Tuesday, July 19, 2022

TWO-CENT TUESDAY

Below are a few (somewhat) brief $.02 opinions about books I've read or listened to recently but don't have the opportunity to review in full. Many of these titles I enjoyed as much or more than those that got the full court press. I hope you'll consider one or two for your own TBR stack if they strike your fancy whether they struck mine or not. 



And There He Kept Her, Joshua Moehling

I wish I could remember where I heard about this book, because I would not have chosen it based on cover or title, neither of which I think do it service. Almost to the other side, as much as I like gritty stuff (see Pete Farris's latest, which starts with a great line about a woman being bound in a trunk), the toxic masculinity this title/cover combo bring to mind would have put me off. Which is really a bummer, because this book is fabulous. It's Moehling's debut, which makes it even more impressive. Yes, there is a woman locked up. Yes there are horrible people. But the plot is clean and moves swiftly, no extraneous fluff that got in the way. Best of all, Moehling's characters left me hoping the small historical backstory arc that doesn't get resolved means another installment of Deputy Ben Packard's story. Here, he's returned to the small lake town in Minnesota where he has history and some family. He's running from tragedy and himself (a trope, yes, but it felt authentic here, and I'm not going to give it away because the reveal should be experienced while reading. When two local teens go missing, including Packard's taciturn cousin's daughter, he takes a personal and professional interest. As he and his team investigate, coming into contact with some great (and not so great, and some morphing) colorful locals, time is running out for the woman in the locked room. Who is she and who has her? I highly recommend taking the time to read this one and finding out first hand.

Nightcrawling, Leila Mottley

Another dazzling debut from a 19-year-old who was also the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest author to be chosen for Oprah's book club pick. Those who live in or around Oakland as I do will likely remember the horrific Oakland Police Department sexploitation scandal of 2016, and Mottley took inspiration from those events and began writing while she was in high school. Kiara is 17, living in the Regal-Hi apartments (and its pool filled with bags of shit) with her brother Marcus, left to fend for themselves by addiction, death and the prison system. Marcus won't find a job, clinging to his dreams of rap stardom, and Ki and left to pay their increased rent, which is already overdue. Ki's responsibilities get heavier when she begins to care for the 9-year-old boy next door, whose mother is strung out and gone most of the time. A nighttime misunderstanding sucks Ki into a situation she can't seem to get out of--where will the money come from? what will happen to Trevor?--and soon she's selling her soul to keep the balls in the air. Haunting, electric, and a dazzling display of the perils the system and society heap atop the Black community and the resilience and fortitude of Black women. Mottley's writing is searing and authentic, and though my praise certainly isn't needed on top of her many accolades, she's got it.

Directed By James Burrows, James Burrows

I was raised on the genius television of James Burrows. He's been called "the greatest director of comedy in television history" by his creative partners Les and Glen Charles. He's the greatest "by any measurement: number of episodes, number of gigantic hit series, number of awards, and the amount of volume of laughter he's been responsible for." He has directed more than seventy-five pilots that have gone to series and well over a thousand show episodes. GREAT shows. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, Phyllis, Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Mike & Molly, Will & Grace--shows that belong in the television Hall of Fame. I was so anxious to read his memoir, which he calls "a celebration of the great people [he] worked with and the joy and challenges [we] had together. Burrows begins at the beginning, his childhood as the son of legendary playwright and Broadway director Abe Burrows, his start in the theater, and his foray into his milieu, television comedy. He proceeds chronologically through each show, sharing facts and highlights. Ultimately, while I loved the content, I had some of the same feelings about this memoir as I did about Bob Odenkirk's. The work is so damn good that on the page it suffers a bit. Burrows writing is very matter-of-fact. You know the joy (or hardship) is there, but it doesn't leap off the page and sock you in the guts. Other than one behind-the-scenes story from Cheers, there wasn't much in the way of new or "wow" information. It's a great read from an individual I am SO thankful for, and maybe my expectations were too high. Burrows television is some of the best of my life, and that's a tough bar for anyone, even Burrows himself, to leap. 









