Thoughts On: Character Looks

“Thoughts On” is a feature where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

I finally read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale last year, partly because the adaptation was coming out and partly because why hadn’t I already read it? The tricky thing about reading a book after you’ve seen promotional materials, though, is that it’s really hard to imagine the characters as anything other than the actors.

Aside from the illustration on the cover, we get no visual clues as to what Gilead or our characters look like—but I’m a visual learner, y’all! Unless a physical characteristic is explicitly mentioned, I imagine kind of like a blurry outline. But when it is? I’m often thrown out of the story. Regardless of whether Elisabeth Moss was how I imagined Offred to look, she’s close enough that thinking of her face when reading didn’t take me out of the story.

Which is where the graphic novel adaption comes in. I loved the book and also really love the TV show. I was excited to experience Atwood’s story in another format—until I paged through the book. I understand that Renée Nault was going for a morose dystopic vibe, but the way she drew the characters is so far from how I now see them that I can’t even pick it up.

The Commander

I won’t say that Joseph Fiennes was my first choice to play The Commander—he’s a little short and definitely less imposing than what I imagined—but he oozes a smarminess that has made me swear at the screen. Nault’s Commander is so old-looking and physically over-bearing that it makes everything he does in retrospect so much grosser.

Aunt Lydia

Eek! I know that Aunt Lydia is a literal monster, but Ann Dowd’s mannerisms and vocal inflections completely sell the character that I don’t need her to also look the part. (Dowd looking like someone’s beloved mother or grandmother over Nault’s Red Skull really highlights how evil Aunt Lydia is.)

Serena Joy

There’s really no way to make Yvonne Strahovski as ugly looking as her fictional counterpart—Nault’s Serena Joy really makes physical her emotional decay—but there’s just something about Strahovski’s acting (as well as a beautiful person being unallowed to play up her looks) that I really love. The show has attempted to make us sympathize with her, and I don’t think that’s possible with Serena Joy looking so gaunt.

Moira

I wanted to highlight Samira Wiley’s casting as Moira as one of the few times where I became disappointed in the book after I’d read it. There are times when an adaptation can improve on the original!

So tell me, friends:

  • Are you a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale casting? Or did the actors butt up against how you envisioned the characters?
  • Are there any movies or TV shows that completely nailed who you think of when you read the book?
  • Are there any that completely fail? (One of the reasons why I couldn’t watch The Passage was because all I saw was Zack Morris with a beard!)

Review: Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke

Title: Star-Crossed
Author: Minnie Darke
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: When childhood sweethearts Justine (Sagittarius and serious skeptic) and Nick (Aquarius and true believer) bump into each other as adults, a life-changing love affair seems inevitable—to Justine, anyway. When she learns that Nick bases his decisions on the horoscopes in his favorite magazine—the same magazine for which Justine happens to write—she decides to take Fate into her own hands. But as Nick continues to not fall headlong in love with her, other Aquarians are making important life choices according to those same horoscopes. Charting the ripple effects of Justine’s astrological meddling, Star-Crossed is a delicious, intelligent, and affecting love story about friendship, chance, and how we all navigate the kinds of choices that are hard to face alone.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

“Only by luck, though,” Justine said. “Only by… lucky, random chaos…. There are choices within choices within chances. It’s all so complicated and tangled. How does anything ever go the way it’s supposed to?”

Star-Crossed will probably fall under the radar among all the other new May releases, but I really hope more people read it. The book is a cute romance that focuses just as much on our protagonist’s professional life as it does on her personal one. The leads are well-matched, and their rekindled friendship feels authentic. As the plot moseys along, Minnie Darke weaves B- and C-plots into main character Justine’s and love interest Nick’s will-they-or-won’t-they (or perhaps how-they-or-when-they?) back-and-forth. Although it wasn’t until a reviewer on Goodreads pointed out that the plot reminded her of Love Actually and Valentine’s Day that I finally had my own aha moment—because this comparison is just perfect—I still found the book charming and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

This book is a bit longer than most contemporary romance, but I never felt like the plot dragged on needlessly. I can see how readers might find the “cusp”s in-between chapters as mere filler, but I found them to be a unique and fun way to further flesh out the world that Darke created. I certainly enjoyed Valentine’s Day, but Star-Crossed is a better-written version of that kind of film; with an expanded timeline, the characters are allowed to breathe. Although we primarily follow Justine, we also get to spend time with Nick as well as all of the side characters with which they interact. We might not know why Darke includes something or how it connects until the end of the novel, but once we figure out the reason, it feels so satisfying, narrative threads finally pulled taut to reveal a clean stitch.

