23

A cherry on top: Rich People Problems

When I finished reading China Rich Girlfriend in 2015, I immediately began looking forward to book three. So to say that I was anticipating Rich People Problems would be a massive understatement.

From the first page of Crazy Rich Asians, I knew that I had found something special, something new. And it’s been a love affair that I will not shut up about ever since.

With this much expectation, Rich People Problems could have been a massive letdown.

BUT IT WASN’T.

I cackled and screeched and laughed my way through this third book with unconcealed glee.

RPB

When the matriarch of the family, Su Yi Shang becomes ill, the Youngs, Chengs, Leongs and Shangs all come back to Tyersall Park to stake a claim to her massive fortune. The huge 64 acre property in the middle of Singapore becomes the scene of family scheming, backstabbing and hysterics.

Look, if you haven’t read the first two books, the plot of this one won’t mean anything. If you’ve read the first two and have yet to read the third (how I envy you!) know that all your favourite characters are back and in fine form: Kitty Pong and her stepdaughter Colette Bing are embroiled in a stealth battle of status across the globe, Eddie Cheng is up to all the same tricks while collecting watches and forcing his family to dress just like him, and Astrid and Charlie Wu are trying to make things work while their exes are hell-bent on destroying their lives.

(Also, can we talk about this cover? SO CHIC)

I read this over the long weekend, in the sunshine, and it was glorious. I was messaging Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books (who has a review up that you should read even though I haven’t yet because I wanted to write this first) because I knew she had read it. I had to talk to someone about what I was reading. There were moments, I swear to you, I was screaming in the garden because I was delighted by the audacity of this book. Kevin Kwan is a genius.

Among other things, this book includes a completely over the top Bollywood proposal, a kidnapping at an elite private school, a Nigel Barker photo shoot for Tattle magazine, and plastic surgery for a stupidly expensive FISH. I mean, what more do you WANT?

Look, the world is a garbage fire and it seems to get worst every day. Kevin Kwan’s series is one of the only things I know of that guarantees to take you out of this world. His delicious, gorgeous, over-the-top world filled with intrigues big and small, peopled with some of the most memorable characters, will thrill you. It will put a big ol’ smile on your face. And when you’re done, I’m pretty sure you will join me in obsessively reading Crazy Rich Asians casting/production news.

If you haven’t read these books yet, get on it. If you are waiting to read Rich People Problems, don’t.

Rich People Problems was the cherry on top of a very decadent, perfect, wonderful sundae.

Huge thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for making my dreams come true a little earlier with an ARC of this book. 

7

Library Checkout – April 2017

Another month, another Library Checkout! Visit Charleen @ It’s a Portable Magic for the full story!

librarycheckout2

Well as you all know, my reading wasn’t strong in April. And while I found that I had a hard time finding time to read, that my focus was lacking when I did read, a funny thing happened when I was at the library: I got excited about the books I was finding.

For a hardcore booknerd this might not seem that noteworthy. But I was struggling, you guys. Instead of seeing possibilities when I looked at the books I had to read, I saw one other thing I had to do. When I looked at my TBR stacks, I didn’t see stories, I saw chores.

But the trips I took to the library had me leaving with a smile. I got that feeling you get when you know you’ve found exactly the books you were looking for.

I didn’t read a lot this month but I feel like everything will be better in May. So here’s what the month with the library looked like:

Read
Sisi: Empress On Her Own by Alison Pataki (the first book was better)
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (so fun)
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto

Returned Unread
The Lights of Paris by Eleanor Brown

Currently Out
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield (for the second time)
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (currently reading)
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler
Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine (can you tell that I have a new obsession?)

On Hold
Nothing right now. See list above!

What about you? What did you find at the library? Link up with It’s a Portable Magic!

11

Batch reviews: Chick Lit

We all know that books categorized as “chick lit” get a bad rep.

They aren’t taken seriously, written off as fluff or easy reading, relegated to beach totes or justified as guilty pleasures.

