Tag Archives: book review

China Rich Girlfriend (aka Crazy Rich Asians #2)

I’ve been reading China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan over the last few days and let me tell you, it is one weird book.

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians, #2)

Like, the first one was weird. No doubt about it. But maybe because I saw the movie first, I could follow what was going on fairly easily. Not so with China Rich Girlfriend. Months, years even, pass from chapter to chapter. Characters come and go intermittently. It is hard to pin-point who the main character(s) are because they seem to change and only a few consistently circle back again. 

It is sheer sensory overload. I feel vaguely exhausted every time I pick it up. In some ways I deeply admire how the author keeps it all going but in other ways I just cannot wait to be done!


Keep Moving: And Other Truths About Living Well Longer by Dick Van Dyke

Keep Moving: And Other Truths About Living Well Longer by Dick Van Dyke – 3/5 stars

If deciding between this one or My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business, an earlier memoir by Dick Van Dyke, read this one. It is shorter, contains many of the same stories, and actually was a little bit more interesting. Not that I consider that saying much. See my review of My Lucky Life.

Dick Van Dyke gives more opinions in this book. He takes a stand and I like that. He talks about his favorite presidents, historical events he lived through, and his daily routine. It actually provides a picture of who he is, not just people he knows.

But I think it falls into the same trap his earlier memoir does. I really feel like his earlier memoir lost me when he started justifying his divorce from his first wife. ‘She didn’t understand.’ ‘He was caught between two strong women.’ ‘Show business was his life! He needed someone who understood that.’ etc. etc.

Here the justification is not why he left his wife but why his third wife is 43 years younger than himself.

(Frankly, I’m more curious as to why he never “got around” to marrying the palimony woman. There is a good story there. You don’t live with a person 30+ years and just “forget” to get married! Especially not her!)

But anyway, if this book has a theme besides thoughts on growing old, it is a justification of his new wife (who is about the same age as his grandchildren.) 

I enjoyed it. It was a fast read. And I think my favorite takeaway came at the beginning where he says, I paraphrase, “When you are in your 20s, you have Plan A. When you are in your 40s, it is Plan B. And when you make it to your 70s, you finally realize there is no plan at all.”


My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

(Wrote this review a few weeks ago but honestly it is this or my rambles about the evidence quiz I just completed. Consider yourself fortunate.) 

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke – 2/5 stars

I struggle with giving this book a low rating: I mean, it is Dick Van Dyke! He is classic. He is defining. We all cheered loudly when he appeared in Mary Poppins Returns because he is, simply, an icon of multiple generations now. Picking up this book, my question was not if it would be great but how great.

The thing is…there is not much of interest here. Oh, I suppose as a recap of Dick Van Dyke’s life it is interesting enough. He worked hard, embraced many cool opportunities, and overcame quite a bit. But it fails to satisfy in any regard.

  • As a look at life in Hollywood, it provides very few details besides a list of people he met, worked with, or particularly liked.
  • As a narrative of his varied acting experiences, he gives very few (almost no) details besides how much he loved the Dick Van Dyke Show. (Did you know everyone thought his co-star was his wife? He will remind you of it. Often.)
  • As a story of his life, it provides the facts but often with little more than you would expect from a Wikipedia page. His wife’s early miscarriage, his own alcoholism and affair, the loss of a granddaughter…none of it gets more than lightly brushed over.

If there is one reoccurring theme, it is his seemingly deistic perspective on “love” and “good works.” In short, his worldview boils down to everyone should be the affable, non-confrontational person that Dick Van Dyke is. And really, what this book is.

It is a very bland, very polite, very grateful, but altogether uninspiring story. Which is too bad. It didn’t need lots of Hollywood gossip. But it did need a little more vulnerability to make it more than an informational, and yet somehow uninformative, story.


Only Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

LOOK at this cover. Doesn’t it look amazing?

Image result for only ever her

Judged by the cover, this easily ranks as a 5 star read. Alas, not all books live up to their look. 