Reviews for Star-Crossed on Goodreads are mixed, but for me, a chance request on Netgalley for an unknown author definitely paid out. I wanted to read this book, planned my nights around how much time I could give to it around other obligations. And once I’d finished, I actually said out loud, “I liked that” as if it were some sort of surprise, like I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed the book along the way.

Top Ten: Books on My TBR Because of Their Adaptation

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was a book to movie freebie, so I decided to list ten books on my TBR because I saw their movie or TV adaptation.

Atonement by Ian McEwan → Atonement
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller → The Dark Knight Rises
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty → Big Little Lies
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan → Crazy Rich Asians
Divergent by Veronica Roth → Divergent

The Magicians by Lev Grossman → The Magicians
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang → Arrival
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han → To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh → Trainspotting
Watchmen by Alan Moore → Watchmen

Review: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Title: The Unhoneymooners
Author: Christina Lauren
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: When her sister gets married, Olive braces for a crazy 24 hours before she can return to her comfortable, uneventful life. But when the entire party gets food poisoning, the only two who aren’t affected are Olive and prickly, irritating Ethan—and there’s an all-expenses-paid nonrefundable honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs. Putting aside their mutual loathing for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs… until she tells a small lie and they have to pretend to be loving newlyweds. But the weird thing is that Olive doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she kind of likes it.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

The Unhoneymooners was a delightful throwback to both Christina Lauren’s stint writing fanfiction and the summer after my junior year of college when I read basically nothing but fanfic, staying up until the wee hours of the morning because I needed to know what happened in whatever story I was reading. Was I exhausted? Yes. Was the story going to be there in the morning? Also yes. Should I have made better life choices? Absolutely! But there was just something so cozy about reading a chapter and then trying to articulate a response that adequately expressed how much I loved something I’d just read—and The Unhoneymooners brought me right back to that place.

Even though Christina Lauren do a lot to make it seem like the events of the book could happen, the story still relies on its tropes: enemies to lovers! forced cohabitation! fake relationship! Our main characters dislike one another but still end up going to Maui on an all-expenses-paid honeymoon vacation? Where they must share a room? And fake a relationship for her new boss and his ex-girlfriend? GIMMIE.

I read The Unhoneymooners in two sittings, gleefully turning the pages because I was so engrossed in the story. Ethan and Olive had such chemistry that I needed to know if their faux relationship would ever turn into a real one—or if the tension that fuels any romance would come off as trite or eye-rolling. (Reader, it did not.) I literally laughed out loud at some parts and then giggled from others. Could this story ever really happen in real life? Probably not—but did it matter? The unbelievability of such circumstances never felt forced or overwrought, and I was so into the story that I don’t know if I would have cared, either.

Unlike in My Favorite Half-Night Stand, the romantic drama of our two protagonists was relatively lighthearted in comparison to the relationship between Olive’s sister and Ethan’s brother (which definitely impacted both the story and their own relationship, but not in an oh my god come ON kind of way.) We got to experience their blossoming relationship in real time as Christina Lauren gleefully threw what ifs? at the wall to see what stuck. What if Olive and Ethan were forced to spend time with one another? What if they had to pretend to be in a relationship? And what if they didn’t want to pretend anymore—what happens then?

I know that Christina Lauren books are often hit-or-miss, but The Unhoneymooners deserves a try. It’s a romantic comedy with laugh-out-loud humor and authentic dramatic tension. It focuses on the relationship between two sisters and their huge extended family. And, if nothing else, it leaves you yelling at its main characters to just hurry up and bone already. (Which isn’t always the point, but, you know… 😉)

Note: Ethan and Olive are less enemies and more do-I-really-have-to-spend-time-with-you irritation, and the sex scenes were 100% fade-to-black, but otherwise I really loved this!

Top Ten: Characters Who Remind Me of Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was characters who remind me of me.

♥ Beth from Attachments
♥ Esther from The Bell Jar
♥ Eleanor from Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
♥ Ann from A Great and Terrible Beauty
♥ Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

♥ Lizzie from Queen of Babble
♥ Jessica from Sloppy Firsts
♥ Betsy from Smart Girls like Me
♥ Melinda from Speak
♥ Tally from Uglies

Month in Review: April 2019

Favorite Media

Season eight of Game of Thrones has consumed me for the past couple of weeks. I live-tweet the episode every Sunday and then watch The Ringer for recaps. To think that something that has been a part of my life for the last six years is just going to be over next month is… not something I really want to dwell on, tbh.

