Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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She had just bought a three hundred and fifty thousand dollar diamond ring she didn’t much care for, a twenty-eight thousand dollar bracelet she quite liked, and a seven hundred and eighty-four thousand dollar pair of earrings that made her look like Pocahontas. For the first time in weeks, she felt bloody fantastic.

This book can be summed up as indulgent and dramatic. It is exactly what you would expect of this kind of chick-lit novel. Everyone is out to get everyone else, the younger generation spends wildly and the older generation are stingy and pretend they have no money at all, mothers hate daughter-in-laws and fathers just try and keep their wives happy.

I really enjoyed this novel (although when I originally heard the title I actually thought it was a biography). Once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down and finished the 403 pages in just over 48 hours. The characters weren’t necessarily likable or relatable, but they were juicy and I wanted to find out what would happen next.

I am not sure how I felt about Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young’s relationship. They were almost a side plot in my opinion whereas the book set them up as the main event. This was more a soap opera kind of book than anything else. So if you’re expecting a romance, I would warn you that it is not the kind of book where you read all about the characters love lives, it was more the kind of book where the romance was necessary to induce all the drama. But the drama was worth the read.

I am interested to see where this trilogy goes and so I will be reading China Rich Girlfriend. Hopefully on my next vacation as Crazy Rich Asians was the perfect beach read.

Buy Crazy Rich Asians Here

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

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I was lying in bed, Christian’s new job meant that I couldn’t talk to him until after midnight so I was scrolling through Libby looking for a way to pass the hours. I clicked on “Available” and then “Audiobooks” and then “Romance”. This was at the top of the list. I thought it looked light and fun and comforting.

That is the story of how I found this book. I love romance novels, they’re my guilty pleasure, and with our wedding less than 6 months away I am enjoying them even more. I also love the royal family and a fan-fiction that mixes the love stories of Prince William and Kate Middleton and of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seemed like a really good idea.

The thing is, while I really enjoyed the beginning of this book and the end of this book, the middle was long and dragged. Instead of being 454 pages, this book could have been around 250 or 300 and been far more enjoyable and engaging. About half way through the book I realized that they had been together (on-again-off-again) for four years and thought “where else could this go”. As a result what was supposed to be a fun and light read for me ended up being a chore to get through (I did really want to know how it ended) and having several hours of boring audio in there.

One final complaint is I got all mixed up with the names. Gemma, Emma, Eleanor… they were rather similar. And sometimes it felt like a character would disappear for a while and then return and I would have no idea who they were. This is a pet peeve of mine in books.

My advice to all you romance readers looking for a royal romance would be to give this a go. I thought the characters were fun and I did enjoy the story. However I wouldn’t recommend the audio as it is so long (about 18 hours) and I would be willing to skim through some of the scenes that felt repeated. The beginning and the end were all worth it in my opinion but, unfortunately, I have to give the book as a whole only 3 stars.

Buy The Royal We Here

Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

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“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” – Albert Camus

I hesitate to write this review, which is why I decided to hide behind the great Albert Camus would be a wise way to start. To give a bit of background, earlier this year I read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven and it instantly became a favorite of mine. To go even further in depth, I am a sucker for YA romance. Everything, Everything is one of my all-time favorite books. Oftentimes, I find myself wondering at what point is a story too cheesy for my liking (I have yet to hit that point in a YA book I’ve finished, shockingly). Some amazing ones I have read recently are:

Everything I Never Told You

All the Bright Places

Everything, Everything

The Sun is Also a Star

Before I Fall

This is a genre I am fairly new to, but one I have quickly grown to like. I like the innocence, the flirtatiousness of it. I enjoy the ways these books grip my heart and do with it as they please. But, to cut to the heart of it, I did not like Holding Up the Universe. I feel this book could have been very great. In fact, I remarked to my fiancée today that this would have been a great book if Jodi Picoult had written it. I felt that Jennifer Niven compromised. She went for something bold but then made choices along the way that undermined the otherwise stellar premise and purpose of the novel.

