Browsing Tag

Books & writing

Nerdy Special List February 2017

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

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

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

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

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

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

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

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

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

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

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

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

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

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

From Erin at In Real Life:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

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

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

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

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

From Patti at Patti’s Pens & Picks:

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

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

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

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

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

From PCN:

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

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

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

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

What are you excited to read this month?


Big Bear Adventure

Since we had a long weekend, Mr. PCN and I decided to run away from civilization and the noisy neighbors with their chainsaws and leaf blowers and constantly barking dogs.

We rented a cabin in the mountains near Big Bear Lake, where it was blissfully quiet. It was too windy and choppy on the water for kayaking so we took a tandem bike around the lake. The air was crisp, the temp about 40 degrees, and this was our view.



After we had lunch, we came back to the cabin and built a fire. That’s a jacuzzi tub to the left.



The cabin also had a private deck, where I’d take my coffee in the morning…


…but it was cozier to stay inside by the fire and dig into my stack of books. I brought 3, was able to finish the top 2 (reviews to come), and have started the third.

IMG_2020And that’s about all I did on my spring vacation. How was your weekend? What did you read or watch?


Nerdy Special List September 2013

nerdyspecialfinalSeptember is finally here, which makes me happy, because fall is one of my favorite seasons, though it’s been ridiculously hot, so I may have to wish winter would hurry.

It didn’t help at all that our A/C broke over the long weekend, and I walked around here like a sweaty zombie, too heatstroked to form cohesive thoughts or sentences.

But I did manage to read a little, and am finally able to function well enough to post this month’s Nerdy Special List. Here’s what my fellow book bloggers and I recommend this month.

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky (Nation Books, Sept. 10)

american way of povertyThis powerful nonfiction look at poverty in the United States should be required reading for every American citizen. We’ve created a culture that blames the poor for their situations, when in fact many, if not most, have been powerless to battle the forces that pushed them below the poverty line. Working one’s way back up and out of poverty is becoming more and more impossible in this country.

Sasha Abramsky looks at those forces, the systems we have in place that are failing miserably, the myths about poverty that many of us have been conditioned to believe as truths, and he also looks at how we can work to change the devastating momentum. The first and most important step is educating people about the truths of poverty. This book is a good first step. Abramsky’s passion for this subject will not only open readers’ eyes, it will motivate them to work for change.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Julie at Girls Just Reading:

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (Ballantine, Sept. 10)

songs willow frostI’ve been waiting for this book since I finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, and let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. Mr. Ford has a way of painting the setting so vividly that you feel transported to that time and place. It envelops you.

William is a character you cheer for from the beginning, along with his best friend, Charlotte. You want them to succeed on their adventure and to find answers. This isn’t a book that will leave you feeling happy, but it is a book that makes you believe in forgiveness and hope. Fans of historical fiction will want to read it.

Amazon | IndieBound

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland Books, Sept. 10)

the thicket“I didn’t suspect the day Grandfather came out and got me and my sister, Lula, and hauled us off toward the ferry, that I’d soon end up with worse things happening than had already come upon us, or that I’d take up with a gun-shooting dwarf, the son of a slave, and a big angry hog, let alone find true love and kill someone, but that’s exactly how it was.”

I imagine it’s rare that a story can be summed up by its opening line, but Joe R. Lansdale does just that in his darkly comic new novel. The Thicket is a wonderful, bizarre story with East Texas roots, and enough humor to take the edge off his typical darkness. There are gun fights, torture scenes, whorehouses, and humor. In this part Western, part coming-of-age story, none of the characters remain unscathed, but the battle might produce a loyal hero or two. This book is bloody, funny, and, at times, brilliant.

Amazon | IndieBound

From PCN:

never go backI wanted to feature a smaller book, something you may not have heard of, but I found several September releases underwhelming, so I’ll just cheat and point you toward the latest Jack Reacher adventure, Never Go Back by Lee Child, which Delacorte Press released yesterday, Sept. 3.

