Review: American Housewife

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Review for “American Housewife” by Helen Ellis (2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

After several months of waiting for this to be available at the library, I finally got a copy of this book. I’m thankful for this, because this book is so god-awfully bad I’d never consider owning it.

There are 12 stories in this collection, all of them centered around a Southern Stepford wife theme (i.e., party hosting, bra fittings, pageants). Sometimes it was successful here, but most of the time it wasn’t. The only story that was somewhat entertaining was “The Wainscoting War,” a humorous exchange between two women told through emails. “The Fitter,” a story about a legendary bra fitter’s wife was ok, but didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and “Dumpster Diving with Stars,” a selection about an irreverent reality tv show, was bland and ridiculously long for no reason. Several of the stories address the reader directly, like a how-to manual on a variety of subjects and customs, but after what I just described above, I honestly didn’t care. Zzzz.

I couldn’t wait for these stories to be over, which says a lot about a book that’s only 185 pages long. I understand that the author is satirizing a well-worn stereotype of Old South gentility, but it’s way overdone and the women in these stories are far too cliched to ever be taken seriously.

I imagine that people will either love or hate this book, appreciate the punchline that comes with it or roll their eyes in complete scorn. You can probably guess what my response to this book was. It simply was not my cup of tea. At all.

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Review: Love and Other Wounds

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Review for “Love and Other Wounds” by Jordan Harper (2015)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This is a book that tries to swagger but isn’t as ‘hard’ as it thinks it is. Crime noir that’s very much in the same vein as Frank Bill’s “Crimes in Southern Indiana” (which I actually liked), but set in different locales and much much worse.

What this is: a collection of short stories with bad ass characters doing the same bad ass things with the same bad ass prose we’ve already read elsewhere. There’s redneck prison yard gangsters, men who breed dogs to die in fighting pits, criminals, hit men, meth addicts, etc, etc…by the third story I was bored out of my mind. It’s not so much the violent content that bothers me as much as the fact that there’s nothing new in this book, just the same old thin, worn out characters and plots in each selection, along with gratuitous amounts of blood and gore. This book is also littered with the n-word, as if it were a Quentin Tarantino movie, without any kind of context whatsoever and I hated every moment of it.

Lemme repeat: I actually like crime noir. I am not indicting stories about low-lives and their misdeeds, because they can be transformative. But this is not good crime noir. Harper goes beyond this label and calls his writing ‘thug lit,’ and while it may be the thing for some, I couldn’t stand this. At all.

Review: The Fever

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Review for “The Fever” by Megan Abbott (2014)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

(*sigh*)….3 stars, mates.

“The Fever” is a modern day tale that centers on a fictional small town, Dryden, during one particular winter in an unnamed state. Everything is seemingly perfect in Dryden until a popular girl, Lise Daniels, is suddenly afflicted with a violent seizure at school. One by one, the girls of Dryden succumb to the same mysterious illness–seizures, hallucinations, bouts of unconsciousness, etc. Teachers, students, parents, and health officials work themselves in a frenzy to get to the truth. What could be causing this affliction? Is it something in the soil? Mold in the school’s air vents? Some strange, but yet unknown allergy? Environmental pollution? A side effect of the HPV vaccine that the girls of the town are required to take? A mutated strain of STD?

These questions swirl around for most of the book, and in the middle of the storm is Tom Nash, a teacher at Dryden High, and his two children, his daughter, Deenie, and son, Eli. Deenie’s best friend is Lise, the fever’s first victim. As the mystery illness continues to grip the community, all of Deenie’s circle of friends are affected. Will Deenie be next?

I loved the writing style of this book. The characters leapt out of the story, and Abbott manages to write some beautiful sentences, which kept me turning the pages. The story is told in the alternating perspectives of Tom and his two kids, which I didn’t mind, although the POV changed almost constantly–every half of a page or so. It’s hard to tell a story when it’s continually shifting POVs, but Abbott actually does an ok job of this.

