If I Had Your Face

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Frances Cha
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Apr. 2020 (read Jan. 2022 on Audible)

If I Had Your Face has been on my radar since it was nominated in the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2020, but a year later I felt like I suddenly started seeing it pop up everywhere, so I decided to listen to the audiobook while puzzling one weekend. I ended up listening to the whole thing in just 2 days!

As with most audiobooks with multiple character perspectives, I did find it a little challenging to keep track of all the characters at the beginning. I wasn’t sure if the four women featured were all connected with one another and it was hard for me to keep the protagonists straight from the side characters (because I kept expecting some of the side characters in the early chapters to also be protagonists). But I made a few references to the synopsis and eventually I was able to sort everyone out.

I really liked this book. I can see how it won’t be for everyone. Some of the characters are kind of polarizing and this is a really different perspective from what you get in a lot of mainstream literature. White people (and I’m including myself in this) – you probably aren’t going to have a lot of reference for some of the content of this book, which for me made it a bit unrelatable, but was ultimately why I enjoyed it so much. That’s the benefit of having access to all sorts of stories from all over the world. This gave me a perspective I definitely didn’t have before. I honestly felt at times like I was reading dystopian fantasy with all the talk of changing faces and I appreciate that this broadened my world view.

If I Had Your Face is set in South Korea and focuses on 4 women living in the same apartment building. Some of them know each other and are friends and they flit in and out of each others lives. Ara works in a hair salon while supporting her friend through extensive cosmetic surgery and fantasizing about meeting her favourite K-Pop band. Kyuri has already had cosmetic surgery to transform her face and works in a “room salon”, entertaining business men to pay off the debt for her surgeries. Miho is classically beautiful and works as an artist after studying abroad in New York. And Wonna is a young mother-to-be struggling to decide what to do about her upcoming maternity leave.

The author covers a lot of ground in a short period of time and I liked that she explores so many different perspectives. Wonna’s storyline felt a bit out of place compared to the others since she was the only one who didn’t really know the other women, but I thought her perspective was just as interesting and brought something different to the table. Beauty and sexism are key themes in the novel and I LOVE the title of this book and how well it ties into the story, because I think “if I had your face” really captures the entire essence of this book. Every single one of these women is chasing after some kind of ideal and it hasn’t made any of them happy.

I know people have cosmetic surgery all over the world, but it’s not really something that’s talked about in any meaningful way rather than to be dismissive about it. For Kyuri, changing her face was a way to chase a better life for herself, while also keeping her more entrapped than even. I thought that the room salon would be a rather shameful place, yet here’s Ara’s roommate, saving up to change her face so that she can have the opportunity to work in one! Then there’s Miho, who is already classically beautiful. She has the envy of her friends that she doesn’t need to change her face and that she has the privilege to make art (something she loves) and get paid for it. Yet Miho is unhappy too and mistreated by her boyfriend.

Wonna gives us one more perspective of life after marriage, yet even with a husband, she struggles to get pregnant and then faces terrible discrimination at her work. It’s almost like if you’re a woman, who can’t win. And that is kind of the point in a lot of the world isn’t it. Wonna reminded me a bit of Kim Jiyoung, which is another novel that came out of South Korea and examines the sexism women face on a daily basis.

If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s not long enough. I rarely say that about any book, if anything I think a lot of books are longer than they need to be. But for so many characters and such a short book, I don’t think the author was able to truly give each of these characters the depth they deserve. I felt like some aspects of the plot were skipped over and I wasn’t given enough context to understand all of the characters motivations. But I also appreciated that this was really just a snapshot into the lives of 4 different women. I felt a bit like a fly on the wall during a moment in time.

So don’t go into this looking for a plot driven, fully fleshed out story, but take it for what it is – a brief glimpse into the lives of each one of these fascinating women.

Talking to Canadians

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Rick Mercer
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Humour
Pub. Date: Nov. 2021 (read Nov. 2021 on Audible)

Last year I read Rick’s book Final Report and was a bit disappointed when I discovered it was just a collection of rants from throughout the years. Somehow it’s just not as interesting to listen to Rick rant about Stephen Harper 10 years later. But I was interested in Talking to Canadians when I learned it would be a proper memoir and decided to read on Audible.

