Tag Archives: book review

Read: Crazy rich Asians: a novel by Kevin Kwan

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In need of a hilarious, ridiculous novel that will make your family seems tame by comparison? Crazy rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is a ruckus good-time that gives readers a peek inside the uber-rich Chinese families in Singapore, their drama, and lavish lifestyles that they take for granted.

While the book contains many characters, the main two are Nick Young and Rachel Chu. They met and have been dating for quite a while in New York City but are both Chinese who moved to the US. Rachel’s mom moved with her when she was just a child, so all she knows is life in the US. Nick, on the other hand, grew up in Singapore and has only recently lived in NYC. Nick decides to take Rachel home for the summer to Singapore, where they will first attend his best friend’s wedding and then enjoy Asia for the remainder of the trip. But, the best laid plans are never that simple. The whole novel revolves around the wedding and Nick’s large family, with Rachel unwittingly caught in the crosshairs of both.

Kwan deftly portrays family dynamics of all sort throughout the novel, adding even more intrigue to the main plot. Rachel, similar to the reader, has not be warned or prepped in anyway before meeting his family since Nick doesn’t see it as a big deal, although him cousin Astrid warned him that he should. Much of Nick’s family is concerned with lineage and wealthy, to varying degrees, and Rachel unfortunately has neither since she was raised by a single mom without knowing any other family. She and Nick are blindsided by particular members in his family when they realize the expectations. Power and control, especially of information, are also used freely to influence and coerce as family members and friends deem necessary to achieve their goals and personal gain. Everyone in Singapore seems to want to climb the social ladder and bask in societal attention except for Nick and Rachel.

This novel also showcases different versions of wealth and opinions of it, which adds more friction between some of the characters. Some downplay their wealth, spending very little of it and never discussing it, while others flaunt it with gaudy purchases and extravagances, flashing it any chance they can. Due to these disparities in opinion, Nick doesn’t realize just how personally wealthy he is, and stands to inherit, since he lived with his low-key grandmother and was other family members who flaunted their riches. This is partly also why he didn’t explain anything to Rachel because while he was rich, he never thought of himself or his immediate family as uber-rich. Among the multitude of characters, there are many subtle differences between them that highlight the variation in the rich and their opinions of themselves and others. I can’t begin to do it justice in this post but it’s a pleasure to read.

Crazy rich Asians is very funny and a fun read. From what little I have seen (my sister’s the real expert), The Real Housewives of… tv series is similar to this novel as it follows a group of rich women and documents their lavish lifestyles and heightened drama. Except that this novel takes everything to the max, can be incredibly over-the-top and ridiculous, putting even The Real Housewives to shame. It is mind-boggling how easily so many characters spend so much money like it is mundane. To not be uber-rich myself (unless there’s a massive windfall hiding out there for me), it can be absurd to the point of sheer amusement to even just have a glimpse of that reality. Again, Kwan showcases a range of elegant to tacky rich Asians throughout, so it’s not all cringe-worthy flaunting of wealth but it’s all compelling in the novel and propels the plot well.

Part of why I enjoyed the novel so much likely is the fact that I visited Singapore for a long weekend a few years ago. The descriptions of the locations, stores, and especially the food take me right back there. Now I’m craving Singaporean food from hawker stalls and thinking about another trip there sooner than later, and while we still have friends to visit, too!

 

Recommended?: Yes, especially if you want to be transported to hot, flavorful Singapore to briefly live alongside the crazy-rich Asians, and be thankful that they aren’t your family members. It’s certainly an adult novel, with some swear words and sexual references but no real sex scenes; mostly the family dynamics, manipulation, and commentary on money and marriage might not be as interesting or appreciated by younger, teen readers. I’m so glad it’s a trilogy and can’t wait to read the next–hopefully they live up to this first one!

Crazy rich Asians by Kevin Kwan book cover

Hard to tell in the photo but the cover design gives it a gold sparkly shine.

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Read: The Lost Days (an Emily the Strange novel) by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner

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Full disclosure: in high school I loved Emily the Strange and had one or two (or eight) of her t-shirts. My favorite was a long sleeve black shirt that had a picture of Emily the Strange in her laboratory poking at a brain in a jar with one of her cats looking on nearby, with a caption like “Emily loves to pick your brain”. For a sassy, dark humored teen, what’s not to love?

