Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Who reads crime thrillers anymore?

Oh, that’s right, everyone but me. I did give it an honest go earlier this summer, though, when I picked up Lola, a fast-paced crime thriller, by Melissa Scrivner Love. Did I fall in love with the book? Not exactly. But I did enjoy it, and I think people who usually read books in this genre will like it, too, even if they won’t admit it to their friends.

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So why’d I pick up Lola if I’m not a fan of books in this genre? For one reason, really: the protagonist is a fierce, Mexican-american woman who secretly leads a gang in South Central L.A. and I wanted to live vicariously through her.

And isn’t that the whole point of opening up some books? To step into the lives of outrageous characters and for a few, brief hours, living their adventures as if they were our own? Don’t we all want to be kingpins and spies and space travelers? I know I do, and that’s the experience I was looking for when I read Lola. 

Scrivner Love’s story follows Lola and her gang, The Crenshaw Six, as they struggle to stay alive after the cartel taps them for an impossible job. No one but Lola’s crew knows she’s actually in charge, though, and she operates in secrecy under the guise of being nothing more than the fake leader, Garcia’s, girlfriend.  As the story progresses, Lola’s life is threatened by the cartel and the world she’s built for her makeshift family starts to crumble. Drama ensues.

Some of the better qualities of the book are that it’s quick-paced, there’s rich character development, and the author wasn’t afraid to delve into tricky, but often real, complications in life, including abuse, betrayal, and poverty. And like I mentioned before, I appreciated that the protagonist is a minority woman who isn’t weak or enmeshed in a sappy love affair. Instead, she’s (ahem) a mother-fuckin’ boss. This, in and of itself, was very refreshing.

Unfortunately, the book has a few problems that I couldn’t overlook while reading, starting with the quality of the writing. The narrative is choppy and overly dramatic, with cheesy lines sprinkled across each page. Every time I opened Lola, I felt like I was reading an unadapted movie script instead of a novel. There were also too many antagonists without any redeeming qualities. I mean, we all love to hate a guy, but a story is much more interesting if you give me a few reasons not to. 

Overall, I’d only recommend this book to someone who really enjoys crime-thrillers, or maybe to someone who can’t let go of Law and Order (just let it go, guys, let it go…). I would not recommend it to any of my lit-loving friends. As soon as I finished reading it, Lola went straight into my guilty-pleasure reading pile. And if any of you were to find it in stashed somewhere in my apartment, say behind On Tyrrany or The Giver, I’d probably say “I’m just holding it for a friend” and look the other way.

 

*Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review. 

Local Book Review: Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown

How often do you pick up a book from one of your favorite authors and hope and wish and pray it’s as good as the last? I do it every time, but truth be told, only about half the books I read live up to my expectations. Lucky for me, Samuel Snoek-Brown’s Hagridden did, in fact, live up to my expectations as I read it while camping in wilds of Utah.

Hagridden is a historical fiction novel and it’s set in the U.S. South as the Civil War came to a close. It follows two women who’re struggling to survive in the bayou and rebuilt their lives with the little (humanity) they’ve got left. The book reads very much like a Cormac McCarthy novel, both in tone and content, but it’s much easier to palate during the gritty moments (read: less depressing and less descriptive of gore … most of the time). I was also pleasantly surprised by the author’s dedication to staying within historical bounds. As someone who doesn’t read historical fiction very often, I’d say this is a great book to start with.

One thing that piqued my interest while reading was that Snoek-Brown doesn’t name either of his protagonists, leaving an air of mystery around the two women. Is the author saying we’re all capable of ugly, animalistic behavior under the right circumstances? Or asking readers to consider how quickly the line between being civilized and being a savage is erased when faced with the harsh realities of survival? I’ll let you read and decide for yourself, and maybe one day we’ll discuss it when we bump into each other at a coffee shop (this is inevitable, trust me).

Lastly, of my favorite aspects of Hagridden was how similarly it reads to Snoek-Brown’s short stories, which were some of the best I’ve read over the last year. Believe me when I say the short stories of Box Cutters are just as good as those of Helen Oyeyemi, author of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours or Primo Levi, author of The Periodic Table. Snoek-Brown’s work, whether in short story or novel form, is consistently dark and eerie, and he’s managed to retain a distinctive, original voice throughout. Overall, I thoroughly enjoy his writing, Hagridden included.