Only Ever Her tells the story of Annie Taft: a woman about to get married who learns her mother’s murderer is being let out of prison. Her testimony as a three-year-old put him in jail. Anxious to escape her notorious past as a murdered woman’s daughter, she nevertheless agrees to support his release on the grounds that her testimony was probably an unreliable one. 

Then, four days before her wedding, Annie disappears. 

Told from the switching viewpoint of five different people, Only Ever Her started off interestingly enough. By the end, though, I was heartily ready to be done with it. As a disclaimer, I must admit that I do not normally read thrillers and a good chunk of my critique really comes down to my reaction to the genre in general. 

There is just too much melodrama for the story to feel believable. Everyone hides a skeleton in their closet. No one is quite honest, either with themselves or with one another. Every relationship is heavy, tangled, and angsty. 

And then it all wraps up and I guess we’re supposed to…what? Be like, ‘Gee, glad that worked out the way it did’? ‘What a great moral lesson about how humans suck.’ 

It is someone’s cup of tea, just not mine.

Further, being a law student made this one hard to read. I kept inwardly flinching at time lines (the man put away for Annie’s mother’s murder got release within days of announcing an appeal, which would never happen) or the behavior of the police. (Are they trying to get all the evidence thrown out of court?!)

But if you do like contemporary suspense dramas, you will probably enjoy it. It was fast paced and easy to read. 


Silence For the Dead by Simone St. James

Silence For the Dead

The Great War just ended but for many the horror still remains. 21-year-old Kitty Weekes is on the run. Determined to get out of London, she forges credentials and presents herself as a nurse at Portis House, a “madhouse” for soldiers suffering from PTSD. But Portis House hides its own secrets. The previous owners mysteriously disappeared. An unknown stalks the corridors at night. And the men all suffer from the same terror…someone coming for them at night. Someone now coming for Kitty, too.

4 out of 5 stars

Silence For the Dead attempts two things. Separately, they succeed. Together, they fall short of full success. But surprisingly, not as short as I initially expected.

First, the book presents historical fiction with a psychological twist. The plot takes place post-WW1 in a “madhouse” for soldiers suffering from PTSD. Kitty experienced abuse as a child and suffers her own form of PTSD. It all feels very realistic and well-crafted. While the heroine might demonstrate a little too much ‘open-mindedness’ for true historicity, the modern mindset towards mental health does not really permeate these pages and that helps a lot with the setting. These men—and the people around them—view themselves as cowards for giving into their nightmares. As historical fiction I found I really enjoyed the setting and the balance the author strikes. 

Second, this is a ghost story. Think And Then There Were None but with ghosts. The characters all live in isolation with no chance of escape, even the staff. Something is coming and they are helpless to stop it. The mystery of the abandoned house-turned-hospital remains an open ended question until the climax. Very intense, very eerie, and very enjoyably put together. I am as a general rule skeptical of ghosts and “mad” characters who act without rhyme or reason. They make such terribly convenient excuses for irrational actions. But the author doesn’t give into the convenience; she does a good job laying the groundwork and setting up the climax. It really pushed this book up a star in my mind.

Separately, then, two good plots. The problem comes when you combine them. It is hard to take the soldiers’ PTSD seriously when ghosts stalk around causing trouble. But on the flip side, it is hard to genuinely enjoy the ghost story when the author so carefully presents actual, psychological issues. The fantasy disrupts the realism and the realism disrupts the fantasy. I never felt the full “punch” of either story line because the other one kept dancing in my peripheral vision, distracting from the actual emotions before me.

But it works in the end. Not, perhaps, as well as it could. But well enough that I do recommend this one if either of those genres catches your interest. It was an engrossing, fun story. I’ll definitely find more by this author.

(PG-13 for a fade to black scene.)


Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Two stars

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff recently made the rounds as one of the more popular YA novels. I was fortunate to get a copy early. It follows the formula of other successful novelsmultiple characters who takes turns narrating, underdogs, a dystopian future. Unfortunately, I never quite fell in love with it the way other reviewers did. 

