2

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. 

13

Creeping on the commute: I See You

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

The weather has been all kinds of crazy in my neck of the woods. Snow! All week! For a city that rarely sees more than a couple of centimetres all winter.

It’s turned out to be absolutely perfect reading weather. I picked up Clare Mackintosh’s I See You and spent an entire day happily tucked up in my reading chair with it.

iseeyou

Zoe Walker takes the Tube to and from work every day. On her way home one evening, she’s reading the London Gazette and stumbles across her own picture. In a personal ad, in the escort services section. She didn’t place the ad, so how did it get there?

A new woman is featured every day, the women are never looking at the camera. Soon Zoe begins to notice that the women featured in the ads have become the victims of increasingly violent crimes: theft, burglary, sexual assault and even, murder.

Zoe contacts Kelly Swift, a transit officer who was involved with one of the early thefts involving one of the women featured in an ad. Kelly is the only person who takes Zoe’s fears seriously and gets herself seconded on the team that’s investigating one of the potentially related murders.

And that’s as much as I’m telling you!

This book was brilliant. It was well-paced, letting the reader in just enough to let you think that you’ve got it figured out. But Mackintosh is actually leagues ahead of you the entire time.

I See You preys on fears that I have certainly harboured as a woman who commutes. In order to get through the trek, I think commuters are totally guilty of ignoring everyone around them – I just want to get home. But what if you think someone is following you? What if someone is watching you? Someone who knows that you always choose the same seat on the bus, that you always buy your coffee at the same time every day?

When I was reading this, I was glad that it was written by a woman. A woman would share these fears, would understand them. Coming from a man, I think I would have been more creeped out, it might have felt exploitative in a way.

I can’t recommend this book enough to those of you who love thrillers like I do. I find that Christmas is an especially great time for these kinds of books. So if you love the genre, get yourself a copy of I See You.

I haven’t read her debut, I Let You Go, but you better believe I’m looking out for it now. And according to Mackintosh’s instagram, book three is in the making.

17

No Joy: Swing Time

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Last year I was one of the very last people to read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. It was just so-so for me – I felt like I was missing a crucial connection to a book that everyone raves about.

Still, I’ve been drawn to Smith all year. If I see her name mentioned or a photo of her, I have to click to see what’s up. There’s just something about Zadie Smith.

So when I got the chance to read her new novel, Swing Time, I was up for it.

swing-time

Swing Time follows the lives of two girls – their friendship begins when they are the only two brown girls in their Saturday morning dancing class. One, Tracey, has talent; the other, our unnamed narrator, does not but is an avid student of all dance. Their lives intersect throughout their childhood, until it ends suddenly in their early twenties. For the one, that friendship echoes through her adult life, while Tracey finds her way onto the stage while struggling within her adult life.

Eventually our narrator finds a job as a personal assistant to Aimee, a pop star turned icon. When Aimee turns her attentions to philanthropy in Africa, her assistant finds herself spending more time in the small village, where the rhythm of life is completely different to anything she knows.

Again, Smith is ambitious in the scope of her novel. Swing Time examines race, friendship, mothers and daughters, fame, poverty, dance, ambition and education. At times Smith’s prose is unbearably beautiful. I’m constantly in awe of her talent.

But.

(You knew it was coming right?)

I still had a hard time connecting to this book. I feel like I should have been a wreck reading this but I just wasn’t. Like with White Teeth, there was no sense of anticipation about coming back to this book, there was no joy in the experience. It started out strong for me but ended up in so many different directions that I found it hard to hold onto anything that would make this one stand out for me.

No doubt I’m the lone voice of dissonance.

While I was reading this, I ended up listening to an old episode of Lena Dunham’s podcast, Women of the Hour. The subject of the episode was Work and who should appear as a guest? Zadie Smith. And I fell a little bit in love with her.

But still not enough to fall in love with this book.

office-karen-shrug

22

Get on the bandwagon: The Mothers

Thankfully, since the DNF debacle (I actually DNF’d a weirdly disjointed Agatha Christie shortly thereafter!), I’ve read some GREAT books. I’m going to do my best to talk about all of them.

Today we start with Brit Bennett’s The Mothers.

By now, most of you have seen this book around. The cover is a colourful depiction of a woman, perhaps a stained glass woman. It’s been on Must Read lists all over the place and being lauded as a “dazzling” debut novel.

