contemporary fiction

READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.


REVIEW: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah has everything figured out. She’s on her way to study computing and coding at Stanford and has no interest in her mother’s attempts to find her the “Ideal Indian Husband.” When the opportunity to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers arises, her family must know what her principles and goals are really… right? Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when he hears from his parents that his potential future wife will be heading to the same summer program as he is – he’s totally on board. But when the two of them end up meeting, it doesn’t go the way either of them thought possible.

One of the things I was worried about going into this book, was that Dimple and Rishi wouldn’t be on equal footing because he knew something she didn’t and there was the risk for it to become a bit creepy and manipulative. I’m so happy that wasn’t the case. The first time they meet, right at the very beginning of the book, Dimple learns what’s been going on, so they are on the same page from pretty much the outset. This allowed their potential relationship to develop on their own terms, spending time with one another as friends (or more than friends) and actually getting to know each other in an organic way.

Dimple is a great character. She’s headstrong, focused and smart, though she can appear to be a bit selfish but that’s mostly down to her belief that she can’t have it all – that it’s impossible to have both a successful career and a fulfilling and loving relationship. Rishi on the other hand, is so soppy and romantic, wanting to please his parents and being a huge follower of tradition, that it’s almost a surprise when he shows some backbone. I think that’s the interesting thing about Rishi, he grew on me as the book progressed. He’s not just someone looking for love, he’s caring, smart and protective. Dimple and Rishi look like opposites on paper, but their personalities end up complimenting each other.

Dimple’s friendship with her roommate Celia is wonderful. They are a friendship of today, meeting on the internet and arranging to room together before they’ve even met face to face! There’s a quote that I absolutely loved that came from a conversation between Dimple and Celia; “But I still want to be your friend. I think we should still stick together and be each other’s moral support. But maybe it’s okay if we’re not friends with each other’s friends.” I thought it was brilliant because it’s true. You can be friends with someone but not really be friends with their friends, and it’s quite a mature way of looking at relationships and recognising their differences.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet, delightful story. It’s a bit predictable in the romance but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It’s a rom-com in book form and it embraces all the usual clichés that come with that. That being said, the characters and their relationships are wonderful and you fully root for them by the end of it. When Dimple Met Rishi is a fun quick-read, but it probably won’t be that much of a memorable one for me. 3/5.

REVIEW: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is fed up. She’s fed up with her school’s sexist dress codes, the gross comments from boys in class and how her teachers let it happen. Viv has had enough. Inspired by her mum’s youth as a punk rock Riot Grrrl, Viv creates Moxie, a feminist zine she distributes anonymously to her classmates. Moxie becomes its own thing as girls start sharing it and come together to spread the Moxie message. Before she knows it, Viv has kickstarted a girl revolution.

I adored this book! Moxie is about teenage girls learning about how feminism isn’t a dirty word and that they can stand up to casual sexism in a place where they’re supposed to be safe – school. Seeing Viv and her friends slowly learning what feminism means, that yes it’s about equality but it can also offer a sense of unity, is wonderful to see.

I loved Viv from the very beginning. She’s always been the “good girl who follows the rules” but when the small little jabs that happen day in, day out at school, something inside her ignites and she acts. I can feel Viv’s frustration, fear and excitement with this Moxie movement she almost unwittingly starts. She is kind of making it up as she’s going along and that makes it all the more exciting. I also really liked her friends and how they didn’t always agree on everything, they may have small disagreements, but they still support each other.

The great thing about Moxie is that it tries to show the different sides of feminism. There’s instances where Viv see’s injustices but not all of them as she’s white and it’s not till a girl who’s black explains it to her that she realises where she may not have been as inclusive before and does her best to change her attitude. Another thing was that while it never took the outlook from Viv and the other girls, it took a moment to show how decent guys just don’t always get what it’s like, even when they are nice and don’t like other boy’s sexist behaviour. There’s so many great quotes in Moxie but one of my favourites is “I know all guys aren’t dicks, I get it. But the thing is, when there are so many dickish dudes around you, it gets hard to remember that, you know?” It’s a pretty perfect response to the #NotAllMen argument when women speak out about what they go through.