Reacher finally makes it to Virginia to meet up with Major Susan Turner, the woman with the alluring voice with whom he had long conversations back in 61 Hours. I don’t have to tell you much about it, because Reacher fans will snap it up anyway, right? Did I tell you I’m suffering from heatstroke, which I’m using as an excuse for not writing a more detailed blurb? It’s Jack Reacher. Enough said.

Amazon | IndieBound

Hope you find one of these titles enticing. What are you looking forward to reading this month? (Check out past Nerdy Special Lists here.)


To Be Read

I often pester my pals on social media to post pics of their TBR stacks, or of their loot after they go book shopping, or attend a library sale. Pictures of books make me happy.

Then I realized I never post pics of mine, partly because they’re everywhere, and I’d have to wrangle them into submission before I can take photos of them. But I decided to bite the bullet, and not only arranged them all prettily, but grouped them according to their month of release.

The following are the TBR books I’m most excited about tackling. I’m seriously considering cutting off cable so I can get through all these without distractions.


I’m currently reading Leopards, Owls, and Cuckoo’s (the animal theme was not planned) and enjoying them all so far. Sedaris makes me rock with laughter.

Plus e-galleys: 

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The Famous and the Dead by T. Jefferson Parker

Penance by Dan O’Shea

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger





Plus e-galleys:

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

The Last Whisper in the Dark by Tom Piccirilli

Any of these look good to you? What’s in your TBR stack?


Book Review: SAFE HOUSE by Chris Ewan

The following ran in Shelf Awareness: Daily Enlightenment for Readers last month as a starred review, and is reprinted here with permission.

At the start of Chris Ewan’s Safe House, Rob Hale wakes up in the hospital and receives good news: despite painful injuries after a motorcycle wipeout, he has no permanent damage. But when he asks about Lena, the beautiful woman who was with him, no one knows anything about her, claiming he was found alone. Some even question whether he’s confused by his sister Laura’s recent suicide.

Having hazy memories of Lena being taken away from the accident site by men in what looked like an ambulance, Rob goes searching for her, teaming up with Rebecca Lewis, the attractive private investigator his parents hired to look into Laura’s activities before she drove her car off a cliff. The two race to save Lena’s life, and end up also uncovering the truth about Laura’s death.

Ewan, known for his Good Thief’s Guide series, tackles a standalone this time, and Safe House shoots out of the gate like Rob on his motorbike. His everyman quality—the guy is recovering from injuries, so no over-the-top stunts for him—is the perfect anchor for a thriller that gets increasingly complex and dangerous as it unfurls. Rebecca picks up the slack by being scarily competent at handling bad guys and sticky situations. This woman is tough, and she keeps Rob and readers guessing about her true intentions for taking the case. The sympathetic characters, Isle of Man setting, plot twists and Ewan’s propulsive prose should take readers on a ride that feels anything but safe.

Nerd verdict: Thrilling Safe 


Nerdy Special List January 2013

I went away for the holidays, but didn’t intend to go undeground and disappear from my blog and social media for two weeks. It was a good thing, though. Unplugging allows me to just be in the moment instead of living out loud, and to recharge and observe and experience so I can have something to write about.

Among other things I did during my break, I had a readathon and finished 3 books in 2 days. Which brings me to the January Nerdy Special List. This month, Jen of Jen’s Book Thoughts and I both recommend two titles, but there’s one overlap so only 3 books are on the list.

Jen’s selections:

Suspect by Robert Crais (Putnam, Jan. 22)

Robert Crais is a master at the theme of interpersonal relationships. His depth and detail make readers feel like a part of the relationships. In Suspect, that strong relationship occurs between man and dog. While Crais has created minor connections between man and animal in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, now it’s front and center. He delivers it with compassion and understanding. And oh yes, there’s also a suspenseful crime. Suspect just took the gold in my book; it’s now my favorite Crais novel. I’m hoping it goes from standalone status to regular series. It would be a shame for Scott and Maggie to bid adieu already.

Suspect is perfect for all those who say they haven’t read Robert Crais yet—no backstory needed and it’s a stunning display of his talent. Meanwhile Craisies will not be disappointed. Of course, we always enjoy our visits with Elvis and Joe, but you’ll be willing to wait a little longer for the boys after you meet Scott and Maggie.