Talking to Canadians definitely has a niche market, but I found it to be an interesting read. Rick goes pretty in depth about how he got his start in comedy and it covers everything up until he started doing the Mercer Report. There’s a lot about how he found comedy and acting in high school and his years on 22 minutes, which I did find pretty fascinating.

Of course, Rick makes for a great audiobook narrator and I would highly recommend doing the audio if you’re reading this book. I read it back to back with Mark Critch’s new book, which I also did with both comedians last year. Between Final Report and Son of a Critch, I’d give the edge to Critch, but overall I preferred Talking to Canadians to An Embarrassment of Critch’s, though they’re both great books. They actually make surprisingly complementary reads as well since both men have 22 minutes to thank for jumpstarting their careers. I read Critch’s book first, but if you’re going to read both, start with Talking to Canadians, it makes a bit more sense chronologically.

Overall a fun read if you like memoirs and funny Canadians!

What Comes After

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: JoAnne Tompkins
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Apr. 2021 (read Oct. 2021 on Audible)

It’s been awhile since I read this one, but I wanted to review it anyways because it’s one of the stranger books I read in 2021. I’d seen it floating around on Goodreads and it was a bit of an impulsive buy as an audiobook.

What Comes After is set in the pacific northwest and is about what life is like after you experience a major tragedy. In this case, it’s about a teenage boy who goes missing, and then his best friend confesses to having killed him before taking his own life. Understandably, both boys families, who are next door neighbours, are traumatized by the loss of their sons, as is young Evangeline, who is a runaway girl that was connected to both boys.

Evangeline ends up forging relationships with both boys families and we get multiple perspectives from Evangeline and the parents. I wasn’t really sure what to make of this one. It was an interesting concept and the writing is fine, but everything about the book made me so uncomfortable that it was hard to really like it. I feel like being uncomfortable is kind of the point with a book like this, but I struggled to connect with some of the characters. I liked Laurie, who was the mother of the boy who killed himself and struggles with feelings of both grief and guilt, but I didn’t really like Isaac, the father of the boy who was murdered. Isaac is a mormon and while there’s nothing wrong with this, I didn’t find him a particularly relatable character. Nor did I really connect with Evangeline, which I wish I had because she’s one of the most interesting characters in the book and a real victim of circumstance. She’s a liar and reluctant to open up, neither of which I faulted her for, but it did make me feel detached from her character.

I liked some of the themes that the author explored around abuse and survivorship and I think it makes for a really interesting debut, but I had to admit that I just couldn’t really relate with the characters. The circumstance is so dark and while murder and intrigue make for a great mystery novel, as literary fiction it was just something that I had no reference point for. I couldn’t really move past my discomfort with the storyline and while it wasn’t a bad novel by any means, I just don’t think I’d want to return for more.

So overall, a solid 3 star read, not bad, not great, just not really a book that I enjoyed either.

An Embarrassment of Critches

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Michelle Good
Genres: Humour, Non-fiction, Memoir
Pub. Date: Oct. 2021 (read Nov. 2021 on Audible)

I read Mark’s first book last year as an audiobook. It was a bit of an impulse buy when I was doing a bunch of jigsaw puzzles and looking for some humour to get me through the pandemic. It was funny and I really enjoyed it. You could tell the stories were embellished, but Mark is an excellent storyteller so it didn’t bother me. 

I was more excited to read An Embarrassment of Critch’s and quickly bought a copy on Audible when it was released. Mark narrates both books and I highly recommend doing the audio for this reason. I love all the different voices and accents he uses throughout the book and it made me nostalgic for Newfoundland. 

In my opinion, this book is the perfect companion book to Son of a Critch and I kind of see it as an extension of his first book. I know his first book is centered on his childhood, but when I finished it last year, my one complaint was that I wanted to read more about how he got into comedy and his time on 22 Minutes. That is exactly what An Embarrassment of Critch’s delivers and I had a lot of fun reading it.

