Some books just don’t give you that addiction feeling that doesn’t let you to put the book down until you don’t find out what happens next or until you’ve finished one more chapter. But in the same time, they are so cozy and comfortable to read that you wouldn’t mind if they would last forever.
This was the case for me with Nine Perfect Strangers. The book doesn’t have any wow factor, it’s not mind blowing in any way. Everything is balanced and mild: the drama, the characters, the mystery. But in the same time, slowly, with every page you read, you get attached to each one of the completely normal and non-spectacular characters, you want to find out more about their boring lives and just dive deeper into their minds. They’re all absolutely normal people, but they’re all nice and funny and the connection that forms between them creates the same pleasant atmosphere.
I’ve read other books from the same author and until now, Nine Perfect Strangers was the most superficial of them all. You know those thin commercial books that used to come when you were buying women magazines in the 90’s? This novel has the exact same vibe. Light, summer read that keeps you entertained enough but without leaving any marks in your memory once you’ve finished it. I wasn’t disappointed by reading it but it’s clearly not the book that I would enthusiastically talk about.
If I Had Your Face promises to allow you to dive in some of the most notorious trends that are “leaking” lately from the contemporary Korean culture into the international media: the plastic surgeries turned into a norm, the K-pop mania, the obsession with impossible beauty standards, the pressure of social hierarchies, the lack of balance between work and family life. Frances Cha manages to deliver an insight into these strict standards, showing how five young women struggle to live within all the restrictions imposed by the modern Korean society.
I was honestly expecting something a bit deeper, an explanation on how people are “digesting” all this pressure, an active reaction from the characters forced to submit to such unattainable ideals. Instead, all of the five women just… go with the flow, conforming to the cultural norms, without questioning or opposing them. I know it somehow makes sense, because… how unbearable life would be if you wouldn’t internalize the rules of the society around you? If the collective mentality wouldn’t become embedded into your core like it would be your own? But I still cannot help feeling unsatisfied by the fact that what we see is just acceptance and nothing of the process that’s shaping the personalities of the characters.
Despite this, I didn’t dislike the book. It’s mildly entertaining, like a little innocent gossip that you hear on the brunch with your girlfriends. Not bringing any depth or substance, but offering enough amusement. The book lacks on tension, even if there is a visible attempt to create some suspense here and there. But Frances Cha still manages to keep you reading without frustration. Honestly, if the author decided to write extra 500 pages about the same day-to-day casual experiences of her characters, I probably wouldn’t have minded or became bored of it.
The only problem I had with the book is that the characters’ voices are so similar. Even if every chapter has the name of each woman, I still struggled to recognize who’s story I’m reading. And this issue lasted until the very end of the novel, it was not something that faded by becoming more familiar with the particularities of each individual.
I was not intending to read this book, but after watching the TV series, what eventually convinced me otherwise was the fact that… it seemed like my sympathies laid on the wrong side. Between the readers, there will always be Team A or Team B (remember Twilight?) but usually this happens when both options are reasonable and do not fall under the “villain” category. After watching the TV series, completely empathizing with Elena Richardson and almost hating Mia Warren, I discovered with shock that most of the people had a complete opposite opinion. Like.. Elena was the bad one?! Did we really watch the same thing? So I started the book just to see if it will leave me with the same perspective or offer some additional details that might explain why most of the people had a different point of view.
Although you might expect the opposite when it comes to a book versus its adaptation, I felt like this time, the screenplay offered somehow an ampler spectrum of the main characters’ colors. In the book, Elena’s actions are clearly throwing her in the villain’s role, without giving too much depth to her reasons. By comparison, Mia’s lack of color makes you sympathetic to her cause without the justification of any actions, but simply because of the role she’s playing: the single, poor, but dignified mother that’s just trying to raise her daughter in the best way and… doesn’t really do much else.
In the TV series, my perception was different. Mia is selfish, sacrificing her daughter’s happiness and stability on the altar of her own career dreams. She stabs Elena in the back, she sets off a custody battle because of her own past trauma and without actually thinking about the well-being of the baby, she subtly manipulates and uses people around her. Yes, some of Elena’s actions are questionable as well, but only after she’s been provoked by Mia and usually have a “the end justifies the means” vibe. But overall, Elena just fights in a fairer way, with more direct hits. And even though her portrait might be simpler than Mia’s, who is this hipster-ish, gipsy-at-heart, mysterious and misunderstood artist, I stand by Elena’s cause. Although she sacrificed her own dreams for the sake of the family, I did love the fact that she had a strong attitude and turned the situation in the best way, without victimizing herself, despite having some regrets at an unconscious level. Meanwhile, Mia sacrifices everyone around her (her parents, the Ryan couple, Bebe Chow, the disputed baby, her own daugheter) for the sake of her own dreams and beliefs, without any doubts or remorse.
