Tag Archives: Books

Winners of THE FIRST RULE Giveaway

After I plugged everyone’s names into Random.org, giving extra entries to those who qualified, the website drew Sophie Littlefield as my first winner. Sophie, you get an ARC of Robert Crais‘s The First Rule (pub date 1/12/10), which will be sent to you directly from Putnam. Please e-mail me your address. My friend Lydia there said she’ll also throw in some temporary red arrow tattoos so you can be like Joe Pike!

Random.org selected a second name for the autographed set of photo cards and that winner is le0pard13. I’ll ship you these with some red tats as well. Both you and Sophie will have to send me pictures after you try them on! (Mine’s below.)

Many, many thanks to all those who entered and shared your tales of heroism. It was inspiring to hear about all those good deeds, especially during this season. I always knew there are superheroes among us.

Me, Pike-like

Book Review: U IS FOR UNDERTOW

I’ve been reading Sue Grafton for a quarter century now, starting in high school when I found her books in the school library (I spent a lot of time there). I devoured the “A” through “C” Kinsey Millhone adventures like an ex-con having his first meal on the outside. Over the years, the books were uneven but I kept reading out of obligation, as if Kinsey had become an old friend whose imperfections I accepted. I listened to her tales even if she rambled a little.

I was thrilled, then, to find her latest adventure, U is for Undertow, utterly captivating. After only a few pages, I knew Kinsey was back on track and I could dive in out of pure pleasure.

The case begins when Kinsey is approached by a young man named Michael Sutton who suddenly remembers something that happened when he was six years old. At the time, Sutton attached no significance to the incident but, after reading a newspaper article about an unsolved 21-year-old kidnapping of a little girl, he believes what he saw were two people burying the child.

After Sutton hires Kinsey to investigate, the story moves back and forth between 1988 (Kinsey’s present) and 1967, when the kidnapping occurred. Grafton deftly juggles multiple POVs; besides Kinsey’s, the author doles out pieces of the puzzle from the perspectives of several characters who are directly and tangentially involved in the crime, painting a full-bodied portrait of each. The plot turns in unpredictable directions and though it might be obvious early on who did it, Grafton keeps you guessing about the why.

The case is complex enough to keep Kinsey busy, but she’s also grappling with personal issues after making startling discoveries about her past which destroy her long-held perceptions of certain family members. Because the books are told in first person and I’ve sided with Kinsey for years against the relatives who abandoned her as a child, these new revelations threw me for a loop as well. Kinsey won’t be able to change overnight but at the end of this book, she takes brave, hopeful steps towards what could be an extreme life makeover.

Nerd verdict: Strong Undertow will pull you in

Books as Snapshots

In the movie Up in the Air (read my review here), George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, repeatedly gives a speech about how it’s better to travel light through life. If you put all your belongings in a backpack and set it on fire, you’d be free. It’s easy to see why Bingham believes this since he’s constantly avoiding putting down roots and making meaningful connections.

I’ll admit I lived that way for years and found it liberating. As a kid, I left everything behind in Viet Nam to come to the States. Dogs, relatives, friends, shoes, books—my backpack was literally empty. But instead of refilling it as soon as I could, I left it bare. I’d learned I could survive on very little so why get attached to things again? (This didn’t apply to people, just objects.) When it came to spartan living, Jack Reacher and Joe Pike had nothin’ on me.

Eventually, though, I realized I had it backwards. Since I wasn’t destroyed by my losses, it must be all right to have things as long as I had the right attitude about them. I could probably set my backpack on fire like Clooney’s Bingham if I had to—it’s just stuff, right? As a mental challenge after seeing the movie, I looked around my home, thinking, “That chair’s replaceable, I don’t need that lamp, wouldn’t die without my TV.”

Then I got to my books. Could I live without them? What did they mean to me? And that’s when it hit me some weren’t just books, they’re snapshots of specific moments in my life. I could look at one and remember exactly where I was, what I was doing and how I felt while reading it.

