This was a buddy read with my friend Carmen, and if you want to read her review, you can do so here.
I've only read three of Paolo Bacigalupi's books, but from what I've seen they have a pretty consistent formula: (global concern) gone awry + violence + corruption + bigotry + horror. SHIP BREAKER was about global warming gone awry. THE WINDUP GIRL was about genetically modified organisms gone awry. THE WATER KNIFE is about droughts gone awry.
The titular water knife in this book actually refers to men (and women) who enforce water rights by any means necessary, usually through violence, torture, or rape. They blow up dams, make trouble-makers disappear, and steal back water for the rights-holders as long as they have the money to pay for it. Angel is a water knife, and a damned good one. He's employed by a woman called Catherine Case, Queen of Las Vegas, who wants him to investigate a potential lead in Las Vegas that could potentially score millions.
The other characters in this book are Lucy, a journalist who is popular in the underground for capturing the terrible ways the droughts and the water knives have affected the poor. When a close friend of hers dies chasing down the same lead that Angel is, she catches the eye of some very dangerous men who will do anything to silence her. There is also Maria and Sarah. Maria is a refugee from Texas who barely scrapes by, and is doing everything she can to avoid being a prostitute like her friend Sarah, although the men who rule her city are slowly taking away her choices one by one.
Gradually, their paths start to connect, sometimes predictably, but sometimes far more surprisingly.
I liked the idea behind this book, although it scares me, too, because California is currently in the middle of one of the most severe droughts on record, and as in this book, I see privileged or ignorant people blithely ignoring that fact. Every time it rains, some idiot inevitably posts, "The drought's over!" and I want to shout, "DROUGHTS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY, YOU BUFFOON!" This is a reality that I could see happening down the road all too clearly. Bacigalupi is really good at world building. Everything is very intricate, and he does hierarchies and charts the way power flows through it very, very well.
My problems with this book were actually the violence, both physical and sexual, that happen in this book. It fit the world building and there was usually a point to it, but he really went into detail, and that made it a very difficult read for me. There was one scene towards the end involving Maria that just seemed to have been done for shock value, and that made me really angry. I also didn't like how the women received disproportionate amounts of violence compared to the men, or the one man who actually did receive a lot of physical torture was gay. Maybe that was supposed to be realistic, too, but it didn't sit well with me at all.
Another mistake Bacigalupi makes is that he tries--unsuccessfully--to put romance in here. I don't think there's a lot of room for romance in this world, especially not the way he did it. The circumstances were all wrong. The romance happens quite soon after one of the characters is tortured, and call me crazy, but I can't imagine that she was in the mood after going through what she went through, if not mentally then certainly physically! And the romance couldn't have been that convincing because there's betrayal after betrayal later on, which makes me feel that they didn't care about each other much at all in the end, and that's very disheartening.
He kind of turned all my favorite characters into assholes, actually. I get that nobody's perfect, that you can't be, in a world like this, but it also sucks not having someone to root for. The ending of this book was ridiculous and knocked what was going to be a three-star rating to a two-star rating because I couldn't help but think that the author maybe couldn't figure out how he wanted to end it, so he decided to go with a Mexican standoff.
I still have PUMP SIX, and will be reading that eventually, but THE WATER KNIFE is the weakest of Bacigalupi's books that I've read. It had a good beginning, but the ending was very poor, and there were a lot of parts that could have--and probably should have--been cut. Also, don't be fooled by that YA looking cover like I was. This book is definitely NOT YA and probably shouldn't be read by anyone under 17 because of the graphic and disturbing content.
Some people say that after a life-threatening event, they learn to enjoy life more. That they stop taking everything for granted.
Sometimes I felt like punching those people (5%).
My luck with new adult fiction has been spotty at best. Still; once in a while, I am pleasantly surprised. This book came highly recommended to me by several reviewers I trust, so when it showed up for free on Amazon, I said, "Why the fuck not? Let's go for it! Bring it ooooooooon."
This turned out to be a very wise decision.
THE YEAR WE FELL DOWN is about Corey Callahan and Adam Hartley and their burgeoning romance as they go from friends to lovers. After a hockey-related injury that leaves her paralyzed from the waist down, Corey has to readjust to living life in a wheelchair. Bowen really goes into gritty detail with this--having to deal with people saying things like "shake a leg" or "step right up"; physical therapy sessions; the necessity of handicap-friendly transportation, wheelchair ramps, and elevators; and things like catheters and whether sex is possible.