As a side note for my fellow audiobook fans, this book will also be available on audio January 22nd, narrated by MacLeod Andrews.

Buy Suspect from AmazonBuy from an indie bookstore

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur, Jan. 15)

Twenty-five years after the first appearance of John Rebus, Ian Rankin returns to his long-time protagonist, post-retirement from the CID. Now the inspector is working as a civilian, reviewing cold cases. Rebus uncovers an old case connected to a current one, and he’s back in the thick of it again.

Despite this being the 18th novel featuring Rebus, it’s the first one I’ve read and I was blown away. I don’t know where I’ve been for 25 years. Rankin’s beautiful language, rich characters, and complex plot make this a book nearly impossible to put down.Standing is a gorgeous tribute to Rankin’s friend Jackie Leven, a Scottish musician who died of cancer in 2011. Rankin dedicates the book to him, opens each section with Leven song lyrics, and begins the whole book with Rebus at a funeral for a friend who died of cancer. In addition, the title is a mondegreen of Leven’s song “Standing in Another Man’s Rain.” Rankin’s play on the song title is one of the highlights of the book.

I’ve been missing out on Ian Rankin all these years. If you have been, too, I encourage you to pick up this book and see what you’ve been missing. If you’ve been in on the secret of Rankin’s greatness all this time…why didn’t you tell me?!?

Buy Standing from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

PCN’s recommendations:

I also recommend Suspect, but at the risk of seeming lazy redundant, I’ll simply refer you to Jen’s remarks above. Maggie broke my heart, and if I talk about it too much, I’ll cry the ugly cry.

The other book I suggest you check out is Lisa O’Donnell’s debut, The Death of Bees (HarperCollins, just released). First, let me share the prologue:

Eugene Doyle. Born 19 June 1972. Died 17 December 2010, aged thirty-eight.

Isabel Ann Macdonald. Born 24 May 1974. Died 18 December 2010, aged thirty-six.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard.

Neither of them were beloved.

Don’t you want to read it just based on that?! Need more convincing? OK, fine. You’re only saying that to make me work harder but here goes.

Bees is about two Glaswegian sisters, Marnie, 15, and Nelly, 12, who find their parents dead about a week before Christmas. They each suspect the other of killing their father—their mother hung herself—but decide to bury the bodies in the backyard instead of alerting authorities, out of fear they’d be taken into government care and separated. They start to arouse the suspicion of their lonely neighbor Lennie, who takes a paternal interest in them, but there’s the inconvenient matter of his being a registered sex offender. The three form a sort of family, which is threatened by the girls’ secret, the arrival of their grandfather looking for their mother, and the drug dealer who won’t stop looking for their father, who owes the dealer money.

It’s hard to categorize this book, and I love it when that happens. It’s bleak and gruesome, but also funny in a pitch-black way, and contains some very moving scenes. The characters are flawed and prickly (Nelly inexplicably talks like Bette Davis), they lie and hurt each other. But they also heal and love and make great sacrifices, and my heart was in my throat while reading, hoping they’d beat all odds to find happiness.

Buy Bees from Amazon| Buy from an indie bookstore

What good books did you read over the holidays?


Giveaway: SUSPECT by Robert Crais

Wow, it’s good to be back. If you visited this site over the past several days, you probably saw a “suspected malware” warning, which was extremely upsetting to me. I hired a company to scan the site, and the problem was my WP software and some other plug-ins and files were outdated. I don’t always upgrade right away because sometimes the new versions are full of bugs (Apple Maps, anyone?), but I’ve updated everything, installed extra security plug-ins, and Google has removed the warning. It’s important for me to make clear I’d NEVER knowingly install or host malware of any kind.

Anyway, on to some good stuff. Thanks to Lydia at Putnam, I get to give away an advance reading copy of Robert Crais’s highly anticipated Suspect, which doesn’t come out until January 22, 2013, but you can have the ARC before Christmas if you’re good. And lucky.

