Very Quick Review: THE LAST SEASON by Phil Jackson (Penguin)

JacksonP-LastSeasonUSPBPhil Jackson’s memoir for the final year of his (first) stint as Lakers coach

An inside look at the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty — Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and the LA Lakers

For the countless basketball fans who were spellbound by the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2003-2004 high-wire act, this book is a rare and phenomenal treat. In The Last Season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson draws on his trademark honesty and insight to tell the whole story of the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty. From the signing of future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the Kobe Bryant rape case/media circus, this is a riveting tale of clashing egos, public feuds, contract disputes, and team meltdowns that only a coach, and a writer, of Jackson’s candor, experience, and ability could tell. Full of tremendous human drama and offering lessons on coaching and on life, this is a book that no sports fan can possibly pass up.

I recently read Jeff Pearlman’s excellent, entertaining Three-Ring Circus: an account of the LA Lakers’ three-championship run in the early 2000s. Coached by Phil Jackson and led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the team was dominant, impressive to watch, and dysfunctional. Pearlman’s book is a warts-and-all, humorous examination of the team and the characters that comprised it. I wanted to read more about the team and the NBA of that time, so I picked up Jackson’s memoir of his the 2003-4 season. What I found was an interesting, informative, and engaging read. Continue reading

Quick Review: EVERYTHING NOW by Rosecrans Baldwin (MCD)

BaldwinR-EverythingNowUSLessons from the city-state of Los Angeles

America is obsessed with Los Angeles. And America has been thinking about Los Angeles all wrong, for decades, on repeat. Los Angeles is not just the place where the American dream hits the Pacific. (It has its own dreams.) Not just the vanishing point of America’s western drive. (It has its own compass.) Functionally, aesthetically, mythologically, even technologically, an independent territory, defined less by distinct borders than by an aura of autonomy and a sense of unfurling destiny — this is the city-state of Los Angeles.

Deeply reported and researched, provocatively argued, and eloquently written, Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now approaches the metropolis from unexpected angles, nimbly interleaving his own voice with a chorus of others, from canonical L.A. literature to everyday citizens. Here, Octavia E. Butler and Joan Didion are in conversation with activists and astronauts, vampires and veterans. Baldwin records the stories of countless Angelenos, discovering people both upended and reborn: by disasters natural and economic, following gospels of wealth or self-help or personal destiny. The result is a story of a kaleidoscopic, vibrant nation unto itself — vastly more than its many, many parts.

Baldwin’s concept of the city-state allows us, finally, to grasp a place — Los Angeles — whose idiosyncrasies both magnify those of America, and are so fully its own. Here, space and time don’t quite work the same as they do elsewhere, and contradictions are as stark as southern California’s natural environment. Perhaps no better place exists to watch the United States’s past, and its possible futures, play themselves out.

Welcome to Los Angeles, the Great American City-State.

It’s not just America that’s obsessed with Los Angeles. I’ve long been fascinated by the city (even though I’m not sure I’d like to live there). It’s one of my favourite fiction locations, and its diverse and fragmented nature allows for incredible variation in the novels, TV series and movies set within it. In Everything Now, Baldwin does a very good job of showing us the city from a number of different angles — some familiar, some new, all interesting. An interesting and engaging journey through various facets of Los Angeles, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THREE-RING CIRCUS by Jeff Pearlman (HMH)

PearlmanJ-ThreeRingCircusUSAn amusing, irreverent account of the Lakers of Kobe, Shaq, and Phil Jackson

The story of the Lakers dynasty from 1996 through 2004, when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal combined — and collided — to help bring the Lakers three straight championships and restore the franchise as a powerhouse 

In the history of modern sport, there have never been two high-level teammates who loathed each other the way Shaquille O’Neal loathed Kobe Bryant, and Kobe Bryant loathed Shaquille O’Neal. From public sniping and sparring, to physical altercations and the repeated threats of trade, it was warfare. And yet, despite eight years of infighting and hostility, by turns mediated and encouraged by coach Phil Jackson, the Shaq-Kobe duo resulted in one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. Together, the two led the Lakers to three straight championships and returned glory and excitement to Los Angeles.

I’m not sure I can remember a time when I didn’t know the names “Kobe Bryant” and, especially, “Shaquille O’Neal”. This despite not having access to NBA games (in person or on TV) until Kobe’s final year in the League, and after Shaq had retired. I knew they’d won the championship together at least twice, but that was it. When Pearlman’s Three-Ring Circus popped up on my radar, I knew I had to read it. And I’m very glad I did: it’s a detailed, irreverent and (seemingly) balanced account of the tense years leading up to and including the Lakers’ three-peat. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: WINDHALL by Ava Barry (Pegasus Books)

BarryA-WindhallUSAn intriguing, well-written mystery about the long tail of a Golden Age Hollywood murder

An investigative journalist in modern Los Angeles attempts to solve the Golden Age murder of a Hollywood starlet.