Holding Up the Universe is about Jack Masselin and Libby Strout. Jack has prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize faces, even those of his loved ones. Libby Strout has made her way into the news as “America’s Fattest Teen”. This book has received lots of criticism about being insensitive towards issues such as obesity, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. I do not think it is insensitive, at least not intentionally. I just do not think Niven did enough research.

The characters felt very faked and flat. Their two-dimensionality made it hard to fall in love with them and that’s even with listening to a well-done audiobook version of it from Audible. Their relationships, interactions, and lives felt too constructed and I was not very engaged or interested in what happened with them. But the plot was the reason I stuck with it.

***SPOILER ALERT DO NOT READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO SEE A SPOILER***

Halfway through the book, Libby and Jack expectedly fall in love. Three-quarters through, they break-up. It is here that I became re-intrigued. Again, I love a good romance as much as the next guy or girl, but I also love things that are unique, which this seemed to be shaping up to be. The book took a turn and it began to be about finding meaning within yourself and not seeking acceptance and fulfillment from other people as your identity. And then it happened. Right at the end of the book, as the two characters have come to terms with who they are and accepted it…they fall back in love and the final quote is from Jack who says when he is with Libby, he is home. Moreover, he suddenly can identify Libby’s face…even though I don’t think that’s how a cognitive disorder works. I felt that Niven had built to an amazing point with a great message and then let it all fall flat at the end.

***SPOILERS OVER***

To sum up what you may have missed, Niven basically ruined her entire book in the final pages. It was sitting at about a three-star read for me before the end and then it fell to a two-star. This all being said, I understand that some people do enjoy this book and the characters. I would caution you. This is not a particularly good YA romance. See the list of books above if you would like a better one to read. A hearty round of applause for All the Bright Places, but a disappointed shoulder slump for this novel. I guess I’ll just have to go read Everything, Everything yet again to make up for it…

Buy Holding Up the Universe Here

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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I normally would not choose to display the movie or TV show cover of a book but I have done so this time because its hype as a TV show is what got me to pick up this book in the first place.

“I wish I’d be murdered… Then I’d never have to worry again. When you die, you become perfect. I’d be like Princess Diana. Everyone loves her now.”

The people in this book are messed up. You spend a lot of time sitting there thinking “did I just read that?” and having to read it again because it’s almost impossible to take it in. This novel is not nice. It’s not an entertaining read. This is a psychological thriller/drama that will leave you feeling like you’ve read enough of them for a while.

One reviewer that I follow on Goodreads put it very well:

"You know how you eat a bag of potato chips? You pull it off the shelf, and you begin with a small handful. And then you take some more. And some more. And before you know it, you are just eating the whole thing. In one fell swoop.

And then you feel a little sick afterward. Not sick to your stomach, but sick that you gobbled all those chips and enjoyed them so dang much when they really aren't good for you AT ALL.

That's pretty much analogous to how I felt about this book."

There is messy stuff in this book. The sexual content (warning, the book is full of it) alone is horrific, often manipulative and sickening, and left me skipping a paragraph here or there. I wouldn’t suggest this to someone with a weak stomach as there is also a fair amount of gruesome content in it.

So why did I read it?

I read it because it was fascinating. Flynn is a fantastic writer who sucks you in and you want to see how this is all going to end. About 2/3 of the way through I found myself thinking I knew who the suspect was, and right at the very last minute, in the last couple of pages, she turned the whole thing on its head.

I also read it because it felt like watching a horror movie that had no music. Normally when you read a book you can sense that something is coming, sort of like the scary music in a horror movie, but this book would slap you across the face with something brand new and unexpected. It’s not often you get a book like that and so I wanted to keep reading.

Finally, I was interested in the way Flynn dealt with women. Throughout this book, women are grossly undervalued and it is believed that they are simply the decorative and gentle sex whose greatest purpose is to please men. She didn’t tell you how to feel about that, she just told you the story.

I would recommend this book mostly for how good Flynn’s writing is. I may even read another of her books simply for the pleasure of experiencing her brilliant pacing, writing and storytelling… but probably not for a while.

