident.

Joey Getchie, 16, has been in the foster system longer than he was with his parents. He’s been shuffled from foster home to foster home, gaining a problematic reputation and a healthy mistrust of adults along the way.

But Joey is smart and a survivor and has a Plan—graduate early from Katz Learning Annex; file for emancipation; and get out of Dodge, away from the school establishment, the foster system, his current foster debacle; and start a new life.

Of course Joey has never been lucky. He’s already in trouble at school, after being blamed for acts of his current foster father, when another student is badly injured, putting Joey and The Plan in further peril.

Bill writes a great mystery and there is plenty of it folded up in the nooks and crannies of Property of the State. This is a book for anyone who enjoys good, intelligent mysteries; humor; multifaceted characters with depth; some smartassery; a little pop culture; and all the heart you can bear. There is a portion of this book that broke me but good. You’ll know it when you read it. (Read Lauren’s full review here.)

[Ed. note: Regular contributor Jen from Jen’s Book Thoughts seconds Lauren’s recommendation. Read Jen’s review here. So much love for this book. I need to get a copy so I can hang with the cool kids.)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (Gallery/Scout Press, June 14)

i'm thinking of ending thingsIf you’re looking for a tense, nail-biter of a read that just might scare the pants off you and make you want to pull the covers over your head but you can’t because then it would be dark and that would be worse, I’m Thinking of Ending Things should go to the top of your must-buy list.

I can’t tell you much about the plot without spoiling things, but the setup is simple: Jake and his somewhat new girlfriend are on a road trip to visit his folks at the rural farmhouse where he grew up.

The genius is not in the premise, but in the dastardly, stomach-knotting execution. This is the novelized version of the most perfect suspense film you can imagine, the one that has you continually on tenterhooks.

I don’t find myself uneasy to this extent very often while reading, but Reid kept me feeling that doom was just around the next sentence. At 224 pages, the novel made me want to turn right to page 1 and start over again as soon as I’d finished.

If you were a fan of Bird Box or A Head Full of Ghosts, this is most definitely in your wheelhouse, but I recommend it to anyone who likes haunting, atmospheric fiction. It’s not horror per se, but it’s creepy and harrowing just the same.

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

Stepping to a New Day: A Blessings Novel by Beverly Jenkins (William Morrow Paperbacks, June 28)

stepping to a new dayThis series by Beverly Jenkins is about a small town in Kansas—“Henry Adams, one of the last surviving townships founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. The failing town had put itself up for sale on the Internet, so Bernadine (who had been awarded $275 in her divorce settlement) bought it.”

And then she brought new people to town, set up foster children with new foster parents, and started to grow a community that has lots of love and peace.

In this book, a man named TC comes to visit his nephew who is raising two daughters on his own. TC accepts a job as a driver for the town, taking people wherever they need to go. This is how he gets to know Genevieve Gibbs, a woman who doesn’t drive, and who is coming into her own after a 40-year disastrous marriage.

By bringing new characters to town, Jenkins introduces the reader who doesn’t know the history of Henry Adams to the strong and interesting people who live there. Each book also shines on the former foster children, now adopted, showing their friendships and family relationships.

I love how this series is known as the Blessings series. The characters know they are blessed, and the reader feels blessed, too.

From PCN:

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (Simon & Schuster, June 7)

lily and the octopusOne day in March I received this book with no accompanying press materials to indicate what it’s about. There was only a slip of paper inside saying the less I knew about this book, the better, but it guaranteed I’d laugh and cry. And curse. I was intrigued.

Inside the front cover was a letter saying the manuscript landed in the editor’s inbox unsolicited and unagented, but a week later, Simon & Schuster had bought it and made it a lead title for this year. Again, no details or synopsis because “it wouldn’t do the book justice.” Fine. I dove in.

And found the editor and publisher and marketing team were right. It’s best not to know much before reading this book, but read it you should. I did the hiccuping, noisy cry, alarming Mr. PCN (I made him read it, too, so he’d understand), but I also laughed a lot. The story is very funny. And wonderfully weird.

Rowley is a lovely storyteller and astute observer of life, and he will take you on an emotional, existential journey you didn’t even know you were looking for.

