The Wangs vs. The World

Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. The World tells the story of the Wangs after their patriarch looses all their money, homes, cars, etc after a bad business venture. The time period is the beginning of the economic collapse that would devastate so many people, but this story, while it talks a little about the world’s problems, really is a story about the Wangs. For centuries, the Wangs were wealthy land owners in China. This branch of the family survived the war with Japan by escaping to Taiwan.
Charlie started fresh in the new world and ended up with a makeup empire that collapsed due to bad timing and a lot of hubris. Saina, his oldest daughter, moved to NY and became a well known artist, but recently had a crushing show that may have ruined her career. Since she bought her house on her own, no one’s coming to repossess it and the rest of the family will need to move in with her.Andrew, middle child and virgin, drops out of college since his dad can’t foot the bill anymore. Grace, an internet fashion blogger and prep school attendee, also has to leave school. Along with Charlie’s second wife Barbra, the rest of the family drives across country to begin their new life at Saina’s country home.

The novel switches characters often so we really see the impact that this move and the financial/success changes have on all the family members and how it changes how they see themselves.

There’s a lot going on in this novel since each character has to grow and change to survive this. But the love thats shared by the family will help them move on. There’s also a lot of Chinese-American culture references which I found enlightening and don’t think I’ve read anything from this perspective.

At first the switching between characters was not enjoyable, but by the end of the novel I was waiting for each family member’s perspective of the current events.

Slow, but very interesting read.

Read July 2017

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Still Alice

Still Alive tells the story of a woman at the height of her career who discovers she has Alzheimer’s. Lisa Genova writes with such compassion for her characters, all of which have to learn to deal with Alice’s disease. Alice must give up her career and her autonomy when it becomes clear that her memory is affecting her ability to function. She must also learn to deal with her family members who have very different reactions and expectations of her.

This story is incredibly heart breaking watching a woman, who has so much intellect and a life full of work and family, change into someone who can’t follow conversations and who seems to be failing some of her loved ones. Its amazing to see who steps in to help her and horrifying to see those who run away.

This was a great, eye-opening read.

Read July 2017.

Little Pretty Things

In Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things, we explore the high school friendship of Juliet and Maddy. While they were the closest friends in high school, Maddy came in first in every track race they ever ran together, until suddenly they stopped running and stopped being friends. 10 years have past since they’ve seen each other and we meet Juliet in a dumpy motel on the outskirts of their hometown. She dropped out of college when her father died and she seemed to have lost all her drive and ended up in this dead end job. When in walks Maddy, beautiful, wealthy, and makes Juliet question all of her life’s choices up to this point. She sees in Maddy what she could have had, and once again she’s in second place to Maddy.

Or is she? Maddy is found murdered at the motel and Juliet is intent of finding who killed her former best friend. Juliet ends up tangled in a web of deceit that makes her realize that coming in 2nd place might be the better spot to have ended up. The entire town’s facade is ripped off as Juliet and Courtney, an investigating officer and classmate of Juliet and Maddy’s, uncover abuse that the town has been living with for decades.

A compelling read and a cautionary tale for teenage girls looking to find their way in this world on their own.

Read July 2017

 

The Winter Foundlings

Holy hell, The Winter Foundlings is an addictive read. Kate Rhodes takes a horrible story of a child murderer and somehow makes it worse. In The Winter Foundlings, we follow Alice Quentin, a psychologist who transfers to the high-secutrity prison to study the treatment methods for the worst criminals, outside of London. While there, Alice is hoping to meet and study the treatment for Louis Kinsella, a child killer with no remorse, when back in London a child is found murdered in a way that matches Kinsella’s murders.

Quentin must remain impartial and clearheaded as she’s pulled into Kinsella’s world and manipulated by her own mentor and premier crime psychologist.

Rhodes tells the story of Quentin’s investigation interspersed with an abducted child who’s fighting for her life in whatever way she can. The details of the murders are horrific and hard to read, but Quentin’s devotion to them and finding their killer is hypnotizing.

There’s a similarity between this novel and Silence of the Lambs, not that I’ve read that recently, but the feel is the same with a male psychotic killer manipulating a woman investigating a current crime. There’s more of a copycat killer in this novel than in the other. But it doesn’t matter. This story feels so original and is so gripping, I can overlook the similarity.

