Posted in Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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.

Posted in Jackie Morrissey

Before I Die by Jackie Morrissey

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.

Posted in Naomi Kramer

Dead(ish) (Deadish #1) by Naomi Kramer

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

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.

Cute cover, though…

Posted in Colleen Hoover

Verity by Colleen Hoover

Synopsis:

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

Review:

I remember there was a time when the whole bookish blogosphere was in love with Coleen Hoover and it was impossible not to stumble upon a review of her books whichever book blog you’d read. I must confess I was never tempted to try her novels since this romance, new adult genre was never one of my favorites. But since the publishing of Verity, which promised a completely different direction, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

The book is… good. Like really, really good. It comes with an original premise and the alternation of the heroine’s present with the antagonist’s past keeps you hooked and restless. Surprisingly, not only the villain’s diary inserts are building up the suspense but also the main character’s reactions to it. Lowen’s increasing obsession with the manuscript reaches a level where it’s difficult to know if she’s just imagining things or if she’s in a real danger. I felt like the author tried to give her some “unreliable narrator” traits but fortunately, she’s not diving really deep into that pool.

What I completely hated was the insta-love. I’m so over this trend, I feel like it expired years ago and the writers should stop trying to bring back its glory age. It’s unrealistic, boring and useless and every time Lowen sighs at Jeremy’s “majestic” view I didn’t know how to fast forward those paragraphs.

The same applies with the mediocre, weirdo heroine that writers insist on making so “not special” until the perfect Prince Charming arrives and discovers from the first second what a special snowflake she is and falls in love with her. I think Twilight was the story that elevated this fashion as a must have, but it’s been already 15 years since that series was published. You’d think it should have expired by now, but it seems that writers still cannot come with something better and finally drop this irritating idea.

To be honest, in this case, if there’s one remarkable character that deserves all the praise, that’s definitely Verity and not Lowen. Yes, it’s sweet and nice and bla bla bla that “the good” prevails over “the evil” but considering each character’s portrait and features, even the idea that after Jeremy loved genius Verity, he’d fall in love with dull and colorless Lowen is insulting and annoying. I would understand falling out of love or even hating his wife after the truth is revealed. But no, definitely not falling in love with Lowen. He might as well fall for a rock in his garden, it would have the same entertaining behavior as Lowen.

And speaking of this.. In the end, even without reaching the last twist, you cannot help but wonder if “good” is always good and “evil” is always evil or if they’re not actually pretty similar, only hiding under different justifications.

Despite the annoying aspects that I already mentioned, Verity is a pretty good thriller and the pros are definitely weighing more than the cons.

Posted in Anne-Rae Vasquez

Almost A Turkish Soap Opera by Anne-Rae Vasquez

Synopsis:

Adel and Kamil, two young good looking Turkish men try to immigrate to North America. Adel’s ruthless grand uncle arranges him to marry Yonka (his spoiled obnoxious cousin) in exchange for his immigration status in Canada. The problem is Yonka and Adel hate each other. The drama heats up even more when Adel has an affair with Nora, his beautiful English teacher which ruins Yonka’s plans. And to add to this, his best friend Kamil has a big secret of his own. How did his life turn into a Turkish soap opera?

Review:

Honestly, I have no idea what I was expecting when I started this book. I had it in my kindle for so many years that I don’t even remember purchasing it. But considering the title, I must have imagined I’d find a fun and somewhat ironic or mocking story between the pages.

The book is pretty far from that and the author might have peacefully removed the “almost” from the title, since this is definitely not “almost”, but “exactly” a soap opera. And unfortunately, not even a great one. Trust me on this, my generation grew up in the times when that type of tv shows were booming. I watched everything during those years, from the most crappy ones they made in the beginning to the more modern ones that didn’t kill your neurons while watching them.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that the story is terrible, but it’s just very plain, predictable and lacking any grain of salt and pepper. You don’t get attached to the characters, you don’t really get to know them enough to care for them. The length of the book might be also one of the reasons for this, since it’s more a novella than a novel.

The one thing I did appreciate was the way the author portrayed the new generation born in a very traditional society. Although young and more or less independent, a vast majority of the youths are still deeply attached to the old mentalities. For years, I would have thought this wouldn’t be possible, that “young” equals “modern” and “open minded”, until I started interacting with an international community and discovered how wrong I was and that the environment and traditions have an enormous impact on one’s personality. Bonus points for the author for doing such a great job in describing this concept.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only thing that I enjoyed. Yes, I was expecting the novella would be a light and easy read. But the concept of soap operas is to get you addicted, to end each episode with a cliffhanger, to make you wish for more. And that’s precisely what Almost A Turkish Soap Opera fails to deliver.