What’s on your reading list this month?

Share

Book Review: CITY OF THE LOST by Kelley Armstrong

I featured this book in May’s Nerdy Special List, but the full review below appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is republished here with permission.

5135xhS181L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_” ‘I killed a man,’ I say to my new therapist.”

With this opening line in City of the Lost, Kelley Armstrong introduces homicide detective Casey Duncan. Casey makes clear her declaration is neither a metaphor, such as for breaking a man’s heart—“A bullet does break a heart”—nor a statement about a job-related incident. Nope. She killed a man while in college. And got away with it.

The only person who knows and has kept her secret is her friend Diana, and now Diana needs Casey’s help to escape from an abusive ex. Diana convinces Casey to relocate with her to a remote community called Rockton in the wilds of Canada. The residents there are all hiding from something; with no modern technology available—even electricity is limited—they can stay off the grid.

Casey soon realizes, however, that Rockton may be an even more dangerous place for her and Diana, because someone is murdering the inhabitants. As the town’s new detective, Casey has to hunt down the killer, but this time she might end up as prey.

Casey is a singular, riveting protagonist–tough but loyal, knowing the difference between taking risks and being irresponsible. There’s tantalizing romantic tension between her and Rockton’s sheriff and his deputy, though that element isn’t the focus.

The mystery is complex, takes unusual turns, and the setting of isolated territory surrounded by menacing woods is as breathtaking as it is unsettling. Looking for a captivating story? Escape to City of the Lost.

*****

Have a safe holiday weekend, everyone. What are you planning to read over the next three days?

Share

Movie Review: THE NICE GUYS

nice guysShane Black, the screenwriter who shot to fame with the Lethal Weapon movies, may have had a few stumbles in the last three decades, but with The Nice Guys, a 1970s noir detective story Black cowrote with Anthony Bagarozzi, Black is firmly in his element.

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe play low-rent PI Holland March and enforcer Jackson Healy, respectively, who meet in a painful way—at least for March—but then team up when clues indicate that Healy’s missing client, a girl named Amelia (The Leftovers‘ Margaret Qualley), may be in grave danger. When they step up their search for her, the violence escalates, as mysterious parties either don’t want her found or they want her dead.

Part of the fun of viewing this movie is in its bizarre twists and turns so I won’t say much more about plot. It’s reminiscent of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a low-budget gem Black also wrote and directed, in its style and tone, and in how much of the action occurs during one very long night.

The biggest pleasure is in watching Gosling and Crowe sling Black’s signature rat-tat-tat lines at each other with perfect comic timing. Yes, the movie is seedy and brutal, but the, ah, Black humor makes it very funny also. The actors’ chemistry is so good, you’d think these guys have been partners for decades. Gosling displays physical comedy chops I didn’t know he has, and it’s the loosest Crowe performance in years.

Also noteworthy is Angourie Rice (you wouldn’t now she’s Australian by listening to her) as March’s tween daughter Holly, who often has to be the adult in her dealings with Dad. Rice delivers her lines in a dry, weary, but sharp-witted way, depicting a girl who understands much more than her father gives her credit for, and is usually the only sane person in the room.

The city of L.A. is a character in itself, all seductive at night despite its crumbling Hollywood sign and porn industry and drug-addled parties. Another selling point? This movie isn’t a sequel or remake and there are no superheroes in sight.

Nerd verdict: Funny, noirish Nice

Photo: Warner Bros.

Share

Girls on Couches Talking About Books and Snacks

I’m excited about introducing this new joint feature with my friend Lauren from Malcolm Avenue Review. We chat a lot about books and often text each other running commentary as we read. So we thought we’d have conversations about bookish topics on Google Chat and then publish the transcripts, alternating between here and her blog.

Readers in car: Lauren & me, with L’s superhero sidekick, Bird

As a nod to Jerry Seinfeld’s Web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, we decided to call this Readers on Couches Talking About Books and Snacks, which can be abbreviated as Readers Talking BS, which is appropriate.

We changed the first word of the name this time to spotlight our first topic: the proliferation of book titles with Girl in them, and of comparisons to those famous Girl books by Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins. We’re not the first people to have noticed this trend but we really thought it’d be over by now.

