Pick of the Week: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
This book provides a startling glimpse into the world of Asia’s super-rich. I mean scandalously, stupendously rich. Imagine women dropping $250K on a single couture dress, or a family throwing a $40 million wedding, complete with the Vienna Boys’ Choir imported to Singapore for the ceremony. Kwan’s story is not just about the jaw-dropping magnitude of the wealth, but the sense of entitlement, the snobbery, and the privileged lifestyle it creates.
Nick Young, scion of a prominent, moneyed Singapore family, is a professor in New York City and decides to bring his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Chu, back to Singapore to meet his family and to attend his best friend’s “wedding of the century.” The problem is that Rachel’s family comes from a small town in mainland China. She has no known noble lineage and no history of wealth. Predictably, Nick’s family and friends are horrified that he’s brought home this “nobody.” Poor Rachel has no idea what she’s getting into as she encounters reactions that range from disdain to outright harassment.
The simple plot is really just a vehicle for Kwan to write lavish, lengthy descriptions of how these Asians flaunt their wealth. Private jets, enormous yachts, private islands – it all turns up in this novel. It’s all sort of tongue-in-cheek – one especially pretentious character has named his dogs Astor, Trump and Vanderbilt. Kwan is exposing a side of Asian culture that Westerners know nothing about, and he satirizes it in such an over-the-top way that you can’t help but laugh.
I really had fun with this book. It’s an entertaining romp through an unbelievable world of privilege – a great choice for sitting down for a long read in the shade during these dog days of summer.
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Pick of the Week: How the Light Gets In
Mystery writer Louise Penny
I must confess: I adore Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. I want to move to Three Pines, the imaginary, serene village in Quebec that somehow ends up having an unusual number of murder investigations. I want to eat in the bistro and stay at the inn and shop in the bookstore. I want to argue and share insults with Ruth, the local curmudgeonly poet. Most importantly, I want to have deep conversations over a café au lait with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Penny’s thoughtful, compassionate protagonist.
A great novelist transports the reader into a fictional world with characters who are unforgettable. That’s exactly what Penny has done with her wonderful world in Quebec. Although Penny is considered a mystery writer, she also is a great novelist who adeptly studies the light and dark in her characters. She introduced readers to Three Pines in her first novel, Still Life, which I have placed in many library patrons’ hands with excitement when I find out they haven’t read Penny.
How the Light Gets In (publication date August 27) is the ninth and best book in the series yet. Gamache begins investigating a murder of a once-famous celebrity who also was a friend of the bookstore owner in Three Pines. While he uncovers clue after clue, he also deals with enemies in his own Sûreté du Québec police department who are trying to destroy his career. He faces the wrenching realization that he may not be able to help his former colleague, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, defeat his personal demons.
The writing is wonderful, the plot is intricate, and the character development is breathtaking. When I finished the last page, I said to myself, “Wow.’’ Many characters from previous books return, which is why I always encourage patrons to start with the first book in the series. How the Light Gets In will be among my favorites of 2013. I can’t wait for the tenth book so I can escape once again in Louise Penny’s vivid imagination.Add a comment
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
Jojo Moyes returns from last year’s wonderful novel, “Me Before You,’’ with another great love story.
“The Girl You Left Behind’’ is the name of a soulful painting that links two women separated by almost a century. The mesmerizing painting is of French woman Sophie Lefevre, painted by her impressionist-artist husband, Edouard. When Edouard goes to the Front in World War I to fight the Germans, Sophie stays behind at her family’s hotel, which becomes occupied by German soldiers. A new Kommandant arrives in 1916 and becomes enamored of Sophie and her portrait. Desperate to see her beloved husband one more time, Sophie decides to jeopardize her reputation and life.
Almost 100 years later, we meet Liv Halston, who still is grieving the sudden death of her husband four years ago. Liv, who is having trouble moving on, finds solace in “The Girl You Left Behind’’, which her husband gave to her as a gift on their honeymoon. But when her ownership of the painting comes into question, she decides to fight to keep the portrait of Sophie at great cost.
Moyes does a nice job telling the dual stories, and always knows how to pull at the reader’s heartstrings. Although “The Girl You Left Behind’’ (publication date of August 20) isn’t quite as good as “Me Before You’’, it still is a terrific read and I highly recommend it.
Pick of the Week: The Cuckoo's Calling
Being a big J.K. Rowling fan, I had to read The Cuckoo’s Calling once I realized Rowling had written the book – and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a mystery in the classic style, featuring a hardboiled PI, Cormoran Strike, and his office assistant, Robin Ellacott. Don’t be misled into thinking these characters are caricatures; they’re not. Rowling has made them nuanced and believable. Strike, a military veteran, lost a leg in the Afghan war and has recently lost both his home and his fiancée. Robin, initially sent to Strike’s office by a temporary agency, has given up university to follow her fiancé to London, and is struggling to figure out her career path and her identity. As they investigate the apparent suicide of a world-famous London model, Cormoran and Robin strike up an unlikely partnership. With these characters and the unfinished business in their lives, Rowling has obviously set the stage for an ongoing mystery series.
One of Rowling’s greatest strengths as an author is her ability to create detailed, realistic dialogue and description, so that you feel you are standing right amidst the action. This is what made Harry Potter so great, and it is equally strong here. Right off the bat, the novel hooks you with a description of the crime scene that is realistic and powerful, and the remainder of the book continues in this vein. The mystery is well-plotted, the characters carefully drawn, and the plot holds no loose ends.
A notable subtext of the book is a not-so-subtle commentary on fame and the perils of a public life. Rowling repeatedly demonstrates how powerful the media and paparazzi can be in influencing the lives of public figures. As Strike pieces together the life and final days of the dead model, it becomes apparent how fearful she was of the press, how unsure she was of whom she could trust, and which of her friends were genuine or just looking for a piece of her wealth and glamour. This must be colored by Rowling’s own experience with worldwide stardom, and it’s ironic that her attempt to publish this book anonymously failed because of an individual who couldn’t keep a secret.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a strong mystery – well-paced, descriptive, and character-driven. I’m delighted that a talented author like Rowling continues to provide us with new stories, even if they are far from the magical world of Harry Potter. I’ll happily anticipate the next book in the series.
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Pick of the Week: Ocean at the End of the Lane
My son and daughter are huge Neil Gaiman fans, and have recommended that I read his works. Matt especially likes Gaiman’s graphic novel series, Sandman, while Dana’s favorite is American Gods. In the meantime, I figured I’d start with Gaiman’s new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Now I can recommend a Gaiman book to my kids.
When the novel’s narrator returns to his boyhood home after a funeral, he is drawn to the farm he remembers at the end of the lane. As he looks out over the farm’s pond, bizarre memories come flooding back of a fantastical time when he was 7 years old and was befriended by 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock and her family.
For a story that is less than 200 pages, this book packs a wallop. Every paragraph is filled with amazing writing and observations about childhood and growing up. Here are just two of my favorites:
“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”
“Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is thrilling and scary and wonderful. If you want to add a bit of magic to your reading life, pick up a copy of this novel. And now I look forward to continue exploring the wonderful world of Neil Gaiman.