This is a standalone featuring LAPD’s Officer Scott James and his new partner Maggie, a former military working dog retrained for the K-9 platoon. They’ve both suffered on-the-job injuries—physical and emotional ones—and the deaths of their former partners. Together they track the killers of Scott’s previous partner, and learn to trust and heal each other along the way.

I think you will fall in love with Maggie; she made me cry. Crais writes several chapters in Maggie’s POV and, based on my former ownership of a German shepherd, her thoughts and actions seem spot on. The relationship between her and Scott is life-affirming.

For a chance to win the ARC, share an amazing dog story in the comments. Could be about your dog, someone else’s, one you read about, or saw on YouTube. Let’s make this a celebration of our four-legged friends. I’ll take entries only until this Sunday, December 16 at 9 p.m. PST. US addresses only.

As with my other giveaway, please only enter if you can check back to see if you’ve won because I may not get around to contacting you by email. The winner will be randomly chosen, announced here on December 17, and have 48 hours to claim the ARC before I select someone else.

In related news, the Kindle version of L.A. Requiem, a game changer in Crais’s Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, is on sale for only $1.99. Don’t know how long it’ll stay at that price so grab it now.


Nerdy Special List December 2012 + Giveaway


Here’s what my blogging pals and I recommend this month, just in time for your holiday shopping!


From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

Invisible (Bantam, Dec. 11) is Carla Buckley’s sophomore novel, and like her debut, The Things That Keep Us Here, she leaves the reader with haunting thoughts about the science and technology surrounding us today. What if the technology that is supposed to create wonderful products, keep entire cities employed, and be sanctioned by the government is actually killing us? What if no one really wants to know the truth?

Buckley’s writing style, her fully developed characters, and her well-researched subject matter combine to create a riveting plot that readers will have trouble tearing themselves away from.

Buy it from Amazon| Buy it from an indie bookstore

Danielle from There’s a Book has two recommendations this time, the first a picture book, and the second a YA title:

Who wouldn’t “loathe” two adorable, best-friend monsters? I Loathe You by David Slonim (Aladdin, Dec. 18) is a story about best friends who, despite many bumps in the road, are always there for each other. Through beautifully rhythmic text and often hilarious illustrations, Slonim has brought to life two characters that children and adults will adore. Our family has been laughing hysterically while reading the silly things monsters do as friends, and since this is our first introduction to David Slonim’s work, we now know we’ll be searching out more in the very near future.

Buy it from Amazon| Buy it from an indie bookstore

The Darkest Minds (Hyperion Books for Children, Dec. 18) is the second book by the remarkable Alexandra Bracken, and she proves that the sophomore slump can be broken. This is the first book in a new planned dystopian trilogy, in which children ages 10-13 suddenly become ill. If they are among the few who survive, they acquire an X-Men-like ability. Many readers might instantly turn and walk away from yet another dystopian trilogy, but they’d be missing out. Darkest Minds has everything—a brilliant lead character and equally powerful supporting characters, including a villain who will take your breath away. This is truly one of the best novels of the year.

Buy it from Amazon| Buy it from an indie bookstore

PCN’s recommendation:

Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You (Pamela Dorman Books, Dec. 31) ruined me for days after I finished it, making me hesitate to pick up another book for fear it wouldn’t be as good as Moyes’s. The novel is about Lou, an “ordinary” 26-year-old woman who takes a job caring for Will, a former alpha male and extreme sports enthusiast who was hit by a motorcycle and is now paralyzed from the neck down. Will has lost his love for life, and Lou is hired to help him find it again. Their burgeoning friendship is realistic and completely devoid of any corniness. Some of Moyes’s scenes are achingly perfect, and the beauty of it all left me shattered.

But don’t take my word for it; you can see for yourself. Viking/Pamela Dorman Books has generously offered me five copies to give away to five people. Enter by leaving a comment about a book that blew you away and ruined you for the ones that came right after. I’ll take entries until Tuesday, Dec. 11, 9 p.m. PST. US addresses only, please. (Publishers Weekly, which gave this book a starred review, is sponsoring a Twitter chat with Jojo on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 1 p.m. EST. Join in by using the hashtag #JojoPW; you don’t need to have read the book first.)

