Thursday, March 26, 2015

crazy rich asians

crazy rich asians
kevin kwan
published 2013

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry.  What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.  Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should - and should not - marry.

I don't know what I expected when I finally got my hands on Crazy Rich Asians, but I wasn't quite prepared for what I got!  Crazy Rich Asians was like a cross between Gossip Girl, Sex and the City and Pretty Little Liars.  I have no dislike for fashion or reading about the ridiculous opulence, but it did get kind of monotonous having to hear every designer of every piece of clothing, jewelry, handbag, shoe, glasses, china, table, bedding, car, etc. etc. etc.  If something could be expensive we were battered on the head with its pedigree.

On the other hand, I loved Astrid, liked Rachel a lot and really had fun with the story.  Sure, it's not anything new (except the insertion of Asians) - girl meets boy who she thinks is just a normal guy, turns out he's filthy rich and doesn't tell her until she's confronted with his rich, snobby family - but the characters were colorful and fun.

I listened to the audiobook as well as read though it on my kindle.  I liked being able to hear the Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations, but the reader's British accents and male voices (she's a female) were slightly distracting.

Kevin Kwan's second book China Rich Girlfriend comes out in June, a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians and I'm sure I'll read it.  I have to find out what happened to Astrid!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

yes please

yes please
amy poehler
dey street books
published 2014

In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read.  Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry, photographs, mantras and advice.

I'm 80% sure I have never seen any movie that Amy Poehler was in.  I have never seen an episode of Parks and Rec.  But she was in my two all time favorite SNL skits, Debbie Downer's first appearance where everyone broke character, and in the same episode when Lindsay Lohan and Kaitlin have a sleepover.  So good.  Oh wait, I just remembered I saw They Came Together.  But I hated it.

Anyway, I decided to listen to Poehler's memoir because I had listened to Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling's books and they both talk about how great she is and since she also reads her book I thought, why not?

There were some funny parts, I loved her 'Birthing Plan'.  Loved it!  I loved her chapter My Boys.  And Patrick Stewart reading her haiku - so good.

I'm going to watch me some Parks and Rec now.

big little lies

big little lies
liane moriarty
published 2014

Sometimes it's the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal....A murder, a tragic accident, or just parents behaving badly?  What's indisputable is that someone is dead.  But who did what?  Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

This book was fantastic!  I've never read any of Liane Moriarty's books despite owning two of them so this was my first.  Someone in my book club had raved about it as she had just finished it and I thought I'd pick it up.  I checked on Amazon and it was on sale for the Kindle for $2.99!  I took that as a sign and snapped it up.

From the start you know someone dies at the school trivia night, but you don't know who, how or why and it's maddening!  But in the most delicious way.

The story focuses on three women and as I got to know them I desperately didn't want them to be the victim who meets her demise.  There was so much that reminded me of the gossiping and backstabbing that goes on with school moms.  Of course, no one has died at our school auction, but I could see glimpses of real life in so much of Big Little Lies.

Of course, now that I've read this book I've got to finally read her others.  One is already on my tbr list for that challenge!


jack reacher #19
lee child
delacorte press
published 2014

Someone has taken a shot at the president of France in the City of Light.  The bullet was American.  The distance between the gunman and the target was exceptional.  How many snipers can shoot from three-quarters of a mile with total confidence?  Very few, but John Kott - an American marksman gone bad - is one of them.  And after fifteen years in prison, he's out, unaccounted for, and likely drawing a bead on a G8 summit packed with enough world leaders to tempt any assassin.

Things I loved:
Jack Reacher
Casey Nice
Jack kicking ass as usual

What I didn't love:
I don't even know what happened

Well, that's not true, but it kind of is.  Reacher is looking for Kott.  We know he's looking for Kott and we know that someone is helping him, hired him, and they have to go through them to get to him.  So there are approximately 270 pages dealing with the gangs, one gang in particular mostly and 3 pages dealing with Kott.  I felt cheated.

There just wasn't much to this one.  I didn't feel that same ole' Reacher magic and it made me sad. :(

the long way home

the long way home
armand gamache #10
louise penny
minotaur books
published 2014

Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. "There is a balm in Gilead," his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, "to make the wounded whole."

