Review: Ultraluminous

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Review for “Ultraluminous” by Katherine Faw (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I like Katherine Faw. I also liked this book.

No one in this short novel has a real name, including the narrator. Everyone she meets assumes she is Russian, so there are a series of Russian-influenced pseudonyms here (Katya, Karina, Katinka) that substitute for her identity. The narrator works as a prostitute, specializing in high end clients and girlfriend-experience type encounters. On constant rotation are her experiences with such clients such as “the junk bond guy,” “the calf’s brain guy,” “the art guy,” and “the guy who buys me things.” There is also “the ex-Army Ranger,” a man that she never charges, and “the Sheik,” a man she worked for in Dubai.

Not only does the narrator not tell you her name, she never reveals her thoughts either. We only witness her actions, a bizarre series of ‘patterns’ that the narrator adheres to like clockwork. In addition to her clients, she loves trips to Duane Reade for sushi, getting waxed, snorting heroin, trips to Duane Reade for sushi, getting waxed, snorting heroin…and so on. The sex and drug encounters are blunt and matter of fact, she simply moves from one event to the next. The silence between the printed words makes this story interestingly ambiguous until it comes into clear focus at the end.

Four stars. Read if only if you’re looking for an adventure or an experimental type story.

[A free, digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley and the publisher, MCD, in exchange for an honest review.]

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Review: The End We Start From

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Review for "The End We Start From" by Megan Hunter (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Hmm…

I’ve had a few hours to digest this one and honestly I’m not quite sure what to tell you about it. At 160 pages, “The End We Start From” is a very short, almost novella-like dystopian novel told in quiet, sparse paragraphs.

In the beginning (or is it the end?) of this very short novel, an unnamed young mother’s water breaks and she gives birth to a son, Z. The water levels around London are rising and Britain is mostly under water. The narrator and her husband, R, move from their home to stay with his parents in the mountains until food becomes scarce there and then they move again, this time to a makeshift camp with other disaster refugees. Baby Z grows, and the narrator’s husband R eventually leaves the family at the camp to investigate other living prospects. During their separation, the narrator continues to observe life around her, make friends, and bond with her baby, Z.

I think I like the concept of this book more than its actual execution. There’s a lot of interesting things juxtaposed here that I could go on and on about: birth, death, the deterioration of civilized society, the creation of new life. There’s also references to the book of Genesis all throughout which fit quite nicely with those ideas. I just don’t care too much for the writing style, it was too sparse for me. The sense of detachment here was also a problem; the constant use of characters’ initials instead of their names made it hard to remember who was who and vexed me to no end. Too much was left unsaid, I wanted more.

Despite my misgivings, I’m not sorry I read this book. There’s a very unique narration style here that definitely bears notice and may tickle the fancy of others. 3 stars for me, but I invite others to make their own judgment call.

[A free digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: She Rides Shotgun

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Review for “She Rides Shotgun” by Jordan Harper (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was about ready to give up on Jordan Harper after I read and loathed his short story collection, “Love and Other Wounds.” Glad I didn’t.

Anyway, “She Rides Shotgun” is a dark story about a father who has just got out of a California prison and run afoul of a vicious prison gang, leading to a ‘green light’ being placed on him, his daughter Polly, and his daughter’s mother. Unable to protect Polly’s mother, he takes his daughter on the run. Fighting for their lives and keeping away from the eyes of the law, eventually his daughter becomes involved in his criminal schemes. I won’t give away the book, but needless to say, I found myself cheering for these two (somehow) until the end. The writing is sparse but beautiful and manages to keep you interested.

Four stars, decent debut novel.

Review: Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction

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Review for "Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction" by Erica Garza (to be published on 16 January 2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Often times when we hear about sex addiction, it is a taboo subject. It is also a narrative that is usually dominated by men. “Getting Off” is one of the few books about this topic that I’ve read that’s written by a woman, and shows the wide range of emotions and dysfunctions that goes along with this affliction.

Garza’s struggle with sex addiction begins when she is twelve and continues long into her adulthood. She has a brilliant writing style–raw, at times funny, and painfully honest in its detail. Once I started reading this book I didn’t put it down and finished it in a manner of hours. As you can guess from the subject matter, it is quite x-rated in certain scenes, so it’s not for the puritanical or faint of heart. If you can move beyond this, however, you will find this an enlightening and enjoyable read.

[A free digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House

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Review for "There's Someone Inside Your House" by Stephanie Perkins (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Whew Lawd this was bad

First off, I love YA thriller/horror. If you spent your high school days reading R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, then you know what I’m talking about. So when this book came out, I was on it faster than a speeding ticket.

This is my first Stephanie Perkins novel. From my understanding she mostly writes YA romance and this was her first foray into horror. After reading this drivel, it’s my determination is that she should probably stick to writing romance.

The run-down: Makani Young, the main character, is sent to live with her grandmother in a small Nebraska town following her parents’ divorce and a mysterious incident in her Hawaii hometown that’s not revealed until the end of the book. She has eyes for Ollie, a pink-haired emo kid, and they make like rabbits for most of the book. Oh yeah, meanwhile there’s a psycho running around killing members of the high school student body for reasons unknown.

