Category Archives: Book Reviews

Crazy Rich Asians Book Review

I listened to Crazy Rich Asians with a friend while driving down to Florida a few weeks ago and it made the trip fly by. While it is definitely a fun read and light and fluffy, there are also really interesting aspects to it that I wasn’t expecting – in particular the insight into Singapore and Singaporean elite culture.
This book is a tongue in cheek look at the old money Singaporeans and contrasts it to “new wealth” Mainland Chinese, as well as to all the rest of us. The premise is simple: a history professor at NYU has to return to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend and asks his girlfriend of two years to go with him. He has kept his ultra-wealthy background a secret from her and has lived a fairly low-key life in New York. Nothing prepares her for her introduction to Singapore and the scrutiny she comes under from his family and the rest of his circle once she arrives. Mayhem ensues, competition for her beau’s affection abounds, and she is completely stunned by everything she sees and experiences.
Kwan is incredibly detailed in his descriptions of life among the uber-elite in Singapore. Their wealth goes back farther than the Europeans and certainly makes old-money North Americans look like nouveau riche. He has an excellent way of developing all his characters including his main character, Nick, who, having grown up with enormous amounts of wealth doesn’t understand what the big deal is. His naiveté gets him into a lot of trouble with his girlfriend (who provides the normalcy in the book). The other characters around them are well-developed and also fascinating.
It is a great story, really, it’s a family saga, and provides more depth and insight than you might be expecting from a book that is also fun and entertaining. It also makes me want to visit Singapore, a country I hadn’t really considered before. I am looking forward to reading China Rich Girlfriend.

Bellevue Square Book Review

The premise of this book is that the narrator, Jean Mason, has a doppleganger who is wandering around Bellevue Square. This drives her to distraction and she becomes obsessed with finding her and confronting her.
There are a series of events that take place, her narration is wonderful, and we figure out fairly quickly that she is not a reliable narrator. But she really has a dry sense of humour and is fun to read. The other characters she interacts with are equally funny and dry. I enjoyed this book although like many other reviewers was a little in the dark at the end of it…..But here is my theory.

You may not want to read the rest of my review if you are planning on reading the book as there are spoilers. 
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Is Pride and Prejudice Outdated?

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

I ‘ve probably read Pride and Prejudice a thousand times — yes, that is an exaggeration, but I have read it enough times to help my daughter get 100% on her English assignment (yay me!). When I am looking for story structure, vivid characters and a plot with various sub-plots that fit together seamlessly, it is my go-to novel for inspiration!While my daughter was studying the book, she offered me her opinion  which was fairly blunt and blasphemous to Austen fans the world over. “It’s so boring. All they worry about is who is going to marry who, and what kind of match it is. Who cares?”

To say that the premise of the book was lost on her would be an understatement. She is 15 and brought up in an age and country where girls are taught that with the right amount of work, skill and talent, you can achieve what you want without attention to class level or gender. So Austen’s focus on “marrying well” and “above your rank” was something she couldn’t understand.

In a way, this is a story that should be taught along side history  or women’s studies in order to better understand the context of the story. Yes, marrying well was important, really, right up until a few decades ago.  I suggested she just read it for the story itself, the plot line and how all the characters interacted, instead of trying to fit it into the modern world.

She begrudgingly accepted my advice (I think it’s a first!), and read the entire thing, although she said she liked Darcy before he confessed his actions in the letter to Elizabeth after his first proposal. My daughter thought he showed too many signs of weakness after the letter! Wow, not much of a romantic.

In an age when fewer couples are marrying and women earn their own incomes and can choose whether or not they even want to marry (or get out of a marriage that isn’t working), Austen’s focus on marriage and social status seems “silly” according to my daughter. Listening to her comments about the novel, I can understand her perspective. It also provides a good opportunity to demonstrate just how much women have progressed in terms of equal rights thanks to the trailblazing women before us.

We also discussed how doctors and lawyers and other professionals were looked down upon at that time by the upper class, which she also had trouble with. Austen, at least, portrayed Elizabeth’s uncle (a lawyer) and aunt as smart, level-headed people who could get the job done. These characters contrasted with the lazy, indulgent and superficial relatives of Mr. Bingley. So, Austen was ahead of her time in terms of respecting the professional class of people vs. the aristocracy.

Had Austen been writing today, I like to think she would have created an entertaining piece on the social ills of our times. All in all, the romance of the story Austen created is timeless, and my daughter notwithstanding, Mr. Darcy is still held up as the ideal mate for many women out there.



Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very well-written, incredibly researched book. I’m not so sure I see the connection between the psychopathic serial killer and the building of the White City. In my mind they are two very distinct stories that happen to take place at the same time. My preference was for the building of the World’s Fair — I found the information fascinating and suspenseful — if building a world’s fair could be suspenseful. I’m an architecture buff and have visited Chicago’s beautiful city several times, but never the site of the fair. Now I want to go back and do a tour of this site now that I’ve read the book. There are so many interesting facets to the building of the fair that I didn’t think it needed to be interrupted with the incredibly disturbing details of the serial killer. Why I hadn’t heard of him before I’m not really sure. By rights, he should be more famous than Jack the Ripper.
I’ve read the endnotes and Mr. Larson’s explanation of why he chose to blend the two stories — the lightness of the fair vs. the darkness of the murders, but since one is about an individual and the other is about civic coming together, I’m still not convinced they needed to be in the same book — granted, that’s just me. However, it was a good read and kept my attention through the entire book. I did like the way he wrote; you really felt as if you were there, watching the action unfold. It read like a story and definitely not like a dry history book.

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