I am now off to read something lighter and happier.

Buy Sharp Objects here

Almost, Maine by John Cariani

“Here I am at the end of the world, and I have nowhere to go, so I was counting on staying here.”

For no identifiable reason, this play stole my heart. It is everything a good play should be—witty, charming, magical, satirical, sappy—the only issue is it seems to make absolutely no sense at face-value. If you dig a little bit deeper…it still makes no sense.

Almost, Maine is a set of nine beautifully satirical vignettes that I would call “the anatomy of love” (Almost, Maine is truly a better title; this is why I don’t name things). It addresses nearly every facet of love—a rather impressive feat. It’s a whimsical work, with a weight and depth far surpassing expectations. Through the tears of laughter, one suddenly realizes that there is a dark reality to these short, seemingly comical scenes.

“Almost” is not quite a town but also not a nothing either.

EAST: You’re in unorganized territory. Township Thirteen, Range Seven. It’s not gonna be on your map, cause it’s not an actual town, technically.

GLORY: What do you mean?

EAST: See to be a town, you gotta get organized. And we never got around to getting’ organized, so…we’re just Almost.

“Almost” is a place anything can happen from love. Medical conditions can heal, hearts can literally break, love can be measured in bags, and people can shrink from the loss of love and hope. This play made me think several times of Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tales and the Wizard of Oz. Except this one bit harder. There are portions that cause you to laugh until you are stopped short by the shocking realization that it is an accurate representation of the beautiful beast called love.

It is rather hard for me to put this review into words. If you are comfortable reading plays, I highly recommend this one. It is a stunningly clear commentary on the most blinding of things, a voice cutting through an unknown silence. The main reason I am unsure how to approach this review is because with most satirical works the author is trying to point out some issue that requires attention and usually some level of maintenance and repair and change. But this does not particularly feel like an attack on love. Instead, it felt like he had finally gotten to the heart of what love truly is in many regards.

“You can be hurt and be bleeding or bruised…”

Some of the downsides to this play is that it does not have an extremely specific and observable plot. The characters are lovable, though, and the scenes are poignant and thought-provoking. Certainly worth the short amount of time it takes to get through it.

One more thing: this play is difficult to find. I do not think it is available on Kindle and my library seemed to have no idea it even exists. However, there is a place online that has the full text.

“I won’t be able to love you back. I have a heart that can pump my blood and that’s all. The one that does the other stuff is broken. It doesn’t work anymore.”

Buy Almost Maine here

What’s On Our Shelf – September 2018

See what we are reading this month!

 

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AJ:

I have been having better reading months since I went back to studying online and I am hoping to finish at least 10 books during the month of September.

Top Recommendation from August:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so.

Carrying over from August:

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult.

June’s husband and first daughter were killed several years ago and their murderer is on death row. Her second daughter needs a heart transplant but the only match is the murderer. 

I picked this one up at a second hand book shop last month and got through 150 pages in one sitting and it’s been sitting beside my bed ever since.

11.22.63 by Stephen King

Jake has the chance to go back in time and change the day that President J.F. Kennedy was assassinated.

This is the first King I have ever read and it is not a horror. However it is a tome and it’s going to take me a while to get through. Christian listened to this one on Audible several months ago and has been begging me to read it since.

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge:

(You can see the list here)

This month I want to try and knock two off this list by reading Mrs Dalloway and Middlesex.

Series:

Before Kingdom of Ash (if you haven’t pre-ordered this yet, what are you waiting for?) is released on October 23, I am wanting to finish the Throne of Glass novels. I am 60 pages into Heir of Fire as I write this.

Bookclub Reads:

My favorite online Bookclub does not have set books but rather themes/tags/shelves from which people recommend and read books with the aim of stretching their reading habits. View the bookclub here. This months theme is “friendship”:

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch who thinks about death often and Violet Markey who is filled with grief from her sisters death tour their state to find natural wonders. But as Violet’s world grows, Theodore’s begins to shrink.