Emily the Strange is a 13-year-old punk rock loner who loves her 4 black cats. She dresses in all black, has long black hair, and an attitude to match. Originally featured on stickers, posters, and t-shirts, Emily now has graphic novels, comic books, YA novels, and apparently video games about her. Supposedly there’s even a (stalled?) animated movie in the works. She’s expanded her empire since the early internet store days with classic t-shirts such as “Your silence is golden” with Emily plugging her ears, “Emily didn’t search to belong. She searched to be lost.”, and her take on an American war recruitment meme “I WANT YOU…to leave me alone”. She loves the creepy and spooky, priding herself in being strange. However, she’s anything but one-dimensional as she is a musician, scientist, and artist in addition to being a troublemaker with her slingshot always at the ready. Emily is unique and revels in it, not caring what anyone else thinks about her.

The lost days by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner is illustrated by Rob Reger and Buzz Parker. This young adult novel is written in a journal style with many doodles, notations, and drawn Polaroid pictures as if they were taped in. Emily also loves her lists and they’re always 13 items long. The format is very appealing because every page has some little doodle or large picture, so it breaks up the overall text, which is written more like a journal or diary than actual chapters in a book. The style also makes it very quick read since there’s no forced end/chapter breaks to the story, the reader just flows from one page to the next. There are headings for each day in the novel, but this is tied more closely into the storyline itself rather than being a distinctive marker of a particular section or chapter.

The story is very compelling, since when we first meet who we know is Emily the strange, she does not even know herself. She is suffering from amnesia and unsure why in an unfamiliar town with no one who seems to know her. The mystery only further ensues as the novel progresses, making it as perplexing for the reader as Emily herself as she tries to figure out just what is going on with her in this small town of strangers. The mystery, mood, and tone of the story and novel fit very well into the culture and personality that is Emily the Strange. The end is also very satisfying when the mastermind plot is fully revealed; Reger and his team did well to write not just a great story for fans but also for anyone who happens to read the novel, not knowing anything about the Emily the Strange universe.

Since I donated all my Emily the Strange t-shirts around the time I went to college, I haven’t followed the website anymore. The series of four novels was a complete surprise to me when one of my husband’s middle schooler’s requested that he borrowed them for the classroom from the local library. When he brought them home from the library, I just had to read them before they went off school for the kiddos!

Recommended?: Definitely for all Emily the Strange fans, lovers of darkly quirky stories and characters (such as Tim Burton fans), and YA journal format. This book is a fun, super-quick read  with a compelling mystery up to the very end. True to character, Emily the Strange is still her truly strange self throughout The Lost Days, even if she doesn’t remember.

The lost days: an Emily the strange novel book cover

Photo of page 52 and 53

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Read: It devours!: a Welcome to Night Vale novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

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Okay, I’ll admit it. I am a Welcome to Night Vale fan girl. The podcast is quirky and bizarre but so creative and intriguing that it didn’t take long to hook me. The writers already published a book based on the podcast that I reviewed earlier. However, It devours!, their second Night Vale novel is even more amazing and works better as a standalone so that you don’t have to have listened to the podcast before reading it.

Night Vale is not the average American town. Time flows differently for everyone, the dog park is not really a dog park since no one is allowed in it, and the City Council and secret police constantly monitor the citizens–but this is all normal and taken for granted by the residents. Well, except for the handful of scientists who have moved into town to study the various odd (to them) phenomenon. His experiments based by City Council, head scientist Carlos enlists Nilanjana to look into the strange occurrences of random pits that form and sink buildings around town, taking with them anyone inside or near enough to the pit. As more people disappear, the stakes become greater. Early on, Nilanjana gets a flyer from a local, newer church in town and it seems suspiciously connected in some way the the pits and destruction around town.

The novel itself quickly takes on the massive theme of science versus religion. Despite the quirky town and the fact that the church believes that a giant centipede is its god, the arguments for and against science and religion are applicable to the real world. In many ways, Night Vale is similar to our world, it’s just a bit off in some ways. This makes it all the more intriguing and still somewhat universal. Nilanjana begins hanging out with Darryl at the church, first to find out answers but then romantically. Beyond their relationship, the whole event makes Nilanjana feels more like a resident of Night Vale instead of a transplant. In trying to solve who is causing the disaster and why, she and he both reconsider their beliefs and work together, their plan benefiting from both science and religion.

Compared to the first, this novel explains more of the quirks and points out things a first time visitor might not know about Night Vale but needs to in order to understand it. They are casually worked into the narrative and so never feel out of place.