But I think these books are great. Often they are about the emotional lives of women, of the struggles to find a partner, or trouble within romantic relationships, how difficult it can be to navigate life at the office, or falling out with a good friend. These books are necessary to showcase these facets of female lives!

So.

Here are some “chick lit” titles I read recently that I really enjoyed.

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

after i do

Laura and Ryan have been together for over 11 years and are sniping at each other about everything. They decide to take a break for one year, no contact and after that, re-evaluate. Laura stays in their house and starts trying to live her own life, figure out what’s important to her, talk to her friends and family about life and marriage. As time goes on, she finds it difficult to be apart from Ryan and rethinks her ideas about love and marriage.

This book packed an emotional punch I wasn’t expecting. Really quickly, you get caught up in the lives of Laura and her entire family – her sister who is starting up her own business, her younger brother who has catapulted into marriage and family at a dizzying speed, her mother who is in a new relationship. And while all this happens, Laura misses that one person she used to share all this with. After I Do was honest, and funny and when I finished it, I was sad to leave Laura et al behind.

After You by Jojo Moyes

after you

So I wasn’t going to read this follow up to the devastation of Me Before You. I was of the opinion that the story was complete and I wasn’t super interested in what came next. I was wrong. Louisa Clark has taken the money that Will Trainor left her and bought an apartment for herself. But she hasn’t done anything to make it hers, she works in a terrible job at an airport bar, and spends her evenings alone and tipsy, until she has a fairly serious accident of her own. In the aftermath of her own injury, Lou moves home for a bit, where everyone but her seems to be moving forward. And when an unexpected relation of Will’s shows up, Lou’s life is turned upside down again.

Moyes does a great job with this portrait of grief, of a young woman coming to grips with her new reality. Lou is taking baby steps away from Will and the life she imagined she might have, while also taking on complications from that former life. She’s never been someone that’s able to think about herself before others and this new stage in her life is challenging the belief that she doesn’t matter. If you read and loved Me Before You, don’t hesitate in reading After You.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

hating

After a merger brought two competing publishers together, Lucy is forced to work near Joshua. Each is the assistant to the CEO from their respective publisher and spend their days finding ways of tormenting each other. When a new restructuring creates a new role, both of them want it. Their games escalate and suddenly, Lucy starts to see Josh with new eyes.

The Hating Game is a delightful old school romantic comedy. It’s like a book of The Proposal crossed with Ten Things I Hate About You. I loved that it was set in the workplace, that Lucy has ambitions for herself but is also kind of flailing around in her personal life. I didn’t expect this little book to be quite as steamy as it was! Nice little bonus if you ask me! I totally went into The Hating Game with certain expectations and it turned out way better than I thought it would be!

3

Black Like Me

I think the first time I heard about John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me was on twitter. It kind of blows my mind that I reached the ripe old age of 31 before ever hearing of this book.

But now I’ve not only heard of it, I’ve read it.

A friend of mine commented on my Goodreads “review” (I only ever star on Goodreads) that this book sounds like a “racist mess.” I completely understand how she might look at it this way. At times, reading the book, I cringed. But I think Griffin’s intention was good and reading the Afterword, understanding how he put his money where his mouth was after the fact to agitate for Civil Rights, I’m willing to give him a pass.

black like me

If you’re not already familiar with Black Like Me, it’s the diary of a white man who, in 1959 decides to take medication that will darken his skin and cross into the Deep South to find out what life was like for a Black man. Before he undergoes the transformation, he writes about why he’s decided to do this:

How else except by becoming a Negro could a white man hope to learn the truth? Though we lived side by side throughout the South, communication between the two races had simply ceased to exist. Neither really knew what went on with those of the other race. The Southern Negro will not tell a white man the truth. He long ago learned that if he speaks a truth unpleasing to the white, the white will make life miserable for him.

Once Griffin had made the decision, he leaves his life and family and crosses into the Deep South as a Black man. And it becomes evident very quickly how different life is on the other side. He very quickly realizes how he has to modify his behaviour, language and clothing in order to stay safe.