1940s Hollywood was an era of decadence and director Theodore Langley was its king. Paired with Eleanor Hayes as his lead actress, Theo ruled the Golden Age of Hollywood. That ended when Eleanor’s mangled body was discovered in Theo’s rose garden and he was charged with her murder. The case was thrown out before it went to trial and Theo fled L.A., leaving his crawling estate, Windhall, to fall into ruin. He hasn’t been seen since.

Decades later, investigative journalist Max Hailey, raised by his gran on stories of old Hollywood, is sure that if he could meet Theo, he could prove once and for all that the famed director killed his leading lady. When a copycat murder takes place near Windhall, the long reclusive Theo returns to L.A., and it seems Hailey finally has his chance.

When Hailey gets his hands on Theo’s long-missing journals, he reads about Eleanor’s stalkers and her role in Theo’s final film, The Last Train to Avalon, a film so controversial it was never released to the public. In the months leading up to her death, something had left her so terrified she stopped coming to work. The more Hailey learns about Avalon, the more convinced he becomes that the film could tell him who killed Eleanor and why she had to die. But the implications of Avalon reach far beyond Eleanor’s murder, and Hailey must race to piece together the murders of the past and present before it’s too late.

What really happened to Eleanor Hayes, all those years ago at Theodore Langley’s party? Was she murdered? And by whom? Has Langley got away with murder for all these years? When the case is thrust back into the spotlight, journalist Max Hailey dig deeper than anyone else ever has to get to the truth. Windhall is an interesting, engaging, and enjoyable mystery novel set in old and contemporary Los Angeles. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: ALWAYS CRASHING IN THE SAME CAR by Matthew Specktor (Tin House)

SpecktorM-AlwaysCrashingInTheSameCarUSBack in 2013, I read and enjoyed Matthew Specktor‘s American Dream Machine — a novel about Hollywood, fathers, and the ways in which the entertainment industry has evolved over the decades. This year, Specktor has a new book coming out: Always Crashing in the Same Car. It’s pitched as a blend of memoir and criticism that “explores family legacy, the lives of artists, and a city that embodies both dreams and disillusionment”. I’m really looking forward to giving this a read. Here’s the synopsis:

In 2006, Matthew Specktor moved into a crumbling Los Angeles apartment opposite the one in which F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the last moments of his life. Fitz had been Specktor’s first literary idol, someone whose own passage through Hollywood had, allegedly, broken him. Freshly divorced, professionally flailing, and reeling from his mother’s cancer diagnosis, Specktor was feeling unmoored. But rather than giving in or “cracking up,” he embarked on an obsessive journey to make sense of the mythologies of “success” and “failure” that haunt the artist’s life and the American imagination.

Part memoir, part cultural history, part portrait of place, Always Crashing in the Same Car explores Hollywood through a certain kind of collapse. It’s a vibrant and intimate inspection of failure told through the lives of iconic, if under-sung, artists — Carole Eastman, Eleanor Perry, Warren Zevon, Tuesday Weld, and Hal Ashby, among others — and the author’s own family history. Through this constellation of Hollywood figures, he unearths a fascinating alternate history of the city that raised him and explores the ways in which curtailed ambition, insufficiency, and loss shape all our lives.

At once deeply personal and broadly erudite, it is a story of an art form (the movies), a city (Los Angeles), and one person’s attempt to create meaning out of both. Above all, Specktor creates a moving search for optimism alongside the inevitability of failure and reveals the still-resonant power of art to help us navigate the beautiful ruins that await us all.

Matthew Specktor’s Always Crashing in the Same Car is due to be published by Tin House in North America and in the UK, on July 27th, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: EVERYTHING NOW by Rosecrans Baldwin (MCD)

BaldwinR-EverythingNowUSLike a lot of people who don’t live there, I am fascinated by Los Angeles. It’s a city I’ve visited only three times, but each time it captured my imagination. My favourite crime series is set there (Connelly’s Bosch), many other favourite novels are set in or around Los Angeles, and I’m also fascinated by the workings and behind-the-scenes of Hollywood. I have not, however, read much general history or non-fiction about the city and/or region. This summer, there are a couple of books that have caught my attention. The first is Everything Now by Rosecrans Baldwin. Here’s the synopsis:

A provocative, exhilaratingly new understanding of America’s most confounding metropolis — not just a great city, but a full-blown modern city-state

America is obsessed with Los Angeles. And America has been thinking about Los Angeles all wrong, for decades, on repeat. Los Angeles is not just the place where the American dream hits the Pacific. Not just the end of the line anymore. Not just the vanishing point of America’s western drive. Not just a city.

Los Angeles is best understood as a city-state. Functionally, aesthetically, mythologically, even technologically — a small independent territory, a sovereign place, a city and surrounding regions bound together by population density and an aura of autonomy and a sense of unfurling destiny. This is Los Angeles.

Deeply researched and reported, provocatively argued, and eloquently sung, Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now reveals the borders and probes the ecology of this Great American City-State, enumerates its cultural treasures and economic prowess, hails its heroes and charts its landmarks, plumbs its social and economic history, catalogs its canonical literature (from John Fante to Joan Didion to Mike Davis to Octavia Butler), probes its religions and spiritual practices, its languages and cuisines, and seeks the keys to its future. It is a protean, vibrant place — vastly more than its many, many parts.