Read July 2017

Vinegar Girl

I only picked Vinegar Girl from the library since it was on the “Lucky Day Shelf”, which usually means its a popular book that you can pick up today and not have to wait for it on hold…get it…its your “Lucky Day”. Most books that I’ve gotten from this section have been well written or really popular. Its not always my style, but I can usually see why its popular. Not so with Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl.

I read the cover which described the character Kate Battista as almost spinster-like and caretaker of her father, her sister, and their home. She organized lunches, does all the laundry, cleaning, etc, all the while totally unappreciated by anyone that she does anything for. I thought dear old Kate would have some sort of awakening moment and it might make an interesting, easy read. I read the novel and waited for her epiphany that she’s being used and she needs to create her own life. When her father proposed that she marry his research assistant to extend his visa, she rightfully freaks out. This was finally the point that she’d break through and become her own person and stop being a doormat!! Except, that didn’t happen. While the assistant is foreign and quirky, he’s also kind of a jerk. And yet Kate goes through with this horrific marriage to escape her father and sister. Oh, and at the wedding she defends her new-husband who beat up a teenager by saying “It’s hard being a man.” WTF?

And incase you think this was written in the 1850’s when marriage was the only way for a woman to escape her parents, it wasn’t. This is a modern horrifying novel. The only pretense at modernism is the Epilogue that has, without any actual character development, Kate receiving a Botany award when her kid is still young. This woman has done nothing in the Botany-world other than having a hobby as a backyard gardener. This was absolutely preposterous and its like the editors realized how sexist and horrible this novel is and wanted to give it a feminist finish.

Anyway, this was horrible. Don’t read it. Don’t let your friends read it. Burn it if you see an impressionable young girl reading this who’s trying to look to the world around them for what might be acceptable treatment that they should expect in a relationship, with a parent, sibling, or boyfriend.

Read June 2017

UPDATE: Since reading the book and writing this blog, I’ve learned that this novel is based Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, a play I’ve never read, but from a quick search has some controversy as either being witty satire or a horribly misogynistic play. I’m not sure what Tyler was hoping to achieve with Vinegar Girl, but I did not see much wit, but an awful lot of misogyny.

 

The Orchardist

The Orchardist is an amazing story about William Talmadge, a quiet man living an isolated life in a Washington orchard until one day 2 pregnant girls start stealing food from him. Its very clear that these girls are terrified but need someone’s help and Talmadge can’t turn them out. He slowly cares for them and gets them help with their pregnancies. The girls never warm to him, but when Talmadge learns of their past, he understands their reluctance and accepts what they are able to offer. Their life is turned upside down when someone from their past comes to collect them. Decisions are made that affect the rest of their lives. We’re able to follow most of the characters throughout their entire lives and see how these decisions impacted their futures.

The setting adds an interesting element to the story. The isolation allows a self awareness to the characters and a coldness to their interactions. But the love between many of them is felt on a level that most families cannot experience. A simple hand on the passing shoulder screams volumes that are never spoken. The style reminds me of much older novels and this work has been compared to works by Steinbeck and I understand why.

This tragic story is filled with the love and care true families have for one another. Regardless of proximity or blood.

Great novel! It’ll be interesting to read additional works by Coplin to see if she can continue in this style. She based this novel on an area that she grew up with and types of people she knew. I’d love to see her do it again.

Read June 2017

The Carrier

Sophie Hannah’s The Carrier tells the story of a man who confesses to a murder that none of the investigating officers think he committed. The murder undoubtably took place in the comatosed victims bedroom, and all the evidence backs up the confession. But why would the victim’s husband, a man who had left his wife until she went into the coma, confess to a murder that would send him to jail. The husband’s mistress-of-sorts from years ago gets mixed up when she meets the victims caretaker.

The novel is very detailed about all the different relationships the victim had and how the husband could have so many legitimate reasons to kill her, but yet nothing makes sense.

This wasn’t a quick read for me. I think the detail is very dense and required time in between readings to think about the plot. I can’t tell if this was a good thing or not. Overall, the book was enjoyable to read.

Read June 2017