Saturday, November 28, 2020

Before We Die: Season 2 Review

Scott D. Parker

One of the standard guiding principles for second seasons of TV shows is the same but bigger. That principle is alive and well in season two of Sweden’s Before We Die.

After finishing season one last week, the wife and I decided to forge ahead with the second season without taking a break. At only eight episodes (to the first season’s ten), it wasn’t difficult to watch the entire season by Thanksgiving night.

Season two picks up six months after season one ends. Hanna (Marie Richardson) has taken down the Mimica crime family a few notches—they went from running a fancy restaurant to a pizzeria—but she still doesn’t know the identity of the police officer who works directly for the Mimicas. To ferret out the leak, Hanna’s boss assigns her to the Organized Crime division. There, she and her partner, Bjorn (Magnus Krepper) stumble upon a group of corrupt cops dubbed The Circle. These folks are pretty darn bad, killing and stealing at will, all with a diffuse organization not easy to discover and even harder to bring down.

All of this would be difficult enough, but throw in the return of Christian, Hanna’s son, from his exile at the end of season one, and you get another complication. That is, until Bjorn and Hanna decide to let Christian try and infiltrate the Circle. He didn’t come back with Blanka, the daughter of the Mimicas, and he doesn’t want to talk about what happened down in Costa Rica.

Now, I’ll admit that as soon as the plot became another infiltration by Christian into a dangerous group, I was a little irritated. We had already seen this kind of thing in the first season. And some of the scenes between Christian and Hanna, Bjorn, and the police captain were just as irritating. “We should bring him in, get him out,” they’d say. “No, I’m really close,” Christian would counter. And then he’d go back. But the ingredients in this story were just different enough that I quickly moved past my difficulties and just went with the flow. It didn’t help that in the Twitter posts from last week (about season one) a user commented that the second season wasn’t as good as the first. True, but it was different enough to stand on its own.

You see, Christian infiltrates the Circle really, really well. Lena (Maria Sundbom) takes a shine to the young man and things get hot. Yet he has to keep this aspect of things secret from his mom and the other cops, so you end up having the young man (Adam Pålsson) alone playing all sides. Palsson does a good job here, especially considering the other things the character is fighting.

Second seasons always bring in new characters and one of the best is Laura (Shada-Helin Sulhav) as one of the Mimica’s foot soldiers. Laura is cold, calculating, imaginative, and resourceful in her quest to do what’s asked of her. My wife and I both hated the character…which just meant it was an excellent one. Laura’s primary goal is to befriend Blanka, who has returned to Stockholm and is looking for Christian.

If there is a plot point that was irritating—and I mean Kim Bauer in “24” getting caught by that mountain lion irritating—it’s Blanka befriending Laura. It’s smack-your-head stupid, but hey, whatever.

What really holds Before We Die together are the relationships and the push/pull each have against the larger story. It’s fun to see just how far each one is willing to go to achieve a goal. 

There's another couple of scenes in which the characters speak English. Having spent so long reading the sub-titles, it was a fun surprise to realize "Oh, I understand that." Which brings up an interesting question: why English? Is English always the default second language for most of the rest of the world?

Oh, and do yourself a favor: don’t look this season up on IMDB or whatever. Just leave yourself open to the show as it unfolds out over eight hours. We did that and the surprises—almost always in the last thirty seconds of each episode—will be that much better.

Season two of Before We Die doesn’t quite reach the level of the first season, but, taken together as one long 18-hour story, it’s still highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Recovering from disaster


This week, Beau takes a look at ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!

On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island of Puerto Rico as a Category 4—a devastatingly powerful storm that left immense suffering in its wake.

The island still hasn’t recovered completely; a victim of continued neglect and the continued efforts of many to demean and frame Puerto Ricans as “other” or “lesser” even though they are citizens of the United States.

Net proceeds from ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! will benefit The Hispanic Federation: UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico, a program working to help those still affected by the disaster and ensure continued safety in the face of continued weather-related events that can and will happen again.

With a foreword by editor Angel Luis Colón and 11 stories from veteran and newcomer Latinx authors who need to be on your radar, ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas! is a loud and proud celebration of Latinx writing, joy, trauma, and most of all, love.

Contributors: Chantel Acevedo, Hector Acosta, David Bowles, Hector Duarte Jr., Carmen Jaramillo, Jessica Laine, Richie Narvaez, Christopher Novas, Cina Pelayo, Alex Segura, and Désirée Zamorano.

