Review: The Returned

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Review for “The Returned” by Jason Mott

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

(Spoilers ahoy!)

I got through about 175 pages of this book before I stopped.

It starts off interesting and intriguing enough—long dead people, for some unknown reason, begin to come back to life. Why they have returned and how they become one of the Returned is never explained. The book makes it clear that they are not zombies, and that they look and function as normal people despite the fact that they’ve died, in many cases, years before. They reappear years later, often half a world away from where they died, and a government agency known as the ‘Bureau’ returns them to their families. The book takes off with this and then, well….that’s it.

The majority of the story is told through Lucille and Harold Hargreaves, an elderly couple in rural America whose 8 year old son Jacob is returned after drowning over 40 years ago. Lucille happily picks up parenting where she left off, while Harold broods over it for several chapters. Their son Jacob is, well…Jacob. He tells corny jokes and eats his mom’s cooking. But that’s about it. He’s the boring-est resurrected person alive (literally). What is the author’s point of writing this novel if the main character at the heart of the mystery never says anything—about death or life or how they got there in the first place? The point where I stopped reading is when Jacob is eventually locked in an internment camp and is asked the same how-and-why questions by soldiers that he couldn’t answer from the beginning. Obviously the author is trying to make some political point here with the internment angle, but I could have cared less. If nothing behind the mystery of The Returned is ever revealed, what is the point of locking him up? Yawn.

I guess I expected more from this book. It is the same book, apparently, that the current ABC show “Resurrection” is based upon, and the ho-hum nature of this book doesn’t make me want to watch the show to find out either. There was no momentum and the story fell flat. I wanted science to make an appearance, to say something (anything!) to make this book readable but it didn’t. None of the characters had any real life to them at all. Ugh.

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Review: Ugly Girls

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Review for “Ugly Girls” by Lindsay Hunter
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Man, I loved this book…

On the surface it’s the story of two teenaged girls getting into shit–stealing cars, joyriding in the middle of the night, skipping class. Perry and Baby Girl are young, hard, ruthless, and completely impulsive, doing whatever thrill that feels best at the moment. Their friendship is one of convenience, one constantly pushing the other into one bad choice after the next. Baby Girl is physically ugly (her hair is shaved completely off) and Perry is emotionally ugly, living with her spineless stepfather and a drunk mother who doesn’t seem to give a damn what’s she’s up to.

Their adventures in mischief become child’s play when the two of them discover that they’re both being chatted up by the same guy online–a creepy local pedophile who has an obsession with Perry. As the book progresses and the danger edges closer and closer you know that the situation will not go well–and it doesn’t.

As I said before, I loved this book. The writing completely captured me from the beginning and didn’t let up until the end. The ending was a bit abrupt, but Hunter’s prose makes it forgiveable. I found myself underlining and rereading section after section, just because the words were so achingly beautiful. This book is unapologetic and totally worth a space on your reading list.

Review: This Wicked World

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Review for ‘This Wicked World’ by Richard Lange
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Richard Lange is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. I loved his short story collection “Dead Boys” and his second book, “Angel Baby.” His writing is decent and his characters are always oddly compelling, so I had to backtrack a bit and read his first book, which brings me to this review. The story focuses on Jimmy Boone, an ex Marine and ex con who is hired to find out what happened in the death of a Guatemalan immigrant. In the process of his investigation he uncovers a dogfighting ring run by a group of vicious criminals, a scheme to counterfeit cash, and begins seeing a nice girl in the process.

Although the writing is passable and Lange manages to compel you to turn the page to find out what happens next, this book is loaded with problems. As an ex con on parole wanting to keep his nose clean, Jimmy Boone kept behaving in ways that were completely implausible. The mystery of what happens to the Guatemalan immigrant is solved fairly early on, a little over midway through the novel. Boone’s choice to continue to “investigate” for another 150 pages by sticking his nose into matters that don’t concern him simply make no sense. It’s like the classic scene of a bad horror movie when the horny teenagers go into the woods with condoms and beer and you’re shaking your head because you know fuckery and doom will follow. Yet Boone does it anyway, and it serves no purpose other than to drive a weak plot forward.

The last one hundred pages are a waste that further plunges the book downward into a mess. It is clear that Lange felt the need to wrap up every open plot end, no matter how useless and bad it was to begin with. It is unbelievable that a side character does a complete 180 and tries to screw Boone over with a half assed kidnap job or the fact that two of his friends (more characters wanting to stay “clean”) suddenly feel compelled to join his misguided cause. There were also lengthy passages describing brutal dog fights that did not seem to function to move the plot forward at all. I found myself skipping over pages and pages of gory details describing pit bulls ripping each other to pieces that, quite frankly, did not enlighten me any further into why Lange went with the dogfighting angle in the first place.

Lange is an excellent writer but the fact that this is his first book clearly shows here. I’ll continue to read whatever he writes, but I’d skip this book if I were you.

Review: True Things About Me

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Review for “True Things About Me” by Deborah Kay Davies
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a simple read, but a hard one. This book is disturbing but engrossing, within a few paragraphs you’re immediately swept up in the tale of a normal woman who, over the course of just a few meetings, becomes completely obsessed with Mr. Wrong. And when I say Mr. Wrong, I literally mean the worst man possible: an amoral criminal who steals from her, abuses her physically, abandons her, and manages to destroy everything in her life in the process—her relationships with family, friends, her sanity, her job.