Adam is her neighbor from across the hall and it's pretty much attraction at first sight as far as Corey is concerned. He also has problems walking, but his situation is much more temporary: after fooling around while drunk on the ice, he ended up breaking his leg in two places and now has to be on crutches while wearing a cast, pre-surgery. Adam and Corey bond first over their shared frustration with being partially incapacitated, and then, later, over hockey, video games, and being down to earth in a school filled with rich kids. The only problem is that Adam is seeing one of these rich kids, a jet-setting girl named Stacia, who's gorgeous and wealthy--
And, of course, has the use of both her legs.
I actually really liked this story a lot more than I thought I would, but there were still a number of things that bothered me. Firstly, there was a lot of needless slut-shaming. Several times, Corey makes derisive remarks about "puck bunnies" or girls who like the idea of dating hockey players but not the actual sport.
"Just don't expect me to squeal like a puck bunny when you take the ice. And I'm not wearing a tight-fitting jersey with your number on it" (80%).
I couldn't help but find this insulting, since, being a girl who has absolutely zero interest in sports, this is probably how I would show support for someone who I was dating if they participated in one. THE YEAR WE FELL also tended to portray these sexualized women in a very negative light, implying that they were inferior for making use of their looks and sexuality to date the players.
Secondly, Corey has a "hope fairy" that is remarkably similar to Anastasia Steele's "inner goddess" from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. The first time this happened, I blinked, thinking it was an odd metaphor, but trying to roll with it. When I realized it was a recurring descriptor, and that the hope fairy was going to be anthropomorphized, I did a big eye roll, followed by a facepalm.
My hope fairy reappeared, wearing black lace lingerie, and a pout on her face (46%).
My hope fairy, dressed in a bikini, did a quick little cheer with silver pom poms (62%).
The hope fairy flung herself face down on the desk and then proceeded to beat her tiny fists on the surface in frustration (66%).
Thirdly, I really didn't like how Adam treated Corey. Even though he's attracted to Stacia, he takes advantage of Corey's feelings. For her birthday, he gives her a vibrator and tells her to figure out if she can bring herself to orgasm! Um, that's totally inappropriate. A bit later, after his girlfriend comes back from her trip abroad, she ends up staying out late with friends instead of coming home to Adam, so he goes over to Corey's dorm with a bottle of champagne. They drink it all, and then, inebriated, Adam decides that he's going to help Corey figure out how much sensation she has below the waist. They engage in mutual masturbation. While drunk. And he's in a relationship! Um, what???
Eventually Adam does do the right thing, but I really hated Adam for doing that to Corey and Stacia. I thought he was terrible, and could never really bring myself to like him as much after that. Plus, he and Stacia have this weird arrangement where he lets her sleep around with whomever she wants when she travels. I don't understand this? That didn't seem very realistic to me. Who agrees to that?
The female friendships in this book are good, though. I loved Corey's relationships with Dana and Allison, and thought they were very supportive and well done. I also liked the sports references; they weren't technical enough that a non-sporty person like me would be totally lost, and really conveyed a sense of loss on Corey's part. Honestly, my heart ached for her. She was a wonderful character who had terrible things happen, and was realistically depressed at times but still chose to persevere.
Even though THE YEAR WE FELL DOWN had problems, it really was a good story and I read it in a single sitting while snuggled up in bed and trying not to cough out my entire lung. If you're looking for a new adult book with actual body to it, and decently fleshed out characters, this would be a good place to start. Even though I wasn't a fan of Bridger, I'm definitely considering picking up book two.
I am not sure what I just read. And I don't mean that in a literal sense, because in that sense, I totally understand what I just read: GENA/FINN is about two young women who are both fangirls of a buddy cop show "Up Below" (reminiscent of Supernatural in terms of the dynamic of the two heroes and the effusiveness of its fanbase). They meet over the message boards and form a friendship that maybe, possibly becomes less-than-platonic. Like I said, I get it.
No, what confused me was the execution of this idea, especially in the last 1/3 of the book, and some of the executive decisions that were made about the girls' sexuality. And, above all, why that ending? Seriously, why that ending? I do not understand.
So...regarding the story-telling itself, I thought it felt very natural and organic (at least until that last 1/3). Normally, I'm not a fan of stories told in mixed media, especially not in emails and instant messaging and blog posts. It feels a little too high school. Like: "Oh my God, we are on AIM! We are such adults for figuring this out! Now let's talk shit and get into shenanigans!" But it worked here. I liked Gena's blog posts and fan fiction excerpts, especially. I really liked her voice, and her enthusiasm. She seemed like somebody who I might want to be friends with, myself. So it was easy to see why Finn, with her problems, wanted to reach out to someone like that and connect.