As Griffin works his way ever deeper, from Louisiana to Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, he meets Black men and women with whom he feels a connection, who smile at him and help him when he needs it, like when he’s stranded on a highway and a family lets him stay the night with them, even though there is only room for him on the floor. In talking to those he meets, he comes to see how difficult it is for Black men and women to get a fair shake in a country that is still intent on seeing only the colour of their skin.

It is an indictment of the times that it took a white man standing up to say “hey this is an issue” but if you stop and actually think about it, it’s not so very different today. I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on HBO the other day and there’s a scene where Oprah asks a white woman a question and the white woman looks at Oprah’s white companion to answer, as if Oprah isn’t standing right there. This is still an issue.

But for all the flaws in the experiment, Griffin’s book remains an interesting historical document. He wrote with respect and empathy about people that he wouldn’t otherwise have gotten to know because of the racist laws of the time. His experience, what he learned, served to change the direction of his life. And that’s worth something.

 

3

The Neapolitan Novels

Everyone kept talking about Elena Ferrante and the Neapolitan books and how they were so good and I had to read them.

I caved and read My Brilliant Friend, book one, over Christmas 2015. It was fine but I wasn’t obsessed like everyone said I would be.

I’ve just finished book three, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and I just want to go on record as saying, these books are so good and you really do need to read them.

neapolitan

Maybe it was that in the first book, frenemies (are we still allowed to use this word?) Elena and Lila are still children and it takes a while for them to grow up. Their childhood slights and troubles didn’t make as big an impact on me, but I did enjoy life in their Naples neighbourhood.

But it is essential to know Lila and Elena as children, to understand their dynamic, the competition they felt with each other, where they grew up, to appreciate how their relationship ebbs and flows through the other books.

After books two (The Story of a New Name) and three, I am stunned at how Ferrante has been able to write about the complications of female friendship. Lila, who wasn’t able to continue going to school after Grade 5, has been married to an abusive man, left to work in a factory where the working conditions were pretty miserable until someone from the neighbourhood offers her an opportunity she can’t refuse. Elena, who has continued to study throughout university, has published a novel, married a professor and moved all the way to Florence. There she finds that she’s not terribly happy despite having everything she thought she wanted.

Through all the changes in their lives, there continues to be a magnetic pull between the two women. There is no one who knows you as well as those friends from childhood, especially when you remain in each other’s lives. But those relationships become complicated by the person you want to become, the new ways you see the world, the people you meet that aren’t from the same place as you. It can become difficult to maintain the level of intimacy you had from childhood.

This is the essence of Elena Ferrante’s incredible books. They ruminate on the internal lives of women, the struggle to be seen as a separate entity from wife or mother, to have things for ourselves outside those roles, how our relationships with other women change over time. All of this against the political changes of Italy from the 1950s forward.

These books are brilliant. They continue to gather more fans, to have more people talk about them because they are wonderful. If your only exposure to these books is the whole “who is Elena Ferrante?” business, you need to get to a bookstore/library and sort your life out.

Still plenty of time until it becomes an HBO produced series. 

I am desperate to read book four, The Story of the Lost Child, but I also don’t want to finish the series.

4

Canada Reads 2017: The Right To Be Cold

When the Canada Reads shortlist was announced this year, it struck me (and many others) as odd that there was a non-fiction selection among them. How can the merits of a non-fiction selection be weighed alongside fiction?

Nonetheless, the non-fiction title (The Right To Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, The Arctic and the Whole Planet) was one of only two titles that I even wanted to read. (The other was Katherena Vermette’s The Break and I don’t even want to talk about how that book was treated during the debates. READ IT)

right to be cold

Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s The Right To Be Cold is part memoir, part manifesto. The first half of the memoir, about her life growing up in the Arctic and the traditions of her Inuit culture, I loved. Her home, her traditions, her culture, her language, her family – all were written about with such love while pointing out that their way of life was being threatened by the warming of the Earth.

She writes quite plainly:

The Arctic ice and snow, the frozen terrain that Inuit life has depended on for millennia, is now diminishing in front of our eyes.