Note: Please don’t enter the giveaway unless you can check back next week to see if you’ve won. I’ll announce results on or around December 12, and winners will have 48 hours to claim the prizes. I’m behind in returning emails, so having to track down five winners for mailing addresses may not get done for a while, and I want you to have this book as soon as possible.


Nerdy Special List November 2012

Here are the November titles we enjoyed:



From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Right Hand by Derek Haas (Nov. 13, Mulholland Books) is an action-packed spy thriller. Haas introduces his American spy, Austin Clay, in the first of what will hopefully be a continuing series. Clay is a traditional loner, but a character readers will quickly embrace as a genre favorite. With fully realized characters, well-timed plot twists, and subtle humor, Haas keeps his readers invested until the very end. And then he leaves them wanting more Austin Clay.

From Jenn at The Picky Girl:

In A Royal Pain by Megan Mulry (Nov. 1, Sourcebooks Landmark), Bronte Talbott is a flourishing ad exec in New York, trying to prove her worth to her dead father, whose intellect and self importance always got in the way of a father-daughter relationship. After a move to Chicago and heartbreak, Bronte is hesitant when she meets Max, a handsome Brit she runs into at a bookstore. Telling him up front that all she wants is something casual, Bronte keeps Max at a distance. But Max, confident and persuasive, wants more, which could be difficult as he’s not just a Brit…he’s also a duke who must uphold the family title.

My responses while reading: “I love Bronte!” “I hate Bronte!” “I love Bronte!” “I LOVE Max.” Though at times this book made me roll my eyes with the typical women’s fiction “barrier” to the romance and the need of the heroine to constantly deny her feelings, I must admit this was a fun read, especially for a woman who dreams of meeting a handsome man in a bookstore…

From Danielle at There’s a Book:

Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti (Oct. 1, Tu Books) This new YA dystopian sci-fi anthology, Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti (Oct. 1, Tu Books), features an incredible list of authors. From Paolo Bacigalupi to Malinda Lo to Cindy Pon and more, there’s bound to be an author in the group readers will have heard of, if not read previously. Each brings a rich and diverse cast of characters to their individual story within the collection, making this the perfect read for anyone looking for a great dystopian and/or sci-fi read. For me, not only was the genre a huge draw, but the anthology factor played a huge part. During this busy time of year, with activities and holidays coming practically every day until after the new year, it’s nice to have a book filled with fantastic stories by talented authors that you can pick up and read when you have ten or fifteen minutes to spare. Diverse Energies is a quick, well-written and -edited anthology that I’m certain will be just the book  for those of us who love to read, but may be rushed this time of year!

Ed.’s note: This ARC had a November pub date, but the book was moved up to October.

PCN’s recommendation:

While some people like to peek in others’ bathroom cabinets when they visit their homes, I like to peruse their bookshelves, which I think are good indicators of how a person thinks, what their interests are, perhaps even their dreams. (If they don’t have any bookshelves, I judge them harshly and leave immediately.)

My Ideal Bookshelf, by Thessaly La Force and illustrated by Jane Mount (Nov. 13; Little, Brown), allows me to look at some well-known people’s bookshelves right from my reclining sofa. It’s a thrill to see what books have shaped them, to learn tidbits such as Michael Chabon reads Sherlock Holmes, James Franco’s shelf is overflowing with classics, David Sedaris’s collection is full of sad stories because he believes “humor needs some aspect of tragedy in order to be memorable.” It was also fun to see the shelf of one of my favorite authors, Robert Crais, without having to climb up his drainpipe and peek through his window, and though I don’t read James Patterson’s books, I applaud his placing Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Don Winslow’s California Fire and Life on the list of books he reveres.

Note: Check out the Pinterest sweepstakes going on right now to win a painting by Jane Mount of your ideal bookshelf, or autographed books. You can also chat with the authors and some of the contributors on Twitter tomorrow, Nov. 13, by using the hashtag #myidealbookshelf.