While it’s fiction, it’s difficult to place It devours! into a more specific category. It mainly reads as a mystery, trying to figure out who or what is behind the attacks in order to stop them. The alternative reality and town quirks push it more into magic realism more so than sci-if or fantasy. Then there are the satirical elements and absurdity that are bizarre to the reader but normal in the world of the Night Vale. Regardless of how the novel could be described, it’s a fun story that’s well written and is a pretty quick read.

Recommended?: Yes, especially for fans of Welcome to Night Vale or quirky alternate reality that includes paranormal and an off-kilter this town. As long as you read this novel with a sense of humor and as a bit tongue-in-cheek, you are bound to enjoy it too. Just a note, there are two romantic relationships: one gay and one heterosexual. There is sex but it’s not really described and it’s between the heterosexual couple. Plus, the book is gorgeous–purple edging on the pages and creepy teeth artwork (even more so inside the cover!).

Joyfully, it devours!

Finally bought swag from the Night Vale store. Couldn’t resist the mugs and beer glass any longer!

Read: The vegetarian: a novel by Han Kang

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The vegetarian: a novel by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith, is nothing like you might expect for a book with this title. While well written, it is also an oddly dark and horrifying novel.

In Korea, meat is a key component of practically every meal. Even during our travels in Seoul, for breakfast one of the many bon chon (side dishes) is a cold marinated shredded beef; delicious and served with not matter what you order. Due to this, it makes sense that becoming a vegetarian can be a big deal that would be difficult for a family to understand. This is the premise of the novel, which evokes the worst case imaginable and life spirals ever downward because of this one decision. Certainly intriguing but also scary in its plausibility.

Yeong-hye wakes up from a startling, overwhelming nightmare about raw meat that made her feel revolted by meat upon waking up. The vividness and pungent stench from her nightmare instantly converts her to a vegetarian. The novel opens with the husband finding her standing in the kitchen, throwing out all meat and fish in the middle of the night. Soon he realizes that it is not a faze and that his wife is serious about being a vegetarian and won’t allow any meat at home so he no longer gets it either. She even keeps her distance from him, bothered by the smell of his sweat; even that is too animalistic for her now. Annoyed with her, the husband drags her family into the issue, sure that they can convince her to eat meat again and that’s where everything goes wrong.

Kang builds a compelling story in which all characters believe that they are right and remain stuck in their opinions. Instead of helping Yeong-hue, her family only makes the situation and her stubbornness worse. Her downfall is exploited by her brother-in-law for his own pleasure after her husband leaves her and her sister is all that is left but even her patience wears out. No one wants to support Yeong-hye as she is but it also becomes more difficult as her beliefs become more eccentric and she recedes deeper into herself.

Originally written as three novellas, the novel on gains three parts: Yeong-hye, the brother-in-law, and finally the sister. The main story follows throughout but it gets more complicated with each additional part. As crazy as the plot gets, it’s eerily plausible which makes it even more upsetting and in its own way horrifying.

Recommended?: Certainly for adults only, as there is sexual and graphic content. There is lots of drama in the novel and the plot keeps intensifying, which is typical of Korea television shows so it wasn’t too surprising but it certainly makes the book quite a page turner, despite being frightening. For my first Korean novel, it was a wild one but very good. I can’t wait to read more by Korean authors.

Read: The namesake: a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri

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The namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri has been a book that I wanted to read for a while and when it jumped out again at me from the public library shelves, I decided it was time. Having read her short stories, I knew I was in for a treat.

The story is about a boy whose parents immigrated from India and he is first generation Indian–American. Due to unforeseen circumstances, he is given a nickname at birth but never receives a proper name. So when he goes to school, his father tries to get him to use the name Nikhil but he is so used to Gogol that he prefers the familial nickname even in public. As his father can never find the right time, he is not told the true story behind his name until much later in life which makes it difficult for him to appreciate it growing up. The story focuses on Gogol’s struggle through life.

Lahiri’s writing style is very evocative and entrancing. She focuses a lot on imagery and describes in great detail Indian food, customs, and culture, as well as how it is changed by living in America. Due to the details, the reader is drawn into the novel and feels as though they’re in the room with the family, living life with Gogol.

The novel has a slower pace than some. The reader is steeped in moments of his life before progressing on to the next phase and struggle. The pacing allows for much reflection as well as enjoyment in the details. It is easy to linger over a phrase or passage and re-reading it, contemplating it for a brief while.

Recommended?: For lovers of literary fiction, especially those wanting a taste of growing up first generation Indian-American. The story is at once heartwarming and strained with its depiction of the family, which only makes it feel all the more real.