If you’re caught up on The Magicians season four, you’ll know why I chose this. And if you’re not? Well, just enjoy this exquisitely beautiful song from a new-to-me band.

Stuff I Added to My Queue

I saw The Binding in a book journal and was intrigued enough to look it up on Goodreads. Although it’s gotten mixed reviews, I still think it’s one of those books that I have to read for myself.

Daisy Jones & the Six is here because, after months of being on my radar, I finally added it to my TBR.

Where did I hear about Fake It Till You Break It? 🤷‍♀️ But it centers around two teens who fake date (until they don’t???) and looks like a perfect addition to my Year of the Asian reading challenge!

Vicky has been talking up Hot Dog Girl for months, and how can I not want to read “an awkwardly sweet queer rom-com”?

Make It Scream, Make It Burn has such a vibrant, arresting cover, y’all, but the fact that its about obsession and longing doesn’t hurt, either.

I’m sure that I’ve heard about Red, White & Royal Blue from more than just Destiny, but her love for this book sticks out the most.

A true crime/memoir from the hosts of My Favorite Murder? 🙋

Shealea’s review of With the Fire on High was enough for me to page through my library’s copy last week and guess what I added it to my TBR.

On My Radar

  • Abby explained how library science favors the privileged
  • Emily looked back on 10 Things I Hate About You
  • Sara highlighted the need for better social media etiquette
  • Both Cristina and Sarah wrote about the problems with labeling books (and especially young adult titles) “clean”

What were YOU up to in April? Let me know!

Review: This Is Not a Love Scene by S.C. Megale

Title: This Is Not a Love Scene
Author: S.C. Megale
Rating: ★
Summary: Lights, camera—all Maeve needs is action. At eighteen, a rare form of muscular dystrophy stands in the way of romance, but she’s got her friends, her humor, and a passion for film-making to keep her occupied… until a hot older guy literally walks into her life. Tall and bearded, Cole is everything Maeve can’t be, and between takes, their chemistry is shockingly electric. But girls in wheelchairs don’t get the hot guy—right? Cole’s attention challenges everything Maeve once believed about her self-image and hopes for love. But figuring this out, both emotionally and physically, won’t be easy for either of them. Maeve must choose between what she needs and what she wants. And her failing lungs might not wait for either.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

What to say about This Is Not a Love Scene that isn’t completely negative? I mean, yes, this book is #OwnVoices and, yes, it contains physical disability rep… but not much else. Even though the main character Maeve has moments of self-confidence where she stands up for herself and her worth, she’s still kind of an asshole, the book was super problematic, and I was happy to leave them both behind. (Like, the biggest thing I took away from the story is that I shouldn’t have even finished it.)

First of all, Maeve is self-absorbed. We know hardly anything about her friends (like their interests, their home lives, or even their last names), she eye-rolls anything her parents suggest that will legitimately keep her alive, and S.C. Megale introduces a far-fetched sub-plot because Maeve can’t believe that anyone would actually want to help children with disabilities (that basically resolves with an “oops my bad” from Maeve). She also whines for half the book that no one could even like her like that but is completely oblivious to the feelings a friend has for her. I neither understand how she has one friend—let alone three—nor do I get why they continue to friends with her.

Second, Maeve’s mean. She refers to a character in the book as “Mags’ asshole boyfriend” and then is surprised when her friend gets upset. She gets angry when other characters make light of or otherwise acknowledge how her disability makes her different… but then is also upset when those same people fail to relate to or understand how she encounters the world. (Like, they’re just supposed to know? Tell them!!!) She hates when her physical appearance is used as a qualifier but feels just fine describing side characters by theirs. 🙄

And third, the romance is just all kinds of no thank you. We’re supposed to feel as hot and bothered for Maeve’s love interest, Cole, as much as she does, but he’s not even that great of a guy. He doesn’t really acknowledge Maeve outside of the late-night texts they share, he sends her dick pics and then ghosts for about a week, and he strings her along and then is like “I can’t do this” after weeks of maybe-kind-of-but-not-really seeing one another… and Maeve continues to lust after him. Cole is obviously using Maeve’s desire to his advantage, but I also didn’t really like Maeve all that much either so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I just… I wanted to like this book so much, and instead I got a mish-mash of nope with ew why and please don’t. (I want y’all to know that there is even more problematic bullshit I didn’t mention.)

PS. what is with the goddamn emoticons?! Does anyone still even use :) or :P in texts anymore??