The chapters are short, there’s even a healthy dose of black humor. There were times that I found I could read on and on and relate wholeheartedly to the main character (she’s never given a name, btw) but there were other times that I was so disgusted by the decisions she makes that I just had to collect my bearings and walk away from her for a bit. You want so badly to reach through the pages and help her, to shake some sense into this poor Brit gal, but she never manages to snap out of the sick spell this dude has put her under. This is one of those books where you are forced to witness a train wreck at 100 miles per hour and there’s nothing you can do but…watch. It’s the darkest side of human nature imaginable, and the main character’s obsession is sad, cruel, and desperate. And it made a very good read.

In reading some of the online reviews, it makes perfect sense that some people hate this book. This book is an uncomfortable read, but one I felt was very necessary. Reading about a situation in which a woman is physically and emotionally abused doesn’t make for the most delightful experience. We like stories where women fight back, walk away, defend themselves–and Davies’ character does none of these things. The writing is lovely and shows how easily blurred the lines are between sanity and insanity, love and indifference, healthy and unhealthy relationships. I would recommend this book. But, be warned. It is a terrifying quick ride off the edge of a cliff. Hopefully you can handle it…

Review: Love Me Back

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Review for “Love Me Back” by Merritt Tierce
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

In a nutshell: a book about a young single mother who works at a Dallas steakhouse who does lots of drugs and has sex with lots of guys. Barely got through the first 100 pages of this book before I stopped reading it completely. It wasn’t the drugs or the sex by the main character that bothered me, but the amateurish way in which this book was written. Several reviewers nailed it when they mentioned that it seems like the author is trying too hard (to push an envelope? to be edgy?) and I totally agree. We never get to know Marie, you’re stuck with the feeling like you’re reading a bunch of observations from a detached, hopeless individual. The author doesn’t help her character at all–it’s just pages upon pages of tiresome, stream of consciousness writing that goes nowhere, along with zero character development. There’s nothing raw or beautiful or outstanding here, just a young fucked up girl going about her daily coke fixes and sexual trysts with no rhyme or reason for them. There’s an awful lot of skipping around in time, as well as detailed descriptions that have nothing to do with anything. The lack of quotation marks made the writing incoherent and hard to understand. Certain paragraphs had to be read several times before it made sense. Also, the main character’s voice didn’t seem authentic to me. For a drugged out waitress who barely completed high school, her voice came off as sophisticated as an episode of “Red Shoe Diaries.” I also found it hard to believe that someone as coked up as Marie was could excel so well at her job, even if she was just waiting tables. And the corny title of “Love Me Back?” Don’t make me type another paragraph. Skip this read. Please.

Review: Young God

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Review for “Young God” by Katherine Faw Morris
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The reason I was drawn to this book was through hearing of its author, Katherine Faw Morris. She’s from a small county in northwest North Carolina, about 80 miles from where I live. The second thing that drew me in was its intriguing title. What could a book called “Young God” possibly be about? Within 10 minutes of reading this debut novel, my question was answered.

The protagonist of this book is 13 year old Nikki, the daughter of a notorious pimp and “the biggest coke dealer in the county.” We never get a proper backstory for Nikki, although it’s hinted that she has spent some time in a group home prior to the opening of the story. At the beginning of the novel Nikki witnesses her mother fall sixty feet into a swimming hole, her body slamming into sharp rocks on the long way down. Nobody cares about it or mourns her, it’s clear early on that emotions have no place in the bleak landscape of this novel. Several pages after her mother’s death, Nikki consoles herself by going home and having sex with her mother’s boyfriend.

It’s a sonorous start for a book, and it doesn’t take long for Morris to completely dismantle your moral center. In the eyes of 13 year old Nikki, events like murder, rape, prostitution, and drug dealing take place with the same normality and regularity as the morning paper. The bizarre father and daughter relationship between Nikki and her father, Coy Hawkins (he’s never addressed as “dad,” but called by his first and last name only throughout the entire book) is at the center of this novel. At one point in the book, Nikki brings her father another young girl, because, of course, virgins make more money. It’s the most horrific case of learning by example, and young Nikki picks up fast. She learns how to buy and sell heroin after seeing her father do it once. And, as we witness for ourselves, she becomes extremely good at it.

Morris does not portray Nikki as someone the reader should pity. Instead, you feel drawn into a connection with her, one that alternates between fear and a creeping sense of foreboding. You feel scared for her, because you know that she probably won’t live to see her fourteenth birthday, and scared of her and her dangerous efficiency. The ending offers the reader no comfort either. While Nikki ‘wins’ in the final pages you still get a sense that her future holds the certainty of more violence, drug dependency, and ultimately, death.

At only about 20,000 words it’s easy to read this book in one sitting. Scenes jump chaotically from one to the next and you’re left wondering what happened in the blank spaces. The writing is sparse and frenzied, with some vignettes going on for several pages and some only consisting of one sentence. The brevity of this book only adds to its raw power, not a single word is wasted here. Morris’ choice in making this book brief was a wise one, if it had been any longer I could not see myself continuing to go back to read it. It’s a one time punch to the gut. And man, I liked it.