(Note: some spoilers are going to follow from here on out. Nothing too major, I don't think, although I am going to be discussing the ending, because that was one of my peeves.)
Gena is an eighteen-year-old girl who goes to a prestigious and exclusive boarding school, and is in the process of applying to colleges. Her relationships mostly consist of one-night stands, and when the boys get persistent, she starts being nasty to them for being too clingy. She has some mental health issues, and they come into play later on in the story (that damning last 1/3 I keep referring to, actually). Finn, on the other hand, has already graduated, and applying to (and getting rejected by) menial jobs in order to make ends meet. She lives with her boyfriend of several years, and they're practically engaged (which Finn feels highly ambivalent about). Both girls love "Up Below."
I couldn't decide how I felt about GENA/FINN, so I decided to sleep on it...literally. The last 1/3 bothered me a lot, for many, many reasons. There was a shift in tone, which took the fun, natural feel of the first 2/3 of the book away and left GENA/FINN feeling much darker and angsty. That annoyed me. Gena doesn't narrate as much anymore, suddenly, and when she does, it's "woe is me" misery poetry from the school of Ellen Hopkins. I don't like Ellen Hopkins, or Finn (who pretty much took over the narrative at that point), so that annoyed me. Finn decides that she just can't handle being in love with two people, and compensates for that by lying, hiding things from her fiance and Gena, taking plane flights to stay with Gena in her dorm (which I don't think most colleges would even allow--God knows, mine wouldn't) while she tries to figure out her feelings. Then she strings both of them along, while whining about how "she didn't do anything wrong" and how "she wants both of them, why won't anyone understand"? Oh, people understand. That's called emotional cheating, you bitch, and you're taking advantage of two people because you're too selfish to make a choice.
So yeah, that annoyed me, too.
I was also frustrated by the authors' choice to use Gena's tragedy as a way to get Finn back into Gena's life. While Gena is vulnerable and "woe is me", Finn takes on all of Gena's emotional and medical burdens, even though she is not really financially equipped to handle it. Rather than asking, "What are you doing? We can't afford this? Sorry, babe, but she has to go back to her real family," Charlie, who has been the voice of reason until this point, says absolutely nothing, and, instead, seems to find Gena incredibly endearing despite the fact that she was almost responsible for Finn leaving him. Maybe he thought that if he was mean to Gena, he would have pushed Finn away further, but I can't really imagine anyone reacting the way that he did in this situation, especially given how upset and hurt he was when Finn did other, similarly thoughtless things earlier on.
Finally, I was frustrated by the ending. Despite Gena neglecting her own health and suffering a massive breakdown, and despite Finn doing whatever the hell it was that she wanted, and never mind who got hurt, both girls get a happily-ever-after platonic friendship that ends in your typical heteronormative way, with Finn deciding that she's going to marry her husband after all, and Gena (it is implied) going back to her own strung-along male love interest, who's been there for her all along. This would not have upset me, except that GENA/FINN is being marketed as "LGBT" and I saw the author herself commenting that this is about bisexual women. I love that there are more diverse books out there, but at the same time, it is a little frustrating that a book claiming to be about bisexuality would end in a way that could be interpreted as a redemption arc, with the women realizing that relationships with other women only lead to tragedy, and it's much better to be with men, instead.
I'm not saying that I think that's what the authors were going for here, but it is disappointing nonetheless. I almost wish that Charlie hadn't been included at all (because I really hate cheating in romance novels; it makes it almost impossible for me to root for the couple, unless the person that they're cheating on is a totally emotionally or physically abusive cad), because he was a nice guy and genuinely seemed to care about Finn, and, later on, Gena, and it made me sad to see Finn treat him the way he did. I also really loved Gena, and I was sad to see her character take the plunge that it did towards the end. Why must mental illness always be portrayed as this big, dramatic thing?
Despite all of my reservations, I really did enjoy GENA/FINN and I think the authors did a decent job writing it, especially in the first 2/3 of the book, but it did have a lot of problems and odd plot choices that kept it from getting a higher rating by me. I'll be interested to see what other people think when the book comes out in April.
P.S. This is being marketed as young adult, but it really should be categorized as "new adult" in my opinion, since the ages of the characters are late teens and early twenties, and they deal with a lot of issues that might be difficult for younger teens to fully conceptualize (like rent payments, living on your own, and health insurance).
This book has what is possibly one of the best first lines in a book ever.