All of the hype is warranted.

How rare is it to be able to say that?

the-mothers

The Mothers is the story of three teenagers in a small African-American community in Southern California: Nadia, beautiful and motherless trying to find her way out of grief, making the only decision she can see; Luke, the son of the preacher coming to terms with his life after football; and Aubrey, a stranger in the community whose life centers around faith and being good, running from events that haunt her still.

When Nadia gets pregnant with Luke’s baby, the decision she makes ripples out through the years, touching all of their lives. This book looks at the decisions we make when we are young, when we are different from the people we will ultimately become, and how those decisions can define us for years after.

The title comes from the group of women, The Mothers, of the church who see everything unfolding, who see the experiences of Luke, Aubrey and Nadia through the lens of their own experiences, who tried to help where they could.

This book is beautiful. It astonished me. Somehow Bennett manages to weave a story around abortion that doesn’t feel judgemental – incredible when you realize that the story takes place in a community of faith. Although abortion is the device that propels the plot forward, this book isn’t about abortion.

Aubrey, Luke and Nadia come to us as flawed people, trying to forge their path in this world despite the obstacles thrown in their way. It is so, so, so beautifully written.

This is the kind of book that will give you a book hangover. The one that will leave you feeling dissatisfied with basically anything that you read afterwards. The best/most astonishing part? Bennett is only 25! It’s probably safe to say that we can expect more thoughtful, gorgeous, staggering stories from her.

PS she also wrote this.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 

9

The DNF Chronicles: The Last Days of Night

I was feeling pretty smug about my reading. I was enjoying book after book, amazing title after amazing title. I was starting to feel like my great reads streak wasn’t going to end.

Pride goes before the fall right?

I started reading The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, interested in the story of the battle over electricity rights. Edison sued his competitor George Westinghouse for $1 billion in 1888 and Westinghouse’s response was to hire a baby lawyer (26 years old) to defend him. The tale was supposed to be twisty and turny and showcase Edison as a dangerous enemy, rather than the brilliant inventor. Tesla even makes an appearance!

Around 30 pages in, I noticed something strange: there were no women in the story, just white men. Allowances must be made for the story being set in 1888, I suppose but it left me feeling rankled. I pushed on.

Nearing page 70 and still no mention of a female character (Westinghouse’s wife does make an appearance but only as the hostess of a dinner party for eminent male guests). I started to flip through pages to see if a woman would appear soon – I came across the name Agnes. On page 110.

Sadly, I wasn’t invested in the story at all at this point and didn’t want to read another 40 pages to meet a woman.

kim-k

Fine, this is a true story from a time when women weren’t exactly running around on the streets. It was nearly impossible for women to have careers outside the home, especially in STEM fields. But that doesn’t mean that I have to spend my time reading that story.

I did not finish this book. It’s still something I have trouble doing but I wasn’t interested in this story  – I kept waiting for something to hook me and nothing really did. Add to the general lack of interest to a scarcity of any women in the story, which actively irritated me, (I would have taken a clever maid at this point) and you get the perfect case for a DNF.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me with one of Moore’s books either. I remember feeling similarly about The Sherlockian. At the end of it, I felt all of “that’s it?”

I’m sure there are people for whom this is a great story, who can’t get through it fast enough; I am not that audience.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 

10

Small Great Things

For Christmas 2007, a friend of mine got me Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. That book led to Nineteen Minutes, Keeping Faith, Plain Truth, Mercy, Handle With Care, The Tenth Circle and Change of Heart. I read so many of them, in a relatively short period of time, that they started to run together. Lone Wolf was the last Picoult book I read and it made me decide to take a break from her work for a while.

I heard amazing things about The Storyteller, a book she co-wrote with her teenage daughter, but wasn’t ready to come back.

Enter: Small Great Things.

small-great-things-hc-400w

A summary from Picoult’s website: Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

I’ve been struggling to write this review. Not because I didn’t like the book. I loved the book. The book challenged me. It’s a tale told with empathy and compassion and clear eyes.

I am struggling to write this review because this book feels too big. What am I going to say that Picoult herself hasn’t already?

I loved this book. It’s a heavy book – the chapters told from the perspective of the white supremacist felt ugly and hateful; Ruth’s chapters were heavy with burden, a struggle to play by all the rules, and a slowly burning anger at how she’s being treated; and Kennedy’s chapters showed us a woman doing her job, blind to how race affects her work, content in the idea that she ‘doesn’t see colour.’

