Book Review: Beautiful You

I was thinking of a word to describe how I feel this month, and my first instinct was to go with “procrastination.” After all, how else do I explain why this book review is a month late?

On closer examination, it’s not that I’m purposefully ignoring everything that I’ve got on my plate. It’s that my plate is too small, my helpings too large, and I don’t have enough time or energy to take on everything. Work is busier than ever now that I’ve been promoted, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish my personal goals.

It hasn’t all been a failure though. I may not be on track with my writing quota or blog views, but I’m managing to squeeze some extra minutes in between working, reading, writing, and blogging (can’t forget sleeping!) to devote to learning Italian through the free app Duolingo in preparation for my trip to Europe this spring.

Needless to say (even though I still wanted to explain myself), I’ve been a bit overwhelmed. I knew that reviewing this book would be a challenge, but I’m finally ready to tell you how I really feel about Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel.

NOTE: Please understand that this book is extremely sexually graphic and is only intended to be read by mature readers. As such, consider my review R-rated! You’ve been warned!

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 2 out of 5

I think one of the women in my book club summed up Beautiful You the best with these three words:

“Flying. Flaming. Dildos.”

If I was still in college, I could spend hours writing essay after essay about this novel, but for the sake of time, let me give you all a brief synopsis: protagonist Penny Harrigan is working at a law firm in Manhattan when she catches the attention of C. Linus Maxwell (aka “Climax-Well”), a tech billionaire with plans to release a line of sex toys for women. After a few ultra-fancy dates, Penny becomes Maxwell’s girlfriend/test subject, experiencing pleasure like never before.

The reader clearly learns that this orgasmic bliss wears off, since the very first scene of the story begins at the end, with Penny being sexually assaulted in a courtroom while everyone merely gawks at her, offering no defense whatsoever. As shocking as the scene is, you’re immediately hooked into wanting to learn the details of Penny’s rise and fall as the co-creator of Maxwell’s Beautiful You products.

I can’t say much else without giving away the entire plot, but its controversial subject matter made it an excellent choice for our book club. How would a dozen ladies view a book about women addicted to their vibrators that was written by a gay man?

We all agreed that this novel was downright strange. Although we found it similar to the poor girl/rich man power struggle of Fifty Shades of Grey, no one thought it was sexy. The actual sex scenes were clinical and sterile, with Maxwell as mere observer to Penny, his science experiment.

Another comparison I made was to Davey Havok’s Pop Kids, which was equally pornographic in nature without any real romance. Both stories played up the satire: Pop Kids was a response to the obsession with celebrity, whereas Beautiful You addresses the economic and political effects of advertising in a capitalist society.

I’d be the first to sing the praises of Fight Club for its anti-capitalistic message. This was the phenomenal novel that brought us gems like this:

Image via Pinterest

Straight, cisgender men have been seduced by scantily-clad women in advertisements for decades. One only has to look to the likes of AXE body spray and Carl’s Jr. for evidence. It seemed that Palahniuk was trying to flip feminism on its head by imagining a world in which women, as the primary controllers of household spending, were sold sex–literally. How would society fare if half its population was rendered incapacitated by its hedonistic urges?

Unfortunately, like Pop Kids, the satire in Beautiful You fell flat for me. Palahniuk probably thought he was being oh-so-clever with this sexual world domination story, and pissing off hordes of feminists like myself was likely icing on his cake. As much as I loved Fight Club, I fear that Palahniuk may be resorting to shock value simply because he can take all the risks he wants and every publisher on the planet would still want to represent him.

My book club is more forgiving than me, rating Beautiful You 3 out of 5 stars, but I’m curious to hear what you think as well! Is Chuck Palahniuk a literary genius or just phoning it in? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The real-life Book Club Babes!

The real-life Book Club Babes!

Up next for our book club is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! The movie adaptation comes out Feb. 5th, so grab a copy of the novel quickly if you’d like to join us virtually!

Book Review: Pop Kids

Image via Scene Point Blank

Rating: 2 out of 5


I’ve been dreading writing this review as much as I was excited to read the book. I even blogged my ode to Davey Havok just to ensure the skeptics that I’m still a devoted fan of his.

But Pop Kids definitely tested that devotion.

Why you ask? Let’s sweat the small stuff first, then build up to the real issues, shall we?

1. Grammar Nazis, get out your red pens. Rumor has it that Pop Kids is self-published behind a vanity press. You all know how I feel about that, but I’m not about to dwell on whether it’s true.

However, I can see why this assumption holds weight. Now don’t chuck your books at me, but perhaps it’s because the majority of self-published books lack the amount of talent that it takes to compete in the industry. But even if there were many professionals involved in the editing and publishing process, I’d be surprised, because there were too many typos for Pop Kids to pass inspection. Miley Sirus? Vanessa Hudgins? Come on, if you’re going to write a novel about society’s obsession with pop culture, at least spell celebrities’ names correctly! That’s just lazy.

I know, Molly Ringwald. I’ll never look at “The Breakfast Club” the same way again either.

