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Binge TV Reviews: THE NIGHT GRANTCHESTER and HAPPY THORNE-y KIMMY SCHMIDT

For the last two months, I’ve been binge-watching several shows and they all happened to be British series…until Kimmy Schmidt returned for her second season last Friday on Netflix. Here are some overall thoughts on these shows’ entire seasons.

Des Willie, The Ink Factory/AMC

Des Willie, The Ink Factory/AMC

The Night Manager (starts April 19 on AMC)

Based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name, this 6-episode thriller stars Tom Hiddleston as the titular hotel manager and Hugh Laurie as arms dealer Richard Roper, whom the manager is determined to take down with the help of a spy played by Broadchurch‘s Olivia Coleman.

The pilot is very good, and sets up the reason for Jonathan Pine, the manager, wanting revenge. The second ep lags a bit when Angela the spy is convincing Jonathan to work with her, then he spends time creating his legend to go undercover and gain Roper’s trust. Once he’s in, the suspense ratchets back up.

As expected, the acting is top-notch. It’s entertaining to see Laurie play a full-on villain so effortlessly, but maybe Roper’s just an extreme version of Dr. House, who was not a nice guy, either. Coleman is always welcome on my TV screen, and here she’s as tough as ever despite her character being pregnant (the pregnancy was real).

Hiddleston deftly handles Jonathan’s arc from regular guy to hesitant spy to someone who shouldn’t be messed with. And his fans should have lots to discuss when they get an eyeful of him. I’ll just leave it at that.

One of the most commendable aspects of the series is that there are no bimbos, even when showcasing rich businessmen and their arm candy. The women are more substantial than how they first appear.

I’d never seen Elizabeth Debicki before her performance as Roper’s lover Jed, but standing at almost six foot three, she’s a towering presence. Jed and Jonathan were responsible for Mr. PCN and me screaming at the TV because they do some dumb things, but for the most part, the story and direction are solid.

Nerd verdict: Tense Night

 

ITV1

ITV1

Grantchester season 2 (PBS, Sunday nights)

This series, based on the novels by James Runcie, is as cozy as a warm blanket on a rainy day. Most of its charm comes from James Norton’s portrayal of vicar Sidney Chambers, a charismatic do-gooder who reveals rougher edges this season. His friendship with DI Geordie (Robson Green) is strained due to a disagreement on a case that serves as the seasonal arc, though the two also solve standalone mysteries each episode.

Sidney becomes more interesting as more colors are shown, but I found some of Geordie’s actions troubling, especially in the second ep when he allows torture of a suspect. I thought the friendship should’ve been more strained, because I couldn’t imagine Sidney continuing to hang out with a man he saw being cruel.

Al Weaver as Leonard and Tessa Peake-Jones as the housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire, continue to delight as they get their own personal arcs. Morven Christie, however, has less to do this season as Sidney’s childhood friend Amanda.

Though now married, Amanda continues to visit Sidney but she isn’t well integrated into the storylines. It’s as if the producers were contractually obligated to include the actress in a minimum number of scenes per episode, but they weren’t required to give her anything to do. The season finale will probably make most fans cheer, but I didn’t think it was a good idea.

Nerd verdict: Bucolic Grantchester 

 

Netflix

Happy Valley season 2 (Netflix)

As much as I adore James Norton in Grantchester, I loathe his character in Happy Valley, and that’s a testament to the actor’s talent. He sports a closed-shaved head this season as rapist/murderer Tommy Lee Royce, the polar opposite of Sidney Chambers. Tommy seduces/brainwashes a vulnerable woman to help him get back at police sergeant Catherine Cawood for what she did to him last season.

The woman, Frances, is played by Shirley Henderson, perhaps best known as Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter movies. She may look harmless but she insidiously causes emotional damage in Catherine’s relationship with her grandson.

What makes Catherine a riveting character is that she’s surprising. There were moments when I expected her to explode in anger—heck, I probably would have—but she instead proceeds with kindness or uses an approach that’s more effective with a suspect than intimidation tactics. She’s very good at her job, and so is Sarah Lancashire, who plays her.

Also returning is Charlie Murphy as Ann Gallagher, now a rookie cop while still dealing with the aftermath of last season’s events. Ann is smart and more resilient than people expect, and Murphy is wonderful to watch, but when Ann develops an interest in a much older man with no clear redeeming qualities, my heart sank. Ann could do so much better.

Nerd verdict: Gripping Valley

 

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Doctor Thorne

Downton Abbey‘s Julian Fellowes adapted Anthony Trollope’s novel into this series starring Tom Hollander as a 19th-century country doctor raising his niece Mary alone after her father—Thorne’s brother—dies. (Mary was conceived during an affair and her mother, married to a man other than Thorne’s brother, was forced to abandon her.)

Mary and her childhood friend Frank are in love, but Mary is destitute and Frank’s mother forbids him to marry her. His family desperately needs money to save their estate, so Frank’s mother wants him to hook up with an older American heiress instead. Complications ensue, but since there are only 3 episodes, plotlines are resolved quickly. The story is predictable, but the journey is entertaining and the ending is satisfying.

Just like how James Norton makes me adore him in one series and detest him in another, Tom Hollander is nasty in The Night Manager but sympathetic here as the wise doctor. You won’t find guys like Norton and Hollander (and Hiddleston) always playing the same character the way some actors do.

I was surprised to discover Stefani Martini has only one prior credit on IMDb before playing Mary. She has talent and a graceful screen presence; I bet she’ll rack up more credits soon.

It’s dismaying to see Alison Brie play American heiress Miss Dunstable, a woman considered a homely spinster. The actress is 33 but looks like someone in her late 20s and she’s attractive. At least Miss Dunstable is confident and sharp witted, and Brie seems to have enjoyed playing the character quite a bit.

Nerd verdict: Predictable but enjoyable Thorne

 

Netflix

Netflix

Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt season 2 (Netflix)

Instead of being all stressed about taxes last Friday, I was squealing with joy because new episodes of Kimmy Schmidt became available. Of course I watched all 13 eps in one day.

Season 2 is even quirkier, with non-sequitur jokes coming fast and furious. You might have to do much rewinding to catch them all. Not all the jokes landed, but when they did, I laughed loud and long.