Wednesday, June 22, 2022

THE CHANGE :: Kristen Miller

Kristen Miller's The Change is not a book that would normally be on my radar, but I joined an Instagram buddy read group and this was their selection. I could have skipped it, but it sounded like it could be a bit of fun. I was so wrong - this book was SO MUCH FUCKING FUN! I understand some readers felt it was heavy-handed on the feminist front, but first, why the hell not? We certainly have plenty of heavy-handed books with women as the forever victim. Second, the heavy-handedness is, from my perspective, done intentionally and very well by Miller.



At its base level, The Change is about three women "of a certain age" taking their power back. They discover each other at the right time in their lives where they are ready to take control and take charge. While the plot is serious (young girls have been murdered), large parts of the goings-on are underpinned by fantasy and social commentary. 


Harriett is a former advertising exec who is responsible for her husband's success while he gets the credit. She left the corporate world and is now divorced, tending to her outlandish garden (that breaks every HOA rule to hilarious end) and "helping" people with her plant-based potions. No surprise she's known as a witch. She is the embodiment of a strong woman who does what she wants, takes no prisoners and suffers no fools ("That’s why I choose vengeance. She’s the only mistress I serve.").



Jo used to work in the hospitality industry, but now runs an all-women's gym where she can rage-run to her heart's content. When she gets angry, her power manifests in extreme strength and heaven help those who piss her off. 



Nessa is a former nurse who inherited the family legacy of being able to hear and see the dead. Her gift is what sets off the action, as the women discover a dead body surrounded by more dead young women and are bound and determined to figure out what's going on in their neighborhood. 



The book was not without its flaws, and at one point I thought it was over, but it still had quite a few pages left. Some of the characters' intentions and true colors were telegraphed, but honestly, it just didn't matter. These issues didn't detract enough to keep me from finding this a fantastically enjoyable trip. 



I'm a sucker for good character work and Miller's is stellar. Each of the women is multi-faceted and fascinating in her own right, with backgrounds and issues that kept the narrative fluid and on point rather than dragging it down. I wanted to know more about these women, especially Harriett, who is someone I would want to hang out with any day. 



I'm so glad I was convinced to read The Change and will definitely seek out more work by Miller. It was by turns moving, hilarious, serious, outlandish, educational, motivational, and fun. A definite E-ticket ride. 
  

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

THE DEVIL HIMSELF :: Peter Farris

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since Peter Farris's fabulous Last Call for the Living. I've been missing Pete's words, but since only the French seem to have common sense when it comes to publishing crime fiction, the U.S. market has had to wait for this barnburner. But holy moly is The Devil Himself worth the wait. How's this for an opener that grabs you by the guts with hot needle-nose pliers:

"The girl in the trunk had been bound."

Short, sweet, and irresistable. To say too much about the plot is a disservice. Though this is straight-forward, hell-bent-on-revenge grit, the beauty is in discovering everything unfold in real time. To figure out who you're rooting for, what layers the characters have that are slowly peeled back. 

I will say that teenaged Maya, she of the trunk, does not go down without a fight. She's found herself in a difficult position that marks her for death, but don't underestimate her based on circumstance. She ends up on the property of Leonard Moye, the town's eccentric kook who doesn't tolerate anyone on his land. To say that Farris takes these two heavily-labeled individuals and turns them into individuals you will never forget is downselling what he's done here. It's simply magnificent.

Set in the deep woods of South Georgia, The Devil Himself is a masterful work of character, set within a dark world filled with many bad actors. As well-paced as it is heart-piercing, it's one I won't soon forget. It's no surprise Farris won several French literary awards with this work, I hope he is similarly recognized here at home.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

NOBODY GETS OUT ALIVE :: Leigh Newman

As a proponent of the inverse correlation between the length of a work and its difficulty (poetry to short stories and on up), I have a high appreciation of the short form and try to read it as often and diversely as I can. Leigh Newman's recent collection won me over with the cover, followed by its description as a set of "dazzling, courageous stories about women struggling to survive not just grizzly bears and charging moose but the raw, exhausting legacy of their marriages and families." 

