Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Below are a few (somewhat) brief, $.02 opinions about several books I've read (or listened to) recently but don't and won't have time to review in full. Their appearance here has nothing to do with merit, many I enjoyed as much or even more than those that got the full-court press. I hope you'll consider one or two for your own TBR stack.

SIGNAL by Patrick Lee

I fell a bit in love with this series when I read the first entry, Runner, last year. Sam Dryden is a fun protagonist and the best sales pitch I've got is that I dig these books even though half the time I don't understand what in the ever-loving hell is going on. Plot-wise I'm all in, but the far-out technology Lee comes up with for each book is way over my brontosaurus head. In the end it just doesn't matter, because it's good guys against bad guys over that technology and the chase is always a fun one. Lee's series is great entertainment. I listened to Signal on audio after reading Runner and found the series is particularly well-suited to audio if that's more your jam.

WHERE IT HURTS by Reed Farrel Coleman

I was pretty excited to learn Reed was starting a new series with Where it Hurts. I've come to love (and now miss) his Moe Prager series and Reed writes like a poet. This new venture centers around Gus Murphy, a former cop whose personal and professional lives came more than a bit unraveled after the death of his son John. He's now living in a local motel, driving the courtesy van and providing security for the on-site club. When ex-con Tommy Delcamino asks Gus for help following the murder of his own son, Gus comes a bit unglued, feeling Tommy is preying on their shared tragedies. Of course Gus is ultimately sucked into the investigation and gets more than he bargained for. Reed does emotion and characters superbly well, always has, and the story ended up a good one. Gus' deep submersion in his grief two years after the loss of John was evident on just about every page, which, given Coleman's writing prowess and ability to infer emotion, I felt a bit too much. Some of the secondary characters were kickass (I'm talking about you, Slava), a few felt undefined and included to reflect Gus' current state of mind rather than for their own merit, but Where it Hurts is a good stage-setter for more depth to come in future entries to Coleman's new path.

BLACK CHALK by Christopher Yates

This one was a doozy. Six friends, first year students at Oxford, begin playing what starts out as a seemingly innocent game of dares and consequences, backed by a mysterious group of older students. They can quit at any time, but lose their entry stake by doing so. Of course, as the dares get more personal and vicious, the toll on the friends and their relationships is ratcheted to the nth degree. Told in flashbacks, in part through the journal of one of the friends as he awaits a present day showdown with the one other remaining contestant, Black Chalk is a psychological thriller told by an unreliable narrator/s. I wanted to love it, the premise is fantastic, but for reasons I have trouble even articulating it left me unfulfilled. The final showdown didn't feel very showdowny, and while I love reading about imperfect and often unlikeable characters, I had no place to hang my rooting hat or emotional investment in this one. I wanted to like it more, I just couldn't find a way. (Strangely, I was also constantly taken out of the story by one of the protagonist's name, Jolyon. Weird, but every time I had to think about how it was pronounced; it was oddly distracting. I'm not sure I've ever had that happen before.)


Damn. There was no lack of emotional investment in this one. What a gut-puncher. I didn't know much about Robert Peace before hooking up to the audio of Jeff Hobbs' book. The title and subtitle (A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League) make it fairly clear what the guts of the story are, but still, I was caught unawares by a few turns that took the air out of me. I'm not going to say much about it other than you should read it if you care about some of the larger and more pressing conflicts in society - class, race, education, drugs, and our prison system (to name a few), and how our kids are often unable to break free from those conflicts despite the talent and sometimes even the opportunity. I listened to the audio version, which was fabulous. Even if you aren't interested in the above, you should read or listen to this book, because as a citizen you SHOULD be interested. Short and tragic indeed.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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