Tag Archives: book review

Read: E is for evidence by Sue Grafton

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E is for evidence by Sue Grafton is the most complex of her novels in the alphabet series thus far. Someone is framing Kinsey for a recent crime but the current case actually has ties to older shenanigans as well.

The plots of Sue Grafton novels get better with each novel. Not only is the current crime complex, but it is linked to an older death originally deemed a suicide but turns out to be foul play. As the story unfolds, the twists and turns really give this plot enormous depth. It truly is a wild ride!

Kinsey as a character continues to develop and shows new levels of her savvy and cleverness. She is tough and when the going gets tough she persists even more than usual. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters of all time.

One of the best aspects of this particular novel is the development of a character who Kinsey usually doesn’t get along with. Darcy works at the insurance company and she is almost the exact opposite of Kinsey. However, for this case, they team up and work to solve the crime together. Their relationship develops into something positive and I am sure that we will see more of them in upcoming novels. They have a great dynamic and it is fun to see Kinsey expanding beyond just herself especially when in need.

Recommended?: For mystery novel fans and of course fans of Sue Grafton. This novel stands well on its own but as always with her series, it is better read within the set.

E is for evidence by Sue Grafton book cover

My other reviews of the Kinsey Millhone series:

1 A is for alibi

2 B is for burglar

3 C is for corpse

4 D is for deadbeat

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Read: Rich people problems: a novel by Kevin Kwan

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The final book in the trilogy, Rich people problems by Kevin Kwan achieves the same outrageous, glamorous, fabulous stratosphere of the first two novels. Kwan once again returns to Singapore to continue following the stories of Nick Young and his large and larger-than-life family. This time, his beloved grandmother Su Yi, owner of family estate Tyersall Park, is dying and everyone rushes home to be by her bedside.

Since the plot is so clever and complex, I won’t give away much about the novel. However, it really does follow the last two closely so the complete trilogy needs to be read. It wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable if read is a standalone book due to the backstory of all the characters, plot lines, and relationships that build up to the start of this final novel.

As with the first two in the trilogy, this third installment has the same satirical tone. It captures the glam and glitz of crazy rich Asians, from the posh old money Singaporeans to the brash new money Chinese mainlanders. Even among each group, there are reserved and flashy people as well. Kwan captures many nuances among the different types, motivations, and mentality of the über wealthy elites. He once again balances being bizarrely outrageous while still believable. For some reason, no matter what over-the-top occurrence happens, as a reader I was still completely bought into the characters and the story.

Rich people problems expands its breadth of main characters to encompass those who had previous lesser rolls and other books. While Nick and Rachel are still two of the main characters, Astrid and Charlie get more story time and another main focus surprisingly is on Kitty Pong–who has once again married up for even more fame and fortune. Quan deafly intertwined various storylines until they all match up and get resolved. However, he continues to use his true cliffhanger style, though sometimes irritating, in alternating chapters to different characters; sometimes I just wanted to keep reading a certain character’s storyline but that desire put aside as a reader, his novel is well-planned out just like the others.

Recommended?: Yes, for anyone who’s read the rest of the series. The other two are excellent so if you haven’t read them, start there first. There is so much back history between all the characters that plays into this novel that it only truly makes sense with all of the previous history. As it is the final book in the trilogy, all of the stories wrap up and some characters get what they truly deserve so a real pleasure comes from having read the first two in order to understand all the situations and relationships leading up to this final novel.

Rich people problems by Kevin Kwan book cover

My other Crazy rich trilogy reviews:
Book one: Crazy rich Asians
Book two: China rich girlfriend

Read: A is for alibi by Sue Grafton

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Perhaps it is fitting to end the year with a final book review by an author who suddenly passed away recently. I decided to start reading mystery novels to broaden my reading diet and who better to start with than Sue Grafton, who published her 25 of 26 “alphabet mystery novels” this summer. I figured I should get reading in time to be caught up for Z, but sadly that’s no longer an option. Grafton’s daughter has already said “As far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.” The final novel in the series was planned to be called Z is for zero, but without a draft or even an idea, it will never be written.

A is for alibi (1982) is the first novel in Grafton’s series that focuses on PI Kinsey Millhone, a twice-divorced longer who used to be a cop but prefers to work for herself. The main plot is trying to figure out who actually killed Laurence Fife, whose wife at the time was found guilty of his murder and served 8 years in prison, and being recently released wants to know who actually killed him. As Millhone digs deeper into the past to figure out was actually responsible, she finds herself in difficult spots with hard decisions to make. Trust is not easy to give or receive, although she already understood that from her life experience already.

The writing style makes for an easy, quick read. Though simple writing, it is highly enjoyable and well detailed. The plot slowly unfolds, becoming more complex and intriguing. Although not a twist or surprise ending, I found the resolution satisfying. The novel neither tried to be too tricky or over-the-top, which I appreciate. It read as a realistic and plausible story, and I appreciate that. Some stories are unbelievable, with too much action and drama for the sake of drama. Grafton did a great job of writing a mystery that’s compelling yet realistic. Even before I read the sad news about her passing, I had already decided to continue the series; now, though, I’ll prioritize them over trying out other mystery authors at this time.

 

Recommended?: For mystery lovers and those who want to become one. While a crime drama to some extent, there’s no blood or gore; maybe due to the time in which it was written, unlike today. There is a sexual relationship but nothing too graphic described and the main focus, as far as the relationship goes, is rather Millhone dealing with how to have another person in her life, and if she can.

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Read: Stranger and stranger (an Emily the Strange novel) by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner

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The second of four in the series, Stranger and stranger by Rob Reger and Jessica Gruner continues to document the life of goth teenager Emily the Strange. While it chronologically follows The lost days, this novel can be read also as a standalone since the most important details from the first are incorporated.

The overall themes remain the same between the two novels: exploring a new town, enjoying her hobbies (sewer and late-night exploring, skateboarding, experimenting), and emoting her gothic laissez faire attitude. More emphasis is given to her artistic and scientific sides in this novel, which brings out elements of her personality that were subdued in the first one.

The novel itself has the same format as a somewhat graphic novel written in a loose diary-style journaling with hand-drawn doodles and many 13 point lists. Considering her age, it works really well and makes the book more approachable. There’s also a consistency for the readers, if they have read the first one.

In Stranger and stranger, the main plot is Emily the Strange wanting to pull off the ultimate prank on the new town. Although still unknown, her mom periodically moves them to a new place for a fresh start. While the prank originally starts off as an ambitious duplication of everyone in town, she ends up replicating herself first by accident and must learn to live with a second Emily the Strange. At first, she’s not sure what to think but then it gradually becomes clear that the duplication also split certain parts into each Emily, so that their personalities and motivations are not identical like she originally thought. At one point, the girls accidentally swap journals and the Other Emily begins writing the story, sharing her side of things. Part of what’s interesting is the idea of what makes you, well, you. Emily the Strange and the Other Emily both are obsessed with who the “real” one is but in the end, it’s a matter of needing both of them to make up Emily the Strange.

Recommended?: Yes, for Emily the Strange fans and those who enjoy YA graphic novels/journal format. The novel is simpler than the first, since there isn’t a complex mystery; the story itself if more straight-forward even if it gets a little more complicated when they swap journals. If you’ve ever wondered what “typical” life is like for Emily the Strange, this is the one to read.

Stranger and stranger book cover

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.

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!