Another book that Christian recommended to me

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Who can resist a description like that? And it’s YA that will apparently make me cry and so that sold me even more.

Christian Books:

I’m trying to incorporate reading Christian books into my Quiet Time and this month I would like to get through two.

Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman

This Changes Everything by Jacquelle Crowe

Random “Looks Interesting” Reads:

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonassen

Christian:

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win. I’m about 100 pages into this exciting sequel to Caraval and already my heart has been stolen. The first book in this series was one of my favorites I’ve read all year.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

A child dies in detention and just like that this book takes off. My fiancée recommended this one to me and I’m about an hour in on the audible version.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Up until a few weeks ago, I had never actually heard of this book. I read Ender’s Game earlier this year and absolutely adored it, so in my search to find another science fiction read that would be close to as enjoyable, AJ found Dune for me. It’s a rather long one, so I’m not sure if I will finish it this month, but I will certainly try.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck has been on my list for a million years and it seems like a good time to attempt one of his books.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This is a must-read for me. I’m going to be reading and likely reviewing this book in the next few weeks and simultaneously accomplishing one of my bucket-list reading goals.

Divergent

I should receive props for this one. I’m flying all the way to South Africa to get a copy of this. Well, that’s not exactly the only reason I’m going to South Africa, but definitely going to be an exciting bonus!

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge:

My fiancée has gotten me into Gilmore Girls lately and together we are attempting to accomplish the reading challenge (see list here). This month my goal is to read/finish The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I’m about 70 pages in already and it is very reminiscent of The Great Gatsby, which is one of my all-time favorite books, so I’m rather excited for this Hemingway classic.

 

(Please note that clicking the links in this post will take you to the purchase page on Amazon. Buying from these links means that we get a small percentage in return.)

5 Books AJ Can’t Wait For

One of my favorite parts of being a reader is scouting out new books. I like to read blogs, see what people are adding to their “Want to Read” shelves on Goodreads, keep up with reviewers on Twitter and in general I honestly just spend a lot of time on Amazon. The following books* are being released over the last few months of the year and I am super excited about them:

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Sadie by Courtney Summers

Release date: September 4

Sadie is out to find her sister’s killer.

I don’t know much about this book. But its cover caught my eye several months ago and I have been excited to get my hands on it ever since.

Pre-order the book here

 

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White9780525707936-2

Release date: September 25

Elizabeth’s survival depends on keeping the dark temperamental Victor Frankenstein content.

This book sounds freaky and fantastic. I love the cover and I am excited for what I think will be a fairly unique read.

Pre-order the book here

 

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A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Release date: October 2

A shooter opens fire at a women’s reproductive health services clinic.

Jodi Picoult is probably my all time favorite author. I have read 17 of her 23 published books and I plan to pick up this book pretty much the day it is published

Pre-order the book here

 

51L8BF5PZ3L Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Release date: November 6

Nine people meet at a remote health resort hoping to find healing for their various ailments.

I am new to the Liane Moriarty boat but I did find Big Little Lies to be very interesting and this one had a fascinating blurb.

Pre-order book here

 

32469736The Disasters by M.K. England

Release Date: December 18

Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy.

This is a new author and I saw her tweet a while ago and looked up the book and suddenly put this on the “buy myself for Christmas” list.

Pre-order book here

*I have excluded follow up books from series

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Rare is it that I finish a book, stand up, and clap out loud for it. A tip of the hat and a bow to Stephanie Garber. Whimsical, fantastical, breathtaking, this novel appealed to me for so many reasons.

1. I’m a sucker for YA romance. I know to many it’s the worst things ever but oh well get over yourself.

2. I’m an enormous fan of books that can make me feel something. This book had me (still has me) on my toes. I trusted no one, no situation, nothing. I embarked on the rollercoaster under the stars, plummeting through darkness. And the smells! Oh goodness the smells and sights and feels in this book. I may just read it over immediately to enjoy it again. It’s as though I could smell and taste and feel the astounding game of Caraval. Truly breathtaking work of art.