The good things:

Kimmy is finally dealing with her bunker experience. The process is very funny, but her breakthroughs do have emotional truths.

Titus has a new boyfriend named Mikey and the two are really sweet together, despite Titus’s efforts to sabotage the relationship because he fears happiness.

Tina Fey has a prominent role as a drunk lady who meets Kimmy and ends up making a difference in Kimmy’s life. This role is much funnier than Fey’s Marcia Clark-like character from last season.

One episode features several songs that sound like popular songs but aren’t, so that producers can avoid pesky copyright issues. So we get Dusk Mountie singing “Brother Baptist” instead of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” and “I’m Convinced I Can Swim” in place of “I Believe I Can Fly.”

Titus sings more this season, and his voice is astounding.

The bad:

Dong is back, and still not speaking in anything close to a Vietnamese accent. It just sounds like some generic Asian accent. Imagine someone using a vague European accent to play an Italian character. Hey, as long as the accent comes from somewhere on the continent, that’s good enough. Don’t bother getting specific or anything. And when Dong speaks Vietnamese? Forget about it. I couldn’t understand a word and had to read the subtitles. Why is it so hard to do some research and represent Vietnamese people accurately?

At one point, Titus does a one-man show in yellow face. I might have to write a whole other post to address that and Scarlett Johansson playing Japanese in Ghost in the Shell.

Carol Kane’s subplot involving Lilian fighting gentrification of her neighborhood is not funny. i can’t get behind her rejecting recycling and thinking graffiti is good. I guess that makes me one of the hipsters Lillian dislikes.

Nerd verdict: Still funny, still flawed

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Movie Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK

jungle book mowgli bagheera

Disney

The first question I asked when I went into a screening of Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book was: Is this a musical? The answer: No.

Fine by me.

My second question was: Will “The Bare Necessities” be in it? Yes.

OK, good, I was ready to go.

Though the original was not one of my favorite Disney movies, this new version is both more fun and darker, which I welcomed. For those unfamiliar with the 1967 version and Rudyard Kipling’s stories, Jungle Book is about a little boy named Mowgli who’s orphaned and raised in the jungle by a family of wolves, and mentored by a panther named Bagheera.

Shere Khan, a tiger, wants to kill Mowgli before the boy can grow into a man who can hunt and kill animals. To escape the wrath of Khan, Mowgli must travel through the jungle to man’s village and rejoin his people. Along the way he meets several characters, both friend and foe.

In the friend camp is Baloo the bear, voiced by Bill Murray. Up until Baloo’s appearance (later here than in the animated version), the film is poignant (Mowgli saying goodbye to his wolf mom, Raksha) and intense, with a death and a stampede scene that recalls the one from The Lion King. Just as I was thinking, “Ohmygosh, Disney films are disturbing!” Baloo shows up, throwing out a quip a minute.

Initially I found this change in tone jarring, but then I realized director Jon Favreau probably knew what the audience would be thinking by that point and delivered the comic relief exactly when it’s needed. Murray’s performance quickly grew on me, and by the time he’s singing “Bare Necessities” with Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, Baloo was my best friend, too.

The other animals are also well voiced. In Zootopia, Idris Elba showed he could be disagreeable as Captain Bogo. Here, he kicks it up a notch as Shere Khan, and his low, resonant tones are as smooth as they’re menacing.

Another actor from a previous Disney hit is Lupita Nyong’o. Though she never appears on screen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, her voice performance makes Maz Kanata a standout. Her voice work here as Raksha, Mowli’s adoptive mother, is also noteworthy.

Kaa the snake is female in this version, seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who also sings the hypnotic “Trust in Me” over the end credits. Sir Ben Kingsley infuses Bagheera with the appropriate authority, and Christopher Walken has King Louie talking like someone from the Bronx. It was so odd I laughed throughout his scene, and I’m still not sure whether or not I was meant to.

Sethi, who apparently won the role of Mowgli over thousands of other kids, is making his film debut here. He has the confidence to carry the movie, but at times he comes off more contemporary than primitive. Some lines are laced with sarcasm and sass, which made me think, “Where did Mowgli learn that?” Not from the animals who raised him. It’s as if the jungle boy has been influenced by tweens at the mall.

One of the best things about the movie is Bill Pope’s sumptuous cinematography, which immersed me in Mowgli’s world, a place with equal parts wonder and danger. CGI often takes me out of a scene, but here it’s used so well that when the end credits rolled, I was startled to see where this movie was filmed.

So, have I given you a clue? I’ll tell you something true: Forget about your worries and let the pleasures of this movie come to you.

Nerd verdict: Delightful Jungle

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Nerdy Special List April 2016

I’m so excited April is here, because not only is it my birthday month, about 93 people I know and love also have birthdays. There will be lots of celebrating ’round here! (With loads of cake and ice cream, of course.) On top of that, Kimmy Schmidt and Amy Schumer return this month to our TV screens and I’m ready for some serious laughs.

April is also a fab month for books. Below are the new releases my blogger friends and I recommend.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

King Maybe by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime, April 12)

king-maybeTimothy Hallinan’s fifth Junior Bender mystery involves a lot of burglary and bad luck, with a few murders thrown in for good measure.

A Hollywood has-been producer has a bone to pick with Junior. He tells Junior they’ll be square if Junior breaks into the office of “King Maybe,” a studio exec who holds people’s lives—or at least their entertainment aspirations—in his hands.

The producer wants to know if King Maybe is planning to steal his movie idea. It’ll be 10 minutes in the office, the producer promises. But that isn’t quite how things work out for Junior.

Smart, funny, and captivating, this caper is exciting and insightful. The complex plot, the fascinating characters, and Hallinan’s astonishing gift with the English language make this an absolute must for mystery fans. No matter if you’ve read the first four books in this series or not, you can pick up King Maybe and enjoy it from start to finish.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Exiled by Christopher Charles (Mulholland Books, April 19)

exiledHave you ever picked up a book outside your typical reading genre for quite a few unconnected reasons? I do not, typically, but one of my latest reads, The Exiled, was just such a case.