Welcome to Los Angeles, the Great American City-State.

Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now is due to be published by MCD in North America and in the UK, on June 15th, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: SMOKE by Joe Ide (Mulholland/W&N)

IdeJ-IQ5-SmokeUSIsaiah Quintabe & Co. return, with more personal challenges and some sinister characters circling their lives…

Both Isaiah Quintabe – an unlicensed detective for all seasons – and his best friend and masterful sidekick, Juanell Dodson, are at a crossroads. This time, their lives may never be the same.

Isaiah is no longer IQ, the genius of East Long Beach; instead he’s a man on the road and on the run, hiding in a small Northern California town when his room is broken into by a desperate young man on the trail of the state’s most prolific serial killer.

Dodson must go straight or lose his wife and child. His devil’s bargain is an internship at an LA advertising agency, where it turns out the rules of the street have simply been dressed in business casual, but where the aging company’s fortunes may well rest on their ability to attract a younger demographic. Dodson – “the hustler’s hustler” – just may be the right man for the job.

Isaiah Quintabe returns! Smoke is the fifth novel in the series, and sees our protagonist and his growing supporting cast going through a number of changes and overcoming a series of challenges. A slightly different novel to the previous books in the series, I enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: HI FIVE by Joe Ide (Mulholland/W&N)

IdeJ-IQ4-HiFiveUSIsaiah Quintabe’s latest case is a matter of perspectives…

One woman. Five personalities. Private investigator IQ is back to piece together a Newport Beach murder with an eyewitness who gives “people person” a whole new meaning.

Christiana is the daughter of the biggest arms dealer on the West Coast, Angus Byrne. She’s also the sole witness and number one suspect in the murder of her boyfriend, found dead in her Newport Beach boutique. Isaiah Quintabe is coerced into taking the case to prove her innocence. If he can’t, Angus will harm the brilliant PI’s new girlfriend, ending her career.

The catch: Christiana has multiple personalities. Among them, a naïve, beautiful shopkeeper, an obnoxious drummer in a rock band, and a wanton seductress.

Isaiah’s dilemma: no one personality saw the entire incident. To find out what really happened the night of the murder, Isaiah must piece together clues from each of the personalities… before the cops close in on him.

In IQ’s latest outing, Long Beach’s favourite private detective finds himself wandering into the world of gun running, murder, and a rather unique suspect. Another good book in the series. Continue reading

Quick Review: WRECKED by Joe Ide (Mulholland/W&N)

IdeJ-IQ3-WreckedUSThe case of a young artist’s missing mother sets IQ on a collision course with his own Moriarty.

Isaiah Quintabe — IQ for short — has never been more successful, or felt more alone. A series of high-profile wins in his hometown of East Long Beach have made him so notorious that he can hardly go to the corner store without being recognized. Dodson, once his sidekick, is now his full-fledged partner, hell-bent on giving IQ’s PI business some real legitimacy: a Facebook page, and IQ’s promise to stop accepting Christmas sweaters and carpet cleanings in exchange for PI services.

So when a young painter approaches IQ for help tracking down her missing mother, it’s not just the case Isaiah’s looking for, but the human connection. And when his new confidant turns out to be connected to a dangerous paramilitary operation, IQ falls victim to a threat even a genius can’t see coming.

Waiting for Isaiah around every corner is Seb, the Oxford-educated African gangster who was responsible for the death of his brother, Marcus. Only, this time, Isaiah’s not alone. Joined by a new love interest and his familiar band of accomplices, IQ is back — and the adventures are better than ever.

The third novel in Joe Ide’s acclaimed Isaiah Quintabe series. Another well-paced and engaging mystery, as IQ is hired to find an artist’s mother. Unbeknownst to him, however, some very shady, well-funded mercs are also after the mother. IQ is in for a very tough investigation… Continue reading

Quick Review: GATHERING DARK by Candice Fox (Arrow/Forge)

FoxC-JS1-GatheringDarkUKA disillusioned cop, a recently-released killer, a missing girl, and a whole lot of trouble…

Blair Harbour’s life as Hollywood’s top paediatric surgeon was perfect, until the night she was jailed for a murder she says she didn’t commit.

With ten years of freedom lost, her medical licence cancelled and her son being raised by foster parents, she’s ready to start again from scratch.

But when a former cellmate begs for help finding her missing daughter, Blair must risk it all to save a young life. Her only allies are a thief, a ganglord and the cop who put her away.

To do the right thing, Blair must mix with all the wrong people.

Will it put her new-found freedom on the line?

A good start to a new crime series set in LA. Gathering Dark introduces a new detective, Jessica Sanchez, who finds herself at the confluence of two old cases that are making her life increasingly stressful and potentially deadly. With a cast of interesting characters, a well-paced investigation, and plenty of commentary on America’s justice system, I enjoyed this. Continue reading