Book: China Rich Girlfriend

"China Rich Girlfriend"

On the even of her wedding to Nicholas Young, Rachel Chu should be over the moon. Her fiance is willing to defy his mother and sacrifice his entire inheritance–one of the greatest fortunes in Asia–in order to marry her. But Rachel still regrets the fact that her father, a man she never knew, won’t be able to walk her down the aisle. Until: A shocking revelation draws Rachel into a world of Shanghai splendor beyond anything she has ever imagined.

Here we meet Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy known for Prince Harry-like antics; Colette, his celebrity girlfriend who is chased by fevered paparazzi; and the man Rachel has spent her entire life waiting to meet. Meanwhile, Singapore’s It Girl, Astrid Leong, is shocked to discover that there is a downside to having a newly minted tech billionaire husband, and “Mrs. Katherine Tai” (previously known as the soap opera star Kitty Pong) realizes that it will take more than a new name for her to claim her rightful place in society.

An uproarious comedy of manners that takes readers through Asia’s most exclusive clubs, auction houses, and estates, China Rich Girlfriend is filled with the opulence of mainland China–a place where people attend church in a penthouse above the clouds, where private jets are decorated to look like Balinese resorts, where exotic sports cars race along boulevards, and where people aren’t just crazy rich…they’re China rich.

Most people I know who have read this book liked it. Granted, I haven’t seen any one of them discuss the book at length yet. And some might already have blogged about it, but I haven’t had the time to read through them yet–

So I’m still wondering: what did they see in the book that I didn’t?

I thoroughly enjoyed the excesses of Crazy Rich Asians. It wasn’t a perfect book, but the entertainment value far outweighed any misgivings I had about the book. But I cannot say the same for China Rich Girlfriend, which at times felt like it was trying too hard to replicate what the first book had–and then topping it in the crazy scales.

That said, I do know one part of the book that I really didn’t enjoy: the C-plot with Kitty Pong’s transformation into Mrs. Katherine Tai and what happened to her husband and kid. I know it was supposed to show a new aspect of being Asian Rich, and the idea of there being people rich enough to think they can erase their past. But throughout the book, this plot utterly bored me. I couldn’t understand why the least engaging character of Crazy Rich Asians deserved a plot line of her own in the sequel.

And then there’s the B-plot with Astrid which I expected to like because I kinda wanted to see how her life was going to unfold… And then I realized that she already had a good ending in the first book. In the sequel, it sometimes felt like her life’s just being meddled with just so we could have a continuation of her story.

Whenever the focus was on Astrid and her marriage, I kept feeling bad because I like the characters but I didn’t like where their story went. And I know it’s supposed to be good writing when you’re moved to feel emotions–but as her life unraveled, all I felt was horror.

The only thing I liked about China Rich Girlfriend is the continuation of Rachel Chu’s love story with Nicholas Young. Which I didn’t think needed to continue when the first book ended. It was a good enough ending as it was. Until we were introduced to Rachel’s father and the crazy family he brings with him.

Had we gotten a book similar to Crazy Rich Asians that focused on just Rachel and Nicholas, with the rest of the characters only getting snippets about their lives–I feel like I would have enjoyed China Rich Girlfriend more. Especially since the sequel really succeeds in topping the insanity of the first book when it comes to describing the opulence of the rich and (trying not to be) famous.  And I know that Rachel and Nicholas are still the main characters of the sequel, with Astrid’s and Kitty’s stories only serving as sub-plots, but I really felt like the subplots subtracted to my enjoyment of the main plot instead of supporting it.

Putting the book down, I did not become a China Rich Girlfriend fan. But I probably will still read another sequel from author Kevin Kwan if he comes out with another one. Unlike with this book through, which I picked up as soon as it came out–only to write about it months later, I’m probably not going to rush to the bookstore for his next book.

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Book: Displaced

"Displaced"

“SPACE.
When Elay’s
Nanay
decided
to pack her bags,
board the airplane,
and fly back
to Manila,

TIME.
Elay’s glorious hours of
guitar-playing,
exam-flunking,
Facebook-viewing,
iPod-listening,
Justin-daydreaming
slowly
decreased
to
zero.

FORCE.
The harder she struggled
to return to how things were,

DISPLACEMENT
the greater the forces
that took her farther.

Displaced is a little unconventional as coming-of-age novels go. For one thing, the story is told through poetry– A genius move, in my opinion, that’s also very frustrating.

Poetry is a genre that leaves a lot to reader interpretation. Each line cut, each extra space, has a meaning to the writer that may not mean the same for the reader. Which is why I think it’s genius that author Aneka Rodriguez uses this medium to tell her story of adolescence–that confusing point in time when every little thing can make or break relationships.

We all have our own set of experiences when it comes to growing up, to falling in love; we all have different relationships with our parents, with our guardians, and with the families we chose to surround ourselves with. And Displaced tries to capture our feelings as it tries to tell its story. Especially when you read it out loud. Every change in how you pause, in how you cut off every line– It tells a different story each time.