3. Often times in books with many twists the twists become so many that the plot no longer makes sense. Not so with Caraval. This book twists and turns like no other and leaves me wanting more. It piques my curiosity and engulfs my mind and heart in an insatiable thirst for more Caraval and, namely, for answers to all my questions.

All in all probably one of my favorite books I’ve read all year. 5-stars for this awe-inspiring book.

Buy Caraval Here

 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Cather is a freshman in college. She has always had her twin sister Wren by her side but now Wren wants to experience college life without the “built in best friend” benefit. Cather finds herself with a scary roommate and feeling alone. She wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were, with Wren and her attached at the hip again. But in this time of distress, who else could she turn to but Simon Snow, the main character of the book series she and Wren have followed obsessively since their mother left them when they were kids.

Ok, my summary is terrible. But I enjoyed this book so much that I am scared to give more information for fear of spoiling it for you. I was expecting something else from this book, but it was so much better than I thought it would be.

Now, I’m not sure that everyone else would love this book as much as I did. It was well written and sweet and I think that is what most people would see in it. But I saw myself in Cather. I know what it’s like to feel completely alone in a place where I am unfamiliar and feel almost paralysed by that fear. I completely understand staying holed up in my dorm room wanting to interact with no one and simply write and read. To not go looking for the cafeteria and to sit in my room eating protein bars. To become completely obsessed, for lack of a better word, with a series and not be able to think past it. To not even start a project because I feel that I simply cannot do it so I am not even going to try.

I listened to this on audio but I am going to buy myself a copy of the book. I am not such a fan of the language or the gay fanfiction; but for the reasons above this will be one of my favourites for a long while.

Buy Fangirl Here

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Callum McGreggor is a nought, he is pale skinned. Persephone (Sephy) Hadley is a Cross, she is dark skinned. Crosses and noughts do not mix and they are never friends. There is a clear divide between the two and the Crosses are superior to the noughts simply because of their coveted dark skin. Crosses are there to rule the world and hold all the good jobs, noughts are there to serve them. But Callum and Sephy have been friends since they were kids. Can they stay strong in a world of noughts and Crosses?

The idea behind this story was good. I really enjoyed the plot, and since I enjoy dystopian that doesn’t follow the typical themes this suited suited my reading tastes. I felt the way it played out was realistic and the characters were believable. I liked how this idea was a twist on what we already know and I admire the author for undertaking this feat.

But there were a lot of problems with this book. In the beginning I felt patronised because the writing was childish: “He actually kissed me! Wowee! Zowee!” – I have never heard anyone say “zowee” and I felt like she was overemphasizing the immaturity of a fourteen-year-old.

For quite a way through the book “noughts” has a lower case “n” and “Crosses” an upper case “C”. I remember thinking this was an interesting way to show that Crosses are more important and noughts are lesser. But then towards the end of the book they became “Noughts” and “Crosses”, both with upper case starting letters and no reason for the switch. This annoyed me a little bit because it felt like the author had let something symbolic slip.

As someone who has read many articles on writing, I know that common writing advice is to keep the reader hooked by never finishing a chapter or even a scene with closure. Rather the reader should be baited into reading more by have something new and exciting happen. Blackman tried hard to do this, several times, but she didn’t execute it well enough. For example she would say something like “I was shocked to hear what she had to say” at the end of the chapter but then when I turned the page, it wouldn’t tell me what “she” had to say but other random events would occur and only several pages and scenes later would she get back to that point. This honestly just left me frustrated because it was too easy to forget things that had happened and it interrupted the flow.

The book was also just a little bit slow. It took me four days to read the 446 page book, and it had big print. I should have been done a lot faster than that (particularly since I was up until 1 or 2 in the morning reading when I couldn’t sleep). But because it felt set up to drag me into it, I was unable to get lost in the book.

So in conclusion, the story and plot were good. The basic idea behind the book was good too. The execution, not nearly up to standard. It simply wasn’t all it could have been.

Buy Noughts and Crosses Here