2. This book is 95% pornography. And not in a good way. Pop Kids is 320 pages and 70 chapters, and only a handful of chapters don’t contain any sexual behavior. That fact itself wouldn’t bother me if this book had been marketed as erotica. It shouldn’t, however, because erotica implies sex with substance. The whole plot revolves around Michael “Score” (short for Scorsese) Massi as he channels his passion for cinema by hosting Premiere parties in an abandoned hotel for his closest friends, whom he dubs the “Filmgreats.”

It starts off innocent with a showing of “The Breakfast Club,” but you know how it goes when you’re “watching a movie.” The parties rapidly devolve into full-blown orgies, topped off with plenty of drinking and drug use. Eventually, Score exchanges his cult classics for the latest Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey skin flicks. Word starts traveling through the high school grapevine, and more people crash in on the craziness.

I’m no prude, but there’s nothing sexy about these scenes. Everyone is so wasted that in one chapter a girl freaks out when she gets a bloody nose after snorting too much coke. Clearly, under such intoxication, consent isn’t as enthusiastic as it could be. After so much objectification, you just come away from the book feeling dirty. And talk about monotonous! Pop Kids could have been half as long and the point, however pointless, could still have been made.

I’m sure Johnny Marr would disapprove!

3. There’s very few redeeming qualities to this story. I understand that liking the protagonist is not a requirement for good writing, so I’m okay with the fact that Score is a self-absorbed, obnoxious, pretentious waste of oxygen. He worships Morrissey but doesn’t know who Johnny Marr is. He cares way too much about designers and brands, to the point where I wondered whether San Pellegrino paid Davey for all the references.

It’s easy to say that Score’s just a teenager and excuse his overblown sense of importance. However, I find Score and his equally annoying friends disconcerting because their hypocrisy is actually dangerous. Score goes around burning churches, thus breaking the law, destroying property, and giving atheists a bad rep. He touts a straight-edge lifestyle, refusing to drink or do drugs, but he has no problem with substance abuse if it gets girls to take their clothes off. The Filmgreats engage in a ton of sexual activity, but won’t wear condoms because it’s “so ’90s.” What?! Oh sure, it’s all fun and games until someone gets pregnant. Not joking, two of the girls did.

I’m disgusted by how nonchalant all these people are when it comes to really serious issues. At one Premiere party, a teacher invites himself to the festivities, and at another a boy is supposedly murdered. Any of these disasters would cause a normal person to cease and desist, but what’s Score’s actual final straw before he burns down the venue of  debauchery? His crush was not as pure as she said she was. Boo flippin’ hoo.

Fahrenheit 451: The satire for the recovering pyromaniac!

4.  Satire is not a get-out-of-bad-writing free card. I know that there’s plenty of people out there who want to scream in my face, “You don’t GET it! It’s SATIRE!!!

To those defenders, first off, pump the brakes, cool your jets, slow your roll, and any other calm-down-cliche. I know that it’s satire. I majored in literature, so I’m not stupid. I’m a book nerd, not a book n00b.

But it’s not good satire. Writing satire does not give you the liberty to ignore the essential elements of storytelling. Characters must be multidimensional, plots need the right sense of pacing, and the criticism excels when it is nuanced rather than over-the-top.

Aristophanes, Voltaire, Pope, Twain, Swift–these are a few of the greatest satirists because their mockery provided a call-to-action; their works packed so much intellectual impact that they incited societal change.

“A Modest Proposal” took the gruesome concept of eating infants to grab England’s attention toward Irish poverty. The dystopian classics Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and 1984 created outrageously oppressive governments to address political corruption and societal apathy.

I could go on about better comparisons, but I feel that the reason that they’re such powerful satires is that they can stand alone from satire. Without considering any deeper meanings, they’re–at their very core–examples of fantastic writing.

Despite its attempt with flowery prose, Pop Kids isn’t deep, although it gives off the impression that it’s trying so hard to be. And even if you’re purposely looking for a light read, it’s superficial and sad, not sexy and fun.

I’m not the only one posting a negative book review, but I’m prepared for the backlash from fans. Heck, I idolized Davey so much that I thought that I would love this book no matter what.

But you know what? I didn’t. If we’re being totally honest here, my adoration of Davey is the only reason that Pop Kids managed to get two whole stars out of me. But just like I can complain about my government and still be a damn proud American, I can be disappointed by a book and still love its author. 

So bring on the hate mail if you must. Scathing comments aren’t going to hurt more than falling off the pedestal on which I put this novel. Supposedly, it’s part one of a trilogy, and now I’m facing the dilemma of deciding whether reading the sequels would be the actions of a die-hard fan or a delusional masochist.

In the meantime, I’ll be psyching myself up by listening to AFI and reminding myself that Davey is capable of pure poetry.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

“I was too touched to see you clearly, far too young to realize, I had loved so dearly, you whose world I had designed, but the sweet smoke came with mirrors, and it brought tears to my wide eyes.”