Once again, I really like the diversity of this month’s list. Hope you find something to your liking. Which November releases are you looking forward to reading?


Book Review: THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is one of the few authors I think can get away with writing fat, 500-page novels because she fills up those pages with a lot of story. I was a bit surprised, then, to find The Secret Keeper overly long, and not as gripping as it could be if it were tighter.

The story moves back and forth between 2011 and 1941 in England, after an initial scene in the ’60s that sets up the mystery. Sixteen-year-old Laurel witnesses her mother, Dorothy, do something horrific to a stranger and then lie to the police about it. This is especially shocking since Dorothy is a kind, decent woman by all accounts.

Fifty years later, Dorothy is dying and Laurel wants to know the truth behind what she saw and why her mother did it. Laurel digs into Dorothy’s past via letters and books and a photo, and arrives at a startling discovery.

Morton is skilled at developing her characters, and several of them here are memorable, Jimmy and Vivien in particular. Dorothy is interesting for her mercurial qualities—she seems to transform from good girl to reprehensible woman to loving mother. She made me consider how much I’d be willing to forgive someone for a destructive mistake if that person is truly remorseful and manages to turn her life around. And what if that person were my mother?

At times, though, the author goes into too much detail about too many characters, some of whom are tangential, such as Laurel’s sisters. They don’t really contribute to the story because they don’t know anything about The Event (Laurel was the sole witness besides her brother, who was only a baby) so I didn’t need to learn about their personality quirks or wonder whether one had gotten plastic surgery.

There’s also a section going way back to 1929 Australia that relays the background of Vivien, someone who knew Dorothy in 1941. Vivien’s story is tragic, but I think it could’ve been somewhat synopsized instead of being shown in detail. Jimmy, another friend of Dorothy’s from the ’40s, also had a sad past, but Morton managed to convey it succinctly without having to devote a whole chapter to his childhood.

Keeper is most effective when focusing on the story between Laurel and her mother, and the plot line involving Jimmy and Vivien and Dorothy. It loses momentum when it digresses, and there’s a revelation that doesn’t quite explain what the stranger says to Dorothy in the opening scene, but it’s still worth checking out for Morton completists.

Nerd verdict: Secret could’ve been kept tighter


Nerdy Special List for October 2012

I’m finally getting this list up because we’ve all been super busy, but it didn’t stop us from reading some good books. Here are our recommendations for this month:

From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

I decided on a book I don’t think you’ll hear a lot about because it’s from a new author at a smaller publisher: The Aden Effect by Claude Berube (October 15th, the Naval Institute Press).

It’s a military thriller set primarily in Yemen. Former naval officer Connor Stark is railroaded back into active duty as the attaché to the US Ambassador to Yemen. Damien Golzari is a diplomatic security agent who winds up in Yemen while investigating a murder. The three find their political interests intertwined, even if their personalities aren’t quite so amicable.

Berube’s obvious understanding of both the Middle East and the military adds authenticity to a tight, suspenseful, action-filled plot. The interactions between characters is both fun and genuine. I raced through The Aden Effect and I think fans of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, etc., will find a refreshing new voice in Claude Berube.

From Jenn at The Picky Girl:

If, like me, you enjoy American family sagas but tire of the pretension that oozes from the pen of one J. Franzen, The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg (Grand Central Publishing, Oct. 23) is a no-less-literary look at family, obsession, and the decades-old resentments that can build between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter.

Edie Middlestein is eating herself to death. As a child, she’s taught that food equals love, and 30 years later, Edie is over 300 pounds and diabetic and still can’t stop eating. At the breaking point, her husband leaves, and suddenly, the couple’s adult children Benny and Robin aren’t quite sure who their parents are and why they should care, except that they do, enough to stand guard in their mother’s kitchen to stop the relentless cycle. The Middlesteins embodies the idea that we don’t choose our families, but the novel also takes it a step further saying that, if anything, that lack of choice stains our relationships, causing us to constantly question and reevaluate who we are to one another and why we love those we call family.