While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. "There’s power enough in Heaven," he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, "to cure a sin-sick soul." And then he gets up. And joins her.

Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it The land God gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.

I've loved Louise Penny's Armand Gamache books.  I picked up one because the photograph on the cover was gorgeous.  Found out it was a series so I found the first one and off I went.  I am now caught up with the series and oh so sad.  For one, to be done with the series (so far, hopefully another one will be forthcoming) and two this was, well, it was shocking.

Peter is missing and you know that something terrible must have happened to him to keep him away from Clara.  So the entire time I'm dreading what they will find.  Now, Peter was always my least favorite villager from Three Pines.  I think he was meant to be the opposite of Clara and their balance kept each other in check, but still I always felt there was no balance there.  I felt like Peter didn't deserve Clara and I was so proud of her when she asked him to leave.

All the books in this series have been slow burners, but this was the most extreme of all of them.  It took so long to get anywhere and most of it seemed to be everyone staring at art, the same art, over and over for pages and pages.

But it was so twisted up I remained unsure the whole time.  I couldn't imagine that Peter was dead, but I couldn't understand why he wouldn't return to Clara so I was in limbo the whole time and everything about the ending was unexpected to me.

Holy cow.

not my father's son

not my father's son
alan cumming
harper audio
published 2014

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as the celebrated actor of film, television, and stage.  At times suspenseful, at times deeply moving, but always incredibly brave and honest, Not My Father's Son is a powerful story of embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside.

I have always been a fan of Alan Cumming, but not in a 'he's my favorite actor' sort of way.  When I finished my last audiobook I knew I needed something else to listen to while I crocheted and this book was available from the library.  I tend to enjoy audiobooks more when they're memoirs and read by the author and it's even better read in Cumming's gorgeous Scottish brogue.

Cumming is honest both about his father's behavior toward his two children and wife and about his own coming to terms with accepting his past and moving on.  His memories of his father's abuse are broken up with his quest to learn about his maternal grandfather.  His grandfather had died in mysterious circumstances far away from home while Cumming's mother was still a child and when Cumming is approached by the BBC show 'Who Do You Think You Are?' he realized he could maybe solve the mystery for his mother and himself.

The stories he tells are gripping and wrenching.  His love for his mother, brother and husband are palpable and at times it's that love shining through that keeps the book from being merely brooding and depressing.

I loved this book.  I could have listened to him tell stories all day long (and I did).  I wanted to just have it on a loop and fall asleep to his voice!

american vampire, vol. 1

american vampire, volume 1
scott snyder, stephen king & rafael albuquerque
published 2011

This volume follows two stories: one written by Snyder and one written by King.  Snyder's story is set in 1920's LA, we follow Pearl, a young woman who is turned into a vampire and sets out on a path of righteous revenge against the European Vampires who tortured and abused her.  This story is paired with King's story, a western about Skinner Sweet, the original American Vampire - a stronger, faster creature than any vampire ever seen before with rattlesnake fangs and powered by the sun.

I'm not a big fan of Stephen King, but love Snyder's work and a friend recommended that I try this one out.  As luck would have it the library had it just sitting there the other day so I picked it up and cracked it open.

I really enjoyed the story, especially Pearl's vengeance driven story line.  I wasn't as fond of the old west story (and not because that was King's part), but I'm just not a big fan of westerns although I did find it entertaining nonetheless.  I'm not sure that I liked the whole thing enough to continue to read through the series (is there more?), but I did enjoy this volume.

the kite runner

the kite runner
khaled hosseini
published 2002

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father's servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed.  It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption: and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons - their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

This is one of those books that I generally steer away from.  Books I label 'socially conscious' books.  I don't even think that's a real term, but it's always what I think of when books like this.  To me it means that this book is about something we should know about.  Like reading about current events.  Or, books Oprah raves about.  If Oprah is raving about a book I know I probably don't want to read that book.  Oprah and I do not have the same taste in books.

