Posted in Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

As much as I wanted to read this book because of how famous it is, my first attempt was unsuccessful. I couldn’t get comfortable with the voice of the protagonist, nor with the writing style. Later, I failed to love the TV series because it’s such a slow burn and patience is not exactly one of my qualities. I can’t even remember how exactly did I decide to give the series another chance, but once I passed the first few episodes I became addicted. As a consequence, after finishing the last season, my wish to finish the book rose again and this time I didn’t feel any of the issues that I had before. The read was smooth and compelling. But to be honest, if I were to make a comparison between the novel and the series, the book feels more like a skeleton and the TV show gives the story full body and depth.

Although a dystopia and (fortunately!), still far and different from our present, I find it absolutely incredible how accurate and relevant the book is, especially since it’s been written more than 35 years ago. Compared to other dystopian worlds, which always have a feel of incredulity, The Handmaid’s Tale seems to be built on reality at such a chilling, high level that it becomes absolutely terrifying. There’s almost no aspect of it that feels like it wouldn’t become possible any day in the near future.

With few exceptions, globally we’re living probably at the highest peak of freedom that humanity saw since modern times. And yet, looking around, you can’t help but notice irregularities all over the world, you can’t help but worry that all this freedom is more fragile than we’d like it to be. And above all, the fact that the whole world has access to live information doesn’t seem to help in any way. No country will get involved in another one’s business, no matter how abusive a government would suddenly become. They all declare their worry and disapproval and urge the abusive authorities to reconsider their ways, but that’s about it. Some news and articles for a few days and then the world forgets. That is exactly why The Handmaid’s Tale feels so real. Because if anything like it would happen today anywhere in the world, that is exactly how things would develop. All our normality, all our freedom could be suddenly taken away and nobody would lift a finger to stop it. So no matter how shocking some events are in Atwood’s story, they still make sense, they still look plausible. I can’t wrap my mind around the way the author managed to create this concept and the more I think about it, the more amazed I am.

I didn’t give it 5 stars only because I am influenced by the complexity of the TV series and therefore, by comparison, the book leaves a lot of gaps that were filled by the information I had from the show. But I highly recommend the novel. It’s somehow slow and tells all the events with such a mild and resigned voice that it might mask the atrocity while you’re reading. But once you put down the book, all the ideas will start rolling and bubbling inside your mind, leaving you with a feeling of shock and uneasiness.

Posted in Stephen Graham Jones, Uncategorized

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

I have no idea how exactly to explain my initial reaction to this book. I’ve read countless books in English, which is not my mother tongue, I live in an English speaking country and use the language every day, but once I started The Only Good Indians I felt like I don’t understand a word, like I’m reading in Chinese. After a few pages, I even passed the book to my SO to make sure that my brain didn’t suddenly lose its ability to read or to understand a sentence. And no, it clearly wasn’t me, it was the writing. I still have no idea what exactly happened there, what the issue was. Each word had a meaning, but somehow, put together, they just didn’t have any sense. Somehow, after a few chapters, things sort of went back to normal and the phrasing was smoother. Despite that, the book still didn’t catch me and I just wanted to finish it faster and be done with it.

The storyline is definitely original and not one of the tipical horror plots, but that’s pretty much the only good thing I can say about it. I’ve seen so many excited reactions about this novel, I saw it in so many 2020 tops. It’s not even the fact that my expectations weren’t met. I wasn’t just disappointed, I simply disliked everything about it. The characters weren’t interesting, I couldn’t sympathize with any of them, their actions seemed illogical half of the time, the storyline wasn’t catchy, the plot didn’t make my pulse jump or give me the feeling that I’m reading a horror. In addition, I feel like the author tried so much to signal that this is a story about native indians that it became repetitive and annoying.

Considering that so many readers gave positive reviews and I’m in minority here, I’m just going to assume this was not a story for me, but it can definitely be for somebody else. So in case you’re feeling tempted to give it a try, don’t let my opinion discourage you from reading it.

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…