First, I recently took a road trip to West Texas (from Denver) by way of Alamogordo, NM (I’ll save you the trouble of looking; it’s in very, very southern New Mexico). Those of you familiar with your southwestern American geography know I drove almost the entire length of New Mexico, north to south. It’s barren, rural, and can be brutally hot, but I was quite taken with the countryside.

Second, two of my favorite authors recommended the book—Frank Bill and Patrick deWitt. And third, the author’s short bio said Charles, pseudonym for Chris Narozny, resides in Denver, meaning we are practically neighbors!

Although these reasons have very little actual reasoning behind them, they were enough to make me pick up the book. It’s a good thing, because it’s excellent.

The Exiled is set in rural New Mexico, the home of Wes Raney, a former homicide cop who made one too many bad choices while working undercover in New York. Choices that cost him his job and his family.

As punishment, he is exiled to a two-hundred-mile stretch of southwestern desert. Solitude suits him, but he’s thrown right back into his old mindset when a grisly murder scene is discovered in an underground bunker.

Although the novel works well as a mystery, Raney’s character is so well developed and gripping that Exiled could simply function as a character study, with strong hints of crime. Intense, spare, and gritty, it’s a first-rate page turner that I flew through in two days.

The Exiled is for anyone who loves a good detective novel where the detective isn’t so good, and for those who appreciate a strong story with strong writing—and a fair amount of blood.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink, April 8)

quiet neighborsImagine your last trip to a bookstore you love—wouldn’t it be nice to have stayed there? Now imagine it’s a small, old store in a quaint Scottish village, and the proprietor offers you a job and a place to live when you’ve recently left your whole life behind. That’s what happens to Jude in Catriona McPherson’s latest standalone novel, Quiet Neighbors.

It turns out that the titular neighbors are anything but quiet. Everyone has secrets, even the young woman who arrives not long after Jude does and pronounces herself to be the bookshop owner’s daughter.

The town itself has secrets, too, and when Jude starts poking around into the darker corners of the past and present, she finds some of them are downright dangerous. And this is before we even get to the secrets Jude herself keeps.

There’s a lot to love about this book: an enchanting setting, a cast of characters with each more fascinating than the last, and a web of stories that will make you sad to reach the last page. McPherson has already proven she’s a masterful storyteller (if you haven’t read her previous books, you should!), and Quiet Neighbors is a classic mystery whose complexities are a joy to read.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her by Joanna Connors (Atlantic Monthly Press, April 5)

i will find youAs you can guess from the title, this is neither a light read nor an easy one. It is a powerful and important one.

Author/journalist Connors was raped at age 30 while on assignment for her newspaper. She then lived for more than 20 years, mostly in silence, under the weight of all that was forced on her. With her daughter about to go off to college, Connors was moved to tell her children about her rape.

Her disclosure leads to a painful and emotional journey to find out more about the man who raped her, in the hopes of understanding a bit about the whys and hows and perhaps taming some of her demons along the way.

I Will Find You is an inseparable mix of reporter on assignment and woman on a mission. It provides insight not only into rape culture, but race, abuse, and power. It’s a story of survival and adaptation, written with the care of a journalist and the emotion of someone forever changed by violence. Connors not only discovers more about her rapist, but about herself.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page (William Morrow, April 26)

Tbody in the wardrobehis is the second good book I’ve read by Katherine Hall Page in as many months. The Body in the Birches introduces Sophie Maxwell as a second amateur sleuth to series heroine Faith Fairchild. I loved both of these books.

In Wardrobe, Sophie is adjusting to a new life in Savannah, Georgia, and Faith Fairchild is dealing with her daughter and school bullying, along with the possibility of moving to a new parish.

Because of Faith’s experience with dead bodies and mysteries, Sophie calls her when she finds a body in a wardrobe in the house where she’s staying. These books demonstrate a solid friendship between the two women, which I really enjoyed.

I had taken a break from reading this series [ed. note: this is book 23], and I’m either going to start at the beginning, or just go back and read what I’ve missed. Highly recommended!

From PCN:

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, April 19)

eligibleI took this book home last Christmas and devoured it in two days, despite the holidays being insanely hectic. And it’s 500+ pages. I just couldn’t get my nose unglued from it, a testament to Sittenfeld’s skill since I already knew how things end up for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Or, rather, Liz and Dr. Darcy, as they are in this modern interpretation of the Jane Austen classic.

Liz writes for a women’s magazine and Jane is a yoga instructor, both in New York City. The sisters return home to Cincinnati when Mr. Bennet has a health scare. There they meet Chip Bingley, a recently transplanted doctor. He’s also a minor celebrity after his stint as a bachelor on the dating show Eligible, though he failed to choose a “soul mate” on the season finale.

His romantic luck changes when he meets Jane, but the same can’t be said for Bingley’s neurosurgeon friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose snobbish behavior toward Cincinnati and its residents repels the feisty Liz. What follows is a story both familiar and fresh, contemporary and classic. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve read Austen or Sittenfeld or neither. Eligible is a thoroughly charming read for anyone who appreciates sharp, witty writing.

******

On a related note, Jen featured me at Jen’s Book Thoughts as part of her photo series showing where her readers are reading. In my picture, I’m reading another notable April book, Michael Robotham’s Close Your Eyes. As for where I am, you can go there and see.

Which April books are you looking forward to?

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Book Review: THE WATCHER IN THE WALL by Owen Laukkanen

watcher in the wallAdrian Miller, tired of being tormented at school, hangs himself while home alone. But there’s a witness to his act—someone watching via videocam on his computer. Not just watching but encouraging him to do it, apparently so she could muster the courage to do the same.

One of Adrian’s classmates is especially upset about his suicide, and she happens to be the daughter of Kirk Stevens, special agent with Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, whose partner on a joint FBI-BCA task force is FBI agent Carla Windermere. The girl pleads with her dad to investigate Adrian’s death and make someone pay.

Stevens and Windermere aren’t sure a crime has been committed—until they realize that they have an online predator on their hands, someone who targets vulnerable teens on suicide message boards and talks them right over the edge. And it looks like the perp has hooks in two more victims who are ready to jump. Can the agents find the kids in time to save them?