When I was traveling by myself a lot for work one summer, a set of Harlan Coben paperbacks kept me sane by making me laugh through 10-hour flight delays and sleep deprivation. Joan Aiken’s Nightbirds on Nantucket makes me instantly think of my friend Maria Taylor from 7th grade, who introduced me to the Wolves Chronicles featuring Dido Twite, a plucky girl whom I desperately wanted to be when I was young. Maria moved away after 7th grade but every time I look at Nightbirds on my shelf, I remember her.

Mary Higgins Clark’s While My Pretty One Sleeps reminds me of standing in line in frigid weather back in 1985 to meet the author for my virgin signing experience. I was so excited, you would’ve thought I sighted Elvis. And that first successful foray encouraged me to attend other author signings, resulting in many autographed books by my favorite writers.

My Tintin books are the first things I remember being able to read on my own (though I read them in Vietnamese), and the first time I became obsessed with a series as a child, wanting to collect every adventure. A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books have lifted me through difficult times because that bear of very little brain is actually very wise. My copy of The Red Balloon takes me back to the time in fourth grade when I fell in love with Albert Lamorisse’s classic film Le Ballon Rouge because I didn’t need to speak English in order to grasp its wordless beauty.

So, my question to you is: What are the books on your shelves snapshots of? What specific memories do they represent?

While I await your stories, I guess I won’t be lighting my backpack on fire after all.

Nerd Chat with Robert Crais Plus Giveaway of THE FIRST RULE

Though he’s busy gearing up for the release of The First Rule next month (January 12), Robert Crais generously took time from shopping for loud socks to do an e-mail interview with me.

If you’re already a fan, you know the basics. If not, visit his website for all the dish, then check out his tour schedule.

I’m giving away some goodies, with details below the interview. But first, read on as we discuss Joe Pike, who’s center stage in The First Rule. The novel is a blood-pumping, rocket-paced adventure with all the usual Pike-isms, but it also reveals an unexpectedly tender side of him that makes your chest clench a little.

PCN: Since there’s a heartrending twist in TFR that I don’t want to spoil, I’ll just ask vague, possibly irrelevant questions. Hopefully, this will entice people even more to pick up the book to see what the hell I’m talking about.

Pike goes where we’ve never seen him go emotionally and it changes him. How will that affect his future actions?

Robert Crais: Maybe it won’t. Pike has been Pike for a long time, so he’s good at repressing his feelings.

PCN: Does he repress his, um, urges, too? I don’t recall any girlfriends since Karen Garcia in L.A. Requiem and even she was in flashbacks. When’s he gonna get some again?

RC: You offering?

PCN: I’d ruin him. He’d start knitting me sweaters and calling me “Pumpkin.” Who would want that? Could he remain an interesting character if he were in a happy relationship?

RC: I doubt it. Part of Pike’s appeal is his “other-ness.” He’s a strange cat and readers like those aspects of his character. If he were “normal,” I don’t think people would find him as interesting. Could Pike be in a happy relationship? I don’t know. He probably wants to be in a happy place, but I don’t think he knows how to get there.

PCN: I could draw him diagrams but I don’t really want him to go there. Now, some actors do Method Acting. Ever do Method Writing as Pike?

RC: That’s how I write. I put myself in his place, feel what he feels, share the moments with him. If I don’t feel what Pike feels, if I’m not there in the moment, the scene won’t work.

PCN: What does putting yourself in his place entail? Knocking heads, eating vegetables, then running at night with coyotes?

RC: Pike does those things to put himself in MY headspace.

PCN: When he’s not on a case with Elvis, at the gun shop, working out or cleaning his Jeep, what does Pike do? Pottery? Watch Glee?

RC: Decorative macramé. It’s all the rage. And Pike loves Glee. You going to make fun of him for that? Go ahead—I dare you.

