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Book Review 52: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

26 Dec

I grabbed this out of the library after seeing it recommended, multiple times, on LaineyGossip. I love truly delicious, trashy novels. And this was hands down the best chick-lit/trashy novel I’ve read all year.  I hate calling it “chick-lit” because this book is more than that – it has hilarious, smart social commentary and incredible character development. But the basic story is not uncommon in chick-lit: a smart, Chinese American woman named Rachel falls in love with Singapore-born Chinese man named Nicholas Young. When Nicholas takes Rachel home for the summer to meet his family, she’s in for an enormous surprise.

Nicholas Young is rich. Beyond rich, really. He’s part of an super elite group of families who have more money than they can count. Theoretically, this book is like many of the British and US chick-lit books that came before it. Rachel is a fish out of water who triumphs over Nicholas’s snobby family in the end. But this book is just more fun than any chick-lit book I’ve read in years.

There are scheming aunts and mothers; super rich cousins who jet off to Paris and come back outfitted in millions of dollars of cotoure; lavish parties beyond anything I could even dream up; bachelorette parties on private islands; the wedding of the century; and a whole cast of friends and family who deeply love each other but are also deeply committed to their insular lifestyle. It has more drama; more conflict; more romance than any of the chick-lit I’ve read recently. I loved it. Continue reading

Review 22: Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer

13 Mar

[Spoilers abound in this post, beware]

Half of this book I hated, because it felt contrived, and didn’t add anything original to the women’s fiction genre that I truly adore.  Neelie’s husband has an affair with the chipper female co-owner of his veterinarian practice and gets her pregnant. He doesn’t even have the guts to tell Neelie himself; his mistress tells her. And then Neelie discovers that he (a) dated his mistress in vet school, which makes her feel like her marriage is null and void and (b) he had drained their accounts, mortgaged their home and basically stolen all of her money.

So, in the grand tradition of a thousand chick lit novels, Neelie must decide what to do with her marriage.  I hated this part, because Neelie was frustrating and oblivious and needed to be saved.  Ultimately, she meets a rich, handsome man who loves animals as much as she does and he saves her from the wreckage of her failed marriage and a sad tragedy in her past. Of course. I just hated that she didn’t really end up fixing her own life. Her friends, family and new lover fixed it for her.

But the other half of this book, I loved. Continue reading

Book Review 15: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

18 Feb

This book has been reviewed no less than five times already on Cannonball Read V thus far. I kept seeing reviews, most of them were raves, some were neutral, so I figured I’d take a look. Semple was a producer on Arrested Development, Mad About You and Suddenly Susan, all shows I loved in my youth, or love now, or both. You can feel some of those sensibilities in the book, and you can really feel how she traditionally writes for the screen. It’s no surprise that the movie rights have been acquired. Nor is it a surprise that the 500 Days of Summer writers are scripting it, because it’s full of that same type of whimsical quirkiness.

This is a family drama, at heart. It’s about Bernadette, the reclusive mom who is fiercely protective of her daughter but also fiercely paranoid and losing it a bit. It’s about her husband Elgin, a high level Microsoft executive work-a-holic who realizes too late his family is falling to pieces. And it’s about the mature beyond her years Bee, their daughter, who ends up driving the story, suffering hurt but moving past it with the incredibly resiliency of a teenager and forcing her parents to face their problems.

Caveat: this book has an enormous quirk factor. Antarctica, eccentric architecture, mud slides (the natural disaster, not the drink), odd homes, prescription drugs, outsourcing your life to India, recluses, etc. If you’re not into that, I’d recommend staying away. But if you can look past the oddball details, there’s a compelling story here. It keeps your attention, it’s funny, and really it makes you think about how people handle themselves when tragedy strikes, or life deals them a hard blow.

Book Review 14: Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me by Chelsea Handler & Friends

18 Feb

Chelsea Handler tends to be divisive. People either obsess over her or vigorously hate her for little to no reason. I guess she’s like most comedians that way – you either get them or you don’t, and if you don’t, you’re not interested. I like Chelsea Handler, and I like her assorted cast of friends/comedians on Chelsea Lately.