I’m currently reading Rick Mercer’s new book as well and it’s really hard not to compare the two. In terms of laughs, I would give the edge to Mark Critch, but there’s more of a sincerity to Rick’s memoir that I thought was missing from Mark’s. I think this is totally fine since the primary intent of Mark’s work is humour and storytelling, but he does tackle several more serious topics as well. While he tries to reflect and be contemplative about his experiences (thinking mostly of his recount of traveling to Afghanistan), I couldn’t help but think his recollections were somewhat surficial and portrayed through rose-tinted glasses. In some ways his essay selection reads more like a checklist of his accomplishments rather than a reflective look-back on his career. Although, he does talk about some of his mistakes over the years, but I felt like his exploration of these errors in judgement were included as more of a PR move rather than any meaningful contrition about them.

But really these are minor complaints. I enjoy his comedy and love watching his impressions and sketches on 22 Minutes. He is an excellent storyteller and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be picking up any future books he may decide to write!

Apples Never Fall

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pub. Date: Sep. 2021 (read Oct. 2021 on Audible)

Apples Never Fall is my book club’s pick for November. We’ve read a lot of Liane Moriarty books in the club and she does consistently write good books, but nothing has ever quite had the same impact as Big Little Lies and I’m starting to get a bit fatigued with her writing. This book was fine – I didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, pretty standard 3 star read. 

Apples Never Fall focuses on the Delaney family, Joy and Stan and their 4 adult children. They are a family of tennis players and have had a pretty decent life until a girl named Savannah shows up on Joy and Stan’s doorstep and subsequently moves into the house, puting the Delaney children on edge. When Joy Delaney goes missing a year later and Stan looks poised to take the fall for her disappearance, it stirs up old resentments in the family and brings some family secrets to light.

Let’s start with what I liked about the book. It is a pretty good character portrait of each of the Delaney’s. Sometimes things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface and Moriarty explores the theme that every marriage has its weaknesses, no matter how stable or loving it may appear from the outside. Moriarty tackles a lot of issues, from gender roles, to mental health, to physical health, to domestic violence, to the weight of our parents expectations and how they shape children into adults. 

What I didn’t like – Moriarty tackles a lot of issues. While it’s great that she highlights some issues that you don’t often see portrayed, such as dealing with chronic migraines and the fatigue of domestic labour, I think she was a little too ambitious. I felt like she tried to cram a lot into this book and it made it all seem a bit surface level. For example, I don’t think we really ever went in depth to Amy’s mental health issues or the shortfalls in Joy and Stan’s marriage. There’s a lot to dig into, but Moriarty spreads herself too thin to do any of these issues justice.

But even though she couldn’t quite tackle everything, this book was still too long. I felt like she didn’t do the issues justice and yet she still somehow spent too much time waffling on each of the characters. I felt like there was so much thrown in that just wasn’t needed. This is a mystery novel at its core, but the pacing gets caught up in so much background information on the large cast of characters that I felt the story never really picked up any momentum. I thought Savannah was a really interesting character and I wanted to know more about her and her past, but we get so much info about each of the boring Delaney siblings that I just lost interest and when we finally do get some insight into Savannah’s psyche, it’s just a bit too late.

Because sadly I just didn’t find any of the Delaney’s compelling. Joy was by far the most interesting to me, but I had almost no interest in Stan or any of the siblings. I just didn’t care about their problems. They’re a pretty well-to-do middle class white family and it was honestly just boring. I didn’t care about their tennis drama, I was unsure why I should care about Harry, and all of it just kept distracting me from the only parts I was interested in – Savannah and what happened to Joy.

Now I want to talk about the ending though, because that was fascinating. Again, I felt the pacing was a bit off. The book seems to come to a conclusion which I found fairly unsatisfying, but I was mystified to see I still had an hour left on my audiobook after this revelation. There is a second, shocking ending which is the part I found fascinating and would have loved to have seen developed a bit more. But unfortunately it comes a little too late in the story and made me question what was the point in including it at all? It is surprising, but I felt there’s so much more Moriarty could have done with it that would have made for a much more compelling book overall. 

So in conclusion – the book was fine, but I wish it was 100 pages shorter and explored a bit of a different angle. The family dynamics were interesting, but in the long run, forgettable.