It’s clear early on in Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall that this fifth outing is a departure in the Stevens and Windermere series. Yes, it has the previous novels’ high-octane action and thriller-fast pace, but the descriptions of the teens’ inner lives feel raw and personal. As it turns out, it is—the author’s note at the end reveals intimate knowledge of the subject matter, and offers hope to those struggling with depression. Watcher is a moving reminder for sufferers that they have a different kind of watchers in their lives—loved ones who can provide support and let them know they’re not alone.

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

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Headed for Hogwarts: Experiencing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood

The new Wizarding World of Happy Potter isn’t officially open at Universal Studios Hollywood until April 7, but Mr. PCN and I received invitations to take an early peek this past weekend.

Let’s go there together!

This is the entrance to Hogsmeade.

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Right after I entered, I encountered this, ready to whisk me away to Hogwarts. (Not really—it’s stationary.)

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I’ve arrived at Hogwarts!

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Time to get sorted into a house by the Sorting Hat. It actually moves and there’s a voice inside telling you which house you belong in. I got Ravenclaw, whose members are known for their wit, wisdom, and cleverness. Sure, I’ll take that. But everyone who put it on seemed to get the same result. I suspect the hat is rigged, or Ravenclaw will need a LOT of beds to house all its new members.

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Next we went on a couple of rides—there are only 2 rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is a 3-D experience, and Flight of the Hippogriff, a roller coaster.

The first one is fast paced, hurling you through the air, putting you in the middle of a Quidditch game, having you escape the Whomping Willow and giant spiders, making you come face to face with Dementors, etc. The Dementors are pretty scary, and I was like, “Uh-uh, don’t you dare kiss me.” I wouldn’t recommend the ride for kids under 6.

It’s odd how the visuals weren’t sharp, though, and as rides go, it wasn’t as good as the park’s old Back to the Future and E.T. rides.

Flight of the Hippogriff is the shortest roller coaster ever, not necessarily a bad thing since I don’t like roller coasters. I only went on this because it’s deemed “family friendly,” so I figured even a wimp like me could handle it. And it was an easy ride—over in what seemed like 60 seconds. I am not exaggerating.

After that, we visited some of the shops, starting with Ollivanders, “maker of fine wands since 382 BC.”

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Inside, a shopkeeper picks a few kids from the group to participate in a demonstration of how wands choose their owners. There are a few small (underwhelming) special effects involved, and when it was over, the shopkeeper packs up the wands for the kids and reminds them to tell their parents that the wands have chosen them. My jaded self did an internal eye roll. How are parents supposed to say no to that?

I will say the interactive wands are pretty cool. I didn’t get to try one, but I saw one girl using it to cast spells around Hogsmeade. These wands are programmed to work with predesignated windows in the area. You stand in front of the window, say the magic spell, and make things move inside.

See how it works in the video below, with James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) and Bonnie Wright (Ginny W.).

 

We walked around some more, I used the restroom, where you can hear Moaning Myrtle, and it was a beautiful day, but I couldn’t escape a feeling of…rather, a lack of…wonderment.

I’m a hardcore HP fan, so I thought I’d be like a kid in a Honeydukes candy store. And I did go into Honeydukes. But I was underwhelmed. By everything.

I think the reason is that in my head and in the movies, Hogsmeade (there’s no Diagon Alley here like at Universal Studios Orlando) is a place for wizards and full of magical things. Looking at the streets packed with Muggles pushing baby strollers and waving selfie sticks, I couldn’t find the magic. There are many more shops and restaurants, all with overpriced items, than there are rides and attractions.

I considered the possibility I’m too old to be the target audience for this, but then remembered how awed I was when I attended my friend Mari’s HP-themed Thanksgiving dinner a few years back. I felt more immersed in Harry’s world there than I did today in a place that cost more than a billion dollars to build. Mari’s version was reconstructed from pure love, while Universal is out to make money (ticket prices have been raised in anticipation of WWoHP’s opening). Which it’s allowed to do.

There’s just nothing magical about that.

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Movie Review: BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

(Clay Enos/AP)

(Clay Enos/AP)

When I was a kid—heck, even now—nothing much could get me out of bed early on a Saturday morning. If something could, it was a BIG DEAL.

And so it was, the show Super Friends, which aired Saturdays at 8 a.m. While everyone in the house was asleep, I’d tiptoe down to the basement to watch Wonder Woman and Superman and the rest of Justice League vanquish bad guys.

In 1978, I was in line opening weekend of Superman with Christopher Reeve, my excitement barely contained, and left believing a man could fly. I’ve seen every single Batman movie, even the George Clooney one.

I could go on about my fandom of DC Comics’ greatest superheroes, but you get the idea—my nerdiness runs deep.

So imagine my dismay when I saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last week and realized it’s a huge mess. It is not the movie I wanted, and I can’t imagine many other fans wanting it.

I won’t go too much into plot, both because I don’t want to reveal spoilers, and also because there isn’t really a coherent storyline. The gist of it is: Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) thinks Supes (Henry Cavill) is bad for mankind, being above human laws, so Batty sets out to take down the Man of Steel. (Gee, a billionaire who doesn’t like aliens—who does that remind us of?)

Lex Luthor also wants to destroy Supes because…he’s a controlling egomaniac. Or something. Jesse Eisenberg’s scenery chewing was too annoying for me to give much credence or attention to what Luthor says.

The disjointed script reaches for Big Ideas, but either hits them with a sledgehammer or doesn’t follow through. Hard to believe this was cowritten by an Oscar winner, Chris Terrio, who took home gold for Argo. (The other screenwriter is David Goyer, who worked on all of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, as well as director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.) Mostly the lead men brood a lot and then engage in loud, heavily CGI’d, too-long fight scenes that just wore me down. During the last forty minutes, I thought, “When will it end?” Everything is bleak and there’s no fun at all.

That’s not to say this should be a comedy or even as light as the Marvel movies. But even in Tim Burton’s and Nolan’s versions of Batman, there was a sense of glee among the darkness, whether it’s in Jack Nicholson’s The Joker or Michelle Pfeiffer’s and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman.

