Review: Lotus

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Review for "Lotus" by Lijia Zhang (to be published on 10 January 2017)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

‘Lotus’ is a buildungsroman of a young woman from present-day China. With her mother dead and her father living as an abusive drunk, Lotus dreams of a better life and leaves her rural village to seek work in one of the large factories on the coast. Nearly all of her money goes home to care for her younger brother, who also dreams of leaving the village and enrolling in college. When a fire breaks out at the factory, she does not return home but remains in the city and finds work as a ji, a prostitute, at a low-budget massage parlor.

Enter Bing, an older, middle aged photographer. He’s divorced with a young daughter. He begins taking photos of the ji he encounters in his ramshackle neighborhood and finds his calling in telling their stories to the world. One of the ji that he photographs is Lotus. Together they eventually form a relationship that transform both of their lives.

This story is told through the dual perspective of Lotus and Bing. Personally I liked Lotus’ chapters a lot better, they’re crisper and, in my opinion, a lot more interesting. Bing grows too as a person, though not in the same manner as Lotus. This novel documents how these young women, the ji navigate the perils of modern China–corrupt police, filial responsibility, their assigned roles as the lowest of the low in society.

There’s quite a few sex scenes in this book (ooh la la!), although I don’t think their purpose here is to titillate the reader. Although the main character’s work and experiences as a prostitute are emphasized, it’s not the bulk of the novel, which I liked. There’s also a lot of general scenes that could have been edited out just for clarity, though that’s forgivable for now (this is a galley copy, btw).

Three stars and a half stars here.

[Note: A free digital copy was provided by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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Review: Horrorstor

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Review for "Horrorstor" by Grady Hendrix (2014)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

I worked in a department store for almost 3 years. You name it and I’ve seen it–screaming kids who ruin displays, rude customers, disgusting things found in dressing rooms, thieves, bosses that love to scream at you, and the hell that comes with the Worst Day of the Year (otherwise known to the average person as Black Friday). I’ve worked early mornings, late nights in retail. I’ve been in the store when they turn the lights off and the alarms on, and let’s face it: stores can be very creepy places.

Enter Horrorstor, a horror novel about the goings-on at Orsk, an Ikea knockoff furniture store in suburban Ohio. Amy is a ‘substandard’ performing retail drone summoned by her boss, Basil, to investigate the strange goings-on after dark on the sales floor. It’s a neat little book, with color photographs, catalogue drawings, diagrams, and descriptions of Scandinavian-sounding furniture. This is my second book by Grady Hendrix (the other being My Best Friend’s Exorcism) and he has a knack for just good ol’ plain, standard, cheap horror: cheesy dialogue, the girl who stupidly runs back into danger, etc. Nothing happens here that you don’t expect, so it’s all totally fun and readable because anyone who takes this book seriously is nuts.

3.75 just for the hell of it, because I’d definitely read this again. I’d frame this book if I could.

Review: Nitro Mountain

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Review for "Nitro Mountain" by Lee Clay Johnson (2016)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

“Nitro Mountain” is less of a novel and more like a set of novellas, a set of three interconnected short stories about the lives of several people in Bordon, a small, fictional mining town in the Virginia mountains. The book starts with Leon, a broken-armed bass player, and moves onto Arnett, a drug dealing loser, and later on, his dysfunctionally dysfunctional girlfriend Jennifer. Other people come and go throughout the novel: members of a local country western band, waitresses at the local bar hop, Leon’s mom, etc. All are trapped in a kind of suspended animation, an endless of loop of drugs, drinking, dead end jobs, and violence.

I didn’t really like this book. Nothing spectacular happens, and the shape of this book is hopelessly monotone.Β  As I said before, there really isn’t much of a plot–just a bird’s eye view of rural white folks playing guitar, sleeping around, drinking, popping pills, getting arrested, and just being general fuck-ups. Whether it was intended to be this way is probably the entire point, not so much plot driven but more of a character study of the daily lives of people on Nitro Mountain. Either way, I didn’t care about it. Not so much the characters bothered me, but the execution. Oh, the execution. The devil in the details.