“While cause-related anthologies aren’t unusual, what clearly separates Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas from the pack is the diligence and care the contributors obviously put into their work, and how deftly Angel Luis Colón curated the writers and their stories. This is an important, necessary, lovely collection, one that plunges the reader into the variety of cultures and beauty within the LatinX community. Truly, Sepas is magical, and filled with magical writing. A must-read, now and always.” —E.A. Aymar, author of The Unrepentant


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Your Book Cover May Suck

Scott's Note: Richie Narvaez returns to Do Some Damage to guest blog today, dispensing some blunt wisdom he has picked up during his years in the book world.   

Your Book Cover May Suck

by Richie Narvaez

A bad book cover will hurt your book. It’ll stop people from taking it seriously. And worse, they might not even buy it. How do you know if your book cover sucks? Well, if it looks like any book covers featured on LOUSY BOOK COVERS or TERRIBLY BAD BOOK COVERS, that’s a pretty good sign. 

Many authors are so giddy that their baby has a face, they don’t think that maybe baby’s face shouldn’t have cheap clip art on it. This generally doesn’t affect Big 5 babes, of course, but many indie press and self-pubbers are plagued by poorly designed covers.

If you’re a self-pubber and your cover stinks, you haven’t done all your homework. If you’re with a small press, and their designer presents you with a turd, you might lack confidence in your aesthetic chops and let it pass. Don’t. A good cover is worth fighting for.

In another lifetime, I was a freelance book cover concept developer, which sounds fancy but just means I summarized books and came up with a list of salient images and cover ideas for illustrators and designers who didn’t have time to read books. Case in point: the Robert Barnard book cover shown here, designed by Gail Belenson and illustrated by Greg Harlin.

This job paid the bills for a while and, while I’m no expert, it taught me a few things about what works on a book cover and what doesn’t.

Your cover has to pop — at a distance

At Zoom meetings, you often see people’s bookshelves behind them. It’s a better background than the exercise bike doubling as a drying rack or the near-empty liquor cabinet. Sometimes book covers will be turned toward the camera. A good cover in the background gets a free shoutout. A bad cover remains a blur. 

Remember also that people shop for books via handheld devices with small screens. Your cover has to make an impression even when it’s tiny. That means the text has to be legible. So, avoid fancy script typefaces, and if your lettering is thin, it has to pop out against the background. 

Look at Hilary Davidson’s Don’t Look Down, the title type is clear at a thousand yards, and its pyramiding of size and placement high above a city view creates an unsettling sense of vertigo. Or look at Angel Luis Colon’s Hell Chose Me with that perfect pig next to giant type on a background of unpleasant pink that signals that this is not going to be a conventional read, and it’s not. Brilliant cover.

Your cover is an advertisement

You won’t be there to boast of your book’s virtues when the reader is at the bookstore or scrolling on the crapper. What’s your book about? Your title carries some of this weight—puns for the cozies, sinister-sounding double-meaning idioms for the thrillers. But the reader looks to the type and the image to tell them if the story will have blood, brutality, or banana bread recipes.

The cover should signal the genre and highlight themes from the text. Look at any of the covers in Alexia Gordon’s Gethsemane Brown series or L.A. Chandler’s Art Deco series. They’re all perfect ads for what’s inside. No one wants to open a box of Cheez-Its only to find circus peanuts.

Your cover needs a clear focal point

Think of your cover as a cool t-shirt you want to show off forever. Not like the Hootie and the Blowfish concert tee you only wear around the house. The best way to achieve that longevity and memorability is a strong central image.

The image must also be graphically interesting. Not a plastic bag or a dust bunny, for example. With crime fiction, we deal a lot with blood and weaponry. Blood can work on a cover, but a little goes a long way. And highlighting guns can feel too much like an endorsement. But if there’s a cat, by Bast, show a cat. You can use more than one image, but avoid collages—they’re very hard to pull off well.

For my newest book, Noiryorican (Down & Out Books, 2020), I worked with designer Zach McCain, and I knew I wanted something 1970s and something noir. He came up with ideas that hit either idea well, but not both. We went back to strong images from the book and I remember the coquí, a beloved species of frog found in Puerto Rico. 

To make it noir, Zach went black for the background, but that was too similar to another book the publisher had out recently (¡Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas!—check it out), so then he went against expectations with a bright but still muted color. Then, to really make it noir, he crushed it. The frog, that is. 

It’s my most t-shirtable book cover yet. Frankly, I’ll probably get more compliments on it than the text inside. 


You can get Noiryorican right here.