My beef: the pacing, though. My God, this was slow. By page 150 I have to admit that I didn’t give a damn about what the cause of the illness was anymore. Nothing really significant happens after the halfway mark for the next 100 or so pages until the truth is revealed at the end. It’s a drag to read, so I skimmed about 75 or so pages of this book. Voilà.

Interesting sidebar to this novel: there was a spirited discussion for a while on Goodreads about whether this is a YA book or not. Personally, I feel it is not. This book has no business anywhere in the YA genre. Although it does feature teenage narrators and characters having sex and falling in love and lust, it doesn’t center on those themes as much as it does the dysfunctional nature of the community around them. There’s more of a ‘noir’ kinda feel here, a modern-day version of ‘The Crucible.’ So un-YA like, if you ask me…

I’d recommend this book if you like stories of lust filled teens and slightly twisted tales of suburbia.

Review: The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

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Review for “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” by J.T. Leroy (2001)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I’ve decided that I don’t care about the controversy or authorship ‘hoax’ that surrounds this book. I treated it as fiction from the start, because I strongly doubt the intelligence of anyone who would really think that a 16-year-old wrote this book. If you want to read about how a smart middle-aged woman fooled a bunch of dumb hipsters with her supposed ‘autobiography’, a quick Google search of “J.T. Leroy” will fill you in on all the details. It is an interesting story, though. Shit, even I have to admit that I LOL’d…

Anywho, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” is a set of interconnected short stories that follow the life of a young boy named Jeremiah, or in this case, J.T. Leroy. In the first few pages, Jeremiah is stolen by his drug addicted, prostitute teenage mother, Sarah, from his foster parents’ custody. The majority of the book follows young Jeremiah’s life with Sarah (on the streets, traveling the country as a lot lizard) and without her, where he is consistently abused by evil people in the most evil of ways. He depends on Sarah even as he is abandoned by her time and time again, leaving him with a desperate need to be loved by anyone, no matter the cost.

With that being said, I don’t know if I was quite ready for the sheer volume of controversial subject matter here. As a book reviewer, I pride myself on having reading nerves of steel: fearless, unafraid, and unbothered by the most taboo of subjects. Little did I know that I would eat my words with this novel, because this one puts ‘disturbing’ in a completely different category altogether.

I won’t spill all the beans here but I will say that in terms of content this book is pretty much a snuff film on paper. There are graphic, detailed descriptions of physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, incest, scatological references–you name it, it’s there. There is nothing at all enjoyable here in terms of descriptions, settings, or characters. The horror, the abuse, and the bleakness of Leroy’s book is constant and unrelenting. There are some traces of great writing here, but it’s diminished by the author’s love of shock value. Therefore, I didn’t care for this at all.

I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you have a super-strong tolerance for gore and the darkest parts of human nature.

In the end, thank God this was a short read.

Thank God this book was fake.

Whew.

Review: Everything I Never Told You

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Review for “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng (2015)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

Like some other online reviewers have stated, I can’t say that I enjoyed reading this book either. The first line (above) grabbed me completely, but the more I read, the more difficult to read it became: the consistent tragedy, the loss, the heartbreak. While I did not give this book five stars (I would have have to had to have loved reading it for that rating), it is a solid four stars, hands down.

This story is set in the 1970’s in small town Ohio, and follows several years in the life of a Chinese American family with three children–Nath, Lydia, and Hannah. James, their father, a man of Chinese decent born in the US, feels compelled to fit in, a feat he never accomplished as a child. Marilyn, their Caucasian mother, wants desperately to achieve her dream of becoming a medical doctor, a dream that she reluctantly gave up to become a mother. As their children get older she and James obsessively transfer their desires upon their middle child, Lydia, who becomes the obvious favorite of their family. Meanwhile, Nath and Hannah are just satellites that revolve in the background, overlooked and ignored.