We are all accustomed to the dire metaphors used to evoke the havoc of climate change, but in many parts of the Arctic, the metaphors have already become a very literal reality. For a number of reasons, the planet warms several times faster at the poles. While climate experts warn that an increase of two degrees in the global average temperature is the threshold of disaster, in the Arctic we have already seen nearly double that.

Part of the issue, of course, is that those sounding the alarm are not the “right” kind of people. They are those citizens that have been taken advantage of, that have been robbed of their culture, forced into educational institutions that separated them from their families and did their own kind of damage. Although not the focus of the book, Watt-Cloutier does touch on this aspect of it. Those citizens that have been suppressed and abused are now charged with righting the wrongs of the rest of us.

And so, as her people’s way of life became threatened, as new generations were being robbed of the necessary environment to practice essential skills, as the habitats of animals necessary to sustain life in the Arctic became increasingly endangered, Watt-Cloutier saw that she would need to take a stand.

And that leads to the manifesto/memoir overlap of the book that kind of lost me. Undoubtedly her work is so very important and fundamental to the future of her people and the entire planet. But in writing about it, she relies on the retelling of political process, of the meetings she had, speeches she heard and gave, of those she met whose minds she changed.

It was all so dry.

Which is a shame because I do think that this is an important book for people to read, to understand just how precarious our situation is when it comes to climate change. It has already had very real implications for people right now.

I so appreciate Sheila Watt-Cloutier and the work she has done. I just wish that she had been able to leave out the process and focus on what needs to happen. Or spend more time on shocking people into that state of things as they are, and how much damage we have already done.

Canada Reads has come and gone by now and though I still think it was weird to add a non-fiction book to the party, there’s enough in The Right To Be Cold to make it worth your while. We can’t really afford to pretend this isn’t a serious problem.

8

Swede Lit Win: Britt-Marie Was Here

At the beginning of the month, the chaos of my life started bleeding into my reading. I wasn’t able to focus on reading for any length of time. I went days without reading any pages at all!

Finally, Fredrik Backman rescued me.

We all know that I loved A Man Called Ove and tried to force a number of you to read it. I also fell in love with My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes. I was hopeful for more of the same for Britt-Marie Was Here but also, how can a third book possibly hold up?

Oh it did!

britt1

The cover I have

Britt-Marie was one of the characters from My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes. She was the one that Elsa’s grandmother tormented by shooting a paintball gun at her or pretending to hurl a dead body off the balcony. She was uptight, believed in everything in it’s proper place and just didn’t seem to care about much except to have the place clean and tidy.

Well at the beginning of Britt-Marie Was Here, Britt-Marie is living in a hotel room, desperate for a job to keep herself occupied after leaving her husband Kent, a serial philanderer who only values his wife for her ability to keep his life in order. There aren’t a lot of jobs in his economy, which Britt-Marie maintains is fine now as that’s what her husband has told her and he’s in business you know, but finally something is found for her. The rec centre at Borg, the kind of place that has only a road through it to recommend it, is looking for someone to keep it tidy.

britt2

The cover I prefer

So Britt-Marie is off to Borg, a town decimated by the loss of their trucking industry jobs, where kids are left to fend for themselves, who only have the remnants of a soccer team left to give order to their days. Britt-Marie lands in Borg with nothing and has to contend with the semi-legalities of the supermarket-pizza-place-pub-laundromat-mechanic, motherless kids whose elder brother is mixed up with nefarious influences, and a blind roommate dealing with the loss of her father. And somehow, Britt-Marie, who knows nothing about soccer, becomes the kids’ soccer coach.

Britt-Marie Was Here has all the hallmarks of a Backman novel but instead of feeling repetitive and unoriginal, it is comforting and fun. Britt-Marie herself remains essentially the same – she still values cleanliness, has a love for glass cleaner, and prefers that things are done as they have always been done – but she makes room in her life for those who live in Borg. In so doing, she allows hidden parts of herself to come back to life after lying dormant for years. We come to realize that there has always been more to Britt-Marie. And Borg feels all the effects of Britt-Marie having been in town.

In the end, once again, I found myself in tears. It’s not a Fredrik Backman book unless you find yourself in tears in the end.