But at a book club meeting with women I love and respect they all unanimously voiced their love of The Kite Runner and one mentioned it was a great audiobook listen because then you weren't stumbling on the unfamiliar words and names.  I like to listen to books when read by the authors also, and this one was.  I was also made more curious after I discovered that Khaled Hosseini grew up in my hometown after moving to the States and even graduated from the other high school in our district.  So I set aside my prejudices about socially conscious books and checked out the audiobook from the library to listen to while I crocheted.

I did not love it.

I don't even understand why people like this book.  The main character, Amir is one of the most irredeemable, disgusting protagonists I've ever had the displeasure of reading about.  I was literally disgusted with him.  It made my stomach roll and at times I would exclaim in frustration because I just wanted him to shut up.  Are we supposed to learn to like him?  Have sympathy for him?  What is the point of creating a character so far removed from human decency?  I kept waiting for the moment when he would step up and atone for his past behaviors, but that didn't happen!  AND EVERYONE KEPT FORGIVING HIM!  He was treated as 'poor Amir' as if these things had happened TO him, when in fact he was the catalyst for ruining the lives of so many people who loved him.  And even in what should have been his great moment of redemption he once again proves to be a coward and useless.  When he should be a protector, he instead terrifies and then kneels idly while screaming instead of attempting to get help.  Waste.

The book dragged on for me with repetitive moments like when Assef is telling Sohrab to put down the slingshot.  It went like this:
"Put it down."  "No."  "Put it down."  "No."  "Put it down!"  "No."  "Put it down!"  "No!"  "Put it down!"  "No!"  "Put it down!"  "No!"
I almost went crazy in that moment.

Then there were the times when he would say something like:
"I have something important to tell you.  It will change your life.  It may be too late."  "What is it?!"  "Well, it may be too late."  "What do you mean?"  "I will tell you, but it may be too late.  Would you like a cigarette?"  "No, thank you."  "Let me ask you first, why do you want to know?"  "It's personal."  "But why do you want to know?"  "I have my reasons."  "But why?"  "It's personal."
Wasn't it painful reading that right now?  That's how I felt.  You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm really not.

I was not surprised by anything.  Amir's actions and the repercussions of these actions were so obvious it was nearly unbearable.  Ugh.

But all was not terrible.  I loved reading about the Kabul in the 70's.  I loved getting that glimpse of  Afghan culture and traditions.  I enjoyed when Amir and Baba moved to the States and settled in the Bay Area reading about places I had been, like Lake Elizabeth and the Berryessa Flea Market, staples of my childhood.  I could clearly picture the stalls at the flea market and imagined Amir and his father maybe passing by my childhood home on their way back to Fremont.  I did love some of the characters, Hassan and Ali, of course, Baba, Soraya and her mother....but in the end it wasn't enough.

Friday, March 13, 2015

last winter we parted

last winter, we parted
fuminori nakamura
soho press
published 2014

A young writer arrives at a prison to interview a convict.  The writer has been commissioned to write a full account of the case, from the bizarre and grisly details of the crime to the nature of the man behind it.  The suspect, a world-renowned photographer named Kiharazaka, has a deeply unsettling portfolio - lurking beneath the surface of each photograph is an acutely obsessive fascination with his subject.

He stands accused of murdering two women - both burned alive - and will likely face the death penalty.  But something isn't quite right.  As the young writer probes further, his doubts about this man as a killer intensify, and he struggles to maintain his sense of reason and justice.  Is Kiharazaka truly guilty, or will he die to protect someone else?

This could have been a really good book.  It had a mystery, a possibly wrongly convicted man, a twisted romance, murder and insanity.  But there wasn't much to the book.  It was a very quick read and I think that's why I continued to read.  Not because it was hard to put down, but because it was so short I figured I might as well finish it.  I think I read it in a few hours.

The synopsis talks of this young writer and you would think that his character would keep the mystery going for you, but in truth I don't really know what that writer was doing.  And then all of a sudden he solves the mystery.  It's all rather abrupt.

I don't know.  I really liked the idea behind the book, but I felt the execution fell flat or maybe something was just lost in translation?

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