Moxie is a fantastic book. Seeing the girls of a high school, with all the usual cliques coming together across the social divides that are usually there in high school, is wonderful to read about. It gave me this funny feeling in my chest because so much of what Moxie is about felt so real to me. I loved that it offers this sense of hope and unity, so much so that I ended up getting teary-eyed as I finished Moxie. I loved it so much and it’s currently my favourite read of 2017. 5/5.


READ THE WORLD – French Polynesia: Frangipani by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Materena Mahi, a professional cleaner and the best listener in all of Tahiti, has a problem. That problem is her daughter Leilani. No matter what she does, Materena can’t seem to get through to her and now there’s rumours there’s a boy who has a motorbike in Leilani’s life. Everything is changing and Materena is beginning to realise that the traditional Tahitian ways no longer apply and she’ll have to adapt to deal with the next generation of women in her family.

Frangipani is lovely. It’s a delightful, and it might sound weird but it’s almost like comforting hug of a read. It is such an easy, chilled out read. Yes there’s arguments between characters and family scandals but they all seem so tame and you just have a feeling these characters will work through it and be OK.

Frangipani is about Materena and her family, and more specifically, about her relationship with her daughter. The story spans about twenty years and over that time you really get to know Materena and understand her. The great thing about Materena is that she adapts. She learns with the changing times; her daughter may confuse her to begin with but she never stops loving her nor wanting the best for her. Seeing Materena and Leilani’s relationship is wonderful. They feel real like a real mother and daughter and so many times I could see echoes of interactions with my own mother in them.

You meet a lot of Materena’s extended family, there’s so many aunties and nieces and boyfriends, that it’s hard to keep up with who’s who at times but that never really bothered me. They are all larger than life characters who often end up in funny situations but there’s still sadness and drama, just like in any family over the years.

Frangipani is well written with a smattering of French words in the dialogue which makes them feel more real and the story grounded. I’ve never been to Tahiti but the way the island and its people are described is now so incredibly vivid in my mind. The setting was just as much a character in this book as Materena and Leilani.

The thing with Frangipani, is that in the grand scheme of things not a lot happened. There were no big twists or huge family secrets revealed, it’s just a woman’s life with her family. It showcases what a strong woman Materena is and it also features so many more interesting and vibrant female characters. Frangipani is about the strength of women and the strength of their relationships. How they support and love one another, are always there to listen or offer words of advice. It’s an uplifting story with a mother and daughter relationship at its heart.

I adored Frangipani. It’s well written, has so many interesting characters that you can’t help but be pulled into their lives. It’s just a wonderful read. 5/5.


REVIEW: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

When Andie’s dad is caught up in a political scandal, all her summer plans are thrown into chaos. No more summer internship, instead she finds herself with a summer job as a dog walker. She’s not used to not having everything planned out but having everything be unexpected for once could mean a chance for love and new experiences.

The Unexpected Everything is a delightful book. At over 500 pages I was worried it would take me a while to read but in the end, I read it in just one day. I got pulled in by Andie’s story and all her friends, and by the fact there was so many dogs. Honestly if you like dogs, this book is for you as its not only the characters that are interesting and a lot of fun but the many dogs Andie ends up walking are too.

Andie is the kind of character that normally would rub me up the wrong way as she’s often quite selfish and likes everyone and everything to fit in her own plans, but much of the story is about her growing as a person and seeing how she is seen by other people. Andie doesn’t like letting people get close to her or even tell people she’s in a relationship with anything of real substance about herself – this all comes to ahead when she meets Clark. The romance between Andie and dog owner Clark is sweet and has your usual lack of communication confusion but the story has a lot of charm and Andie and Clark both have their flaws and still compliment each other that I was rooting for them.

I really liked Andie’s friendship group, their summer adventures and how The Unexpected Everything showed that some relationships can be quite overwhelming and we all need are space from those we care about. I also really liked how Andie’s relationship with her dad was so believable, they’d not had anything to do with each other for so long so suddenly being around each other led to an interesting dynamic.