We don’t know how regular this feature will be since we’re both world champions in laziness, but why worry about the future?

The transcript was edited for length and filthiness, mostly on Lauren’s part.

PCN: Let’s get the important details out of the way first. Since part of this chat is about snacks, what do you have on hand right now?

L: I’ve failed out of the gate. No snack. Can I still hang out? Or do I have to go get something?

PCN: It doesn’t have to be right there with you, just somewhere in your house.

L: Oh wait! I have some Trader Joe’s honey wheat pretzel sticks that have been open for a month. I’ll get those.

PCN: OK. I’ll wait. [Ed. note: We’re not sure how you can handle all this intellectual talk.]

L: Phew. On to the less appetizing portion of the program. Hold on while I get the twist out of my shorts…

PCN: You have pretzel twists in your shorts?

GGL: That would be better than the one I have there now about the This is the next Gone Girl/Girl on the Train! phenomenon in book publicity.

PCN: Ohhhh, I get it. Clever transition.

L: What is it about it that I hate so passionately?

PCN: I’m too scared to crawl inside your head. Why don’t you go ahead and unload?

L: Where to start? So many things bother me about it. It doesn’t let an author have his/her own identity without being compared to someone else’s success. I say his/her but I’ve NEVER seen it done to a male author, and that bugs me. None of the books compared seem to have much in common with either GG or GOTT. And last but not least, I loved one of those books and hated the other. So what am I supposed to think when a book is “the next” of both? How’s that for a palette of pissed off?

PCN: Your pissed-off palette has many colors.

L: I am the Jackson Pollock of irksome book publicity.

PCN: I agree this trend is lazy. It slaps a label on new books that’s supposed to entice us to read them, but it has done the opposite for me—make me groan and want to avoid them. If a book has merits, let it stand on its own.

L: Ha! I love that you see the laziness in it. It is lazy. Let Author X be the first Author X, not the next other author.

PCN: Exactly! And as you said, I didn’t love Girl on the Train, so if a promo says, For lovers of GOTT, I’d probably skip it.

L: I know we both tend to avoid books that use the comparison, but what do you think when it uses both? Because you, like me, liked Gone Girl, right? GG and TGOTT were two entirely different books! With GOTT, the author had trouble writing unique characters of either sex. All the men and all the women had the same issues. GG, on the other hand, was about a whip-smart woman who was controlling her life and things in it and the characters were unique.

luckiest girl alive

PCN: For me, it’s more GG is a superb book and GOTT is subpar. Some of the recent blurbs I’ve seen say, For lovers of GOTT and Luckiest Girl Alive. Which is also confusing, because again, different books. And LGA itself was touted as the next GG.

L: I think LGA is closer to GG. Part of what bothers me about it is that publishers have to cram it down the public’s throat that women can write thrillers. Women have been writing thrillers, good ones, for a damn long time.

Interestingly, I just read a book I thought was similar to GG. It was written by a man, so did not suffer from the lazy publicity ploy, but one author did blurb it as being like GG. I’ve thought about why this book (Perfect Days, if you’re interested) did not get that label.

The real answer is I have no idea, but I’m guessing because (1) the author is a man and (2) it didn’t seem to get a ton of publicity. I’m not sure why this publicity trend doesn’t include male authors, too, because using Girl in the title has crossed over [to books by both genders]. But I suppose that’s another different issue that irks me? ☺

PCN: You’re right. Male authors’ books are less often compared to GG/GOTT, which is ironic, since a man started this recent Girl trend: Stieg Larsson.

L: Right? Did you ever see a book say The next Girl with a Dragon Tattoo? Why not?! Because people didn’t think those books were well written? Because Larsson was a man and we can’t compare women and men writers? It all feels very silly, but maybe there is genius behind it somewhere.

PCN: Or sexism?

L: It’s a can of worms, but I think you’re right.

PCN: I don’t think it’s intentional sexism, maybe subconscious.

I did see books touted as the next Dragon Tattoo but only for a little while. It didn’t become a thing that won’t go away. GG was released 4 years ago and new releases are still being compared to it.

This is a free stock photo from Pexels.com. I eat my waffle-cut chips, not take pictures of them.