Here, you have a rich pouty emo boy fighting a lost Boy Scout who hasn’t gotten over his daddy. Affleck and Cavill look good—salt & pepper temples work on Affleck—but they’re not required to do much acting.

Faring better is Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She’s the heart of the movie, and the scenes with her in them are probably the only ones containing anything resembling human emotions.

As Diana Prince, Gal Gadot has a stunning wardrobe. As Wonder Woman? The actress doesn’t have the requisite charisma or presence. WW isn’t just physically strong, she has a powerful aura. Gadot comes across like a mannequin.

And I hate her new costume. It’s supposed to be red, white, blue (and gold), with WW showing her allegiance to America. In this movie it’s grimy brown and gladiator-like. Yes, everyone wears muted colors, but you can still see the red and blue hues in Superman’s costume and the S on his chest. I felt no connection to Wonder Woman because my brain didn’t recognize her as such; she looked like an escapee from Snyder’s 300. The best I can say about WW is that she gets a strong entrance.

After having seen this, it’s hard to look forward to Snyder’s two Justice League movies, though I am curious about Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, especially after seeing the just released photo below. Who knows—maybe Jenkins will give me a reason to wake up early one Saturday morning next year and sneak off to the movie theater.

Nerd verdict: Doesn’t do Justice to Justice League heroes

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Nerdy Special List March 2016

So…it’s been an interesting month. For the past several weeks, I’ve been traveling a lot—all over California, into Nevada, and down under to Australia. Some of it was work-related, some not, but none of it was my idea or a trip I planned, and in each case I had little time to decide whether or not I wanted to go. I just jumped onto buses, trams, and planes, trusting I’d enjoy the experience on the other side. And I did.

The biggest lessons for me in all this? Embrace spontaneity more often, never turn down great opportunities even if they arise at the last minute, and not being in control can be exhilarating sometimes. (This could be my lazy self appreciating not having to plan things.)

But let’s get on with this month’s recommended reads. Here are the March releases we really liked.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Way of the Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of Firearms by Iain Overton (Harper, March 22)

way-of-gunBritish journalist and former gun-club president Iain Overton examines the life cycle of firearms in the world today. He looks at aspects of the gun from suicides to hobbies—interviewing a vast array of users, visiting some of the world’s most dangerous countries, attending gun shows and studying research and data from a wide variety of sources—in order to understand man’s relationship with weapons.

His own experiences as a hobbyist and embedded war journalist come out anecdotally, but Overton relies on the accumulation of all his findings to draw his conclusions. The Way of the Gun focuses on the United States because it is the world’s largest manufacturer of guns, and as Overton illustrates, the US viewpoint on firearms has repercussions far outside the country’s borders.

Overton uses meticulous, scientific research, and his status as a non-US citizen removes the sensitive political issues that often taint American conversations. He takes a global view of this hot-button topic, using clear, concise, and persuasive writing to produce an eye-opening read.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (Putnam, March 22)

jane steele“Of all my many murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important.”

So begins Lyndsay Faye’s brilliant Jane Steele. In this clever reimagining of Jane Eyre, the accidental vigilante Miss Steele’s life parallels that of the classic Gothic heroine. Where Eyre does not often reveal her strong opinions, Steele acts on them. She inadvertently sets out righting the wrongs she encounters, first for herself and then for those she cares about.

Finding herself a governess at her childhood home, she aims to unravel the mysterious new owner and finds herself falling in love with him. Yet who is he, and would he be able to accept her and her black murderous soul? This is a novel that runs the risk of being ridiculous, yet isn’t. It is, instead, a thrilling mystery and wonderful homage to a beloved classic.

Recommended for both lovers and haters of Jane Eyre. Those who love it will appreciate the original details sprinkled throughout. Those who hate it may feel this action-packed, satirical romance rights all of Brontë’s wrongs.

Reader, I loved it.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Between Black and White by Robert Bailey (Thomas & Mercer, March 15)

between black and whiteThis is the second (after The Professor) in Robert Bailey’s series featuring law professor-turned-lawyer Tom McMurtrie. Between Black and White is both a classic legal thriller and a window to the soul of small-town southern culture. The combination is irresistible.

The story opens dramatically as a young boy, Bocephus Haynes, watches his father lynched in 1966. As a man, Bo still lives in the same town in Tennessee, and it’s there where the former KKK leader he blames for his father’s death is killed.

The investigation and court case that follow are gripping, and the portrayal of and insights into people and attitudes are insightful without being overbearing or preachy. This isn’t a novel-length judgment piece; it’s a story about people who are as complex as…well, as people are. Bailey’s prose is fast-paced and clever. I can see why he’s a successful lawyer himself, and can’t wait for Professor McMurtrie’s next case.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

bursar's wifeThe Bursar’s Wife by E.G. Rodford (Titan Books, March 1)

This is a PI novel that takes place in Cambridge, England. It hooked me pretty much from the beginning. George Kocharyan is recently divorced and has a low-key investigation business, mostly taking photos of cheating spouses.

In walks a beautiful woman who wants her daughter, a Cambridge student, followed. It leads George to places and situations he never would have imagined. It also connects him with his father’s history as a caretaker at Cambridge. This book is well written, ventures into unexpected places, and kept me very interested in the outcome. Highly recommended!

From PCN:

passengerSeveral months ago, I was in a serious reading drought. Every book I picked up either put me to sleep or made me want to throw it across the room. What did I do? Request a copy of Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger, because she’s a reliable slump-buster for me. Boy, did Lisa deliver.

The novel begins with Tanya Dubois finding her husband dead at the bottom of the stairs. Instead of calling the cops, she changes her identity and hightails it out of town. She meets a woman named Blue, who could be an ally or foe, and together they go through more name changes and encounter more deaths. Tanya/whatever-her-name-is finally decides to stop running by going home and confronting the people who ruined her life in the first place.

Lisa’s writing had me in a vise from beginning to end—and I was happy for it. There was no sleep until I reached the resolution. The characters are complex, the plot mysterious, the pace neckbreaking, and I was grateful for the reminder that reading could be fun again.

Which March releases are you looking forward to?