In other Picoult books that I’ve read, it seems like a lot of the conflict is within family units. Parents and children, husbands and wives on opposites sides of a case. In Small Great Things, the conflict is so much bigger than a family and the people on either side are not related. In this way, Small Great Things feels more universal than Picoult’s other work.

Early on, I worried that this would be another book where a white person ‘saves’ a black one, that the white person becomes the hero of a black person’s story. This book is Ruth’s story. It is her life that matters here. Picoult handles this challenge with aplomb and when I read the Author’s Note in the end, I could see that she put a lot of work into ensuring that she didn’t run into that problem.

The one thing I wasn’t totally on board with was the redemption offered to the baby’s father. It felt too perfect, too Utopian in a world where that would never happen. But again, reading the Author’s Note clarified her decision for me.  I can see why she did it but I’m still not sure that I agree.

I think this might be my favourite book that she’s written. I am impressed that she took on such a thorny, important issue and handled it with grace. I was interested to note on Goodreads that this book was tagged as Ruth Jefferson #1 so I’m curious to know if that was an error or if we will get more books featuring Ruth. I would very much be up for that.

If you read this book, make sure you read the Author’s Note as well. It really provides great context for the novel and how Picoult came to write it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 

10

Unapologetic: Dear Mr M

I’ve read The Dinner twice. It’s one of the only contemporary books that I’ve ever re-read.

I really liked Summer House with Swimming Pool. I have an immense appreciation for Herman Koch’s unapologetic writing style.

And I’m not alone:

Stephen King totally gets Herman Koch.

Aside from the fact that Koch has actually written eight novels – only three of them have been translated into English. Dear Mr M is the latest.

mr-m

M, a writer, is long past his glory days. Years ago, his novel Payback, was a bestseller. It told the tale of teenaged lovers who offed their teacher after the teacher wouldn’t leave the girl alone. It was based on a real-life mystery that was never solved – the teacher’s body was never found. M’s downstairs neighbour has taken an intense interest in M’s life, finally figuring out a way to get to speak with him about more than just the weather.

This is a story about how decisions we make shape our lives. It’s about an author at the end of his career who doesn’t want to play the role of elder statesman anymore.

I was totally blindsided by the end of this book.

I will admit that there were times where I wondered where this was all going but the payoff! Oh the payoff was good. Koch’s unapologetic writing style is intact – there were actual moments where I was like “this guy! Who does he think he is?” It always takes me a minute to separate the author from the characters when I read Koch’s work – I always wonder where the line is, how much of what is written is the view of its creator? No one is safe – not readers, women, teachers, students, the young, the old, the Dutch, all are subject to the Koch Treatment.

I dogeared so many pages – and I never dog ear pages. But I wanted to be able to go back and read some of his passages. There are whole sections of the book dedicated to writing and readers and what it’s like to be an author and anyone that reads as much as I do will find that so fascinating. A kind of author’s inception. Koch’s writing is so clear eyed, his prose so spare in making points that make you go “huh.” More than any other author, I wonder what it’s like to have a conversation with Herman Koch, to have him come to dinner.

This book challenged me, it forced me to confront uncomfortable truths about people and stories and life. I wasn’t totally aware of what was happening the whole time but when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it and couldn’t wait to get back to it.

I leave you with a few quotes from the book about books and reading:

A reader reads a book. If it’s a good book, he forgets himself. That’s all a book has to do. When the reader can’t forget himself and keeps having to think about the writer the whole time, the book is a failure. That has nothing to do with fun. If it’s fun you’re after, buy a ticket for a roller coaster.

He has never understood why people would want to borrow a book. […] He himself finds it filthy, a borrowed book. […] A book with wine spots and a crushed insect between the pages, with grains of sand from the last reader’s holiday falling out as you read.

We shouldn’t want to force anyone to read, just as little as we should want to force people to go to the movies, listen to music, have sex, or consume alcoholic beverages. Literature doesn’t belong in a secondary school. No, it belongs on the list of things I just mentioned. The list that includes sex and drugs, all the things that give us pleasure without any external coercion. A required reading list! How dare we!

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. Any errors in quoting are due to coming from an unfinished version of the book.