(BTW, my Srichacha chips are so good. They are spicy and waffle cut.)

L: You and your hot things. I tried sriracha once. Once was enough.

PCN: We haven’t mentioned the fact that not only are too many books being touted as the next GG, they all have Girl in the title, too.

L: We kind of broached it above. I’m not sure if that’s the same issue or just another lazy issue. It’s interesting to me that that does happen with books written by men. So we can share title publicity stunts so long as the sexes are not compared to each other?

PCN: Something like that. Have you ever seen a book by a woman compared to Dragon Tattoo or book by a man compared to GG?

L: I don’t recall seeing a female author compared to either Dragon Tattoo or Larsson himself, but my memory isn’t the best. [Raphael Montes’s] Perfect Days is the only book I can recall by a male author compared to GG, but again, it was not the publisher but another author—a female one—in a cover blurb.

PCN: Sometime last year, I think it was around June, I started keeping a list of all the Girl books being pitched or sent to me. The list has more than 30 entries so far.

L: I have thought multiple times about keeping a list of books compared to GG/TGOTT, but then I pull a muscle when I sigh and can’t pick up a pen.

PCN: You don’t need a pen. It’s called a computer or your phone. How are your month-old pretzel sticks, by the way? Are they still good or do I need to send firemen to your house for chest compressions?

L: I was going to say they are fine until you got to firemen. FIREMEN, PLEASE!

PCN: OK, on their way. Hope you have pants on. Or not.

L: I won’t by then. Bazinga!

PCN: My eyes!

L: Send four firemen. It’ll take that many to untwist my shorts.

PCN: Damn, girl. (<<Not to be confused with GG or GOTT.)

L: Well played. Now that my firemen are gone, let’s get back to books. What are you reading that’s knocking your socks off (or not)?

PCN: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rawley. It’s really good so far and doesn’t remind me of any other book! [I’ve finished this. Will post review soon.] What are you reading?

L: I am in the midst of a trifecta of great reads, so I’m almost afraid to mention them. I’m listening to Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon. My ebook is Dodgers by Bill Beverly, and my tree book is Consequence by Eric Fair. I would have been really embarrassed if I was reading something with Girl in the title right now.

PCN: I’m looking at my huge TBR stack. No Girl titles at all.

L: My three-year-old boyfriend is here for our grass date. I will talk to you later?

PCN: Yup. Happy reading until next time!

Share

Girl, You Need New Friends

pexels-photoI’ve been reading a couple of books in which a woman experiences or witnesses something shocking and she tells someone or several people. And no one believes her, not even her closest family members and friends.

They suggest reasons for why she might be mistaken about what she saw/experienced:

  • she’s overworked and exhausted
  • drinks too much
  • has an overactive imagination
  • recently experienced some kind of trauma and now blows everything out of proportion.

My favorite (imagine that typed in sarcastic font): she’s taking antidepressants. Because everyone knows those make you delusional, right?

It makes me wonder how realistic this is because it doesn’t reflect my life. If I tell people I’d been subjected to something bad, they would absolutely believe me. Mr. PCN and my mother would lead the charge to rectify the situation.

Not everyone has that kind of support system, I know, but the women in these books are average folks like me—people with jobs and families who are in healthy relationships and don’t have histories of making up stuff. For them to not have anyone believe them is strange to me.

And then I had a thought. Is it because they’re women? If the protagonists were men, would they be deemed more credible and less easily dismissed by others? Or would it be even harder to buy a story in which no one believes a man?

What do you think?

Share

Nerdy Special List May 2016

Every month I think the list is the best one ever, and May is no different. We read lots and lots of books, and only our top faves make the cut.

Here are the new releases we recommend.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman (Atria, May 3)

britt-marieFredrik Backman earns a hat trick with his third novel, Britt-Marie Was Here. This witty, heartwarming, all-around charming novel features sixtysomething, recently separated Britt-Marie. Those familiar with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry will recognize the character from Elsa’s apartment complex, but that’s the only connection to Backman’s second book.

Britt-Marie takes place in a rundown town hit hard by the economic crash, and Britt-Marie is there to fill the position of recreation center caretaker. In the short time of her employment, the persnickety woman worms her way into the hearts of the town’s remaining citizens, especially a rag-tag bunch of kids making up the soccer team.