Which brings me to my frustration.

Displaced is the story of every one told through the story of one person. Although I feel that the format is genius, it doesn’t change the fact that the story itself isn’t special. It relies too much on how you read it to make it something more than what it is.

The thing is, I don’t know what else one can do to make this novel something more than just a novelty. The premise is sound, but not special. And I’m left with a dilemma where I don’t want to put down a good book–but I don’t know how to promote it because, aside from the poetry, there’s really nothing to make it stand out from other releases.

But here’s where you can help.

There’s a comment section below. If you’ve read this book, tell me (and the others who have stumbled upon this blog) why Displaced is a must-read. What other things, aside from its form, sets it apart? Let’s have a discussion.

Book: Mga Tala sa Dagat

"Mga Tala sa Dagat"

Isang pag-iibigan ang nabuo sa pagitan ng prinsesa at ng isang mangingisda. Isang bata ang kailangan isuko ang paglalaro at pag-aaral, alang-alang sa pagiging pinakamahusay na mangingisda ng bayan. Nauugnay ang lahat ng ito sa isang pangako, isang pangako tungkol sa higanteng-dagat na may dala-dalang mga tala.

Translated, the synopsis reads as follows: “Love blooms between a princess and a fisherman. A child sacrifices his childhood to become the best fisherman in town. And all three of them are beholden to a promise: their promise to the giant of the sea, the one who holds the stars.

Annette Acacio Flores’s story is a haunting love story between a child and his parents, as much as it is about the sea-giant who doesn’t really become a part of the story until much later. I haven’t read the original text, but Nanoy Rafael’s translation of Mga Tala sa Dagat is a beautiful telling that really touches the heart.

To those who are thinking of picking this book up, a warning: the narrative is not linear. To tell the story effectively, Flores (and Rafael, in his translation) weaves her love story through time–with mostly the same characters–to effectively strengthen the characeterizations, and to make an already likeable character, a hero amongst his contemporaries, into an even more tragic figure.

Also, Mga Tala sa Dagat is not a children’s book, but it’s something you can read with children. The story deals with themes of responsibility, personal and social, and the importance of happiness in life. Lessons that, goodness knows, children need nowadays.

And for those who doesn’t want to pick the book up– I won’t question your taste, but I implore you to just give the book a try.

Because in Mga Tala sa Dagat, I found the book I’ll be nominating for the Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards next year.

Which reminds me– Voting for this year’s Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards is still open. Do check out the nominees at the Filipino Readers’ Choice website and vote!

Book: Are We There Yet?

"Are We There Yet?"

Elijah and Danny don’t think they have anything in common except their parents. Danny thinks Elijah is a lazy, slacking, clueless dreamer who doesn’t know how to make a living. Elijah thinks Danny is a workaholic, stuck-up, soulless drone who doesn’t know how to make a life. Yes, they’re brothers.

Then their parents trick them into taking a trip to Italy together. Nine days of escape. Nine days of somewhere else.

Elijah and Danny aren’t sure it’s going to work. Until they each meet a girl–the same girl. Julia. And nothing will ever be the same again.

I didn’t like this book as much as I did the other David Levithan books, but this is still way, way better than Every You, Every Me. So least favorite then? I guess.

What I really liked about Are We There Yet? is its focus on brothers. Which is also the reason why I didn’t like the book as much as I did the other Levithan books. Because I was expecting something more from the brothers’ story lines, and it kind of fell flat for me.

A girl was introduced, widened the rift between brothers, and then they were okay in the end. And then they were better brothers. I call bull.

It doesn’t come left of field though. There is development. Except, most of it happens on the side of the older brother. You can actually see him evolve from being a douche to someone who is trying to be better. The other brother just is. He gets pushed around by plot, and doesn’t become a better character for it. Which is frustrating. Really frustrating.

Are We There Yet? has all the ingredients that make a good book. And I feel like it got squandered because the book had an itinerary it wanted to stick to. And instead of enjoying the journey, we get snapshots of possible moments instead.

So did I like it? Enough to actually try understanding why the book wasn’t better. But not enough for me to recommend it to other people. Still, I’m just one person. See what others have to say about the book:
Hiding in the Stacks
Books and Sensibility
Tower of Books

Book: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

"It's Kind of a Funny Story"

Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life–which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.

Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness.

I normally don’t include the last bit when I type up the book synopsis, but I feel like I should here. I feel that it is important for the readers of this book to find out (whether before or after) that the author also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

Why?

Because some readers might just see fiction, and think that this is all made up. Because those readers might think that the people characterized in the book are too quirky to really exist. Because some readers might just read the book, like it, and then move on. I think this novel deserves more than that.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a book about depression, but it’s also a book that teaches us how to interact with people like Craig, people with problems, and people like his friend Aaron, whose problem might not be the fact that he has a problem–

It teaches us to be compassionate, understanding–to listen. It teaches us not to treat them differently from other people, and I mean that in both ways.