I also loved the portrayal of the other characters more in the TV series than in the book. All of the side characters and all of the kids’ experiences (both Pearl’s and the Richardsons’) are more lively and intense, you get to know them deeper and overall, the TV series just does it better. I feel like the book is covered by a veil that makes everything and everyone faded and blury, while the screenplay removed that veil and allowed the action to shine bright and colorful.
What a delightful read this was! Before I Die offers such a fresh and original perspective, bringing a very unexpected character as a protagonist. Most of the times, when an old person is the main character of a book, the action takes place somewhere in the past, developing mostly from the memories, when that character was young, strong and adventurous. That’s not the case in Before I Die, where Maureen is an old teacher with zero special detective abilities, with no special training to deal with crazy or wicked people and with nothing more than an ordinary life for a person of her age.
Moreover, her age starts becoming a disadvantage since people around her are beginning to doubt her mental capacity. So much actually, that at some point, Maureen herself begins to wonder if her intuition is correct or if she’s imagining everything. So when Maureen gets tangled in the spiderweb of what seems to be an absolute evil caretaker, she’s clearly completely unprepared for such a fight. And her one and only ally? A homeless drug addict…
The mystery/crime fiction has brought before older characters that play the role of the detective. Mostly amateurs with some kind of experience or retired police officers or private investigators. But it’s the first time when I’m encountering such an innocent and “unqualified” protagonist for such a story. And the author does an amazing job on illustrating how difficult it is for an absolutely common person to be put in a situation where she has to deal with a diabolical villain.
I’m also in an awe regarding Maureen’s new friend, Michael. A typical drug addict: zero self control, questionable morality, falling for every impulsive need, totally unreliable. There’s little to nothing to like about him. But somehow, his devotion for the old, kind Maureen, mixed with his own survival instinct is enough to start pushing him to the right path and to make the reader grow more and more sympathy towards him. The blooming friendship between such opposite personalities is contoured in realistic shades, with ups and downs, with doubts, fears and disappointments, but ends up being one of the sweetest aspects of the book.
The action is well balanced, with enough suspense to keep you hooked but without being rushed. Perhaps not completely surprising, but definitely well enough written and entertaining.
I enjoyed each page, each turn of the action and can’t wait to try some other books of Jackie Morrissey.
Linda’s had a bad day. First her boyfriend killed her. Then she woke up, still on this boring plane of existence, and with an odd obsession about her missing body. Mike won’t tell her what he did with her body, and she can’t find the stupid thing herself. There’s only one thing she can do – torment the bastard until he coughs up the information.
This is a very short work – novelette length – around 11000 words or 44 (print) pages.
Warning: Frequent foul language, mild sex scenes, and Australian spelling. Not suitable for children.
If you’re in a waiting room trying to kill some time in a pleasant way, pick this book up. But if you’re looking for some substance and want to dive into a deeper story, you can definitely skip this, you’re not losing much, despite the attractive description and cute cover.
Dead(ish) is a novelette, just fifty something pages, with an interesting and fun idea but pretty poor execution. Besides the intriguing idea and some funny dialogues, there’s not much to enjoy.
Probably in the first half of the book you will still feel confused over who is who and who is talking and what the hell is happening. Later, when things become a bit clearer, the writer throws in what wants to be the bombshell, but it comes so abruptly and out of place that the effect is probably the opposite of the one she wished. Besides the lack of an appropriate development for such a twist and no reasonable explanation or motivation, there’s also no reaction to it, the characters behave so casually like whatever happened or what they did is a perfectly normal thing and not the huge, shocking revelation that it actually is.
Many years ago, before the internet, there were some magazines where you could publish stories, either fictional or inspired by reality. That’s all what you’d find in them: stories. No articles, nothing else, only few pages long fantasies of people who probably hoped to become writers at some point. Dead(ish) reminded me of those magazines, of those quick reads, fast written ideas that only occupied a few pages and offered only sketches of storylines and characters rather than properly finalized, complex plots.