• Books

    Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

    This is a Pulitzer prize winning novel. I did not know what it was about when I started to read it. It’s one day in the life of an older couple Ira and Maggie Moran.

    The characters in this novel felt real. Maggie felt uncomfortably real. She had all this weird peculiarities to her which made her so human. I cringed when reading her thoughts and actions, but it didn’t seem unrealistic to me that this is a kind of woman that existed in the world. I couldn’t relate to her but I did feel some sympathy. Ira was more similar to me, but his character is not explored in as much depth. These characters felt real and it’s a testamount to Tyler’s characterizations and dialogue. However, I do not think I pick up another book of hers anytime soon. The pace of the plot was slow and it was too cringe-worthy for me.

    While it was not bleak, it was not exactly feel good novel either. I do not need a chirpy novel all the time, but it was a bit draining to read Maggie’s interfering plots. I definitely do not regret reading this book. I feel it’s important to read about characters who are not like you. Tyler does it well. I liked the writing but I didn’t love it either prose wise.

    Read August 18, 2018.

  • Books

    My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribbon

    I had not read a book in over a month. When I haven’t read any book after 3 weeks, I get very angsty. It’s not like I don’t have books around, but this one came at the right time.

    This a very enjoyable little graphic novel about a woman whose boyfriend is a grizzly bear. It fantastical realism and silliness. The woman is relatable, but the whimsy of this novel makes it a nice little read. Funnily enough, this is not the first time I’ve read a book where a woman has a relationship with a bear. This graphic novel is a lot more wholesome about it.

    Read August 14-15, 2018

  • Books

    China Rich Problems by Kevin Kwan

    The last book in this trilogy and I am sad! I have had such good time reading these books. The last two have been very addictive.

    I devoured this book in two sittings. I do think the author has issues with dragging the middle parts and concentrating on less interesting or underdeveloped characters like Kitty. She was slightly more developed this novel, but it feels like the reader had to be prodded to like her. The other bad thing is that there is not enough Rachel in this book. She is missing from most of the action in this book which is a shame. We do get to understand Nick better at least.

    I really liked the back story with Ah Ma and the more family inheritance drama. It was good soapy fun. Again the Capital Without Borders book came in handy as I knew and understand all the intricacies about trusts, foundations, and inheritances.

    I really hope Kwan writes another novel soon. He may not be a perfect writer but he is one of the most fun I’ve encountered in awhile.

    Read July 9-10, 2018.

  • Books

    China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

    This was fun. This is the Crazy Rich Asians sequel and another follows this one. I am looking forward to it because I think the author has found that groove. This second instalment in the series is better written than the first. The author changed up some of the format and added more characters. The pace moved along well in the first half. There is still a lot food, Chinese language, and rich people jargon. I continue to like Rachel, Astrid, Nick, and Charlie. Eleanor has developed as well and I like a couple of the new characters.

    Pacing is a bit better but part 2 dragged a little bit while they were in China and Paris. It was very excessive, but I guess this book is all about the ostentatious wealthy. I did find Astrid’s plot frustrating as well but at least it gets resolved much more by the end. The one subplot that I don’t like is the Kitty Pong one. I understand that she represents a different kind of woman than Rachel and Astrid, but she is far more underdeveloped. I have no real interest to seeing her life in Rich Society.

    These are minor quibbles. I am having fun with these books. They remind me when I first started reading Sophie Kinsella’s novels more than a dozen years ago. Easy, frothy, and entertaining fiction where I don’t have to think too much. I have been reading more non-fiction lately so I am glad to have found this series. Furthermore, I love the trend of reading mainstream books with Asians who grew up in the West. It use to be a lot harder to find these kind of novels for me, but they are much more popular now.

    I would caution against reading this in ebook or at least in my very old Kindle. The series uses a lot of footnotes which means being redirected everytime you see them. I started this as an ebook as the novel did not come from the library yet. I made it through Part 1, but returned to Capital Without Borders and waited for the novels to be checked out before I could continue.

    Read July 4-8, 2018

  • Books

    Capital Without Borders by Brooke Harrington

    Between the Crazy Rich Asians books, I decided to read a non-fiction book about the wealthy to ground me further into reality. I learned about this book from the NPR podcast “Hidden Brain.” I actually requested that my public library acquire this book. I only resort to doing that a few times a year.