This book, written by her friends, with responses from Chelsea, didn’t appeal to me as much as My Horizontal Life, the only other book of her’s that I’ve read. First, it’s actually kind of a weird idea. I have a hard time thinking about asking my friends or colleagues to write a book of stories about me. It feels a little…self involved somehow. Just when you start to get into the story and start feeling like it’s an honest, funny, relatively unbiased account, there’s the obligatory praise of “Chelsea is fabulous!” at the end of each chapter which makes it feel less like a collection of funny stories and more like a sales pitch for Chelsea’s human side. Which could be the point of the book, as her public persona is fairly abrasive and you get a more well rounded picture of her from the book.

Also, the premise got stretched a little thing. I think if each person had free reign to just write what they wanted about Chelsea, and make it funny, it would have been consistently funny. But each chapter was shoehorned into telling a story (or two or three) about an actual lie she told, and it got repetitive. I get it, she plays a lot of lie-based pranks. I think there would have been a lot more humor if some of the writers were allowed to break that mold.

This was not my favorite Chelsea Handler experience, for reasons explained below. What is my favorite Chelsea Handler experience?  Continue reading

Book Review 10: Live from New York by Tom Shales & Andrew James Miller

12 Feb

After reading The Revolution Was Televised, I realized that a whole genre of books about my absolute favorite pastime, television, existed and I was missing out. Live from New York, a 600 page oral history of Saturday Night Live, was published in 2002 and hit exactly the right notes. The book is just the right mix of old school celebrity gossip, logistical industry insight, social context and fond  (and bitter) cast and crew memories. Most importantly, it’s an incredible look at what has gone wrong with SNL periodically, and the various views (writer, cast, Lorne Michaels) on why there were some troubled periods.

Most fascinating were how the relationships between cast members and writers really drive the quality of the show. The first five years were built on the strength of the cast, their devotion to each other in and out of the office, the crazy amount of drugs and alcohol they consumed, and their individual relationships with the writers.  And the Tina Fey years were almost the inverse – they thrived on the respect, professionalism, and clean living that they all prided themselves on. It really pinpoints why transition years are difficult – when you have a group  like Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, etc. giving way to youngsters like Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and Chris Farley, factions occur, conflicts arise and work gets less productive.

Surprising to me was how the way prior cast members or writers talked about the show could dramatically change my opinion of them.  For example, I’m now totally obsessed with Jane Curtain who’s smart, funny, blunt, pithy and amazing and I want to go back to 1975 and be her best friend. I’m a firm believer that you should never trash your former employers – something about that job gave you the skills, experience or wisdom to help you get where you are today. And there were a wide variety of past cast and crew members lobbing some hard hitting criticism at SNL – Julia Louis Dreyfus, Janeane Garofolo, Chris Rock, Victoria Jackson, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, etc. Some of them came off as whiny and unappreciative, while some of them managed to convey what it was about SNL that wasn’t right for them, and critique some of the show’s longstanding perceived faults (particularly re: gender, race) intelligently and graciously. Honestly, I actually loved some of the people who complained about the show more after reading this book (I’m looking at you, Julia Louis Dreyfus).

Is SNL still relevant?

Continue reading

Book Review 1: Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich

11 Jan

Sadly, my prediction from last year was wrong. I will say this though – I’m not crazy.  5 people have been referred to my blog by the search “Stephanie Plum Pregnant” so other people were wondering. But yes, Stephanie Plum is not pregnant. She still has not chosen between tall, dark, handsome and secretive Ranger and tall, dark, handsome, and moderately wholesome Joe Morelli.

But you know what? I just don’t care. Everyone I talk to about these books says some variation of “I stopped reading after Book X” (whether it be 5, 10, or 15). But I will keep reading these books because I love Stephanie Plum. She’s from New Jersey, she’s pretty hardcore, she’s had two hot guys fighting over her for 19 books now and she gets to be with whichever one her heart desires, whenever she wants. She’s good to her family, she’s responsible for a pet, she pays her rent on time. She has a whole cast of hilarious sidekicks that are hilarious, loyal and probably more bad ass than she is.

She’s fun! She’s never anything but fun. She gets to live life permanently in her twenties – minimal responsibilities, lots of adventures, all that fun stuff. When she turns into a crime fighting Grandma, I’ll still be reading. And I feel no shame.


P.S. Apparently it’s becoming a tradition for me to begin my year with a Stephanie Plum book. Which is actually very satisfying.

Book Review #59: Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

10 Sep

I like reading books by female comedians. I’d probably like reading books by male comedians, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve recently enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. Unfortunately, Ellen’s Seriously…I’m Kidding was the worst of the bunch. Through no fault of her own, really.