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Book Review: THE SHUT EYE by Belinda Bauer

the shut eyeDetective Chief Inspector John Marvel is obsessed with the disappearance of 12-year-old Edie Evans, who went missing more than a year earlier while riding her bike, but Marvel’s boss, the superintendent, wants the detective to look for a poodle belonging to the superintendent’s wife.

James and Anna Buck’s son, four-year-old Daniel, is also missing, and Anna’s grip on reality has been slipping in the months since he disappeared. She seeks out a so-called psychic named Richard Latham, but soon after, Anna thinks she’s having visions herself.

Though chapters in The Shut Eye (a term meaning psychic) are from different points of view and at first seem to be telling separate stories, Belinda Bauer eventually weaves the threads together while keeping readers guessing all the way. As with her previous US release, Rubbernecker, Bauer excels in developing her characters, giving each a distinct and believable voice, whether it’s a grieving mother with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a gruff detective, a black lesbian female police officer (the “Holy Grail of Equal Opportunities”), or a Hmong immigrant.

Bauer can also write from a child’s view as convincingly as an adult’s. Her prose is tight, conveying wonder and heart-gripping emotions without verbosity. In barely 300 pages, she manages to pack in social commentary, cultural insight, and dry humor, along with the suspense of a police procedural and perhaps even the supernatural, depending on how readers interpret certain revelations. Crime-fiction fans can expect little shut-eye after picking up this thriller.

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

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Nerdy Special List February 2016

I’m baaack!

I’ll wait until all 3 of you are done thinking, “Wait, she went somewhere?”

This past month was challenging because Mr. PCN had surgery, but he’s well on his way to recovery so life has returned to a semblance of normalcy. Actually, normal might be stretching it, but at least I have some time now to sleep and blog.

First order of business is to post this month’s Nerdy Special List. It may be a short month but there’s no shortage of good reads. Below are the February releases my fellow bloggers and I recommend.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World by Baz Dreisinger (Other Press, February 9)

incarceration-nationsOver the course of two years, John Jay College associate professor and Prison-to-College Pipeline founder Baz Dreisinger traveled around the world visiting prison facilities. She volunteered in workshops and taught writing classes everywhere from Rwanda to Australia, in order to examine innovated programs the various countries were implementing to reduce recidivism, improve rehabilitation efforts, and aid reentry.

Dreisinger combines her experiences with research, data, and history on incarceration to present an eye-opening—and compassionate—look at a global issue. Her optimism and zeal make Incarceration Nations not only a fascinating read but the inspirational journal of “characters” one that audiences won’t want to leave.

Listen to the Lambs by Daniel Black (St. Martin’s Press, February 16)

listen-to-lambsLazarus Love III gives up his affluent upper-middle class life when he realizes his corporate job is slowly killing him. He despises the materialism and wishes to truly live. Lazarus finds the life he’s looking for as a homeless man living under an overpass, sharing his existence with a small tribe of idiosyncratic vagabonds.

But his Utopian bubble pops when his life is threatened, forcing this newfound family to band together and rise above its cultural invisibility in order to try to save Lazarus. Allegorical, symbolic, and richly layered, this novel about race, class, family, and redemption is stunningly written and powerfully delivered.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

Floodgate by Johnny Shaw (Thomas and Mercer, February 16)

floodgateAuction City has a violent history. In the Gang Wars of 1929 (the Flood), warring factions came close to destroying it altogether, until representatives from each group formed a vigilante force called Floodgate to quell the violence.

In 1986, former cop Andy Destra is waging a war against the corrupt department that blacklisted him. Little does he know he’s stirring up a hornet’s nest, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since 1929, and Floodgate will once again need to rise to the challenge of saving the city.

Johnny Shaw’s genius shines most brightly in his humor and family relationships. That said, this epic and mythological work is much different from Shaw’s prior offerings. Alternating between the Flood of 1929 and the ultra-violent yet madcap conflict of 1986, Floodgate is grander in scope and themes, and almost impossible to synopsize. But the cast of characters, which includes a giant, bald, Bible-wielding, soup-can-chucking black woman; a one-armed female leader of a gang (there are tons of kickass women characters); sewer-dwelling cannibals; a literate troll; and countless other intriguing ones should be teaser enough to get you to crack the cover on this one.

From Patti at Patti’s Pen & Picks:

The Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Minotaur, February 2)

language of secretsThe first in this series, The Unquiet Dead, was very well written, and The Language of Secrets is as well, with a lot of excitement thrown it. Detective Esa Khattak, a Muslim who runs the Community Policing Department in Toronto, is called to work on a case that involves a possible terrorist cell (or two), a mosque, and the death of a friend. His partner, Rachel Getty, goes undercover as a potential new member of the mosque. Esa is asked to work in a very minimal way on the murder investigation, and has his hands tied at every turn. How the murder is solved and a terrorist attack prevented come at a breakneck pace, all the way to the conclusion of this smart book. Highly recommended!

From PCN:

Back Blast by Mark Greaney (Berkley, February 16)

back blastI had to interview Mark Greaney for Shelf Awareness but hadn’t heard of him, so I picked up his latest thriller, which is number five in the Gray Man series. It’s 528 pages long. “Dang,” I thought. “This is a lot to read for research.”

But from the first page, I was sucked in like dirt into a Hoover. The Gray Man—real name Court Gentry—is a former CIA black ops officer who’s had a shoot-on-sight order against him for the past 5 years. Who put it there? The Agency. Why? He has no idea.

Tired of running all over the globe to evade the kill order, Gentry returns to DC to confront his opponents/former bosses. What ensues is a fast-paced adventure that shows why the CIA should be very, very afraid of the Gray Man, not the other way around. Think Jack Reacher with James Bond’s toys and you get an idea of what Gentry can do. This is a thick book but it’s, well, a blast.

What are you looking forward to reading this month?

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Thoughts on the 73rd Golden Globes

This was one of the weirder Golden Globes ceremonies in recent memory. Sylvester Stallone winning best supporting actor in a motion picture for Creed? Lady Gaga is the best lead actress in a limited series for American Horror Story: Hotel? Seriously??