Like Backman’s two books before this, Britt-Marie Was Here induces laughter, tears, and enlightenment. His clever humor and profound yet simple insights about life will find their ways into readers’ hearts and souls. Britt-Marie has to learn to look at the world differently in this novel, and as Backman helps her to do that, he helps his audience to do the same. Stunningly brilliant! [Ed. note: Jen will be interviewing Backman at Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville on May 12!]

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (Putnam, May 17)

nick-masonSteve Hamilton breaks from his Alex McKnight series and introduces Nick Mason. Mason was in prison for murdering a federal agent, but Darius Cole, a Chicago crime boss—and fellow inmate—makes Mason’s conviction go away. He’s free and clear, no probation, no record, nothing…except the deal he made with Cole to achieve his liberation.

Mason must work for Cole for the 20 years that were remaining on his prison sentence. Mason believes this deal is worth the trade in order to be able to see his daughter again. However, Mason may have been mistaken.

Hamilton kicks off his new series with an intense and exciting story. It’s a fresh concept in an increasingly crowded genre. Sharp dialogue, flashy cars, fascinating characters…and a dog! I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church (Algonquin, May 3)

atomic weightMeridian Wallace is a brilliant student studying to be an ornithologist when she meets a physics professor and falls in love. Early in their relationship, he moves to the remote southwest to work on a top secret project.

Putting her dreams on hold, she follows him and takes on the traditional role of wife, not scientist. As she feels her dreams slipping away and finds herself fading into the background, she meets a young hippie Vietnam veteran who changes her life.

Spanning decades, The Atomic Weight of Love is the tale of one woman’s both ordinary and extraordinary life. From atomic bombs to a failing marriage to the lives of crows, Meridian’s story is a pleasure to read.

Comparable to Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth J. Church’s debut novel is a moving, science-minded tale of the roles women were relegated to in midcentury America, yet it doesn’t get bogged down in it. It is an insightful, notable debut. I’m excited to see what the author does next.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, May 3)

9780062083456_p0_v3_s192x300Secrets are powerful, perhaps never more so than when kept within a family. Truth is often a gray, fuzzy line. Sometimes we seek answers, but in the words of One of Those Songs from the 1980s, it’s the questions we have wrong.

Like her father before her, Lu Brandt is the state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland. She lives in her childhood home and her roots in the community are deep. When she takes on the case of the murder of a waitress, she finds herself coming face to face with secrets from her own past that she had no idea existed.

I’ve long been a fan of Lippman’s stories. Her latest is quite different from her series books, and has rightfully been called out among her best work. It is being heralded as character driven, and it certainly is, but I also enjoyed the maze-like plot.

If you’ve never read Lippman, this is a fine book to start with. If you have, it will not disappoint.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica (MIRA, May 17)

51C-qS47EAL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Mary Kubica is quickly becoming one of my favorite multi-POV authors. This time, the reader is tossed between Quinn and Alex—Quinn an admittedly flawed twentysomething who wakes one morning in her Chicago apartment to find her beautiful, smart, church-going roommate Esther missing; Alex an 18-year-old living an hour away from Quinn in Michigan, working as a dishwasher and trying to keep his alcoholic father afloat.

When a mysterious stranger appears in the diner where Alex works, he falls hard and begins trying to find out who she is and what she’s doing in his small, seemingly boring town. Kubica uses Quinn and Alex to wind around both mysteries and ultimately bring them together in a satisfying conclusion.

Kubica has a great knack for leading readers’ judgment about her characters, only to turn those conclusions on their head. Despite knowing that, she gets me every time. Don’t You Cry isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun, twisty ride.

From PCN:

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong (Minotaur, May 3)

5135xhS181L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_It’s been almost four years since I found a book that made me stand in the hall in the middle of the night to finish reading, and City of the Lost had me doing that again. It is addictively good, more so than potato chips and you know I love potato chips.

Detective Casey Duncan admits right in the first sentence that she killed a man, and is quick to add it was neither an accident nor job related. And she got away with it.