Our female protagonist has given over 20,000 hand-jobs. She works at an establishment that has Tarot/crystal ball consultations in the front room, and soft-core sex work in the back. Because the owner of the establishment likes her, and because her carpal tunnel syndrome makes her sound like a cement mixer when she's jacking people off, she gets promoted to working in the front, as a psychic.
And that's when the trouble starts.
Enter Susan Burke, a woman who is troubled about her family, specifically her step-son. She wants our protagonist to come to her house and do a spiritual cleansing because she thinks it's haunted.
One thing you have to know about Gillian Flynn is that she is a master at writing female antiheroes. You get all these wonderfully psychotic or disturbed or troubled women who don't fit the mold of a typical heroine. Gillian Flynn is also the Queen of twists. She'll take you by the hand, tell you she's taking you to the bathroom, don't worry, and then leaves you in an oubliette full of cobras.
I guess if I have one complaint about THE GROWNUP, it's that it's too damn short! I've been waiting for years for another Flynn novel, and this is all I get? This is a morsel. Instead of tiding me over, it has given me a craving for more...more...MORE!
This book should be called HOLLYWOOD DIRTBAG (pun credit goes to Mia). It's been a while since I've read a "romance" novel with a male lead who is this offensive and misogynistic. I mean, when the female lead does not fall into a dead faint at his feet upon meeting him, his first thought is literally Maybe she's gay (89). Because there is no other reason she wouldn't go for that shit. None. Riiiiiiiiiight.
I'm going to tell you now, this is going to be a very negative review, so if you are absolutely head over heels in love with this book & don't think you could stand to see the author criticized, you probably shouldn't read it.
Likewise, if you plan on reading this book and don't want to be spoiled, you probably shouldn't read this review, because there are going to be lots of spoilers. Many of the things I took issue with in this book are spoilers, and I want this to be a very thorough review about why I didn't like this book. While blunt and to the point, "I hated it" is not super helpful when it comes to making an informed decision on whether or not to buy a book.
So, moving on.
After reading and enjoying a titillating seventy-two-page work of nonfiction about Coke shareholders who became millionaires and billionaires and all decided to live in the same town in Georgia, movie star Cole Masten thinks it would be amazing to make a movie about this phenomenon called The Fortune Bottle.
He's also having problems with his wife, Nadia, who is cheating on him. Masten catches them in the act of cheating and puts the guy in a hospital by bashing him over the head with a heavy statue. Obviously, Cheaty McCheaterpants does not take kindly to this and serves him with divorce papers. The media goes into a feeding frenzy--Codia is no more. (And yes, they are actually called Codia.)
On the other hand, we have Summer Jenkins, who is being treated as a pariah for something she did after she caught her own then-fiance cheating on her. The most important thing to know about Summer is that she is Not Like Every Other Girl.
Cole Masten was the epitome of walking sex and had every woman in town drooling over his arrival.
Every woman but me, that is (12).
This is very important.
He was Cole Masten, for God's sake! She should be yanking down her bathing suit and bending over, not putting her hands on her hips and standing up to him (97).
* * *
"Girls in Los Angeles screw, kidnap, and kill for something like this."
I smiled at the image, a hundred big-breasted bottle blondes in different compromising positions, hands outstretched for a role that seemed undeservingly before me (106).
* * *
God, this was stupid. Any other blonde in LA would be on her knees unzipping his jeans for this role (107).
* * *
Being inside her had been completely different than Nadia...than anyone else (191).
* * *
"Do you know how many girls would kill for me to call them?" (251)
* * *
This was the second time in four weeks that I was shaving for this man. Like, REALLY shaving, in places that a good girl didn't allow to see the light of day (313).
* * *
Very, very Important.
So yeah, back to the book. When Cole meets Summer (who has conveniently become BFFs with his flamboyantly gay location scout), he decides that she would be perfect for the role of the main character in Fortune Bottle because of her hot-headedness and Southern Charm.
He finds the fact that Summer hates him utterly adorable and uses this as an opportunity to sexually harass her as much as possible. Like forcing a kiss on her in front of her friend. Or watching her sleep while having an erection and then, when she wakes up, forcing her down on the bed and telling her to "shut up." (I am not joking--this is how they have sex for the first time.) It is worth noting that Summer does not actually consent to this. She tries to hide herself and is obviously shocked and mortified, but then decides to roll with it anyway because that disco stick is a magic trick.
Also, she is allergic to condoms. No, not a latex allergy. She just doesn't use them. Doesn't keep them around. Has never even touched one(!). Seriously, she's never touched a condom before. And when she and Cole fuck, she refers to it as "bare and beautiful" (189). How about condomless and chlamydia-ridden? Or, sack-out and syphilitic? You know, since we're alliterating here.