After the presenters made those announcements, I wondered if they’d Steve Harveyed the ceremonies and read the wrong name. Gaga couldn’t even pull off a convincing acceptance speech. Then again, Madonna won a best actress in a musical/comedy Globe for Evita, so I guess the win makes sense in the world of the Hollywood Foreign Press.

ricky-gervais-ggRicky Gervais, as expected, had no respect for the celebrities in the audience—or NBC, the networking broadcasting the show—but everyone seemed good-natured about it, at least on camera. He did get a bit too graphic about Jeffrey Tambor’s, ah, jewels when wondering how the Transparent actor hides them while playing a transgender, making me miss former hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, whose sharp humor involves fewer comments about genitalia.

Gervais hugged it out with Mel Gibson, making up for his harsh comments about Gibson’s drinking and anti-Semitic rant when he last introduced the actor on the Globes years ago. Gervais’s intro this time: “I’d rather have a drink with him than Bill Cosby.” Gibson’s retort: “I love seeing Ricky every three years because it reminds me to get a colonoscopy.”

The first presenters, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, did a painfully unfunny, too-long bit with Hill as the bear from The Revenant. Paul Drinkwater:NBCUniversal via Getty ImagesLuckily, the banter got better, notably the bit by America Ferrara and Eva Longoria, who had to list all the Latina actresses they are not but are sometimes mistaken for: “I’m Eva Longoria, not Eva Mendes.” Ferrera said: “Hi, I’m America Ferrera, not Gina Rodriguez.” (The HFPA’s Twitter account thought Ferrera was Rodriguez when Ferrera announced Globes nominations last month.) Longoria said, “And neither of us are Rosario Dawson,” to which Ferrara replied, “Well said, Salma,” and Longoria said, “Thank you, Charo.”

Winners I was happiest about: Brie Larson for Room, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant, Matt Damon for The Martian, and Jon Hamm for Mad Men.

aziz-ansari-ggFunniest non-winner goes to Aziz Ansari. When his name is read as a best comedy series lead actor nominee for Master of None, he’s reading a book titled Losing to Jeffrey Tambor with Dignity. (Tambor was the frontrunner but Gael García Bernal ended up winning for Mozart in the Jungle.)

See a complete list of winners and some memorable moments here.

Let’s talk about the fashion. There weren’t many superlative outfits, either stunning or WTH, so I’ll just feature a few favorites.

Alicia Vikander

Alicia-Vikander-Golden-Globe-Awards-2016

I’m not usually a fan of white dresses, but The Danish Girl star looked flawless in this. It takes a gorgeous woman to pull off a gown that kind of looks like an apron in front. The belt loops and delicate pleats make it interesting.

Olivia Wilde

Olivia-Wilde-Golden-Globe-Awards-2016

Love the rich wine color. It’s so boring when people wear black sheaths on the red carpet.

Rooney Mara

She may not hit the jackpot every time, and I don’t usually like nude gowns (apparently this is blush in person), but there’s always something wild and funky to Mara’s choices. She’s the Girl Who Doesn’t Like Safe Choices. Something else I like about her: She doesn’t strike that affected pose most other actresses use, with one hand on hip and one leg forward (see: Olivia Wilde above), which supposedly makes you look slimmer but instead makes all the ladies look unnatural. Mara’s stance is more like: just take my picture so I can move on because I’m already bored with you.

Eddie Redmayne

eddie redmayne gg 2016

The men don’t have as many sartorial choices as the women do, but Redmayne repeatedly finds ways to stand out. This time, his jacket is dark blue and has subtle embroidery. The kerchief in pocket completes this classic-but-modern look.

Did you watch? Which were your favorite bits/looks?

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Q & A with Robert Crais

After a long wait for readers, Robert Crais released The Promise last November. I pounced on it like it was the last piece of bacon post-apocalypse. It’s billed as an Elvis and Joe novel but also includes LAPD officer Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie from Crais’s previous book, Suspect (read my Promise review for Shelf Awareness here).

Crais went on tour right before the holidays, and will appear tomorrow (Saturday) at the Santa Monica Public Library at 3 p.m., as part of the library’s 125th anniversary celebration. But first, he was kind enough to fill out my questionnaire about his adventures and provide glimpses of his life on the road.

Most unexpected experience:

The Promise debuted at #1 on the NY Times e-book list. In November. When dreadnoughts like King, Albom, and Grisham are plowing the pre-Christmas waves. I expected to be swamped.

Freakiest:

An enormous, 50-foot statue on the road from Cincinnati to Dayton. I asked my driver, “What’s this?” He said, “Touchdown Jesus. We call it Touchdown Jesus because of how the arms were raised like he’s signaling a TD.” I studied the statue, and didn’t see it. “His arms aren’t raised. They’re spread to the sides.” He nodded. “This is the second Touchdown Jesus. The first was struck by lightning and destroyed. They changed the arms when they built the new one, but he’ll always be Touchdown Jesus to me.”

TD Jesus

Most suspenseful:

The car service hired to drive me from Vero Beach to Jacksonville flaked at the last second. It’s a three-hour drive, and I had to be in Jacksonville for a couple of live radio interviews, so the publicists really had to scramble. They found a replacement, but there was just no way we were going to make it. Too many miles and not enough time. But this new driver? This cat was Han Solo. We blasted up the highway like the Millennium Falcon. I had to, ah, close my eyes a couple of times, but we made it.

IMG_2496

Most fun with TSA:

The TSA were great. Three different agents recognized my name, and asked about Elvis and Joe. What’s not to love?

Best meal eaten:

Flounder and fried green tomatoes at The Olde Pink House in Savannah. I’m drooling as I remember.

flounder

Most surreal moment:

The bar in the basement of the Olde Pink House. Ghosts.

Most beautiful sight:

I was in New York City when Paris was hit by the terror attacks. The next day, I happened upon Washington Square Park, which was filled with people. I don’t know how many, maybe a few thousand. Here were all these people, Americans, some of whom were waving French flags, who had come together in this spontaneous show of support for France. I found it moving and beautiful. I still do.

IMG_2494

Favorite activity between signings:

Flying. No calls, no email, and I’m on to another event.