Her friend Diana, the only person who knows Casey’s secret, is not so tough. Diana is desperate to escape from a violent ex-husband who won’t let her go. She persuades Casey to move with her to a remote town called Rockton in the wilds of Canada where people live off the grid because most of them are hiding from something or something.

Turns out Rockton isn’t safe at all, because residents are being murdered. Cut off from resources and modern technology, Casey, aided only by the town’s sheriff and his deputy, must try to stop the killing before they are terminated. Hopefully you’ll get Lost in this book like I did.

Which May releases are you looking forward to?

Share

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Movie Review

Marvel

Marvel

Do you have superhero fatigue? Were you tempted to skip this post when you saw the title? What if I told you the movie is terrific?

Which is what I’m doing. Captain America: Civil War is one big bundle of entertainment, something that other recent superhero movie decidedly was not.

Also unlike that other superhero movie: the feud between Captain America and friends makes sense. After the heavy collateral damage that occurred in the Avengers movies, world governments want oversight of the heroes, to monitor and approve their involvements in combat. Some agree to the arrangement, others do not. Hence the discord.

The best conflicts are ones in which neither side is all wrong or all right, and that’s how it is here. Each hero has valid arguments for the side he/she chooses, because they’ve all come from different places—and time, in Cap’s case—and lived different lives. What makes it painful for them is that they really don’t want to fight. They plead and remind one another they’re friends, but ultimately feel they have no choice because each believes his/her position is just.

By now these seasoned actors know exactly what they’re doing in their respective roles, and the group is a well-oiled machine. There are many characters but each has moments to shine. Their chemistry and banter are tight.

But hey, here comes the new guy, joining the Avengers on screen for the first time.

As soon as he appeared, from behind—just his butt, really, walking down the hall—I yelled, “Spideyyy!” It was actually Peter Parker, but, you know, same difference.

I have liked Tom Holland since I saw him play Naomi Watts’s son in The Impossible, so when the announcement came about his being cast as the new Spider-Man, I thought it was a great choice, much better than Andrew Garfield.

And Holland delivers in Civil War. His Chatty-Cathy Spidey is endearing, especially during fight scenes, when all the other heroes are busy throwing punches and no one wants to converse with the young webslinger.

Let’s talk about the fight scenes. I’ve become inured to them in heavily CGI’d action flicks, and they’ve all started looking the same to me. Boom! Pow! Crash! What else is new?

But one pivotal fight scene in this movie—the one at an airport—made me say, “Whoa!” It caused my eyes to go big and gave me that sense of wonder I used to get at the movies as a kid, that feeling I wasn’t sure I’d ever experience again since I’m now old and jaded. As I was sitting there smiling, Civil War threw in a Star Wars reference. My poor nerdy brain could barely handle it.

Oh, and the Stan Lee cameo? Best one ever. He made me laugh out loud.

This movie is a great big bang-up, with very few hang-ups, and like a streak of light, these heroes arrive just in time.

Nerd verdict: America the wonderful 

Share

Book Review: I LET YOU GO by Clare Mackintosh

i let you goOne minute, a five-year-old boy is walking home with his mother. The next, he’s dead, hit by a car after letting go of his mother’s hand to run ahead. As if the situation weren’t nightmarish enough, the driver takes off without stopping.

Detective Inspector Ray Stevens of the Bristol Criminal Investigations Division catches the case, along with his junior officer, Detective Constable Kate Evans. Though Stevens has developed coping mechanisms to deal with the heartrending situations he encounters at work—“If he thought too long about how it must feel to watch your child die in your arms, he would be no use to anyone”—Kate, new to CID, is upset by little Jacob’s death.

Jenna Gray is also shattered by the car accident. Mourning her son, she leaves her house one day and hops on a bus with no destination in mind, wanting only to get lost. She ends up in a remote Welsh seaside town called Penfach, rents a rundown cottage, and starts rebuilding her life where no one knows who she is or anything about her devastating past.

Months pass, and there’s still no arrest in the hit-and-run that killed Jacob, despite all the attention it receives, with the little boy’s picture splashed on the front pages of newspapers. Though long ordered by the chief constable to close the case, Kate keeps working on it on her own time, and eventually convinces Ray to review the old files, too.