    The podcast interview let me to think it was more of a casual non fiction book about wealth managers and their ultra high net worth client, but in reality, this is an academic book. It is published by Harvard Press and is about a study that the author held with other wealth managers. As an academic book, there are many footnotes and citations. It is not extremely dry and is rather better written than a lot of academic studies. However, it is not necessarily a book for the average reader learning about wealth managers. The language and theorizing in this book is more academic focussed. It helps to have a background in economics, political science, policy, and law. As I did use to study these topics, I was familiar with a lot of the theories and authors mentioned in this book.

    The book has tidbits and anecdotes from wealth managers and how they are changing the landscape of the sovereign state and political economy. There is wide discussion about wealth inequality. The nature of wealth managers is to preserve the wealth of the rich and allow their families to inherit their economic power. As with a lot of discussion about the wealthy and inequality, it’s rather sad how much the wealthy have over most of the world in this way.

    I liked this book and it’s a good reminder of a profession that the average person does not much about. It’s interesting looking at their perspective and their ability to change policies and client behaviour as well. I do not necessarily recommend this book to everyone because I believe my interest and bacjground in wealth, economics, and politics helped. I do think the book is readable even for the average non-fiction reader. I quite liked it. I wish more academic studies were written this way.

    I recommend this book to those very interested in the topic of wealth management and also, for those are actually wealthy (no one reading this blog). At least if I ever become wealthy enough, I know who I can look for and understand their services better.

    Read July 4-8, 2018.

  • Books

    Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

    With a heatwave going on and a wonderful long weekend underway, I wanted a fun summer read. I have been curious about this book ever since I read that the movie was greenlit.

    This book is definitely the an easy to read summer novel. It has fun travel writing about Singapore and Asia including discussion about its food, fashion, and its people. The last one being the prime focus. The setting and many of the characters in this book are so 1% that this is practically a fantasy novel for most of this world. The families at the centre of the novel are soap operatic in their lineage, marriage traditions, and schemes.

    The author really knows how to describe Chinese people and Chinese culture. It knows the ugly sides of it and the good side of it, but the book revels too much in the bad sides. Rich nasty people are everywhere though. The narratives switch every chapter and it took me some time to get use to the third person omniscient narration. The writing was not as smooth in that respect, but the dialogue is decent. Some of the characters show promise but there was a lot of time where I had to glaze over the idiots. There are one too many unlikable characters and most of them are rather one-note. They are one-note Chinese though.

    I enjoyed the book for the easy pace and I came to appreciate a lot of the customs, dialogue, food, and language in the book. I haven’t read a novel focussed around Asians like this in awhile and definitely not in this setting. This book has the most Cantonese in any Western book. It’s satirical and fun. By the end of it, I had become attached to some of the characters. The book is not going to win best literary award this year; however, I do think I will read the sequels between all my other non-fiction ones.

    Read July 2-3, 2018.

  • Books

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

    This is an epistolary novel set in 1946. I remember reading about this book sometime after I read 84, Charing Cross Road which is another epistolary novel set in post-WWII Britain. The book shot back up in my TBR list after I heard they made a movie adaptation of it.

    After a reading break while I went on holiday to Los Angeles and finishing a couple of small books that I won’t review for the blog, I wanted a very light novel for the warm summer weather. The book suits the purpose.

    It’s very English and has that quirky, cozy tone that can often be found in post-WWII novels. You either like this kind of tone or you don’t and most Anglophiles like myself do find it cute. I liked the novel overall and it did engage me considering it’s created in letters. There are some lovely relationships throughout.

    The one thing that I found a bit too maudlin about the book was that they anchored focus on a character that is not alive during the novel. This reverence that all the characters (including the protagonist who never met the person) was understandable in the minds of the characters, but I felt was too disproportionate in the novel. I think the authors could have eased back on it and still have all the characters and plot be developed in the other ways. As a result, this character felt to me like a plot device more than actual character. Maybe that was the point?

    Other than that and some cheesey over the top villains, it’s a cute novel. It’s the kind of thing that would make a great English period movie. I can’t wait to watch it.

    Read June 2-3, 2018.

  • Books,  Food

    Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen

    This is a graphic novel and cookbook in one. It’s about Cohen’s life as a chef and vegetable focused restaurant owner. Along side recipes and discussions on how to cook vegetables well, there is a lot of on how the struggles and challenges of opening and managing a restaurant. It may be a slightly easier outside of New York City, but I have always been wary of that industry.