Skip this book.

P.S. – The Bambi pic on the cover is cute.

Review: The Orphan Mother

Ahh…it’s Christmas time. Days and nights of no work or school, warm cups of coffee and tea, and more time for reading. I get a few weeks of break before heading back into the spring semester on January 9th.

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Review for "The Orphan Mother" by Robert Hicks (2016)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

I have a favorable impression of this very interesting, very well written historical fiction novel. This is my first book by Robert Hicks, and I certainly don’t regret it. What initially attracted me to this book was indeed the historical side of this work of fiction: the events, the main characters, and the setting are all near Franklin, Tennessee, the smaller town around the larger city of Nashville where I born and grew up. It was cool to hear the names of places that I was completely familiar with, only I’m seeing it from the unique perspective of people who lived 150 years ago.

Anyway, “The Orphan Mother” takes place in 1867, right after the Civil War. Former slave Mariah Reddick, now a free woman, continues her association with the wealthy McGavock family who used to own her, only now she makes her living as the town midwife. Mariah’s only son Theopolis, an accomplished shoe maker, attends a political rally with his mind possibly set on politics. Very early in the novel, however, Mariah’s son is violently murdered by several White townspeople while at the rally.

The rest of the book is about Mariah’s search for justice for her son through her relationships with several key people–Mrs. McGavock, her former owner, Elijah Dixon, the crooked town magistrate, and George Tole, another mysterious man at the center of the events which took her son’s life. Overall, it’s a sad novel, and even though there is a sliver of hope at the end, it’s still one whose outlook on race relations is completely relevant to today’s times.

While I liked this book and the characters themselves were all very believable, the pacing of this book was kinda slow. Several times toward the middle I found myself skipping pages, asking myself when the action was going to continue. There were also a few plot points I found somewhat unbelievable for the time period, given the racial and social taboos of the time. Minus those flaws, I did like this book a lot.

Review: Homesick for Another World

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Review for "Homesick for Another World" by Ottessa Moshfegh (to be published on 17 January 2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ottessa Moshfegh is a writer after my own heart. This is not science fiction (although the cover is deceiving) or a happy volume of stories. Each tale here has a dark, flawed, transgressive quality to it. Her characters are all grossly unlikeable, yet they stick you like Gorilla Glue long after you’ve finished reading them. I loved her novel Eileen, and honestly I really just love Moshfegh so much period that whatever she’s got I know I’m probably going to like it. There are about a dozen stories in Homesick, some of which have already appeared in other fiction journals over the years, but it’s cool because they’re worth a second look. In “A Dark and Winding Road” a man gets more than he bargained for on a trip to a mountain cabin. In “Bettering Myself” a thirty-something teacher finds that the key to her own happiness really isn’t a key at all. In “Slumming” a woman finds solace in dysfunctional behavior and drug addiction. All of the characters here are mired in riddles and self-delusion, and I won’t give away the rest of the stories here but please take my word when I tell you that the prose here is definitely top-notch. I’ll continue to read whatever this woman writes.

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

Review: The Death of Sweet Mister

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Review for “The Death of Sweet Mister” by Daniel Woodrell (2002)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is my second book by Daniel Woodrell (the other having been “Winter’s Bone”) and this sad, dark little book definitely stands with that classic. “The Death of Sweet Mister” is centered around 13-year-old Shug, his alcoholic mother Glenda, and her abusive husband Red. All three live in a rundown house in the Ozarks, fighting for whatever life that remains around them. Red forces Shug to rob houses for the pills he’s addicted to, Glenda finds herself enthralled with a local man with promises of a better life. In the middle of it all is Shug, riding a sad kind of shotgun to their misery.

As much as I liked this book, I can’t say that I loved it. There is violence between the characters here, a kind of unrelenting bleakness that grabs you from the first page and never really lets up until the end. There’s also some really freaky Oedipal kind of shit going on that’s umm…let’s just say, not for the faint of heart. If you can stomach the Southern Dis-comfort of this story, definitely do read this book. You won’t be disappointed.