Monthly Archives: July 2013

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

There’s a couple reasons I picked up this book and most of them are quite shallow. Number one: the cover is gold glitter with neon pink lettering, which obviously caught my eye. Number two: the title is hilarious, and I knew that I could get on board with this author’s humor right away. So…I read it.rich

I’m not going to make any grandiose statements here, the book was good. Was it great? Not really, but it was good, and exactly what you would expect from a book called Crazy Rich Asians, so I’m going to get behind it nonetheless. It’s not your typical chick-lit because it has a lot of cultural references and back story, and romance isn’t the be all and end all of the plot, in fact it ends without resolving much in the way of relationships. It’s real strength is the picture it paints of the super elite referred to in the title. The characters are SUPER rich, not just wealthy millionaires, but so rich that they can afford to put a yoga studio in their private jet (this is a real example). Imagine the richest person you know (probably a celebrity in most people’s cases), then realize that the person you’re thinking of most likely owns a fraction of the fortune of that these crazy rich asians posesses.

Because I spoke about this book on the CBC, I did a bit of digging to find out more on Kevin Kwan. Not surprisingly, he’s had experience with this type of wealth, and has readily admitted to interviewers that he comes from a wealthy family himself. How rich? Who knows, but I’m guessing he can splurge on a fancy car or two if he’s seen this kind of wealth up-close, and feels comfortable enough to write a book about it. In his author photo, he looks quite well-dressed so he must have a strong grasp of the latest fashion trends because he name drops designers like it’s going out of style (which it’s not, in case you were wondering).kwan

One of the reasons I’m not going over-the-top on this book is the fact that it was too long.  Maybe it got to this length because he was so busy describing people’s expensive clothes, decadent jewellery and fancy homes, but being a debut novelist, I’m not sure his editor should have given him this much free reign. It could have been shorter, and as we all know the sign of a good writer is tight use of language, which this novel could have benefiited from.

Regardless of this complaint, I still enjoyed the book, and it’s getting enormous amounts of attention, so I’m obviously not the only one to pick it up. If you’re looking for something that’s quick, this isn’t the book for you, but if you’re looking for a bit of fanciful escapism, Crazy Rich Asians will be perfect.

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CBC.ca | The Homestretch | Beach reads

Well I’ve got four radio appearances under my belt now. My voice  may sound a bit off on this last one, as one of the CBC peeps advised me that I was talking to closely to the mic (who knew?) so I’ll make sure to keep my distance next Monday (from the mic, not the wonderful CBC people).

This was obviously a really fun segment to do, because the books are so light and fluffy-perfect for the summer! Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan and Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand are the focuses for the segment below, so enjoy.

CBC.ca | The Homestretch | Beach reads.

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Book Review: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

If any of you follow my goodreads account, you’ll already know how I feel about this book (psst-you can keep track of what I’m reading currently through my goodreads widget at the bottom of this page as well). Ok enough with the suspense-I loved it! The book’s a national bestseller, and people have been talking about it for awhile, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise that it was good, but alas I still feel the need to sing its praises.* What’s another reason why you should buy it? Well it was published in 2012, which means it’s now available in paperback, which means it’s now cheaper than buying it in hardcover. Once again-you’re welcome!

The story takes place in Seattle, and doesn’t hold back when making fun of it’s residents. They are so starbucks loving and politically correct that it’s painful, which is part of the reason why the protagonist Bernadette decides to disappear. My favourite part of this book is the correspondence between the outlying characters (specifically the ones related to school and parenting), because the humor is so subtle, but genius. If you read between the lines in these emails and letters you will not only laugh at the circumstances, but you’ll laugh at yourself, because you’ll see a glimmer of your own life’s craziness in the conversations.

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Another brilliant episode of the book is the play-by-play recounting of a TED conference, because although it sounds absurd, I’m sure everything depicted is closer to the truth than we all like to think. Would Al Gore be pissed that someone took his special seat, even though he doesn’t technically claim it each year? Of course he would!

I can’t say I know much about Maria Semple, but after looking at her website I now know that she worked on lots of funny t.v. shows like Mad About You, Arrested Development and Ellen before she started writing books. She also lives in Seattle, which is probably why she was never criticized for mocking it’s residents in the book, because quite honestly if you live there yourself you’re exempt from being called “petty” or “critical” when pointing out the annoying traits of a particular city.  index

I hope you find some valid reasons in the above train of thought to find this book and read it. You won’t be sorry you did, and it doesn’t take long anyway-a perfect summer weekend read, in my honest and humble opinion.

*You may have noticed by now that my reviews are a bit different than others you typically read-it’s because I don’t rehash what happened in the story, I simply pick out the reasons I liked it, plus things I didn’t like. Personally, I really don’t see the point to book reviews that summarize the book (some even forget/avoid to actually critique the book, they just write an extended explanation of the plot line). If you want to know what happens in the book, read the back of it or the jacket flap! Or, if you’re not sure you even want to pick it up, go to indigo.ca and read the summary yourself! It’s super easy, and you don’t have to wade through paragraphs of me trying to reword marketing copy and calling it a ‘book review’. You’re welcome.

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CBC.ca | The Homestretch | African women’s literature

CBC.ca | The Homestretch | African women’s literature.

Well I’ve completed my third segment on the radio, and I was feeling less sweaty than the first two times, so I’m going to take this as a good sign. I chose these two books based on the term “Afropolitan”, which was coined by Taiye Selasi, as I thought they both fit into this new genre quite nicely. Both Ghana Must Go, and We Need New Names are written by two, highly-lauded debut novelists who deserve all the praise that is heaped upon them. I’ll be on the radio again next Monday, which some fun beach reads (a guilty pleasure I don’t indulge in very often, but guaranteed fun all the same).