Then, to mark the one-year anniversary of Jacob’s death, the police make a public appeal for any new information. The appeal results in a tenuous lead for the car, but Ray and Kate work it until they have a solid clue about the guilty driver’s identity.

What happens next upends Jenna’s life, for nothing is as it appears, and the cops find they’re far from closing the case.

It’s hard to believe I Let You Go is Mackintosh’s debut novel because it’s so assured. From plotting to characterizations, the author skillfully takes readers inside the frustrations of police officers trying to solve a high-profile case with very little information to go on, and on the flip side, what a mother’s grief looks like when she loses a child.

Jenna’s ordeal is raw, but she’s a riveting character, at once fragile and resilient, from whom it’s hard to look away. Readers will be fully invested in the emotional journey she goes on, keenly feeling her open wounds and tentative hope as she tries to forget her past and move on.

Ray and Kate are engaging characters, too, providing the yin and yang of the investigation–he the veteran rediscovering the hunger he used to have as a young detective (“I like to have [the victim’s photo] where I can see it…. Where I can’t forget what I’m doing, why I’m working these hours, who it’s all for”), and she the newbie whose idealism lights a fire in her senior partner.

She also sparks feelings in Ray that aren’t entirely platonic, which is problematic since he’s married with children. (How Kate handles the situation is refreshingly free of neuroses.) To add to Ray’s turmoil, it seems his son is being bullied at school. All this provides well-rounded pictures of the police behind the procedural and realistic rhythms in their dialogue, perhaps owing to the fact that Mackintosh spent 12 years as a police officer herself.

There is a third narrator who adds a whole other angle to the case, but saying any more would spoil the story.

The author doesn’t just conjure up memorable characters and gripping plots; her settings ring true. Penfach—with the cliff-strewn coastline—and its people are warm and hard, breathtaking for their beauty and harshness. It makes perfect sense for Jenna to choose it as a place to run away to, someplace that might allow her to heal but perhaps not let her forget the jagged edges of her pain.

Mackintosh is very good at keeping readers ensnared in suspense. The denouement includes one too many twists that is neither necessary nor surprising, but even then, the book refuses to let readers go.

The most impressive feat Mackintosh pulls off is the bombshell that’s on the level of the movie The Sixth Sense for its cleverness. Readers who say they saw it coming are most likely fibbing. The revelation is so good, readers might want to reread I Let You Go to see how it changes their perceptions—even the title takes on different interpretations—and whether or not the twist holds up. It does. This kind of sharp, cunning writing makes one eagerly look forward to Mackintosh’s next novel.

This review originally appeared in a Maximum Shelf Awareness issue and is reprinted here with permission.

Share

Book Review: Suzanne Rindell’s THREE-MARTINI LUNCH

three martini lunchIt’s 1958, New York City.

Cliff Nelson is a Hemingway wannabe who feels destined to be a famous writer, if only his editor father would help him—and if he could get some ideas for great stories.

Eden Katz, fresh from Indiana, wants desperately to be an editor, but encounters prejudices because of her gender and surname.

Miles is a poor Harlem kid who attended Columbia on a scholarship. He has raw writing talent and gripping stories to tell, but struggles with personal crises that threaten to destroy him.

These characters’ paths collide in Suzanne Rindell’s Three-Martini Lunch.

Rindell (The Other Typist) evocatively captures the city—and the publishing world—as the Beat Generation takes hold. Her descriptions and dialogue have realistic rhythms, and readers can almost hear jazz playing in the background.

The distinctively voiced narrators are engaging, although Cliff becomes barely tolerable after he starts complaining about his (lack of) career while not doing the work. He enjoys white male privileges and yet has the fewest accomplishments to show. But that’s Rindell’s point: stop whining and earn your success.

Eden is much more interesting, but unfortunately her chapters get shorter and shorter toward the end of the novel, as if her point of view becomes less valuable. Miles’s story is heartrending, though that’s expected because of the era’s intolerance.

Three-Martini Lunch is profoundly sad, while perhaps making readers glad society has changed since the 1950s. Or, considering the current political and social climate, maybe the melancholia comes from wondering, has much progress been made?

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

Share