Shelved: Sandman by Neil Gaiman

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Sandman is another graphic novel series, this one by Neil Gaiman. It is very famous, and was so from the time it was first published in 1989. The Wikipedia page details it's history well.

Having recently read the Saga series, Sandman is quite different which probably colors my reaction to it. It is very dark and dense, using every bit of space on the page for either a lot of text or illustration. That's not a bad thing, it's just a very different style. Many of the pages seem busy, overwhelming the reader with detail. Panels are heavily used, appearing more like a comic strip in someways. Saga though would often use a whole page to tell a scene of the story instead, with sometimes very minimal, if no, text.

The story itself revolves around a character called the Sandman, or Dream or Morpheus depending on who is talking about him. No matter his name, he rules dreamland and makes it possible so that people can sleep and thus dream. However, the story starts with him being accidentally captured by a cult whose spell went wrong, leaving the whole world without proper sleep and dreams for around 70 years. The main plot meanders away from Sandman and covers various other people, making it difficult to connect with the main character since he is barely mentioned and focused on for quite some time in the first volume. In the second volume, he is the main focus but by then I felt but I was barely connected to him as a reader and so didn't care very much whether or not he reclaimed his kingdom and built dreamland back up again.

About halfway through the second volume, I put the graphic novel down and have it picked it up since. I just didn't feel connected to the story or compelled to read more. Having not read Gaiman before, I wanted to give Sandman a chance since it is a very popular, famous work of his. Compared with more modern graphic novels, it just didn't speak to me. I know that it means a lot to many people, I just think I picked it up too late.

Recommended?: To Neil Gaiman fans and anyone who loves classic graphic novels. For the most part, the content is just dark but there is some brutality and a side plotline of brutal violence in a diner that lasts for quite a while. This is another adult graphic novel, due to its violence and sophisticated story, which likely would be too high level, slower-paced, and philosophical for younger readers anyway.

Read: Saga, volumes 1-7 by Brian K. Vaughan

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Saga is a graphic novel series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. The story itself is gripping but the artwork is truly engrossing. A friend recommended the series and it was the perfect quick read when I wasn’t feeling well earlier this summer. Thanks to the public library’s subscription to Hoopla, I raced through the entire set that’s been published so far and now have to wait for the next!

Saga takes place in space, set in a very different universe from ours, with many different alien and creature races. They have spaceships for interplanetary travel and distinct cultures that don’t always get along. The two main characters include a man whose race is at war with the race of the woman that he comes to love while he is in prison. She is a guard who watches him and feeling drawn to him, busts him out and escapes. They marry and have a child which is at once both appalling to both races who are at war and shocking as they refuse to believe that such a union is possible between their two people. The main action of the plot is to catch these Marko and Alana and punish them for their crimes. Different people of all types are trying to track them down, including famous bounty hunters.

Very quickly the story balloons in the number of characters and plot lines. You start first with Marko and Alana who then have a daughter named Hazel, get multiple people chasing after them who are intertwined with others, and then we’re introduced to a whole different society who also has a vested interest in tracking them down, and on and on. However, as complicated as it gets, the story’s main focus is on Marko, Alana, and Hazel as a family. For a while, they get separated from each other and so it’s also a struggle about reuniting and what it means to truly be a family. This consistent, main plot line makes the story all the more compelling. It is through the tangents connected to them that we learn about their world and universe.

Very quickly, the characters are made into deep and complex people with touching and sometimes heart wrenching stories of their own. Even side characters have a lot of depth and the little bit we find out about them is meaningful and paints a fuller picture of them. There is so much emotion in that only the plot lines but also the characters, which draws me in as a reader even more. It is easy to connect with many of the characters and their situations. For being a graphic novel, there is so much packed into the limited dialogue and illustrations. It really does feel like reading a lengthy novel, in a good way.

While the illustrations are gorgeous, they can be very brutal and occasionally gory. This graphic novel is truly for adults only, as there are at times explicit sexual acts as well as graphic violence. They do further the story and showcase the true nature of certain people, but some of it can be difficult to read and, as this is a graphic novel, look at. Regardless, Staples’ drawings are incredible and for most of them, I could stare at them for quite a while, captivated by her unique style. Amazing.

Recommended?: For adults who love sci-fi, especially space, and complex alien and creature races. Considering that I haven’t read many graphic novels, I rank this series very highly among them and think it would be good for someone just getting into them. They are easy to read and, as long as you don’t mind the adult content, they are wonderful. I can’t wait for the next volume to see where the story goes!