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Book Review: Death at Christy Burke’s by Anne Emery

I read my first book from Anne Emery a few years ago, it was called Barrington Street Blues, and featured Monty Collins, the lawyer/bluesman who also makes an appearance in Death at Christy Burke’s, her most recent novel. Emery’s latest also features Father Brennan Burke, a character who makes a few appearances in her other books, as well as fellow priest Michael O’Flaherty.

What I enjoyed most about this book, and what I think is most memorable about it is the fact that it has two different detectives on the case (Brennan and Michael), both having very different ‘investigating’ styles and personalities. Monty helps out when needed, but his character had a much smaller role in this particular book. Quite honestly, I think two or more investigators were necessary, because the plot itself is quite complicated, with many other people frequently coming in and out of the story. Does this complement, or take away from the overall book? It depends what kind of a reader you are; some people like a straightforward storyline that they don’t have to stop and think about while reading, others don’t mind sinking their teeth into something complicated. If you can keep numerous character’s names and meandering story lines straight while still enjoying what you’re reading, this book is definitely for you.

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Death at Christy Burke’s also provides a solid lesson on the history of Ireland and the way it affects the current politics there. Keep in mind this book does take place in 1992, but to someone who is wholly ignorant of the situation over there, 1992 is just as good as 2013 for filling in the blanks. The cause of the IRA was the main focus of the plot, and I’ll admit I hoped for a bit more information on the motivations of the agitators as the perspective was a bit one-sided, but Emery bravely demonstrated that not all people aligned themselves with either side-the younger generation, as well as the clerical contingent simply wanted the violence to end, as it had been going on for so long. Some readers may already be aware of the issues between the Catholic and Protestant religions in Ireland, but this book provides a brief yet thorough history of the conflict, so I recommend reading it for that reason alone. bsb

Anne Emery is great writer, and I want to make sure that’s clear in this review. Many mystery authors have a very dedicated following, and I hope that Emery also enjoys the same. Her returning characters are fun to read about and well developed, so she deserves every bit of attention she gets. It’s obvious ECW believes in her, as they’ve published all of her books in this series, (6 in total, with another on the way in November).  So, if you want to discover a new series of mysteries with some depth, I recommend this book and Emery’s others.

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I’vereadthis on the radio: part deux

Below is the link to my second day of book reviewing on The Homestretch. Aside from a stuttering incident that I would rather forget, I felt much more prepared and confident for my segment. Who knew talking about something you were so passionate about on the radio could be so nerve-wracking? Today I spoke about The Devil and the Detective, as well as The Death at Christy Burke’s (my full review of this to come shortly).  I also got the chance to speak about the importance of reading books from small Canadian presses, a strongly held belief I plan on trotting on more than once throughout the summer-you have that to look forward to, so stay tuned! I’ll be on the radio again next Monday evening, just before 6.

http://www.cbc.ca/homestretch/episode/2013/07/08/mysteries/

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Book Review: The Devil and the Detective by John Goldbach

Coach House sent me this book a couple of weeks ago, and I was eager to dive into it as soon as I got the chance. I remember the book being pitched to me back in March, and what I recall from that conversation was the description of the quirky protagonist/detective. A break from stereotypical archetypes of the genre, private eye Robert James (or Bob as he likes to be called) is one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever read. This is quite the accomplishment on its own, especially when the book is only 153 pages long. I’ll warn you that some my find his musings tiresome because he gets off track easily, and does a lot more thinking that doing in general. He has some of the common traits that other private investigators exhibit (problems with alcohol, strange sleeping patterns, strange bouts of isolation and loneliness) but this doesn’t phase me. His personality and dialogue is so different and unexpected that this is what keeps the book going, and ultimately sets it apart from other mysteries out there. DevilDetective

Bob doesn’t drive (much like my favourite detective, Jessica Fletcher of the classic TV show masterpiece Murder She Wrote) so he later befriends a flower delivery man who offers to chauffeur him around and help him with his case. This is in spite of the fact that the car is filled with flowers, which gives Bob headaches, but he prefers the rides to city transit so he puts up with the discomfort. It’s meaningless details like these that I can see putting off some readers,  however as I mentioned before, the book is quite short, so it doesn’t drag on or slow down the plot in any way.

Aside from reminding us of just about everything, he also implies in the first few pages of the book that he’s not particularly good at his job: “There are a lot of things I get wrong when it comes to guesswork. I observe, and then I come to a conclusion, if there’s a conclusion to come to, which more often that not there isn’t. A lot remains unknown” (p. 13). So, just to recap, in the first few pages of the book we learn that a) Bob frequently talks about things that have no bearing on anything, b) he’s an alcoholic,  and  c) he can’t necessarily be trusted as a detective, or a narrator. So why continue reading? Personally,  I’ve never read a mystery written like this before, and I wanted to see how it played out. Msw

I won’t give anymore away, but I will say it’s worth your time to finish the book. It ends in a way most mysteries don’t, which is another reason why I liked it-it’s so unexpected. And to completely throw off the reader, Goldbach includes a summary sentence of each chapter at the very beginning of the book. Almost like a skeleton outline of the plot, this device is essentially an extended table of contents, again something I’ve never seen before, but intriguing nonetheless. So, looking for a new twist on an old favourite? Pick up The Devil and the Detective and you’ll be pushed out of your Janet Evanovich and James Patterson comfort zone.

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I’vereadthis is on the radio!

Today I spoke about Claire Mulligan‘s The Dark, and Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist on the radio! Every Monday throughout the summer I’ll be on the air giving some advice on what should be next on your reading list. I’m hoping my frequent ‘ums’ will get less frequent once August hits and I settle into the idea of being live on the CBC. See below for the full segment.

Summer Reading on the Homestretch

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