Sunday, August 28, 2016

Crazy Rich Asians (by Kevin Kwan)

This is by a guy, but I'm still giving it the "women's contemporary fiction" label because this falls into that category. It's the story of a regular New Yorker named Rachel Chu, engaged to a man named Nick Young who invites her back to Singapore to meet his family. Little does she know, they are rich. Not just rich, but filthy rich. Not just filthy rich, but crazy rich.

Kwan is familiar with this subculture of extreme wealth (where everyone has billions and one wedding costs $40 million) and the descriptions are extremely detailed, with conspicuous consumption and cutting-edge brand names everywhere. It's satirical and entertaining. For the first two thirds, I enjoyed it as a fluffy and fun vacation read. Then it went downhill for me.

The last third switches from each chapter being from the point of view of a single character to being scenes set in various places that jump around into various characters' points of view, often gratuitously. This leads to a lot of akward showing instead of telling. "He wondered what he could do to reassure her in this moment. He stroked her back."  We don't need to go into his point of view for this, we can just see him stroking her back and understand it's meant to be reassuring. Lots of weird awkward writing like that.

There's also the issue that Rachel Chu, our "fish out of water" character, is not that well developed. She is supposedly an economist with a Ph.D. but comes across as bland and generic, albeit sympathetic. I wanted a bit more intelligence, a bit more Elizabeth Bennet out of her.

The biggest issue is that almost no plotlines get resolved. It's 500 pages long! It's fun and fluffy! Where is my ending? Where is my resolution? Where is the comeuppance for the bad guys?  Of course, as soon as I finished it I learned there was a sequel. But even if that's the case, and threads are left dangling, at least one or two main plotlines should be resolved, shouldn't they?

Anyway, meh. Fun, but could have been much better. I will not be picking up the sequel.  

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything (by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong)

This history of Seinfeld seemed right up my alley as soon as I first heard about it, and I preordered it immediately. It's the classic fun book that I like to parcel out to myself at the gym, and I do love insidery books about the comedy scene (see also: the SNL oral history).

I was not the world's biggest Seinfeld fan, but I really grew to appreciate it as time went on, it appeared in syndication, and I realized how many real-life situations bring to mind this or that episode of Seinfeld. Also: it is a crime that Jason Alexander never won an Emmy for playing George Costanza. It's not quite Steve Carell levels of egregious but it's close, Jerry! It's close!

I would have enjoyed a book twice as long and with twice as much depth. This book is really great when it talks about the minutia of individual scripts and episodes, or even the stories of individual writers, but the title "Seinfeldia" is a reference to the fandom around Seinfeld, and this is interesting at first, but wears a bit thin and comes across at times as a bit of a stretch. (For example, much of the final chapter of the book is devoted to dueling parody Seinfeld Twitter accounts. Did we really need the inside story of @Seinfeld2000? Not really. Or certainly not to this extent.)

Also the photos at the end are interesting but it weirdly over-emphasizes writer Andy Robin's extended family. (There is a picture of his grandmother-in-law at one point.) This seems like Seinfeldian nitpicking but it is odd: there are seven pictures of Andy Robin and his family members, and only two of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.)

This is absolutely a fun read though, and I recommend it to Seinfeld fans. I also did immediately fire up Amazon Video so I could watch, not Seinfeld, but the Seinfeld reunion episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Pretty pretty pretty pretty good.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Countdown City and World of Trouble (by Ben H. Winters)

I'm putting these together because after finishing Countdown City, I didn't have enough to say to fill out a whole post. Now I've finished World of Trouble and with it, completed the Last Policeman trilogy, so I figured I'd post them both together.

Countdown City is the second book in the trilogy.  I liked it less than the first one -- feels a little bit like marking time, and the central mystery (revolving around a missing person) is not that interesting, whereas the mystery in the first one is terrific. I did enjoy the background apocalypse stuff, though, particularly the chilling scene with the boats.

World of Trouble is the third book and in my opinion much stronger than the second. It wraps up the trilogy nicely. No spoilers, but I will says I especially loved the twists towards the end and the extremely moving final scene. It's a bit gruesome at points but, you know. Apocalypse and all.

Did I already mention Last Night in my previous review? It's a Canadian film about the end of the world that I kept being strongly reminded of as I read this.  I recommend this trilogy (even with the slow second installment) but I recommend Last Night even more.

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Monday, August 01, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (by Jack Thorne)

Quite convenient that the Read Harder Challenge includes "a play" in the same year that the new Harry Potter play comes out, hmm?

I have no idea how the Harry Potter fandom feels about this play. (Actually I do have one idea: I guarantee they are 'shipping Albus and Scorpius hardcore -- that relationship is pure romance.)  But I enjoyed it! After a bit of a blip at the beginning with the use of some ableist language that bothered me. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It actually fixes a lot of the things that bugged me about the series -- Ron and Hermione's marriage is shown as bringing out the best in each of them, which I was not convinced of fully by the novels. The trope of "all Slytherins are evil" is finally subverted. The Albus/Scorpius friendship is what I wanted from Draco/Harry, so I loved it. Snape's motivations are fleshed out in a way that makes more sense to me.

Other good stuff: Scorpius is a wonderful character. There is some nicely progressive gender stuff: Hermione has massive career success, Ron is a stay-at-home-dad, and Harry does all the cooking.  And Hermione is black (at least the stage version of Hermione is played by a black actress) which I effing love. And I enjoyed the story (a clever time-travel story) even if it didn't feel quite in line with how time travel worked in the past. It was just so satisfying to be back in that world. The twists were good and very Rowlingesque.

I'm not sure about the retcon of the whole Bellatrix thing, and of course I would much rather have read this in insanely detailed novel form. I also wish we had gotten a glimpse of Fred, too. #NotOverIt. But other than that, it's pure joy to be at Hogwarts again!

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