Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Tons of great reading this year, as we've seen in other posts throughout 2017 and in the numerous and varied best of/favorite lists coming out this time of year from a wide range of folks. I've broken my lists down into Fiction, Crime Fiction and Non-Fiction. I limited each list to six picks in no particular order. Some of these could arguably overlap, but fell where they fell for reasons it would take too long and be too uninteresting to explain. I was going to do a favorite cover list, but strangely most were already represented on this list (See: Where The Sun Shines Out, A Negro And An Ofay, Hunger, Nomadland, Ash Falls, Breaking Bad 101).




Wednesday, December 13, 2017

KILL THE NEXT ONE :: Federico Axat

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

I lagged a little getting this post to the site. Kill the Next One was published in December 2016 and was one of my favorite reads of last year. I thought I would wait until the paperback release to run the review, but there doesn't seem to be one on the horizon. Thus, you get the full-court press on the hardcover (or library) edition of this whackadoodle of a novel.

Argentinian author Federico Axat followed a complex recipe for his first work translated into English: create a compelling mystery, then wrap it in layers of uncertainty. Throw in some violence, a dash of a secret suicide club, a pinch of adultery, a mental hospital and enough repressed memories to ice the whole shebang. Don't forget the side order of demonic opossum. Write some scenes twice, changing them just a hair. Cut into pieces and mix, leaving your protagonist and readers to question their sanity for more than 400 riveting and agonizing pages. The result is a spectacular mind-meld of a psychological thriller, Kill the Next One.

Poor Ted McKay is trying to commit suicide when he's interrupted by an insistent knock at the door. His visitor is a stranger who makes Ted an offer he can't refuse: kill a murderer who went free and a second man who is suicidal like Ted. In return for those two deaths, someone will kill Ted so he can die a heroic victim rather than by his own hand.

As Ted tries to carry out his mission, the world tilts on its axis. It's unclear what is real, who is telling the truth and how Ted was chosen for his semi-nefarious deeds. As his mind fractures, memories start to leak through, bringing frightening clarity with them. Axat brilliantly creates an environment permeated by doubt and the anxiety it perpetuates. The story is chilling, but Axat has the skill to infuse it with humanity while maintaining the nightmarish atmosphere. Kill the Next One is a recipe baked to perfection.

STREET SENSE: If you love a full plate of well-plotted mind-fuckery, do not hesitate.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: When you've decided to take your own life--it doesn't matter whether you have any doubts about your decision--those final minutes will test your will.

COVER NERD SAYS:  This one is a bit middle-of-the-road for me. It's not a turn-off, per se, but there's nothing about it that really attracts me other than its weirdness. I do like the font and the way the text is organized. The fact that it's odd certainly goes with the content. One reason I was looking forward to a paperback edition was to see if the would change the cover. Hopefully that day will come, particularly since I think it will open this book up to more readers, which it deserves.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

THE DIRTY BOOK CLUB :: Lisi Harrison

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

A dirty martini will make you admit things to other people, but a dirty book? That will make you admit things to yourself…Each time you uncover one of these truths, a brick falls from the facade you've built around yourself and leaves a hole for the light to shine through. Men are wonderful, but wood alone can't cultivate that light. You need fire. You need girlfriends.

Gloria Golden and her three twenty-something girlfriends throw a potluck every full moon, complete with cigarettes, martinis and Neil Sedaka "spinning on the Magnavox." In 1962, they follow the tenets of marriage columnist Miss Matrimony and the publication Prim: A Modern Woman's Guide to Manners.

One evening, the women begin to question their truths and repressions, spurred by Gloria's marital woes and TWA stewardess Marjorie's latest Parisian souvenir, The Housewife's Handbook to Selective Promiscuity. Over the next 54 years, the group explores and pushes their boundaries by secretly reading evocative books. Against this glorious backdrop, four present-day women become the chosen successors to Gloria's generation. Disparate women who barely know each other and often don't even like each other, they all need to participate or the club will fold.

In The Dirty Book Club, Lisi Harrison charms with a kick-in-the-pants narrative replete with a Golden Girls/Maude vibe that is far from superficial despite its sublime sauciness. Harrison (Monster High) dissects relationships and self-determination in eight unique voices full of attitude and soul; smart and raucous dialogue will have readers rooting for her distinctive characters in search of their authentic selves. 

STREET SENSE: Some of the language in this book had me howling (and endlessly sharing naughty bits with Pop Culture Nerd; i.e., things dropping "like a hot testicle," cleavage described as " an oversized change purse positioned to receive pennies from heaven."), yet it didn't lose its depth or turn into fluff (despite what the eventual cover art might say - see below). I really wanted more of the older generation and could have read an entire account of their club history and complex relationships. This may be simply because I'm old, but there was also much more substance to mine there. I fear this book may be categorized as "chick lit," and while I don't have anything against "chick lit" per se (other than that moniker, which kind of drives me nuts), it usually isn't in my wheelhouse. I personally wouldn't necessarily label this book that way and, even if so, still highly recommend it to those of you who, like me, think that genre isn't their bag.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  I should quote something deep here, because Harrison's writing has plenty of layers along with wonderful character moments and growth, but I just about swallowed my tongue laughing at this one and couldn't pass up sharing the following gem from the ladies of the older generation. You'll see why I loved them so.

[A car honks outside]

"Hold on a minute," Jules said. "Are you really dating a horn honker?"

Confused, Addie nodded.

"Oh, shugah, you can't. That man needs to go to cotillion and learn some manners."

"As long as he hits clit-illion first, I don't care where he goes," Addie said, fluffing her cleavage and then turning to leave.

COVER NERD SAYS: The Advanced Reading Copy I received displayed the cover on the left, which I adore. What better than a plain brown wrapper to enclose a book about women reading (and speaking) sexy literature? Plus that brown/blue combo is a knockout and they key sparks thoughts of a mystery. That cover is a winner. Then they had to go ruin it with the final cover on the right. Ugh. To me it reads as fluff and that is not what this book is. I was super disappointed. Perhaps even though I loved the book I'm not its target audience and the final cover is related to the publisher's thoughts on a specified market. However, I would stop for the first cover every day of the week and pass the one on the right without a second glance. Thoughts?


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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