It’s hard to read this book. Your heart breaks for Nath and especially Hannah, who is completely oblivious to the entire family throughout most of the book. This is to say nothing for Lydia, who feels so emotionally hampered by the burden of her parents’ expectations that she is eventually driven to do the unthinkable.

What I loved about this story was its omniscient narration–the story constantly switches between the perspectives of the parents, each one of their children. You don’t like them very much but through the flashbacks you learn about about James and Marilyn’s pasts, as well as how and why they eventually go on to break the hearts of all of their children.

Ng develops the story perfectly. You learn everything about this family, inside and out–the thoughts in their heads, the place settings at their kitchen table. I cannot say that I would read this again, but I do recommend it. It’s an excellent book.

 

Review: The Last Girl

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Review for “The Last Girl” by Joe Hart (March 2016)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Didn’t care too much for this. The premise is interesting enough–a virus has led to a dramatic decline in the numbers of female births, reducing them worldwide to zero. The remaining girls are locked away in a facility where they are bred to repopulate the earth. This isn’t a spoiler, because honestly anyone reading this could have come up with the same conclusion within 5 minutes of reading this book. Zzzz.

Zoey, the main character, is a completely unbelievable character. For a person locked in a facility for most of her existence away from normal human contact, she seems to have an excellent knowledge of weapons (okkkkay) and her shooting ability is dead-on. The author explains the progression of the girl-destroying virus through the narratives of several other characters, but you don’t care about these people and honestly about 100 pages could have been cut from this book and it wouldn’t have suffered. The science here is kind of weird too. Isn’t the sex of a baby determined by the father? Hmm…

In addition to that, this entire book is written in a funky kind of present tense that I didn’t like. Example: She reaches out, wishing she could smash the protrusion of the calendar off the wall but knows they’ll just put another one up, and an act like that would earn her time in one of the boxes. I’m all for alternative points of view, but to read an entire book where it’s written like this makes you wonder if she’s in the process of doing something, just thinking about it, or if she even did it at all.

I imagine that plot comparisons to Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and P.D. James’ “Children of Men” are inevitable here, though this book isn’t even in the same league. I am also wondering why the author insists on continuing this book as the first of a trilogy. Then again, I’m not surprised, as it seems to be trendy for all dystopian YA, whether it’s good or not these days to be part of a trilogy (Hunger Games, Divergent, the 5th Wave, etc). Whatever.

[NOTE: This copy was provided to me from the publisher and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Prayers for the Stolen

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Review for “Prayers for the Stolen” by Jennifer Clement (2014)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I checked this out from the library last year, read one chapter, then stopped reading it. I admit have a bit of a case of book-ADD at times…if it doesn’t grab me within a short time I’ll keep it on my reading list but stop reading it and move on to something else that sustains my interest. Anyway, fast forward one year later and I’m back in the same library, probably staring at the exact same copy I checked out last year. This time I did read it. And man…I wasn’t impressed.

Prayers for the Stolen is the story of Ladydi, a Mexican girl who lives in a mountain village in the state of Guerrero with her alcoholic mother. Her father is gone away to the States for work, as are most of the men in this section of the country. Due to the dangerous drug cartels that frequently roam the area, girls are ‘made ugly’ by their mothers and made to appear as boys (short hair, scars, messed up teeth) to avoid being kidnapped. Girls are ‘stolen’ quite often, however, and during these times Ladydi and her friends are forced to hide in holes they’ve dug in the ground for safety. Eventually, one of Ladydi’s friends is taken by the cartel and she makes the decision to leave the village to become a nanny for a wealthy family.

The first part of the book is somewhat decent–Clement has a very minimal style and despite the writing being choppy, the narrative still manages to ‘flow’ together. The second part, after Ladydi leaves the village, is not so fluid as the first. There are a couple of weird plot twists that entered the picture that left me scratching my head and the chapters don’t blend as well together. The characters are not as meaningful and the events became repetitive, more like a series of vignettes rather than a novel.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential but didn’t deliver. :/