Ellen’s book was what you expect from a female comedian: a series of essays that feels like a long comedy set. The short essays ranged from 1 to 5 or 6 pages, and they were structured like traditional stand up. She even warmed up the audience in the introduction. And the book was hilarious. Honestly, truly, laugh out loud funny. It was like hanging out with Ellen for an hour. And I love Ellen. Continue reading

Book Review #35: Goddess of Vengeance by Jackie Collins

22 May

This is the ideal beach read. As most of Jackie Collins‘s novels are. That’s  why it was one of the first things I read on vacation.  This is part of the Lucky Santangelo series, but it’s the first book featuring Lucky that I’ve read. Set in Las Vegas, Lucky owns The Keys, an exclusive hotel property, maintains a still-hot marriage with her husband, counts a famous pop star as her best friend and has two glamorous children.

The book gets off to a slow start simply because there are so many characters.  The first 100 pages or so introduces you to each character, and gives you a slice of their life – Billy the movie star, Lucky the hotel magnate, Lucky’s daughter Max’s wild clubbing escapades, her son Bobby’s business sense and romance with down to earth Denver, and so on. But once the book gets going and the story lines of the characters begin to intertwine, the book gets interesting.

This can probably be classified as a thriller of sorts – while set among the glamour and excess of Vegas, at heart, the plot concerns Lucky’s refusal to sell The Keys and the middle eastern prince and business man who wants her dead because she refused his offer. My favorite B plot involved Lucky’s daughter Max, who is torn between her long time, boring steady boyfriend and Billy the movie star, her mom’s friends ex-husband who took her virginity. Max is a fairly realistic depiction of what its like to be in love at age 18 – it’s confusing, and reckless, and you do stupid things. I also enjoyed the chapters about the middle eastern prince’s mother, a former Vegas show girl who reminsces about the good old days in Vegas. It was a fun detour into some historical fiction in a few chapters.

This book won’t change your life but it’s a quick read, moderately engaging and pretty salacious. Perfect for the warm weather.

Authors Being Awesome: Hugh Laurie Edition

1 May

This one’s sort of cheating, but I think it’s still qualifies as awesome.  A better title might be “Actors Being Awesome,” because most Americans know Hugh Laurie as the sarcastic, pill popping, mystery illness diagnosing doctor on House. Aside from being British, an accomplished jazz musician and America’s favorite curmudgeon, Laurie wrote a suspense novel called The Gun Seller.

While I haven’t read it, you can check out Cannonball reviews of the book here and here.  Laurie’s also a comedian, and apparently the book is a bit crazy, a bit funny and an overall good time.

Laurie actually wrote and submitted the book under a pseudonym, because he didn’t want to be one of those “celebrity authors.”  After the book sold, his publicist convinced him to use his actual name to promote sales.  There were rumors of a second novel to be published in 2009, but that has yet to materialize.  So, there are possibly more Hugh Laurie novels on the horizon!

Book Review #30: Spin by Catherine McKenzie

30 Apr

I’m in the middle of finals, thus my life is a little terrible. I’m reading  a lot, but it’s all about Evidence. And Intellectual Property. And the Law.

So, Spin was a light, happy stress reliever. Thirty-year old Kate is a struggling writer who pretends to be in grad school for the free wine and cheese nights, with no romantic prospects on the horizon.  When she lands her dream job interview, she shows up to the interview still drunk from a crazy night of partying. Needless to say, she doesn’t get the job.

What she does get is an offer to take an all-expenses-paid trip to rehab, where she’s expected to befriend a Lindsay Lohan-esque starlet seeking treatment there.  And then write a salacious expose. Kate goes to rehab, becomes best friends with the starlet and falls in love.  When rehab ends, Kate has to make a choice.  Her new friend, her sobriety, or her dream job?  Kate chooses a fun combination of the three.

As fun as the book was, it  touched on something more serious that I don’t think gets enough attention among twenty-somethings.  There are certain drinking patterns that are totally normal and acceptable when you’re in college.  But when you graduate, at some point, those patterns become signs of alcoholism.  In your twenties, there’s a blurry, sensitive line between young, fun partying and alcoholism. Kate ostensibly goes to rehab for a job. But Kate is also in rehab because she needs it.  Kate never left her student lifestyle behind, and her slow realization that she might actually be an alcoholic rings very true.

 Let’s break down some of the classic chick lit elements found in this novel, shall we? Continue reading

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