The first story, Howl Palace, was brilliant, and I went hunting for everything else Newman has written before I was half through with it. I was unsurprised to learn it won The Paris Review’s Terry Southern Prize, and was a Best American Short Story and Pushcart Prize selection.

Howl opens the night before a sixty-seven-year-old widow's real estate agent holds an open house at her property, which is listed as an "attractively priced teardown." To Dutch, however, "every good thing that had ever happened to me happened in Howl Palace. And every bad thing too. Forty-three years. Five husbands. Two floatplanes. A lifetime. It felt as if I should honor my home, that strangers shouldn't come around poking through the kitchen or kicking the baseboards, seeing only the mold in the hot tub and the gnaw marks on the cabinets from the dogs I'd had over the years, maybe even laughing at the name."

Dutch expounds on her history, with laugh-out-loud diatribes about life, her husbands (re Skip, number 5, "Shipping him off to a facility in Washington near his daughter wasn't exactly something I struggled with"), her dogs, her efforts ("If you are looking for a reason to split five cords of wood by hand each year for forty-odd years, consider my biceps at age sixty-seven"), and her surroundings (consider the oft-mentioned and somewhat secretive "wolf room"). 

Just as she's setting up for the open house cookout, the real love of Dutch's life, Carl ("the beautiful deviling heartbreak of my life"), comes to ask if she will watch his dog while he's away. It's something he knows she doesn't want to do, and "somehow" the dog gets loose, wreaking havoc and sending Dutch's pre-event anxiety through the roof. It also lends to her reminiscing, Carl's imprint on so many parts of her life and the realization of why he has come to that day.

Howl Palace is a bittersweet, raucous revisiting of a life as Dutch prepares to let go of the only thing she has left. Beautifully paced and painting a picture you could look at forever, Newman shows herself a master of her craft. I didn't want it to end.

The remainder of the collection is replete with the same gorgeous phraseology, stories full of intriguing, multi-layered characters in various surroundings. The sense of place is different in each, many evoking what one envisions when they think of the wild, bicep-building life in Alaska  (and yet some feeling they could take place anywhere). Not many stories feature a mastodon tusk as deftly and meaningfully as Newman does. Her writing is unique and clever, she is a wordsmith of the highest order. 

 My only "complaint" is that Howl Palace blew me so high out of the water I kept searching for its equal. An unfair ask, really, and beginning the set with that story is both a blessing and a curse. It's one of the best short stories I've ever read and it will keep me reading Newman's work well into the future. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

CHILD ZERO :: Chris Holm

As a huge fan of Chris Holm's work (go dig on The Killing Kind, I've been waiting with bated breath for Child Zero. On the other hand, I knew a bit about where this book was headed and was...let's say scairt. Holm is a super smartypants (molecular biologist) and I am a middling smartysock. When I got my copy I was elated and also, as I told him, "hoping it wasn't over my head." As usual, he had the best response: "If that's the case then I haven't done my job." I can now attest that Holm did his job to PERFECTION. 



One of the things I adore about Chris's writing is that while story is Job 1, character is Job 1A. Once again, he's nailed both in thrilling fashion. In a not-too-far-ahead future, we have continued to fuck up. Unchecked climate change results in a deadly virus being unleashed from the Siberian permafrost. Also, whoopsy!, it renders antibiotics useless. That hangnail you're nursing? That teeny scratch from your beloved Dashiell? They might now be the death of you.



Child Zero is the thrilling story of people trying to adapt to a horror landscape several years following a bioterror attack. We experience that terror through NYPD Detective Jake Gibson, who lost his wife in the attack and is raising his daughter Zoe alone. As we meet Jake, Zoe has a temperature high enough he is mandated to report it to the Department of Biological Security. But Jake knows what happens when a report is made and he's willing to risk everything to keep Zoe safe.



Jake's problems are multiplied when he's notified of a massacre at Park City, an encampment of refugees stranded when Manhattan was quarantined following the 8/17 bioterror attack. The scene makes it clear the assassins were looking for something or someone and Jake and his kickass partner Amira "Amy" Hassan need to figure it out quickly.  



As the Park City attack began, twelve-year-old Mateo Rivas was awakened by his uncle Gabriel and hurried to a planned escape route. Gabriel ensured Mat held a bound and wrapped package securely and remembered his instructions, then sent the boy out into the world via the sewer system.


