Monday, July 29, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rich boy meets down to earth ABC (American Born Chinese) girl in NYC and brings her home to his crazy rich Asian family in Singapore.

Cue a clash of cultures, generations and fashions ensues! 

Kevin Kwan’s delicious romp of a book is best described as Joy Luck club meets Pride and Prejudice meets Dynasty.

Needless to say the overtop bling book cover totally matches the over top story.

This hilarious satirical book skewers the tensions and pretensions between the established crazy rich old families and the newly rich from mainland China.

The story begins with Nicholas ‘Nick’ Young, from the venerated Young family, who decides to bring his new girlfriend Rachel Chu home to attend the wedding of this best friend Colin Khoo.

Rachel has no idea that Nicholas is from a crazy rich Asian family and it is through her eyes that the reader discovers the excessive lifestyles of the unbelievabley rich in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Nick is part of three intertwined super rich families who are connected through marriage and money. This is an environment where no-one blinks at owning a private jet with a yoga studio or a yacht with a bowling alley that turns into a catwalk. Cray cray!!!

While the novel drops brand names like there is no tomorrow, I loved the fact that it is also drops food names with mouth-watering descriptions of Nyonya (Straits Chinese) and Peranakan food.

It picks up on the obsession with food in Singapore, as the characters argue about where to get the best laksa. I know you'll love these these parts of book Tseenster!

It is also full of slang-lah from Malay and the Cantonese and Hokkien dialects of Chinese that is explained in the sometimes snarky, always amusing and witty, footnotes.

In between all the high gloss, I liked the way Kwan picks up on the subtleties of Chinese manners and customs. 

The first chapter is a particularly delicious example of what happens when a snooty English hotel receptionist  dismisses the Young family. No one puts the Youngs in the corner!

My only issue with the book is that it was just a bit too long and dragged towards the end. Also one of the main characters, Astrid (Nick’s cousin), storyline is totally boring.

But this one minor quibble in an page turning outrageously fun book.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A masterpiece: John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

A well written spy novel is a thing of beauty.

A lot of the enjoyment is the fact that you never know just which character to trust; what with the crosses, double crosses and the often inevitable triple cross.

John Le Carré's, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) is a classic of the genre and I thought it was time I read it.

Set in the height of the Cold War (1950s and early 1960s), the novel begins with the assassination of a high ranking East German double agent providing intelligence to the British Secret Service (the ‘Circus’).

The agent in charge, Alec Leamas, is recalled to the British Secret Service in London. He then becomes involved in an intricate plot played out in the London and East Germany to revenge the assassination.

This thrilling and gripping read is simply a masterpiece in controlled story telling.

The novel is immaculately plotted and the various twist and turns reach a nail-biting crescendo of a trial scene.

I simply couldn’t read fast enough to finish.

However, not to give too much away but the ending is so utterly bleak. It this sense it is very English compared the American spy genre where the hero always triumphs over the enemy.

Finishing the book I felt both exhilarated and exhausted. I felt such a sense of despair at the end of the novel. Le Carré's seems to be pointing to the utter futility of the ‘game’, its dubious morality and the cost on the lives of those who play it.

As Boyd Tonkin notes in his Guardian profile of Le Carré:

“Inside his fiction, doubles, distortions and delusions trapped apparent enemies into a mutually dependent system of organised duplicity. It binds its members absolutely, determining their life or death, while leaving outsiders truly out in the cold.”

My intention was to start reading Le Carré's George Smiley series (of which this book is part of) but actually feel the need for a bit of a break.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Last Sookie Stackhouse book:Dead Ever After

I think any series that goes beyond ten books is really pushing it. 

In a previous blog post, I wrote that the Sookie Stackhouse series really started to go down hill for me around book nine.

So I approached the final book, Dead Ever After, with very low expectations. I have such fond memories of the early books that I felt somewhat obligated to ‘complete the series’ by reading this last book. 

Dead Ever After follows the same plot lines as many of the previous books: Sookie find herself in danger, hunted and defended by various supernaturals and trying to work out who she really loves.

The only difference is that this final book brings some closure to Sookie’s romantic life and the whole: will she stay with Eric or go back to Bill question is finally laid to rest.I was a bit tired for the whole Eric/Bill angsty love triangle story line and was really glad Harris didn’t invest too much of the last book on this.

While it wasn’t a compelling read, it was certainly a nice way to wrap up the series. And the final book is really targeted towards fans as a lot of old characters make their way back into the story.

It’s not the best of the Sookie Stackhouse books but it’s certainly not the worst either, just somewhere in the middle. It’s all sort of ends with a bit of ‘meh’ for me.

So it’s hard for me to understand some of the outrage from fans about this last book. Maybe it’s kinda hard to get outraged when your expectations are already so low.

Just a quick glance at the Amazon reviews and significant number of one star ratings (765) shows that a whole lot fans are ANGRY about this last book.  

As this Guardian article shows the online vitriol directed towards Harris has been quite extraordinary. Again, demonstrating the very thin line between fan love and hate/and also just plain crazy.

