It’s all fun and games until someone gets waterboarded. Or raped. Or murdered in a snuff film. You know what, fuck it.

I had such high hopes for this one, guys. Pretty Girls had positive reviews, strong word-of-mouth, and I really pretty cover that I could Instagram the hell out of.

IMG_4131
You see?! And yay, mini cupcakes!

 

But by the time I was almost done with this book, trudging through the last 100 pages, all I could think was, “I’m getting real tired of this shit.”

I don’t know if you’ve managed to piece this together yet, but I read a lot. Good books, bad books, romance books, crime books, I don’t judge. Of course, I have my favorites. But I try to approach each book with an open mind. I don’t necessarily mind violence in books. Or misogyny. I don’t even mind if a book has sexual violence in it, as long as there’s a compelling reason.

But Pretty Girls is a book about women being hurt. Nameless, terrified, hopeless women being brutalized in every way possible. And then they think of more ways to hurt them. Tied to meat hooks, disemboweled, whatever you can think of. It’s like if Criminal Minds went on a coke bender.  And yes, the book is written by a woman and mostly told through the perspective of two women.  I’m sure to some that mitigates the issue of the over-the-top violence against women. But I can’t get past the gratuitous, almost gleeful sexual sadism that permeates this novel.

And when the book isn’t showing women being tortured, raped, murdered and cut up into little pieces, it’s actually kind of boring.

Which is too bad, because the book started strong. 24 years ago, Julia Carroll disappeared. The disappearance shattered her family. Her father killed himself (his letters to his missing daughter are the closest thing to a heart this book has). Her mother retreated inward; she stopped talking about Julia, but she kept her bedroom exactly the way the 19-year-old left it. Sisters Lydia Delgado, a single mother, owner of a pet grooming business and recovering addict, and Claire Scott, the pampered wife of a successful architect haven’t spoken for 20 years. The estrangement wasn’t because of Julia-it happened after Lydia accused Claire’s husband of something awful.

After Claire’s husband is killed in a mugging-gone-wrong, she uncovers some dark things about her husband. And her sister is the only one who can help her get to the bottom of his vast mountain of secrets. On their way, they uncover an underground snuff ring, a conspiracy that goes ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP, and an FBI agent that seems to be doing his best Foghorn Leghorn impression.

The primary mystery was promising enough to keep me reading the book. But then, that mystery is solved and the book nosedives into the ridiculous. There’s a bad guy who makes a Bond villain look nuanced. A couple of crooked cops. And our two heroes, who were relatively competent to a point, become bumbling idiots. At one point, they think they find the room where a bunch of women have been killed. And instead of running and calling the police they try to Jessica Fletcher this crime scene. No, bitch. If you find a room that looks exactly like the set of the 150 snuff films you just marathoned and it’s covered in blood, HOW ABOUT YOU JUST RUN OUT OF THE HOUSE, HO? WHAT, YOU DON’T THINK ANYONE’S GOING TO COME BACK TO THEIR OFF-THE-GRID MURDER HOUSE?!

get out

This is as good a time as any to mention that the writing wasn’t that good. It’s written by one of those authors who has to tell you every.single.thing. the character is doing. So it’s not enough to say the character unplugged her computer. It has to be Claire stood up, shocked. The computer! She reached her hand to the smooth back of the 2014 Macbook and grasped the cords in her hand. She pulled. Some of them unplugged easily, a few stubborn chords remained. She moved to the back of her desk. The cords were screwed in. She slowly unscrewed them, left to right. Righty tighty, lefty loosey. That’s what her husband had said to her before he died. Could she really have been so wrong about him?

I don’t even have time to touch on the weird beauty stuff in this book. Claire’s beauty is mentioned constantly, as is Lydia’s chubbiness. In fact, the dude torturing her BY WATERBOARDING HER WITH HIS OWN URINE, manages to get a couple of digs in about how she’s gained so much weight, he doesn’t even want to rape her anymore. Apparently, that’s how we’re supposed to know that he’s a REALLY bad guy.

There’s this thing that happens in books and movies like Pretty Girls, an idea that if our women survive, then this isn’t misogynistic. That if the heroine lives and the bad guy dies, that undoes all of what preceded it. Yeah, I Spit on Your Grave is 90 minutes long and 85 of them are spent torturing this woman, but in the last 5, she shoots the big baddies and waltzes off into the sunset. Doesn’t that mean the woman won? It doesn’t make it worth it. Let me repeat this into the megaphone: It’s not a feminist victory for our heroine to survive-not if we have to deal with 50 pages of her being tortured for some goddamn fun.

Pretty Girls requires a strong stomach and a herculean suspension of disbelief. I can’t see myself picking up anything else from the author anytime soon.

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