From Danielle at There’s a Book:

A.S. King’s newest YA novel, Ask the Passengers (Little, Brown for Young Readers, Oct. 23), centers around the life of one very ordinary girl with a few very real questions about who she is and why it matters. Astrid Jones thinks there’s a chance she could be in love with a girl. The only problem is she just isn’t sure and she’s not certain it’s something she needs to know, despite the pressure she feels from everyone around her.

King approaches the theme of self-discovery and coming of age in a completely different way than ever before. This was my third book by A.S. King and again she impressed me with her ability to understand how teens truly think, act, and behave; and how those things change depending on who they are around or if they’re alone. Ask the Passengers is one of the most powerful contemporary GLBT young adult novels I’ve read in a long time, and I’ll likely be recommending it for years to come, along with all of A.S. King’s other books.

PCN’s recommendation:

Michael Robotham’s latest installment in the Joseph O’Loughlin series, Say You’re Sorry (Mulholland Books, Oct. 2), has the psychologist racing against time to rescue a young girl in peril. Three years after teenagers Tasha and Piper were kidnapped, Tash’s body surfaces, leading O’Loughlin to suspect Piper is still alive but possibly not for long. O’Loughlin, who suffers from Parkinson’s, has a sharp mind and big heart, making him one of the most empathic and sympathetic protagonists in a crime fiction series. Robotham can describe even mundane things beautifully, and the chapters written in Piper’s teenage voice are utterly convincing.


Many, many thanks to Jen, Jenn, and Danielle for their contributions. I really like how varied this list is.

I hope this helps you find some interesting books this month. What are you reading now? Anything specific you’re looking forward to? Happy weekend!


Gunpoint Review: ALBERT OF ADELAIDE by Howard L. Anderson

My friend Lauren and I discuss books on a regular basis, and she always has incisive and insightful comments about why she likes or doesn’t like something. I’d asked her to be a guest reviewer several times but she kept demurring, saying she doesn’t consider herself a reviewer.

Well, last week, I found out she was reading a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while but just haven’t had time. I decided she had to write up something for me about it, so I sent her a form and made her fill it out. And the first Gunpoint Review was born, named because I forced Lauren to do it. You’ll see that she went above and beyond the form (hello, I asked for only 5 sentences) and is a natural at it. Leave her comments so maybe I can go easy on the threats next time I make her do one.—PCN


by Lauren O’Brien

Title:     Albert of Adelaide
Author:  Howard L. Anderson
Length:  223 pages
Genre:   Hmm. Marsupial crime fiction? With a hint of fantasy. And Western. The Wind in the Willows meets Unforgiven. It defies classification.

Synopsis: Albert the platypus has called the Adelaide Zoo home for most of his life. He dreams of escape from the daily monotony and the constant intrusive staring of strangers. But Albert dreams of a particular escape: from the zoo and to “Old Australia,” a “rumored land of liberty, promise, and peace,” where things haven’t changed and life remains as it was when Australia belonged to the animals and men who used to inhabit the bush.

Your thoughts in 5 sentences or fewer: Drunk bandicoots. What more do you really need to know? I picked this book up on a lark as it appealed to my Australian side. I’m so thankful I did, partially because other books I’ve read about Australian wildlife have rarely included its propensity for clothing and conversation, much less bar fights or gun play, but mostly because what might appear to be a simple story about Albert’s hopeful journey to nirvana turns into much more. And sometimes those turns are dark.

It’s reminiscent of an old Western joined with a buddy movie, complete with dirty saloons, corrupt lawmen (law wallabies? lawallabies?), betrayal, prejudice, and revenge, along with friendship and honor. I laughed and teared up. Ultimately, this is not a story of Albert’s search for Eden, but what he finds and finds out along the way, about himself and others.

One important note: Don’t let the idea of anthropomorphism put you off. Yes, the characters are animals, but that could not have been further from my mind while reading. So much so that when a character showed up at one point holding the “paws of two young wallabies,” my first reaction was, “Who would cut the paws off baby wallabies?” Then it became clear the character was simply holding the hands of his children. Oops.

Verdict: Read it!

Buy it now from Amazon | Buy from an indie bookstore