    As much as I like food (and maybe harbour some deep desire to train to be a pro if I ever had the money/time), the idea of owning a restaurant has never really appealed to me. It’s expensive and stressful. I know from growing up as an immigrant and observing my parents working in and out of restaurants. Many migrants work in the industry and they often can good money doing it especially if they ever open one up.

    The recipes in this novel are interesting, but I’ll be honest and always found some vegetable techniques complex. I need to be more innovative with my vegetables. The book did have some good tips on it though.

    All in all, an interesting graphic novel and cookbook. I’d recommend to readers who enjoy either or both.

    Read May 4th, 2018.

  • Books

    Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

    This was actually my first Jane Austen biography. I have read all her fiction and I have read other sources about her life but not in a proper biography. I thought it was time to pick one up especially since I like Worlsey as BBC history presenter.

    The book took me longer than usual to read but perhaps typical of a longer nonfiction book. I found the beginning hard to get into. There was something about Worlsey’s writing style that I needed to get accustomed to. It was conversational and I did get use to it.

    I really appreciated the broader, historical context of the era including details about health, gender, home life, economics, Georgian society, and and the Napoleonic wars. It is a shame that she died young. As usual with historical books about women, I appreciated the rights and privileges we have now.

    A good read for those who like Austen and the era.

    Read April 9-20, 2018.

  • Books

    You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis

    This is a graphic travelogue that the author drew while on a bike trip from Arizona to Georgia.

    I really enjoyed the simplicity of the drawings. There is no colour and there is a lot of white space. In an odd way, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the landscape in my own imagination as rendered by the author. This is a type of raw and sincere storytelling. I also loved the many stories of her encounters with strangers including how many were so beautifully kind to her.

    It’s a very simply drawn but a very enjoyable little book.

    Read April 9, 2018.

  • Books

    Had We never Loved by Patricia Veryan

    I had recommended to read Veryan’s novels after I asked for authors similar to Georgette Heyer. I was starting to miss reading her fluffy romances and did not like her mysteries.

    This novel is the second in a series so I was a bit confused with the first chapter, but caught on. I also understand that there are other Very books which may be better.

    There were a few times when reading that I wanted to dump this book, but I’ve already dumped a couple of other books this year. This is the year for me to dump books.

    All in all, I was bored. I didn’t really enjoy the main romance. The leads were fine, but I did not feel connected to either of them. It also read like a bad romantic comedy at times with them being from such vast differences.

    I was also at times more interested in side characters like Katrina Falcon. I found that this novel had too many male characters and male perspectives and not enough female ones. I do not think any two females a sustained conversation in this whole book. Something I enjoyed about Heyer was the relationships she had between characters of all genders especially the platonic ones.

    I did not find main conflict compelling because the whole revenge plot was on the silly side. A bunch of men devise to entrap a family using a jewelled pin as the cause.

    I will try Very one more time or even another, but this was a pass for me.

    Read March 29-30, 2018.

  • Books

    The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

    Recently, I was able to watch some of Tiffany Haddish’s talk show interviews. She was funny, engaging, and has some of the most charisma I’ve seen in an entertainer.

    She promoted this book so I was able to retell some of the stories. Originally, I had intended to read the ebook and listen to the audiobook afterwards or at least least listen to some of the audiobook. However, the book is small and engaging enough that I listened to the whole audiobook while doing chores and sowing seeds on Good Friday.

    Haddish had a rough upbringing. She spent time in the foster care system, her mother was abusive, and she struggled to become a comedian. As an adult, she had a series of bad relationships including an abusive ex-husband. A lot of the stories in the book are very sad and heart breaking as a result, but since Haddish usually spins it into a funny or honest way, it’s not always depressing.

    I really empathized with at various points in the book. She described when she realized that her boyfriend had been cheating on her. I had suffered a deep betrayal once and her feelings then resonated with how I had felt too.

    There are a couple of stories in this book that have received criticism on the language Haddish uses. There is a story which many will find rife with ableism, but I don’t ever feel Haddish is malicious. I feel the book weakens towards the last quarter as it becomes snippets of Hollywood encounters. It’s not really describing in detail her experiences more little anecdotes here and there with famous people. It becomes more disjointed towards the end.

    While the audiobook was really narrated by Haddish, it does not have the same amount of energy as her TV appearances. I do wonder how it would have been to read it as well.

    I am glad to have listened to this book because Haddish has been able to become empowered and overcome a lot of her past and upbringing.

    Listened to audiobook March 29-30, 2018.