Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Below are a few (somewhat) brief, $.02 opinions about several books I've read or listened to recently but won't have time to review in full. Their appearance here has nothing to do with merit, I often enjoyed them 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.

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo :: Ian Stansel

Powerless to resist this gorgeous cover and intriguing title, I was not disappointed in the writing - I loved this book and all its moody darkness. Silas and Frank Van Loy are raised at their parents Western stables in the horse country of Marin County, California. When they take over the business they decide to switch to English style lessons and boarding to tap into the moneyed locals.

Both horsemen, one with a better head for business and the other with cowboy and horses in his bones, the brothers have always been at odds. Their fractures become wider and greater across the years and death is the ultimate result of their decades of warring. The story begins with one brother on the run on horseback, pursued by the police and a widowed sister-in-law set on revenge.

I listened to this book on audio and it was, interestingly enough, narrated by a woman, Jordan Killam, who did a wonderful job. I am not the best audio listener as I tend to lose the narration to my own thoughts, but here I was held rapt from start to gutting finish by Killam and Stansel. I'm a bit loathe to compare authors, but fans of Larry Watson and Kent Haruf in particular might enjoy this gem. I liked it enough I'm going to buy a copy for my shelf.

We Are Okay :: Nina LaCour

We Are Okay is simply lovely. Sad and heart-rending, yes, but it also includes countless beautiful moments of people being good to each other (lord knows we could all use a bit more of that right now). There are so many warm moments and grand gestures, and yet each is so well done that it didn't surprise me when the smallest of the bunch (a college roommate-to-roommate kindness) was the one that moved me most.

I believe this is technically billed as YA, but it's one of many that can and should be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The focus is on Marin, who ran off to her first year of college early and abruptly following a family tragedy. She then arranges to stay in the dorms over winter break rather than returning to home to San Francisco. Even on the other coast her grief is overwhelming and she doesn't think she can face the reality of her former life. Her best friend Mabel, however, is a true blue, through-thick-and-thin friend who isn't going to let her get away with hiding from those who love her.

LaCour is a terrific writer and this book is full of grief and grace. It takes place over the weekend of Mabel's visit to Marin in the dorms and slowly doles out Marin's story, including what made her run, stay gone and cut off all ties to home. On top of the fabulous innards and beautiful cover, I fell a bit in love with the chapter title pages. We Are Okay is a win from all angles.

Deer Life :: Ron Sexsmith

I wanted to like this book so very much. I really enjoy Ron Sexsmith's music and was intrigued that he had written a book. The cover is a work of art. Unfortunately that's where the good ends, and ends hard. Deer Life is billed as a fairy tale, but it was difficult to get a sense of what it wanted to be. The writing feels as if it's written for children, with a maddening overuse of exclamation points. I suppose this was an effort to show or elicit excitement, but the exclamations were used where the matching emotion didn't exist. It's one thing to overuse punctuation, but to use it nonsensically is even more irksome.

I started to think this was written for children, but the mentions of booze helped me conclude that wasn't the reason for the childish prose. There are moments of humor, but everything felt so frustratingly inconsistent they didn't save the story. Small example: After Deer 1 introduces itself to Deer 2, Deer 2 argues that names are silly. But then Deer 2 proceeds to talk about other forest denizens by the names Deer 2 has assigned to them. What the hell, then? Are names silly or necessary? This example is rather trivial, but in the grand scheme of things those examples added up. Sadly, I recommend you enjoy the cover and move on.

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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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