Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Below are a couple of (somewhat) brief, $.02 opinions about 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, I enjoyed them as much or even more than those that got the full court press and I hope you'll consider them for your own TBR stack.

Girl in Snow :: Danya Kukafka

The credit for putting this gem on my reading list all goes to the pitch. I had never heard of Danya Kukafka when I received an email about her debut, so her name didn't swing me one way or the other. I admit to being a cover nerd and am highly persuaded by them (in both directions). This one is half creepy (eyeball), half awesome (font and non-eyeball design). What easily won me over was this phrase in the description: "misfit characters are richly drawn." Thankfully, that turned out to be absolutely true.

The murder of 15-year-old Colorado high-schooler Lucinda Hayes is at the core of Kukafka's story, but it's not the center of attention. Rather, it's the jumping off point for three varied and exceptionally well-drawn perspectives. Fellow student Cameron is the prime suspect, as it's well known he had a "thing" for Lucinda, some even going so far as to call him a stalker. I won't give much about Cameron away here, but Kukafka's portrayal of a young outcast who spends most of his time in his head, with his sketchbook, or watching Lucinda through her window is one of the best "misfit" character studies I've read in some time.

Cameron has a historical connection to the police department and one of the officers investigating Lucinda's death. Russ, whose perspective is also highlighted, is wrangling with a faltering marriage, his dedication to his former partner, and the potential implication of his brother-in-law in the murder. Rounding out the trifecta of POVs is Jade, another student who knew Lucinda and had a history with her boyfriend. Jade's voice is strong, jaded (no pun intended), and sprinkled with excerpts from her play, "WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY BUT CAN'T WITHOUT BEING A DICK, A Screenplay by Jade Dixon-Burns."

Girl in Snow is a murder mystery wrapped in three splendid character studies that combine to create a compelling and well-paced plot. Although we don't learn much about Lucinda, this really isn't her story, but that of a few of her small town neighbors and how her death impacts their lives. I liked Kukafka's take and was impressed with how she carried it out.

The Perfect Stranger :: Megan Miranda

After becoming too personally involved in a story and making a decision that costs her a job, journalist Leah Stevens feels the need to get out of Boston. One night she runs into old friend Emmy Grey at a bar and they decide to set out together for rural Pennsylvania for dual fresh starts.

Leah gets a job as a teacher and the two settle into an old house outside town. Leah isn't always sure what Emmy is up to as their paths don't cross too often at home. Emmy appears busy with several odd jobs and a new man. One morning a woman is attacked near the house and a co-worker of Leah's, with whom she has a less-than-friendly history, is investigated as the potential attacker. Leah also becomes worried about Emmy, who she realizes she hasn't seen in several days. As Leah gets drawn into (and involves herself in) both resulting investigations, it becomes clear her assessment of those closest to her has missed the mark.

There is a lot to like here. Miranda does a super job with character, no small feat when the reader has to spend most of a book inside one character's head. Leah doesn't become over-wrought and secondary characters are given multiple layers through her POV. Leah's past is used as the perfect tool to give her insertion into the multi-fronted investigation more credibility. Despite a multitude of plot arcs and visits to past timelines for history and relationship details, the story keeps its keel and doesn't get confusing or bogged down. I'm rarely a fan of law enforcement/witness relationships and that held true here, but I do give Miranda credit for the way she carried the arc out. Overall, a solid and engaging read, and I'll definitely go back and read Miranda's debut, All The Missing Girls, about which I've heard great things.

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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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