Words hurt. It, some times, hurt more than actual physical blows. And hurting words don’t always come from insults, from complaints, from irrational thought. Some times, these words that hurt come from expectations. Camaraderie. It’s this type of bullying that never really gets talked about. Bullying that comes from your own family, your own peers–it’s the way they expect you to be the you they think you are, it’s the way they want you to be better–but really, what they mean is they want you to be more like them.

And this is the type of bullying we see in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Craig bullies himself into aspiring for something people expect him to aspire for. His friends bully him by making fun of him, by talking about him behind his back, by forcing him to do things he doesn’t want to do. His parents bully him by giving him everything he wants, by setting an unreal expectation of the world, and never expecting anything from him.

In the novel, Craig looks for order. His inner voice is a commanding officer from the army! He is looking for order as his inner world is falling apart, and no one from his family or his friends see this. It takes other people like him, people who also have problems, to see that he needs not to be babied, he needs not to be forced into doing something he doesn’t want to do, to find that balance of giving him what he wants and letting him fend for himself.

It’s hard to explain.

People have read this book and liked it for its content and message. For giving a voice to a group of people who normally gets looked down upon because they couldn’t deal. But I think this book has done more than that. I think this book shows us that the fault isn’t that they can’t handle pressure or reality. It’s that they’ve been made to believe that they can’t handle it.

They can, if we would just let them.

Depression is a real thing. But it’s only really a problem when we make the ones who suffer from it believe that it’s unnatural, and that it’s crippling. It shouldn’t be.

Book: NOS4A2

"NOS4A2"

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble…and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.Book: NOS4A2

But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special–something Vic can never replace.

As a life-and-death battle of wills builds–her magic pitted against his–Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all…or die trying….

This book is awesome, and I have no words to describe how awesome the book is. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try–

NOS4A2 has the most interesting gimmick: inscapes. Shortcuts through reality that only one person can use, and using things that they love. It’s an amazing concept. And it is utilized perfectly in the story that NOS4A2 tells.

And what a story.

Family is the central theme of Joe Hill’s book on magical ways that take you where you want to go. As protagonist Victoria McQueen tries to do right by the family given her, villain Charles Manx makes his own family by twisting the minds of his victims. And as both go through a journey that juxtaposes against each other, they come to a head in the most expected (not a typo) and most action-packed way.

One of the reasons why I like the book so much is that it’s easy to read. Author Hill paints a vivid world where the characters feel fully-formed and never half-assed. The characters we meet are flawed, scarred, and yet we never waver from the notion that they are protagonists–even when we’re supposed to get mad at them, we know that we’re still rooting for them.

But it’s Charles Manx that really steals the show. He is a constant threat throughout the book, even during the times when he is absent from the pages. Death couldn’t keep him away from his prizes, and his unwavering belief that he is doing the right thing only makes his brand of evil all the more scary.

This is the first time I’ve read a novel from Joe Hill, but if this is any indication of how good the other novels are, sign me up for his fan club!

If my recommendation isn’t enough for you, check out what these other bloggers have to say about NOS4A2:
The Book Smugglers
Entomology of a Bookworm
Horror Novel Reviews

Book: Blankets

"Blankets"

This is the most religious graphic novel I picked up– Which is odd, considering what happens in the end.

Okay, backing up a little: I picked this graphic novel up because it looked interesting. A bit pricey at over a thousand pesos; this, along with the visual companion for the World War Z film, was my Christmas present for myself. And if we’re friends, you’ll know that I will never intentionally pick up a religious anything.

So it’s a good thing I had no idea what the graphic novel was about. Because had I an inkling, I wouldn’t have picked it up. And I would have missed out on a great story about brotherhood, family, unconditional love, and religion.

Yes, religion.

I haven’t converted. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Christian in this lifetime. But I do respect the religion and the people who put their faith in it. Especially the ones who actually practices what they preach. And the ones who don’t shy away from the more controversial topics of discussion.

And although this book is far from controversial, it certainly doesn’t shy away from positing thoughts of confusion, of doubt–and I love it. Because isn’t that how you’re supposed to understand things? By thinking. By talking it out. By presenting opposing thoughts that would make everything clearer.

One of the reasons why I don’t like going to church, especially here in the Philippines, is because the word of the priest is good. Notice how I didn’t say “Word of God?” That’s because I don’t think the Christian God speaks through priests. If He’s supposed to speak through people, I would like to think He speaks through our hearts. Because that would be the purest connection, wouldn’t it? The one connection that cannot be altered, affected, misinterpreted?

And that is how I see Blankets. Craig Thompson shares his experience with the religion, but instead of hammering his readers with fact after fact after fact–he lets his heart do the talking.

Are you familiar with Blankets? Have you read it? Share your thoughts with me.