Prelude to Pop Kids: My Ode to AFI’s Davey Havok

Have you ever idolized someone so much that you believe that he can do no wrong, but then something happens that makes you question whether you really know him at all?

The something in this case is Pop Kids, the first novel written by my favorite musician Davey Havok of the rock band AFI.

Of course, unlike our friends and families, we can’t really know celebrities at all in the first place. My opinion of Davey (actually born David Paden Passaro) has been crafted by his art, appearance, interviews, and societal sentiment. And so far that opinion has been untarnished…

But before I launch into my review of his book, I wanted to share what Davey has meant to me up until now.

It all started in 2006 with this music video that I saw on TV:

“Miss Murder” (which included the intro “Prelude 12/21” in this long version) was the lead single off AFI’s seventh studio album Decemberunderground. At the time I had no idea that this amazing band had been around since the early 1990s, breaking into the punk rock scene out of Northern California.

All that was going through my mind watching this video was, “Who is this band?! And who’s the lead singer? His look is a bit strange, but in a cool way. Digging his hair and makeup and piercings. Wow, I’m in love with this sound. And the whole cryptic cult leader thing going on is so badass. OMG where has this band been all my life?!?!

Just like that, AFI became my favorite band of all time and has continued to be so for seven years. And although I prefer their more recent albums (since Sing the Sorrow), I respect their humble beginnings. Every fan has their favorite era, but I’m proud of how the band, and especially Davey’s voice, has evolved with each production.

Everyone on the current lineup–Davey, Jade, Adam, and Hunter–is so crazy talented. Listening to AFI has been a way for me to celebrate the best of times and get through the worst of times. When I finally saw the band play live a few years ago, the moment they walked out on stage, I couldn’t help but cry. A bit dramatic, yes, but if you’re a part of the Despair Faction (either officially or unofficially), you know exactly how much their music means to you.

Wrex the Halls 2009 in San Diego

Wrex the Halls 2009 in San Diego

My “relationship” with Davey has always been unique to me, as he’s one of the few vocalists I don’t fangirl for, at least in the traditional sense. Although handsome in his own right, I don’t swoon over him like I do for Jared Leto from 30 Seconds to Mars or Tyson Ritter of The All-American Rejects.

Regardless of his often-debated sexuality, I don’t want to date him; I just want to hang out with him, maybe discuss existentialism over vegan muffins, you know? To me, he’s the epitome of cool, whether it’s performing on Broadway in Green Day’s “American Idiot” or modeling for Tarina Tarantino. Not to mention, his straight-edge lifestyle makes him an inspiration to people around the world.

Davey has worn many hats–singer, songwriter, actor, model, fashion guru–and worn them so well that it seemed only natural that he write a novel. After all, how can you compete with the poetry of his lyrics?

So who will follow? Who is the lead? I know I leave a stain, because I bleed, as we dance, we all dance, we all…have no chance in this horrid romance. ~ “Dancing Through Sunday

City lights, like rain, dance and explode, fall upon debutantes, reeling from nights that kiss and control, all of our broken hearts. ~ “Kiss and Control

Give me something I can take to make the memories fade, poison kiss, remember this, I never was meant for this day.~ “Fainting Spells

Will the flood behind me put out the fire inside me? ~ “The Missing Frame

Well, it turns out that no one has the Midas touch, not even my idol whom I thought was a master wordsmith. In fact, I have so much to say about Davey’s debut novel Pop Kids that I felt obligated to write this blog post as a disclaimer.

I still love Davey, and I can’t imagine not loving AFI. But my perceptions have changed during this reading experience and the light of reality is starting to shine through. I’m sure that this effect is exactly what Davey intended in his critique of society’s obsession with pop culture. Chapter by chapter, he killed my darlings.

But much more on that later. Better microwave some popcorn and make yourself comfortable, because I’m about to release one hell of a review.

Things are about to get interesting…

Blog Update: I will no longer accept books for review

Hi readers!

Book Club Babe has undergone a ton of changes, with its new logo and layout. Unfortunately, I will have to alter one more thing: my review policy.

It turns out that I need to stop adding to my to-read list, as I have eight books on my shelves waiting for me. I also had a moment of weakness when I learned that my favorite musician, Davey Havok from the band AFI, released a book called Pop Kids two weeks ago. How could I not immediately order it?

(If you haven’t discovered the awesomeness of AFI, enjoy!)

Anyways, I also read an insightful article by the Insatiable Booksluts regarding vanity presses. Sadly, I have learned that I do not have the capabilities to closely monitor whether a book has been self-published, either outright or through a vanity press, so I am following suit and no longer accepting books for review. I might miss out on some great novels that have been traditionally published, but a lack of time and resources forces me to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

So unfortunately, out goes the review policy despite not yet reviewing any submitted books. Sometimes strength lies in acknowledging what you can and cannot handle, so I am making my to-read list a priority. No more impulse book buys until I catch up!

I can catch up…right?

And what about catching up with all of you? How’s life? What are you reading? Any good recommendations? Let’s talk!