The Unexpected Everything is the perfect summer read. It’s fun, has moments of humour and lots of characters you want to be happy. 5/5.


REVIEW: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

In her everyday life Eliza Mirk is shy, awkward and hates school, but in the online world she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of mega popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine ever enjoying the real world as much as the online one so she never really bothers to try. That is until Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction author, transfers to Eliza’s school and, believing Eliza is just another fan, he begins to draw her out of her shell. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally revealed everything in her life is thrown into turmoil, her relationship with Wallace, her art and even her sanity.

I loved this book. I’ve been wary of books about fandom because I’ve always kind of felt that the first rule of fandom, is that you don’t talk about fandom. But I’m so happy that Eliza and Her Monsters showed me that there can be great books about fandom that respects and understands it.

Eliza and Her Monsters is a mix-media novel, it includes panels from Monstrous Sea as well as emails, letters and instant messages. This, plus the fact the book is great, helps make Eliza and Her Monsters a really quick read. I loved how the extracts from Monstrous Sea often mirrored the situations Eliza found herself in, giving you an extra insight as to where her mind is at. The Monstrous Sea story was just as interesting as Eliza’s story and the book did a great job of explaining the plot of the webcomic enough that when characters discussed who their favourite characters were, you had a good idea who they were talking about.

Eliza’s two best friends are Max and Emmie and they’ve never met face to face. I love how Eliza and Her Monsters shows how people behind a computer screen can be, and often are, just as important a connection as those you see in the flesh. The three of them are all great friends who not only share the fandom stuff but their real-life events too. I also liked how Eliza realises and apologises when she does sometimes takes Max and Emmie for granted, she’s a flawed, ordinary person who mistakes and I loved reading about her.

I was on edge as the story progressed as I could tell that Eliza’s internet identity would come out and everything she had with Wallace would be put in jeopardy. I hate confrontation, both in real life and in fiction, and had grown so attached to Eliza that I didn’t want to see her hurt.

I loved Eliza and Her Monsters. I loved how various characters grew on me as the story progressed, how I could relate to Eliza but still get frustrated with her sometimes, the complexities of online and offline personas – it was all so great. Eliza and Her Monsters made me cry because it hit me right in the feels and that hasn’t happened with a book for a long time. 5/5.


REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighboured she grew up in and the posh high school she attends where she’s one of two black kids there. The uneasy balance between the two is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of Khalil, her unarmed best friend, by a police officer. Now if Starr speaks up it could destroy her community, and it could get her killed.

Starr witnesses a terrible crime and you’re right there with her as she goes through the stages of grief. She’s so strong and brave but she doesn’t always feel that way. You feel her pain and anger but you also can understand her parents who just want to keep her safe – whether that means speaking out about what happened or keeping it a secret. I loved Starr and her family. Her parents are kind of #relationshipgoals and parenting goals really, they both may have made mistakes in the past but they love each other and their children and will do anything to make life better for them.

The Hate U Give is brilliantly written – there’s so many lines I could quote that are either touching or profound or just funny. While there’s all this awfulness going on in Starr’s life, she’s still a teenager and the way her voice, and the voice of all the teens in the book are captured, makes it so real. There’s arguments with her boyfriend, the in-jokes she shares with her brothers, and there’s something not right between her and her friends and she doesn’t know why, but knows it started when one of them stopped following her on Tumblr – it’s stuff like that that helps make all these characters feel vibrant and real.

The Hate U Give is sometimes a tough read, it pulls on your heart and makes you just as angry and frustrated as Starr. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions as it’s so similar to real life events that have happened over the past few years that you just don’t know if everything will be alright. It still manages to give you a bit of hope though, that while some people won’t change, others will or will use their voice.

The Hate U Give is a phenomenal book about friendship, loyalty, family and using your voice. It made me smile, it made me tear up and I can’t recommend it enough. 5/5.