I believe that you get hooked onto series, like Sookie Stackhouse, because you get invested in the characters and their lives. This is through the skill and imagination of the author.

It can be disappointing, frustrating and saddening to see what happens to characters as a series continues.
But in the end these characters and stories are the creation of someone’s imagination. So how can anyone  stake a claim to control someone’s creativity and imagination? It’s both unrealistic and totally unreasonable.

I also thought Harris’s acknowledgment of her fans was heartfelt and gracious as she writes:

“Thanks for sticking with me through the books that succeeded and the books that fell a bit short of my aspirations.”

In the end, I think there is a sense of relief from both the author and certainly this reader that we can say a final goodbye to Sookie Stackhouse and her supernatural friends.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dan Brown's lnferno - disappointing and pedestrian.

Our favourite Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, returns in Dan Brown’s latest book Inferno (2013).

Langdon is back doing what he does best: deciphering symbols in artworks, visiting amazing buildings in Europe and of course, saving the world.

I thought Brown’s first three books in the Langdon series, Angels and Demons (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2003) and The Lost Symbol (2009), were all hugely fun, entertaining and enjoyable thrillers.

But Inferno is hugely disappointing, lacklustre and just plain boring.

In its review The Daily Mail called it ‘bilge, but one hell of a page turner’.  A tad harsh, but after finishing the book I don’t even think it rates as a page turner at all!

In fact, completing the book became a real chore because I had lost interest midway through the book.

Let’s face it, thrillers in the genre like The Da Vinci Code all have completely outlandish plots. I think that is fun part of the read, but really if you are going to do outlandish then as least make it interesting, intricate and fun outlandish.

The story begins with Langdon waking up in hospital in Florence and suffering amnesia after being shot in the head. He is unable to remember why he is in Florence and why a range of people are seemingly out to hurt him. He is left with a clues found in a Botticelli illustration for Dante's The Divine Comedy.

I don’t want to give too much away but a whole lot of elements didn’t really work for me and the plot twists when revealed were oh so pedestrian.

In the end I think Brown overreached in his focus on Dante’s The Divine Comedy and rather than engaging with it a meaningful way it was just used as simply a plot device.

One of the biggest grips I have about the book is that a good portion of it is full of badly written descriptions of very famous religious buildings like the Palazzo Vecchio and Sophia Hagia. 

Oh and the also the fact that Langdon seems to care more about his Mickey Mouse watch than the potential end of the world.

I must admit reading the various reviews of Inferno have actually been much more fun and entertaining then the book itself. That really says something!   

Some of the reviews are also master classes in the art of the backhanded compliment. The highlight being Jake Kerridge in The Telegraph who wrote “as a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor.” SNAP.

Also from the Telegraph’s Michael Deacon’s written-in-the-style-of-Dan-Brown “Inferno” review is a real hoot too.

But in the end I feel disappointed, because I'm not a Dan Brown 'hater' and I actually wanted to like this book.

I was looking forward to a fun and interesting page turner, but instead it felt like a rather dull art history lecture.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

From book to film - Jack Reacher fails on screen

I’d probably count myself a bit of a Jack Reacher fan.

As I’ve previously blogged before, I’ve read all of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and really enjoyed them. 

The first five or six are standouts in the contemporary anti-hero thriller genre. Reacher is the THE man you turn to when you're in trouble.

So like most fans I’ve got a pretty good mental picture in my head of what Jack Reacher looks like and it ain’t Tom Cruise.

When Cruise was announced to play Reacher, the fanbase went pretty rabid pretty quickly. Oh fandom, such a very fine line between love and hate. 

I’ve finally managed to watch Cruise’s Jack Reacher movie released in 2012.

Oh dear, what a complete disappointment! 

I tried to approach the movie with an open mind, after all much to the world and Anne Rice's surprise, Cruise did manage to pull of the role of Lestat in The Vampire Diaries. 

But this just didn’t work at all for me at any level: as a Reacher fan and also a movie fan full stop. 

After the first few scenes I kept reminding myself ‘oh it’s Jack Reacher not Tom Cruise playing another hero’.  At one stage, I almost thought I was watching another Mission Impossible film. 

I know movies are about suspension of disbelief, but seriously Jack Reacher is supposed to be 6 ft 5 in, weigh 250lbs and be tan with dirty blond hair. Cruise doesn’t physically come even remotely close. 

However, what disappointed me even more than the physical disparity is the fact that Cruise's Reacher is just so bland and one dimensional.

Reacher in the novels is actually really funny, witty and a real smart arse too. Plus he is also very critical of a lot of things in American society including the military, government and consumer culture. 

This is all lost in the film and in fact Reacher's patriotic monologues were some of the most cringeworthy moments of the film. 

Oh yeah, don't get me started on the complete lack of chemistry between Cruise and Rosamund Pike. Truly, truly painful to watch.

All I can say is, thank god for Robert Duvall! Duvall chews up the scenery and is the only memorable character in the film. 

This is defintely one book to film adaption that failed.