Once they actually start filming Fortune Bottle, Cole starts ad-libbing a lot. To the point where the directors actually decide to make Fortune Bottle a romance, because they are digging the sexual tension between Cole & Summer. In fact, the movie basically becomes one giant ad-lib, a vehicle for Summer and Cole to act out their issues with each other using their characters as mediums. Which a) is kind of sick and unhealthy and b) I have difficulty believing any director worth his salt would actually allow because what Cole did was definitely sexual harassment and there are laws.
They have sex again, later on, and post-orgasm, decide that they love each other.
Also, Cole contemplates a new line of business.
God he could bottle her juices and become a billionaire (328).
Once again, no condoms.
I went to the bathroom and felt a moment of panic when the evidence of his orgasm came out. Right. Another unprotected experience. Good thing I had just finished my period, my window of fertility not open yet (329).
She takes him shopping at Walmart and they wear paper bags over their heads to conceal their identities. Because this is a sure way not to draw attention to themselves.
But just in case you didn't think this was funny the first time, the book ends with married Cole and Summer shopping at Walmart with their friends, all wearing paper bags over their heads. That is literally how this book ends. The characters shopping at Walmart, with paper bags over their heads.
Other random peeves:
☹ We have this moment of idiocy: "I never wear sunscreen." I scooped up some water and drizzled it over my thighs (77).
☹ Brad DeLuca from BLINDFOLDED INNOCENCE made a cameo...a big cameo...which was annoying, because I hated BLINDFOLDED INNOCENCE and I especially hated Brad, because that book had the same amount of hypocritical slut-shaming spurred on by the same misogynistic asshole hero.
☹ Summer also gives Cole a pet chick as a housewarming gift because...I don't know, then he'll have to take care of it and that's the ultimate revenge! Mwa ha ha. Also it's cute and fluffy and damaging to his masculinity. Or I don't know, something like that. Anyway the chick becomes a mascot-slash-running gag and eventually Cole becomes the chick equivalent of a "dog mom" even referring to himself at one point as its "parent."
☹ The thing that's alluded at constantly? The thing that made Summer a pariah among the town? It's actually warranted. She poisoned everyone at her wedding reception with ipecac because her husband-to-be cheated on her with a bridesmaid. Ipecac is actually a poison that used to be used to induce vomiting when other poisons were ingested. However, it is no longer used as such because it is too dangerous and can prevent other treatments/antidotes from working. If I remember correctly, Summer used half a cup of ipecac per dessert and not only would this probably be enough to poison her guests, but I'm also not even sure how she would obtain this much poison because even when it was administered back in 1965 you could only get an ounce without prescription, and the two remaining manufacturers of it closed up shop in 2010.
☹ When the Fortune Bottle becomes a hit, everyone thinks that this wedding prank is so awesome. SO AWESOME! It makes Summer beloved. They start calling it a "Summer Jenkins" and another jilted bridesmaid immediately went out and decided to do the exact same thing
☹ Pretty much every Southern stereotype and Californian stereotype you can think of are jammed into this book. Torre got California wrong. First off, this is the first time I've ever seen someone referred to with "California pale skin" (93). Most Californians are tan. Summer mockingly derides Cole for not knowing real heat when she tells us that eggs can fry on the pavement in Georgia. Guess what? They do in California too. And it's not totally unheard of for temperatures to go into the 100s. I've been in a heatwave where temperatures reached 112 degrees. We probably could have fried a whole roast on the pavement that day. It was like living in an oven.
There were probably more things about this book that bothered me, but these were just the main ones. I'm sick, and cranky, and I didn't like this book, so now I'm posting my review so I can return this e-book to my library and get my infected mitts on the copy of THE GROWNUP I just put on hold.
I made it to about page 100 or so before giving up.
Some people really like zombies. I don't--at all. However, I really liked the idea of a bunch of high school students coming together to work on a screen play. I mean, I write. I know the struggles of coming up with a story that people not only like, but that will also sell. So my empathy engines were fully charged & rearing to go.
The problem is that Justin and Bobby and Gabe don't really act like high school students. They act like middle school students. Very young middle school students. Who are slackers.
It's hard to read a story about characters who don't really do anything. These characters are all slackers, and despite the fact that they are supposed to be making a movie, they do pretty much everything they can to half-ass it or put it off. It was annoying.
I also thought the dialogue in this book was painful. Wooden, juvenile, and boring. In my status updates for this book, I quoted a passage about littering that really showcased my problems with the narration of this story.