IMG_2499

Favorite souvenir:

Fans brought so many wonderful gifts. Little stuffed German shepherds. Cookies to represent Elvis and Joe and Maggie. I loved them all.

maggie cookies

All photos: Robert Crais. To stalk his snaps, follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

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Nerdy Special List January 2016

Happy 2016! Hope your holidays were beautiful and full of things that made you all fuzzy inside. Or on the outside, if that’s your preference. I don’t judge.

I had a wonderful time with family, mooching off Mom and Dad, loafing around in jammies for days, eating 97 of Mr. PCN’s homemade cookies, having a Star Wars marathon with nieces and nephews who were seeing all the movies for the first time, then engaging the kiddos in long discussions afterward. Nerd heaven.

But enough blathering and let’s get down to business with the first NSL of the new year. Here are the January releases we recommend.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman (Putnam, January 26)

where-it-hurtsReed Farrel Coleman introduces retired cop Gus Murphy, his new series protagonist, in this dark tale. Gus lost his son to an unknown heart defect two years earlier and hasn’t recovered from the devastation. It tore his remaining family apart and now he works for—and lives in—an old rundown hotel. He doubles as the building detective and airport shuttle driver. When a man Gus arrested during his years on the police force shows up asking for Gus’s help investigating the murder of his son, Gus has to confront more than the case in order to have any chance at solving the crime.

Coleman has consistently created dynamic and layered characters in his crime novels, and Where It Hurts is no exception. The histories and skeletons make these characters fascinating and empathetic. They are also a beautiful reflection of the cultural diversity of the Long Island setting.

Coleman excels at turning a breathless phrase amid ugliness and despair: “A pleasant, button-down guy, he was an okay cop who figured the best way to get ahead was by keeping his head down and to paint by the numbers and to stay inside the lines when he did. His wardrobe was strictly K-Mart and so too were his dreams, though he wasn’t altogether unambitious.”

His humor isn’t lacking, either: “Long Islanders believed that world peace would only be achieved through shopping and not even the Dalai Lama himself worked as hard at world peace as the citizens of Nassau and Suffolk Counties.” Where It Hurts is an all around great start to a promising new series.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 5)

splitfootMr. Splitfoot is Samantha Hunt’s latest novel and it’s a strange, intense journey for fans of Gothic fiction. Nat and Ruth are two teenagers living in the Love of Christ! Foster Home, Farm, and Mission. The founder of the home, Father Arthur, only wants the most extreme cases of child abandonment. He doesn’t want kids with families that may reunite or a long lost aunt that might step in; he wants the lost causes.

Mixed in with the grim material are humor and absurdity that keep the novel from getting too dark. The Mother of Love of Christ! sings Black Sabbath’s “Mama, Mama, I’m Coming Home” to the motherless children as they do the heavy lifting, and Ruth declares “Jesus is a hottie” and sincerely means it. Nat and Ruth, siblings by choice, know they need to find a way to earn a living before they age out of the home, and that comes in the form of Mr. Splitfoot. He helps Nat speak to the dead. It begins with the other orphans, but soon draws the attention of Mr. Bell, who brings Nat and Ruth a much more profitable clientele.

Interspersed with Nat and Ruth’s life as spiritualists is Cora’s story. Cora is Ruth’s pregnant niece. One day Ruth arrives unannounced, unable to speak, but insistent that Cora accompany her, destination unknown. Although the novel sounds—and is—very odd, it is also well crafted. Samantha Hunt has written an intricately plotted, ghostly love story that I would highly recommend. It’s a novel I am certain will stick with me through the coming year.

From Erin at In Real Life:

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown, January 19)

even dogs in the wildI’m not sure exactly how it’s possible that Ian Rankin’s books keep getting better, but they do. Even Dogs in the Wild is the latest in his Rebus series, but I wouldn’t call this a Rebus book, because Rankin’s universe of characters, including Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, and Big Ger Cafferty, are every bit as much a part of the story as John is.

Rankin can weave a mystery as well as any storyteller, and he does exactly that in this novel. Murders connected by ominous notes at the scene and committed by an apparently invisible individual would be a conundrum to lesser cops, but Rebus, Clarke, and Fox are a formidable team. And it is against this backdrop that Rankin unfolds one of the sharpest studies in character—into the human heart and soul—in modern literature, and it is a pleasure to read.

Rankin will be touring in the US starting at the end of January (specific info available on his website). He’ll be in New York, St. Louis, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, and—wait for it—Fairway, Kansas.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen (Running Press, January 5)

no baggage

Does the thought of a hotel messing up your reservation give you angina? How about not having one at all? Clara Bensen throws all kinds of caution to the wind when she agrees to take a trip across the globe with a man she only recently met on an Internet dating site. If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, she’s agreed to travel his way: no itinerary, no hotel reservations, no baggage. They each carry nothing but a toothbrush, a credit card, a passport, and the clothes on their back

This is the story of Clara’s trip with Jeff, but it’s really much deeper than that. Both have recently been hit with difficult life circumstances and the trip presses on nerves and emotions that force them, Clara especially, to face their fears and issues. It becomes readily apparent you can leave your luggage behind, but your life baggage is always with you.

More of a life journal than strict travelogue, No Baggage is both fun and introspective. Recommended for travel junkies and anyone who’s thought of chucking it all and taking to the road. (Read Lauren’s full review here.)

From PCN:

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer (Grove Press, January 12)

SHUT EYEAfter this book and last year’s Rubbernecker (featured on August’s NSL), Bauer is quickly becoming one of my must-read authors. Her characters are quirky and full of sharp humor, even in the face of dire situations.

Detective Chief Inspector John Marvel can’t let go of the unsolved case of a 12-year-old girl who went missing a year earlier, but his boss wants him to look for a lost poodle belonging to Marvel’s boss’s wife.

Anna Buck’s 4-year-old son is also missing, and she starts having strange visions that may or may not provide clues to her son’s—or is is it the missing girl’s?—whereabouts. The police and her husband think she’s just nuts, though, and her credibility is shot even lower when Anna admits she consulted a TV psychic before she started having her revelations.

Through multiple viewpoints, Bauer unspools a gripping story that allows little shut eye until you’re finished.

 

Which books are you looking forward to this month? 

 

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