PCN: Nah, I like him more for it, especially if he does the “Single Ladies” routine to warm up before a run. You excel in showing how Pike feels about people and things through his actions so I’m happy with the third-person perspective. Hypothetically, though, could you write him in first person?

RC: Of course. I am the World’s Greatest Writer.

PCN: What kind of book would that be?

RC: Short. He doesn’t say much.

PCN: In TFR, Elvis goes to eat at the Sidewalk Café in Venice. I’d bet he’s there to sample the Robert Crais pizza. Why does your namesake pie have way more meat than the Cormac McCarthy pizza?

RC: Have you eaten me yet? I’m pretty good.

PCN: I have, and thought you were cheesy and meaty. And cheap!

RC: You should tell your readers the Sidewalk Café in Venice is a real place. They named a pizza after me, so I like them a lot.  Also, they make a dynamite pie.

PCN: I see you’ll be signing at a Costco on tour. Which aisle is your favorite place to sit?

RC: Big screen TVs. There’s something to watch after the crowd thins.

PCN: Right, once you tell people where to find hams and batteries. What’s the next book about? Is it an Elvis? Standalone?

RC: Another Joe Pike book. I want to write something else, but Pike won’t let me.

PCN: Have you publicly announced that anywhere else? Can I claim it as a world exclusive due to my intrepid scoop-breaking abilities?

RC: Probably, but you can tell everyone I’m announcing it here first. I won’t tell.

And that concludes my world exclusive scoopy interview. Deep, massive thanks to Robert for chatting and not telling. (To see and hear him read excerpts from TFR, click here.)

Now, for the giveaway…

Prizes and Rules:

Up for grabs is an ARC of The First Rule, which will come gift-wrapped from Lydia at Putnam, who has mad wrapping skillz. The winner will be randomly selected.

A second name will be randomly chosen to receive a set of four picture cards, autographed by Robert. (See closeups below.) They feature locations from the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books—including Elvis’s house!—with text from the novels in which they were mentioned.

Robert Crais, happy to see me

These aren’t available anywhere else because I made them, then ambushed Robert at a restaurant and got him to sign. (If the pictures look familiar, some were used in the video “Elvis Cole’s Los Angeles,” which can be viewed here.) They can be used as postcards, bookmarks, coasters, refrigerator art, etc. I haven’t even offered them to my own mother but will give a set to one of you.

Temporary red arrow tattoos might also be included with the prizes if I can resist putting them all over myself first.

In The First Rule, Joe Pike goes to great lengths to defend the name and memory of his friend, Frank. To enter, answer the following question:

  • What’s the most heroic thing you’ve ever done for a friend? This includes acts big and small.

You must also be a:

  • U.S. or Canada resident
  • subscriber or Twitter follower

New subscribers/followers get 1 entry, current ones get 2, people who tweet about this giveaway (and let me know) get 3 entries. Giveaway ends Dec. 14, 5 p.m. PST.

Winners will be announced only here and via Twitter; no e-mail notifications will be done. If winners don’t respond within 48 hours, alternate names will be chosen.

Good luck!

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Holidaze

Sonoma © Pop Culture Nerd

I was in Sonoma most of last week for Thanksgiving and went more or less unplugged, lazing about in a tryptophan stupor and elastic-waist pants, catching up on reading and pie-eating. (I also saw G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra but prefer not to talk about that.) If you celebrate Thanksgiving, hope you and yours had a brilliant one.

Just got home, plane was delayed, it’s late, so I’ll make a few bullet points and call it a night.

  • I’ll be taking entries for the Precious script giveaway contest until 5 p.m. PST today so leave a comment here if you haven’t already. You’ll want to read it if the movie isn’t showing near you or if you’re an aspiring screenwriter and want to see how it’s done. For those who have already left comments, thank you for sharing your incredible stories about the precious people in your life.
  • Coming up this week, I’ve got book reviews of The Lineup and Sue Grafton’s U is for Undertow, and a movie review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.
  • And a don’t-miss-post: an interview with Robert Crais and giveaway of an ARC of The First Rule, plus autographed postcards featuring locales from the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books not available anywhere else!