 


What Mat possesses and why baddies might want it is at the core of Child Zero, a total barnburner from start to finish. The science is frighteningly on point and plausible, the characters are so well drawn you can't help but want more of them, and the sandbox the science and characters get to play in keeps the reader glued to the page. Holm's world-building is superb and, since the book was serendipitously (?) published during a pandemic, Holm has made it all too easy to imagine this world as our future.



If sciencey stuff makes you think twice, I'm here to tell you it's not an obstacle to your understanding or enjoyment. If science is your bag, there are more than enough juicy tidbits for you. If you are trying to escape pandemic reading, this didn't ring my "pandemic malaise" bell. Although we can all now sadly relate to many of the issues raised by the plot, Child Zero is still escapism at its finest. 



I don't have a ratings system or give stars, so I'm just going to lasso the galaxy and hand it to Child Zero.





Wednesday, April 27, 2022

THE HAWK'S WAY :: Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus is one of the most magnificent books I've ever read, so it was with great anticipation I cracked the e-cover of her new work: The Hawk's Way: Encounters With Fierce Beauty. Although Montgomery writes about nature and its creatures in a manner that resonates with me, and I admire that she considers multiple facets of her encounters (i.e., man's impact on the natural world), I was not as enamored with this account as her others.



At the outset, it was surprisingly brief, shy of 100 pages including photos. Which is really of no import unless the book doesn't feel complete. It did seem odd in some ways, as Montgomery realizes the time and commitment involved in falconry (a two-year apprenticeship) doesn't fit with her current circumstance, so this brief foray into the mystical ways of the hawk is, well, brief.

I also admit to having some of the same hesitations as Montgomery, a known animal lover. Could she "in good conscience" take a bird from the wild (or support a breeder)? Does she really want to involve herself in a sport that uses "quail launchers" to aide in teaching a youngster to hunt?

Yet learn she does, and though brief, her descriptions of the "sport" and partnership between bird and human are fascinating. This is no normal people/pet relationship. As her mentor tells her, "If you want love out of this, you're too needy. Don't be a falconer." Rather, the falconer is training the bird "to accept you as her servant," and breaking the rules can be a bloody affair. And while you may forge a working association, your bird may never like you. In fact, it may hold a grudge for the rest of its life and will not hesitate to punish you. 

Montgomery is a master at putting words to hard to describe events, emotions and connections. It's what made The Soul of an Octopus so spectacular. Here, she's done that again, on an albeit much smaller scale. And while I cannot get entirely on board with the "sport," reading about the birds themselves is well worth the time. 


Friday, April 22, 2022

WESTERN SKIES :: Darden Smith

With Western Skies, Austin-based singer-songwriter Darden Smith has created a multi-form artistic experience unlike anything I've seen/read/listened to before. Created as a love message to his home state, the idea emerged during several road trips across West Texas, as Smith took polaroid photos to memorialize his trips and composed lyrics behind the wheel. 



The results of those trips and Smith's creative pathways are a beautiful collectible book and a companion album. The book includes Smith's photographs, essays derived from notes scribbled in his notebook on the road, lyrics to the songs on the album, forward by the legendary Rodney Crowell, and a link to download a free copy of all the Western Skies songs.

I found the experience a fantastic way to discover Smith's music. Listening along as I read the lyrics and perused the photos perused was a fantastic way to immerse myself in as broad a way as possible into the mindset and emotions of Smith as they relate to the land he loves and traveled.
 
I highlighted numerous passages and lyrics that I both wanted to remember and thought would be apt to share within a review. Yet when it now comes time to do so, it feels as though sharing only a part of the whole without its related elements does a disservice to what Smith has done. I will say I've now discovered music I would not have without the words, a writer I would not have known or understood as well without his music. And while Smith initially felt old-school polaroid photos wouldn't do the landscape justice, their eerie, ghost-like quality lends a gorgeous ethereal quality that seems to fit just right with the other parts. A rare feat, Western Skies is a gift for the senses. 


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.

Labels

  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP