Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan Book ReviewTitle: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Format: Library eBook
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

Crazy Rich Asians is hilarious, totally shallow and rife with Asian stereotypes as only Kevin Kwan can funnily depict. The story follows three wealthy Chinese families, the Youngs, Shangs and T’Siens. I personally liked the footnotes describing Hokkien words sprinkled throughout the story – Chuppie anyone?! I cannot wait to read the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend!

I want to be upfront this story has a huge cast of characters, so much so that Kwan supplies a simplified family tree. But don’t let that bother you because this isn’t one of those super in depth novels where you need to go back and re-read to understand the story. There are only a handful of main characters flanked by a larger group of supporting characters.

The story opens up with Nicholas Young inviting Rachel Chu to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding (THE wedding of the year!) in Singapore followed by bumming around Asia for the summer. Nicholas and Rachel are both professors at NYU and have dated nearly two years. Nicholas hasn’t told Rachel about his super-wealthy family and doesn’t think it will change anything between them. The red carpet is rolled out when they board the airplane to Singapore and Rachel is in awe. Nick’s family is skeptical of Rachel’s intentions and have dubbed her as ABC (American Born Chinese) with mainland China peasantry roots. Rachel is surprised by the cold reception she receives from Nick’s family and Nick is oblivious of it until it’s too late.

I found this story fast-paced and very entertaining. There were a lot of jaw-dropping moments – the gobs of money spent as a status symbol, the values placed on money and family control. But interspersed within the story is a valuable lesson about marriage – it should never be for money!

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Book Review: Dumplin’

Dumplin' by Julie MurphyTitle: Dumplin’
Author: Julie Murphy
Format: Audiobook
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

While growing up I was blessed with a tall and skinny physique but like other girls there were things I was self conscious about. It didn’t help to be painfully shy during this awkward stage.  I wish I had been more like Willowdean Dickson, a girl who is comfortable in her own skin. You see, Willow is fat and she’s alright with that. Her mother calls her Dumplin’, she lives in Clover City, Texas, home of the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant and she adores Dolly Parton. Will’s mom is a former pageant winner who now runs the show and prides herself on fitting into her pageant dress and strict adherence to pilates and fad diets. Will’s best friend Ellen is her visual antithesis but their friendship has always worked.  But then Ellen has sex with her boyfriend and Bo, the cute private school jock, kisses Will and everything becomes weird.  A fight with her mom sends Will off to enter the pageant out of spite followed by Ellen’s registration which angers Will sending their friendship sideways.

There are several things I liked about this story. Murphy’s character development is brilliant.  These teenagers bare their souls – they express their inner most feelings, say what’s on their mind while maintaining that small town southern charm.  The experiences are relatable to anyone who is currently sixteen or was a teen at one time. This could have easily been a feel good story – fat girl enters pageant and wins but it’s much more than that.  Murphy puts it all on the line.  Will’s a confused teenager toggling between a tough-as-nails exterior and her vulnerable side.  She has hang-ups just like everyone else.  For example, when Bo kisses her she is terrified her back fat will turn him off.  And what’s a boy like Bo doing with a girl like herself?

What didn’t work for me is the course language and sexual content on repeat.  And it detracts from the main point – body image – so I’m conflicted sharing the story with my preteen.  This is a story that parents need to flesh out first before handing off to their children.  But the message is strong and important and kids need to know that it’s okay to be comfortable in your own skin no matter what you look like.

Book Review: A Window Opens

A Window Opens by Elisabeth EganTitle: A Window Opens
Author: Elisabeth Egan
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

It was easy for me to get lost in A Window Opens because this story speaks to women like myself, the Generation X / Sandwich Generation.  As a full-time wife, mom to three children and daughter of aging parents, many of Alice’s experiences parallel mine and provided a sense of relief that I’m not alone amongst all commotion.

New Jersey suburban mom, Alice Pearse proudly dons her ‘work-life-balance’ badge as part-time editor at You magazine, full time wife, mom to three children and daughter to aging parents whose father is in remission.  Her job in the city affords her the suburban indulgence, best-of-both worlds we all want; intellectual engagement with co-workers, free time for fitness and coffee dates with friends while supporting her partner track lawyer husband Nicholas and caring for their young children.

The story opens up with Nicholas leaving a lasting, and not in a good way, impression with his employer by chucking his laptop computer across the conference room after learning he did not make partner.  He plays this up as an opportunity to start his own firm.  Alice is all too eager to jump in and bear the financial weight while Nicholas builds up his clientele.  A chance opportunity via Twitter lands her a job at a hip millennial startup, Scroll where books meet coffee shop business model.

What starts out as the perfect balancing act quickly turns into a madhouse.  Alice finds Scroll’s business model and jargon (carbon-based books anyone?) confusing and demands to be ‘tied-in’ 24/7 too much while Nicholas is spending more time hitting the sauce than drumming up business, her dad’s throat cancer returns, the babysitter quits and she doesn’t have time to attend her children’s school activities.  How much is Alice willing to give to have it all?

I really enjoyed this book on several levels.  I saw a bit of myself in Alice and felt like the story depicted a fairly accurate account of how mom’s are a huge support and lifeline in many households.  I also found Alice’s relationship with her father both moving and funny – complete with texts, emails and a Facebook profile!

Book Review: The Girls

The Girls by Emma Cline
Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Format: Hardcover
Rating:⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “These long-haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around them, tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile.”

The Girls is an literary interpretation of the Manson Family murders. Set in 1969 in Petaluma, California, teenaged Evie Boyd sidles up to a cult narrowly escaping the fateful night that changed everything.

In between jobs and staying at a friends house, Evie’s quiet is disturbed by the homeowners son, Julian and his girlfriend Sasha. They know who Evie’s is and want the details about her summer on the ranch. Julian’s drug smuggling and maniacal behavior coupled with Sasha’s youth remind Evie of the lure all those years ago.

The story is told from an adult Evie’s point of view recalling the summer after her parents divorce. Often ignored by her mother who was more interested in finding a man, Evie was a lonely girl, plain-looking and flitting about longing for her place. She had grown bored of her mundane middle-class existence and her best friendship recently dissolved. One afternoon in the park Evie is drawn to laughter of three girls – raunchy, carefree, dressed in second hand frocks and dumpster diving for food. The pretty girl, Suzanne captures Evie’s attention and brings her back to the ranch to introduce her to their free loving, god-like leader, Russell. A self proclaimed genius and musical prodigy, Russell was vying for a record deal with Mitch Lewis and uses Suzanne to convince Evie to have sex with Mitch, losing her virginity to him. Russell takes advantage of Evie’s vulnerability and tests her loyalty – thru sex and stealing money from her mom. The ranch is a place where Evie is noticed, something her mother failed to do. But it’s not Russell’s attention she is competing for, it’s Suzanne’s – the raven like beauty who braids her hair, loves her and later protects her.

Evie spends the summer going back and forth between the ranch and her suburban home before going off to boarding school. With a failed record deal Russell deploys a group of followers, including Suzanne to teach Mitch a lesson.

This story brings to the forefront control and exploitation of women. It is powerful and manipulative. It would be a good book for someone who enjoys true crime but with a literary twist and void of the gory details.

Book Review: Into The Water

Paula Hawkins Into the Water RatingTitle: Into The Water
Author: Paula Hawkins
Format: Hardcover
Rating: ⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.”

Like The Girl On The Train, Paula Hawkins brilliantly casts a dark and depressive shadow over her newest novel Into The Water. Another go-around with an unlikable character flanked by equally unlikable and creepy supporting characters.

Two women have recently drowned at the hands of the local river in Beckford, the Drowning Pool. Nel Abbott, a single mother, writer and photographer dredging up the past of former drowning victims, and Katie Whittaker the teenaged friend of Nel’s daughter Lena who committed suicide. Uncertainty swirls around whether Nel was pushed from the cliff above or jumped to her death. Was she getting too close to solving the mysterious deaths of the Drowning Pool?

Nel’s estranged sister Jules has shown up to identify the body and take up residence in her house to watch over Lena. Digging deeper into Nel’s past unravels horrible memories of their childhood. Jules is looking for insight to why Nel so desperately tried to reach her before her death.

Meanwhile, Louise Whittaker is trying to come to grips with her daughter’s suicide. Like all mother’s she was sure she knew her daughter well.  Lena lets Katie’s big secret out of the bag, a secret affair with her school teacher, causing Louise to cast blame on Lena.

There were a few things that didn’t work for me with this story. Hawkins presents a large cast of characters and a lot of back and forth perspectives. I found this quite confusing and detracting. I also never felt a connection to any of the characters, I found them thinly developed. Finally, the storyline is weak – I was never left in suspense wanting to turn the page. Towards the end I just wanted to be done.

Book Review: The Arrangement

The Arrangement by Sarah DunnTitle: The Arrangement
Author: Sarah Dunn
Format: Kobo Ebook
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5
Quote: “We’re not buying Sam’s Club condoms,” said Owen. “Their trash bags don’t even work.”

I really liked The Arrangement – it is unconventional, smart, well-paced, hilarious and at times poignant.  I haven’t been entertained like this by a book in a long time. Sarah Dunn is amazing!

What married couple hasn’t fantasized about having it all?  The marriage, kids, house, a sense of community AND a free pass to have sex with someone else!  Attractive, thirty-something Lucy and Owen trade in their New York City lifestyle for suburbia Beekman to raise their 5-year old autistic son Wyatt.  To revive their stale marriage they embark on something completely unconventional – an open marriage.  Their arrangement has clear rules: six months tops, no sex with friends, no questions asked, no falling in love and no leaving.

Sound like the perfect arrangement?

Dunn nails the suburban lifestyle with her brilliant cast of stereotypical characters – from Sunny Bang often confused for the other two Asian women in Beekman, to Gordon Allen the tycoon married to his much younger third wife, to Mr. (Mrs.) Lowell the transgender kindergarten teacher.  Then there’s the partners Lucy and Owen choose for their flings.  Owen, a typical man, bangs the first attractive woman he meets – Izzy, batty as hell and nags him more than his wife but wise beyond her facade.  Meanwhile, Sunny (who could never have a fling but wants all the details) sets Lucy up with Ben, an old acquaintance, and single dad who ignites Lucy’s sexuality and sparks new love.

Humour aside, Dunn’s portrayal of marital discord and unfortunate outcomes are spot on.  This story has an authenticity about it, particularly how couples navigate thru marital stagnancy due to life’s stressors – from Lucy ‘letting herself go’ to both she and Owen managing Wyatt’s behaviour pitfalls.  We also get a front row seat into their own personal growth as a result from this experiment.

This would be a super story for anyone who is middle-aged and married with kids but equally entertaining for anyone who is not.  I for one cannot wait to read another Sarah Dunn novel.