The story begins in 2380. The Aurora Academy trains elite cadets and sends them on key missions around the galaxy. Tyler Jones, future squad leader, figures he will get the best team. After all, he is the best. Instead, he misses the draft while out on a rogue mission. He rescues a girl who was comatose for 200 years from an abandoned ship and returns to find his team consists of the “leftovers.” (And his sister. And an ace pilot. But other than them, the leftovers.) 

The plot itself didn’t thrill me but what really bored me the most was the characters. Introducing…

Aurora, AKA Sleeping Beauty. She’s rescued by a handsome prince, possesses epic powers, and spends most of the book freaking out because she’s now over 200 years old. Weak when conscious and strangely powerful when not, her character change occurs abruptly and felt at odds with the story. 

Tyler Jones, AKA Golden Boy. I did not even make that up. His nickname in the book is Golden Boy. He’s a squeaky clean hero with good grades and a good personality and good looks and good friends and good everything. He bored me to tears. He lacked any compelling character traits except, perhaps, possessing an awesome twin sister.

Scarlett Jones, AKA The Flirt. Scarlet is the diplomat of the team and outside of strong loyalty to her brother and flair for fashion, her main character trait is that she has a lot of ex-boyfriends. Oh, and she’s attractive. That’s about it. 

Kal, AKA Drax the Destroyer. Nothing goes over his head! His reflexes are too fast, he would catch it. Also a main love interest which came across really weird. 

Cat, AKA The Friendzone. Her entire personality revolves around the fact that Tyler doesn’t love her. Oh, and she likes flying and tattoos. 

Fin, AKA Never Shuts Up. He’s supposed to be really sarcastic but mostly comes across vulgar. However, to give credit, he probably holds the most depth as far as motivation goes so I get why people like him the most. I personally got annoyed with him.

Zil, AKA ??? She’s a sociopath who I hope plays a bigger role in upcoming books because honestly her character was otherwise useless. 

Besides characters that lack depth, the plot tries too hard to make the reader ship everyone with everyone else (and I do mean everyone with everyone) and it does not work. You need chemistry and some semblance of motivation for your characters. Not general attractiveness. 

Glad I found out what the fuss was about but doubt I’ll read any other books in the series.


All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

Two stars

Professor Smith started with a question: does Jane Austen’s writing transcend culture and language? To find answers, she traveled in South America for a year and conducted Jane Austen book clubs in Spanish. Her readers ranged from scholarly academics to stay at home moms. 

At least in theory, the idea works well. Better yet, sometimes Professor Smith “lets her hair down” and expresses her frustrations with living abroad. She comes across whiny, cranky, and exhausted. I loved it.

But unfortunately, it does not last. For the most part, All Roads Lead to Austen presents a very careful, very sanitized, and fairly politically correct look at a few reading groups Professor Smith pulled together while traveling around South America. 

The book clubs all sounded the same. It did not matter if they were discussing Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, or Emma. The same comments about Jane Austen and her applicability to modern audiences get rehashed with the same results and conclusions. While this ought to have been “further proof” of the author’s hypothesis about Austen’s universal applicability, it mostly left me saying, “Yeah, duh.” 

Perhaps because the author is translating conversations that took place in Spanish, or perhaps because her own Spanish was still rather basic, the conversations and commentary all sounded very…juvenile. I think the problem lies with the fact that despite Professor’s Smith optimistic plan to form Austen reading groups across South America, most of her readers are exhausted, regular people who often either didn’t finish the book or just wanted to comment on the movies instead. Does it still make the writing interesting? Sure, but it lacks an academic edge. It turned any “evidence” the book provides about readers and Austen into little more than anecdotes. 

I like what the author tried to do. I just don’t think it worked the way she planned and it falls short of really making much of a difference in the Austen literature. 

 

 

(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELLA!)