Tag Archives: fiction

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 waking land by Callie Bates

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Although I don’t read it much anymore, I grew up on fantasy. When I heard that Callie Bates’ first novel was published, I ordered a copy right away. A fantasy novel like no other, The waking land is a delight.

Held captive most of her life after her father’s failed revolution attempt, Elanna is a half-prisoner, half-adopted-daughter of the king that her father tired to overthrow. The king takes her at age five as collateral for ending the revolution attempt and in exchange for her father’s life. The princess is not happy about having Elanna around so she is left on her own most of the time, except for the dottings of the king who has taken a liking to her. Since she was taken so young, Elanna beliefs the king’s version about her family and the failed rebellion, not wanting anything to do with her parents that let her be abducted and never fought to get her back. At 19 now, she has only resentment and distain for her past and culture. Being raised in the city, away from the countryside and farmland of her people, she knows nothing of them and doesn’t care. However, that all begins to change when the king dies and his mean-spirited daughter becomes queen.

While there are similarities with other fantasy novels, the core of the fantasy in The waking land is unique, compared to what else I have read. Elanna has magical abilities that she has suppressed since childhood, especially since the city and the king abhor magic. Unlike the typical spell-learning common in fantasy, the magic in the novel is natural–as in connected to nature. Not many are alive anymore with such abilities but for those like Elanna who has them, with concentration she can interact with nature and natural elements. When she touches any living plants, they begin to grow and blooms at a rapid pace. As she accepts her powers and decides/needs to use them as the story progresses, she can make a torrential thunderstorm appear at will and even convince the trees to join in the new rebellion and help protect her people and homeland. One quirk about the magic is that it is all consuming of her and she teeters on the brink of being in control of herself; as she channels nature, it uses her as a conduit so that the nature and animals fuse with her as she increase magical capabilities. It’s more instinctual than intellectual/learned magic. Fascinating idea!

The story itself is a fairly fast-paced adventure from the start. As Elanna settles into her reluctant role in the new revolution attempt, the stakes and drama increase, she becomes more committed to the cause. Amidst the rebellion, though, Elanna and Jahan, who is from another region and has his own type of magic, begin a tenuous relationship especially as it is unclear who’s side he is truly on. As it has complicating ties with the story, the relationship plot line fits well within it.

Callie is a college friend and classmate from Lawrence University, which makes it all the more enjoyable to read her first novel. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy and reading more about Elanna and her world.

Recommended?: Yes, especially for fantasy and nature lovers. An older teen could read the novel, along with adults. While there are some battles and fighting, violent scenes are minimal. There is a brief sex scene but the rest of the romance is flirtatious. Much of the novel focuses on the beauty of the land, with vivid descriptions of nature. For me, these are some of the best parts and make the world in the novel more immersive.

Cover image The waking land by Callie Bates

Read: Return on investment: a novel by Magdalena Waz

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Return on investment is a ridiculous-ly good debut novel by Magdalena Waz. Equal measures of satire and thoughtfulness make this story a fun and captivating quick read.

Laurie, the central character, is one of many millennials living in Chicago, trying to makes ends meet while paying back student loans from college. The story revolves around her and her friends, questioning their current job choices and wondering about the hazy future. Laurie tries self-employed schemes, allowing her ambitions of setting her own minimal hours while maximizing profits to rule over logic and practicality. She does her friends into her latest endeavor and everyone is changed by their experiences.

Waz takes bold ideas, such as a job as a human breast pump (Laurie’s initial job attempt), and turns them into reality within the pages of the novel. As ridiculous as it sounds, she grounds it in detail and seriousness that the reader believes that such a job exists and has demand, at least for a while, in the Chicago of the story. Due to this strong growth grounding, the reader is able to believe the characters and premise of the novel.

The characters themselves also have depth and specifics that give them dimensions. Even with Laurie, she is complex and feels like a real person. They are all relatable to some extent, no matter what you think of their actions and personalities.

The format of the book is not usually something that I am a fan of but Waz uses it to her advantage and it really suits her story. The book itself is the length of a novel and each short chapter rotates between one of the four characters, with the exceptional n being one chapter for the party with all of them. Mark, Laurie’s boyfriend, is the only one who doesn’t get separate chapters since he’s mostly included in Laurie’s sections and he’s more stable in his job choice than the others. Of all of them, he doesn’t understand Laurie’s need for a non-standard, non-9-to-5 job. Due to the sections being so intertwined, and becoming even more so as the story progresses, they fit together as a novel instead of potentially being disjointed more as short stories with a tenuous connection.

Also, it’s fun to read a book written by a fellow classmate from undergrad. We both attended Lawrence University and overlapped for a couple of years.

Recommended?: Yes! It’s fast, funny read like no other. While satirical, there are thought-provoking moments as each character struggles with living their adult life, trying to make they own way in the world. As a satire, it isn’t a handbook for understanding Millennials, but it does offer some insights here and there throughout. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Waz!

Read: Selection Day: a novel by Aravind Adiga

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Aravind Adiga is one of my favorite authors. He writes about different aspects and people of India, with vivid detail. While Selection Day follows this pattern, it takes focuses on brotherly competition and cricket.

Cricket is a sport that I know little about but after reading this novel, I feel that I understand the competitive environment and pressure to succeed. Selection Day is an opportunity for fame of all young Indian boys, trying to showcase their skills and be chosen for a professional cricket team. Like with all sports, though, hard work and practice are crucial but sometimes luck also plays its part.

Radha and Manju are competitive brothers, pushed by their single father to succeed at cricket at all costs in order to pull them from the slums and poverty. Despite his tough love, both brothers excel and are forced into further competition as teens as each earns a scholarship from a sponsor to further support and encourage their abilities.

As will all of his novels, Adiga crafts complex and realistic characters. This is true for all characters, no matter what the size of their role is in the story. Their motivations and desires, turmoil and struggles enhance the plot and makes the novel feel more real, more genuine. This is true for the relationships as well. Selection Day showcases Adiga’s skill in developing the relationships between the characters, especially the brothers.

This novel truly is a coming-of-age story, told with two brothers. This is a great twist on a classic genre. As with all such stories, the boy’s love lives and failed romances are side plots but still an integral part.

Recommended?: Yes, for anyone wants to travel to India between pages, enjoys reading coming-of-age stories, or wants to know more about the hidden side of cricket. Adiga provides a day-to-day insight on what life’s like, with all the beauty and grime that entails.

Selection Day book cover

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.