So where do I begin? For the whole “Who will be next?” hook, this book had only about 5 deaths and still turned out to be 99.9% romance. The book pivots between Makani and Ollie’s relationship and the killer’s next victim, which we follow in a brief chapter as it happens. We’re never told why the killer is picking people off, and his identity is fully revealed at about 60% into the book. What happens after this? Nothing. For me, it’s was a hazy blur of wtf moments and skipped pages.

And Makani and Ollie…what a mess. For a romance writer, the author manages to make their relationship strictly about lust and nothing else. Despite all the physical fun these two are having, it’s mindlessly boring. Even an old pervert like me started flipping pages after awhile. On to the next slashing please…

I was expected more blood and gore here. Two stars.

Review: The Weight of This World

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Review for "The Weight of This World" by David Joy (2017)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is my second David Joy read, the first having been “Where All Light Tends to Go.” I read that one, gave it 3 stars. This one is slightly better, though not by much.

This book literally begins with a bang–with shocking act of violence committed by young Aiden McCall’s father upon his mother. Without parents, he is sent to a group home that he quickly runs away from. Aiden finds a friend in Thad Broom, a brooding, often violent boy with his own problems. The two boys grow up in the same home together, though Thad eventually leaves to join the Army and fight in Afghanistan. Thad returns from combat injured and hopeless, a shell of a man. Aiden, without his friend for six years, doesn’t fare much better: he’s unemployed, bitter, and a part-time drunk. He hopes to escape from their miserable lives and move away, but Thad will not hear of it. In the meantime both Thad and Aiden do drugs (mostly methamphetamine) to get through their days.

In the middle of the drama is April, Thad’s mother. She lives with secrets of her own, and also wants to move on and, in her words, “get off the mountain.” She is swept into the subsequent drama when Aiden and Thad’s drug dealer accidentally kills himself and leaves all three with a large stash of drugs and cash. What follows after this point in the book is a really dark and violent cycle of revenge, suffering, and just plain bad decision-making.

None of the characters in this book are likable, but I think in the end their likability is completely irrelevant to the reason why I gave this book three and a half stars. I can see that the author is perhaps meditating on the power of fate over free will, though as a reader after a while I was just plain tired of the characters and their ensuing Stupidity Olympics. You realize that these people don’t want to better themselves and they simply want to be miserable, end of story. I tried to feel some kind of empathy (nope!) for their choices, maybe even some kind of compassion for these characters but there’s none (absolutely none!) to be found. Three-quarters into this, I just got tired of reading and plodded my way to the end. Needless to say, I was glad when it was over.

Despite my rating, I would recommend this book. Though the violence is not for the faint of heart, but the author’s writing is not that bad and this novel does, in many ways, still manage to hold your attention.

Review: Moxie

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Review for "Moxie" by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I know this book has gotten glowing praise from many of its readers, but I was underwhelmed with this one. I know I’m jumping off a cliff by saying this, but this book was just ok for me.

Vivian is an average teen living with her single mother in a small town in Texas. Aided by her mother’s Riot Grrl memorabilia and fed up with sexist administrators, Vivian makes an anonymous zine to protest the unfair treatment of girls at her high school and empowers them to fight back. The zine catches on, and most of the girls at the school eventually join in her fight. In the middle of all of the brouhaha, Vivian manages to snag the hottest artsy guy in school, who, it turns out, is sympathetic to her feminist goals.

My main concern with any feminist text is how it addresses intersectionality. As a woman of color, I’m critical of any text that claims to be feminist, yet focuses exclusively on the voices of White middle class women. Fortunately the author does address the issue, about midway through the novel when Vivian reveals that her mother once said that “Riot Grrls weren’t as welcoming to other girls as they could have been.” Well, no ma’am, they weren’t. There is a Latina and and Black girl at Vivian’s school who join the Moxie movement, yet we’re supposed to believe that their perspectives and concerns (jerky football players and dress code checks) are the exact same as Vivian’s. Sorry, but I simply don’t believe this. Where is race here? How does the author manage to make women of color so one-dimensional in this book? Gimme a break.

Which brings me to the last issue: race. While she does addresses the problem of inclusivity, Mathieu’s fictional small-town Texas world is devoid of any mention of racism. I praise the author for addressing the elephant in the room, but I just don’t think it goes far enough. As far as gender, there is a reference to a lesbian character, albeit a brief one. The problems that arise from race, class, sexuality, and gender will always overlap (hint: why it’s called intersectionality), and I simply wanted more from the Black, Latina, and LGBTQ characters here. What you get instead with this book is a lot of romanticizing on the 90’s Riot Grrl movement, which, let’s face it, was not as inclusive to race and gender as it should have been.

Overall, not a bad book, but not a great one either. Three stars is my best recommendation here, though I look forward to (possibly) reading more of this author in the future.