Hope your week/post-pie-orgy diet is off to a good start and I’ll see you online soon.

Sonoma © Pop Culture Nerd

Book Review: Jon Krakauer’s WHERE MEN WIN GLORY: THE ODYSSEY OF PAT TILLMAN

Rarely has a book impacted me on such a visceral level as Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. While reading it, my heart was palpitating and my insides were roiling with dread to the point it gave me a stomach ache. I finished the book weeks ago but it’s taken me this long to fully process its effect on me.

As the subtitle says, this is the true story of the former NFL player who famously turned down millions to enlist as an Army Ranger after 9/11, only to be killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. That alone is devastating enough, but another tragedy occurred afterwards when the truth about his death was knowingly kept from his family and the American public for weeks while he was used as a poster boy to bolster support for the war. To this day, the Tillmans don’t have all the answers.

Depending on whom you ask, everyone from high-ranking Army officials to top members of the Bush administration either engaged in a cover-up or made a series of phenomenally stupid mistakes. Why did a lieutenant colonel send a fellow Ranger to Tillman’s funeral to lie to the family when the Army already had conclusive evidence of how he died? Why did a captain order a young sergeant to burn the uniform and body armor Tillman was wearing when he was killed, plus a journal he kept in his pants, when protocol dictated the clothes be left on the body for forensic examination? You can decide for yourself if these and many other actions were sinister or simply boneheaded but either conclusion is greatly disturbing.

Krakauer’s research included trips to Afghanistan, interviews with Tillman’s family and thousands of redacted documents generated by numerous investigations, but the most striking details are in excerpts from Tillman’s own journals. (Krakauer received access partly because Tillman had a copy of the author’s Eiger Dreams in his backpack in Afghanistan.) They reveal a conflicted, imperfect but highly principled man who was constantly striving to better himself and the world around him. After returning from a tour in Iraq, Tillman had opportunity to be honorably discharged and go back to playing football for millions of dollars, but he turned down the offers because he had given the Army a three-year commitment. Despite his growing disillusionment with the war in Iraq, he wouldn’t even consider breaking his word.

Glory isn’t all good. Krakauer takes too long in the beginning detailing the history of the Taliban and how al-Qaeda was formed. I had no interest in reading about Osama bin Laden’s rise through the ranks; I picked up this book because the cover said The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. As long as Krakauer stayed focused on his cover subject, he had me by the throat. I was holding my breath and white-knuckling the book during the recreation of the firefight in which Tillman was killed. As with his previous works, the author has the uncanny ability to put the reader right in the thick of the action. When he recounts another battle in which U.S. planes dropped bombs on Marines they mistook for enemies, killing 17 friendlies within minutes, Krakauer practically gave me PTSD.

Ho/Reuters

But the reason to read Glory is to get the real story behind the complex man who was reduced to war propaganda in the aftermath of his death, something he actually feared. Tillman wasn’t just a jock; he studied philosophy. He wasn’t a blind idealist; he knew what evil could do but tried to fight it anyway. He couldn’t be swayed by money and therefore was almost incorruptible. He made me re-evaluate my own values: How hard do I fight for things I believe in? How much am I willing to sacrifice for the good of others? Do I attack all injustices head-on, or do I sometimes turn a blind eye for the sake of convenience?

I was still pondering these questions as I wept, thinking about what more this man could’ve accomplished if he’d had more time. But then I realized he’s still spreading good in the world by inspiring readers like me to be warriors in our own lives, every day, however many we have.

Nerd verdict: A heart-crushing Odyssey

[Note: Pat Tillman's family and friends established the Pat Tillman Foundation to give out scholarships and continue his dedication to leadership and civic action. For more info, click here. I'm not affiliated with the foundation in any way.]